Wish You Were Here

If there are a hundred stories in the big city then there must be thousands to be found in the towns and villages across Vermont

by Craig Bailey

Photos: Jeff Clarke

Ask an out-of-towner the capital of Vermont and most will respond Montpelier. But ask which played host to the northern most conflict of the Civil War, or which occupies the earliest spot in Vermont inhabited by humans, and most will respond with a shrug. Here we present the vital statistics and trivial facts -- the sites to see and the events to attend -- for a variety of locales along Vermonts highways and byways. So grab your road atlas, buckle up, and get ready for a scenic trip through some of the 255 towns that thrive throughout the Green Mountain State.

Berlin  Montpelier
Stowe  Middlebury

More towns


The town of Berlin might occasionally be overshadowed by its two prominent neighbors -- Barre to the east and Montpelier to the north. But be warned: A sure way to rub a Berliner the wrong way is to casually suggest there's no difference among Berlin and the twin cities that adjoin it. The town's identity crisis is augmented by the fact that Berlin has no ZIP codes nor phone exchanges of its own -- a common situation for small Vermont municipalities. As a result, Berlin mailing addresses list either Barre or Montpelier as a city, often with no indication the addressee actually lives in Berlin. Furthermore, some Berlin residents and businesses have Barre mailing addresses and Montpelier phone exchanges or vice versa. Things are changing, however. As Vermont revamps mailing addresses statewide to accommodate a new Enhanced 911 system, some residents have been instructed to list Berlin as the city in their mailing address, though the ZIP code continues to reflect a Barre or Montpelier address. Berlin doesn't have a post office. For nearly 30 years, Berlin's been home to the Central Vermont Hospital, a 122-bed, non-profit facility that provides in- and out-patient care, along with 24-hour emergency service. The hospital's parent company, Central Vermont Medical Center Inc., also owns Woodridge Nursing Home and Central Vermont Physician Practice Corp. It employs 900 people and boasts an operating budget of $50 million.

A straight shot down East Road, sometimes called Bible Hill, directly off Exit 6 of Interstate 89, leads to the state-owned Edward F. Knapp Airport. Look carefully at the field between the end of East Road and the runway on the other side and you can see the faint outline of where the road used to run before the airport was built in the late 1920s. Berlin Named for a former mayor of Montpelier and long-time aeronautical commissioner, the two-runway airport serves mostly private, corporate flyers and recreational pilots. "There's no scheduled service other than freight," according to John Roberti of Vermont Flying Service, a private company that leases space and provides services at the airport. "UPS runs a flight out of here." Roberti, whose father, Edmundo, founded Vermont Flying Service in 1946, explains that Northeast was the last major airline to serve Berlin. Service was discontinued in 1973 when Northeast was bought out by Delta. "Then there was a series of commuter airlines," he says. Plans are under way to rebuild the main runway at the airport in 2001.

The area of Berlin immediately off Exit 7 has experienced substantial growth over the last several years. The town has seen the Berlin Mall, Shoneys restaurant, Comfort Inn, Maplewood Convenience Store, and Town & Country Honda take up residence. More recently, Staples and Shaws Supermarkets have moved into an area that once called Eric's General Store, a tiny operation run out of the back of a residents home, its only grocery outlet.

At press time, Wal-Mart planned to open a 66,300-square-foot store in the Berlin Mall in space formerly occupied by the bankrupt Rich's Department Store at the end of January, a move that pleases mall merchants but displeases some townspeople. It'll keep the central Vermont people shopping in our area instead of going out of town, says Janice Edson, coordinator of the 24-store, 176,000-square-foot mall. Two groups have petitioned against the move, claiming it might require an amendment to the malls 13-year-old Act 250 land use permit. "They believe Wal-Mart is a change in the use of our permit, because it is a profitable business," says Edson. "It's a big controversy." A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 3 and 4.


Population (1997) 2,656
change 1990-97 +3.7%
Year-round housing units (1997)1,078
change 1990-97 +9.9%
Vacation/seasonal housing units (1997) 26
change 1990-97 -36.6%
Representatives (Washington-4-2): Ruth H.
Towne (R), Oreste V. Valsangiacomo Sr. (D)
Senators (Washington County): Ann E.
Cummings (D), William T. Doyle (R),
Jeb Spaulding (D)


With a population of 8,411, Montpelier is the smallest capital city in the country and the only one without a McDonald's restaurant. Recents attempts to introduce the fast-food chain to the city failed, so you'll need to travel a few miles toward Barre down U.S. 302, better known as the Barre-Montpelier Road, to find the closest golden arches. There are plenty of other dining options in the capital city, however, thanks in part to the New England Culinary Institute (NECI), which offers instruction on classical, basic cooking techniques and maintains headquarters on Main Street. Founded in June 1980, NECI operates several restaurant, catering and foodservice operations, including Main Street Grill, Chef's Table, and La Brioche Bakery & Cafe in Montpelier. Other restaurants include Butlers and The Tavern at the Inn at Essex in Essex; and NECI Commons, Burlington. Montpelier is home to three other higher educational institutions: Community College of Vermont; Vermont College, an affiliate of Norwich University; and Woodbury College. Montpelier

If a picnic is what youre looking for, visit Hubbard Park on Terrace Street. There are picnic areas and nature trails on 180 acres of wooded terrain, along with a historic 50-foot stone tower that offers the highest vantage point in the city.

Settled in the 1780s and named Vermont's capital in 1805, Montpelier is rich in history. The glittering dome that invariably catches your eye as you traverse State Street is the Statehouse. The dome is 57 feet high, covered with 23.7 carat gold leaf and is topped with a statue of the Roman goddess Ceres. The Statehouse is Vermont's third, and hosts the states 150 representatives and 30 senators January through April. The original, three-story, wooden structure was built in 1808 near what is now Vermont's Supreme Court building. Eventually outgrown, it was replaced in 1838 with a structure built with Barre granite. After an 1857 fire destroyed most of the second Statehouse, the third was built on the same site in 1859. Free, guided tours are available July through mid-October: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Step next door to the Vermont Historical Society on the first floor of the Pavilion Building at 109 State St., where you'll find exhibits, a library and gift shop. Many Montpelier shops, some founded by alumni of the nearby small, progressive Goddard College in Plainfield, reflect an earthier quality than in neighboring towns. Buch Spieler and Bear Pond Books on Main Street provide refreshing, independent alternatives to the big box trend in music and book stores. "Downtown Montpelier is what downtown America was," according to Fred Wilber, co-owner of Buch Spieler on Langdon Street. "It's a town that has a strong sense of community and values that community. That's why I opened here." Wilber, a Goddard graduate who has owned the music store with his brother, Dennis, for 25 years, recently expanded his store to 1,500 square feet. "The town has been very supportive," he adds. "Our Christmas season was up 20 percent from last year." Montpelier

The single-screen Savoy Theater on Main Street was established in 1981 on the site of a former 1900s nickelodeon and provides an art house alternative to the more mainstream films that play at the multiplex Capitol Theatre around the corner on State Street. The Lost Nation Theater Company was founded in Bristol in 1977 and moved to Montpelier in 1985. The city's resident professional company, Lost Nation presents a half dozen stage productions at the Montpelier City Hall Arts Center during its summer series, as well as shows during the winter months.

National Life Insurance Co. sits high above the city on National Life Drive and is visible at night for miles. It's one of the 10 oldest insurance companies in the country and one of the largest private employers in Montpelier. Founded by Vermont doctor Julius Dewey in 1850, the company has more than a quarter-million policyholders served by 3,500 brokers and agents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.


Population (1997) 8,411
change 1990-97 +2%
Year-round housing units (1997)4,182
change 1990-97 +11.3%
Vacation/seasonal housing units (1997) 0
change 1990-97 -100%
Representatives (Washington-5): Frances K.
Brooks (D), Karen B. Kitzmiller (D);
(Washington-Lamoille-1): Henrietta
Jordan (D)
Senators (Washington County): Ann E.
Cummings (D), William T. Doyle (R),
Jeb Spaulding (D)


If there's one Vermont town in addition to the capital city of Montpelier that outsiders have heard of it's probably Stowe. While the town bills itself as the ski capital of the East and is highly ranked by major skiing magazines, visitors during the summer months outnumber those who come during the winter. "August is our busiest month of the year," according to Paul Archie Archdeacon, who has owned and operated Gracies Restaurant and Gourmutt Shop on Main Street with his wife, Sue, for nearly eight years. The Boston native says it was skiing that brought him to Stowe in 1972, and he "ended up just falling in love with the area and staying." His restaurant takes its name and tongue-in-cheek canine theme from the couples late Airedale. "It's just a fun little spot, he says. I guess that's why we opened here."

Tourists any time of the year can dine at 57 owner-operated restaurants and browse the 95 shops along the quaint village and up the Mountain Road. Hospitality is the major industry of Stowe, the largest Vermont town in area boasting more than 50,000 acres. Oliver Luce established the first Stowe inn in the late 1790s. By the mid 1800s the town named after Stowe, England, had become a summer destination spot thanks to its beautiful scenery and a burgeoning number of taverns and inns.

The Toll Road leading to the top of Mount Mansfield, Vermont's highest peak (4,393 feet), was built in 1870, followed by the Summit House perched on top. Down in the village, the 300-room Mansfield House catered to guests from all over. Both structures have since vanished: The Mansfield House was destroyed by an 1888 fire; the Summit House was taken down during the winter of 1963.

Skiing got its start in Stowe in 1913 thanks to a handful of Swedish families living in the area who used primitive skis as a mode of transportation. Before long it had turned into a recreation. The first alpine trail was blazed on Mount Mansfield in 1933 by Civilian Conservation Corps workers. The Bruce Trail is now part of the resorts network of cross-country trails. Other trails followed, but the real fun didn't begin for another seven years: Skiers had to climb the 2 1/2 miles to the top of the mountain until the areas first lift was constructed in 1940. Stowe

If Stowe is the ski capital of the east, the von Trapps constitute its first family. Maria and Baron Georg von Trapps 1938 escape from Austria into Switzerland with nine children Maria was also pregnant at the time inspired the 1959 Broadway musical and 1965 film "The Sound of Music." True aficionados, however, should read the impetus, Marias book "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" (Image Books), for less Hollywood and more realism. The family settled in Stowe 60 years ago, and established the Trapp Family Music Camp in 1947. As the camp began to accommodate overnight guests, the facility evolved into Trapp Family Lodge. Maria died in 1987 at age 82 and is buried with her husband in a plot next to the lodge. Trapp Family Lodge, presided over by the youngest of the von Trapp children, Johannes, has become a Stowe landmark. The 2,200-acre estate offers 100 kilometers of trails used for cross-country skiing in the winter and walking in the summer; four clay tennis courts; croquet; indoor and outdoor pools and more. Travel 7 1/2 miles north on Vermont 100 from Interstate 89's Exit 10 before turning left onto Moscow Road. Follow the signs to the lodge.

The Music in the Meadow summer concert series presents concerts Sunday evenings in the Trapp Family Lodge meadow, a perfect opportunity for a picnic. The Stowe Theatre Guilds season runs from late June through September at the Town Hall Theatre on Main Street. Look for the large, brick Akeley Memorial Building on the left, past the Stowe Area Association information center. Stowe

"Small World" by Randolph artist Philip O. Paini, as displayed at the Helen Day Art Center on School Street in Stowe.

Special events include the Green Mountain Dog Club show July 18; the flower festival throughout town June 25-27; the balloon festival featuring more than 20 hot air balloons launching from the Stoweflake Inn & Resort on July 9-11; the annual antique and classic car meet Aug. 13-15, featuring more than 800 cars, an auction, parade and flea market; and the Stowe farmers market, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. each Sunday rain or shine, behind the Red Barn Shops between the Mountain Road and the Stowe Recreation Path, May 1-Oct. 31. The market features live music and occasional special events and contests. Narrated sightseeing tours on Stowe's trolley in the summer and autumn months provide transportation between the resort and the village, with stops just about anywhere along the way, and trips twice a week to neighboring Morrisville.


Population (1997) 3,953
change 1990-97 +15.1%
Year-round housing units (1997)1,930
change 1990-97 +16.1%
Vacation/seasonal housing units (1997) 1,125
change 1990-97 -3.6%
Representatives (Lamoille 2-2): Richard C.
Marron (R), Cathy Voyer (R)
Senators (Lamoille County): Susan Bartlett (D)


Burlington might be Chittenden County's college town, but 60 minutes south on U.S. 7, Middlebury holds that distinction for Addison County. Middlebury College, a private, liberal arts institution established in 1800 with seven students, has grown to become the intellectual seat of the county. One of the pricier colleges in its class -- the comprehensive fee for the 1998-99 academic year is $30,475 -- Middlebury serves more than 2,000 undergraduates. The Bread Loaf School of English, a six-week seminar the college sponsors each summer in four locations, will run June 22 to Aug. 7 this year. It's followed by the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers Conference, an 11-day gathering of 200 writers. An annual event since 1926, this year the conference will be held Aug. 11-22. The Ralph Myhre Golf Course is adjacent to the colleges main campus. Built with nine holes in the 1930s, the course lay fallow during the '40s until the college acquired it. During the '50s, Ralph Myhre, who was hired to manage the Middlebury College Snow Bowl ski area, rebuilt the course and spearheaded the campaign to expand the course to 18 holes. The expansion was completed in 1978, months before Myhre's death. The Sheehan Family Classic is held at the par 71 course each year, featuring Patty Sheehan. Sheehan, the 13th inductee to the LPGAs Hall of Fame, is a native of Middlebury who lives in Reno, Nev.

Middlebury is one of three towns that were established on two parcels of land in 1761. The town to the north, New Haven, was named for New Haven, Conn. The one to the south took the name Salisbury, after the hometown of Connecticut native John Evarts, who represented the investors in the charter. The town in the middle was logically dubbed Middlebury, and has become the most populous town in the largely rural county of Addison: Approximately 25 percent of the county's population lives in Middlebury. The town has a European essence with narrow streets and historic, stone buildings. More than 300 structures in the town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Marble Works section of town was a thriving center of stone from the late 1800s to mid 1900s. Today it's home to a variety of stores, restaurants and businesses. The Sheldon Museum on Park Street, consisting of three buildings, contains a wealth of information about Middlebury and Addison County. (It's not to be confused with the Shelburne Museum, Vermont's Smithsonian, 30 miles north on U.S. 7 in Shelburne.) The 1829 Judd-Harris House was built by marble merchants Eben Judd and his son-in-law Lebbeus Harris, before Henry Sheldon took up residence in it in the 1850s and began filling it with historical items. Guided tours are offered from late May to late October. Several rooms of the house are accessible for self-guided tours the rest of the year. The Stewart-Swift Research Center contains printed history of the region, including 30,000 19th century letters, 2,500 photos, loads of newspapers dating back to 1801, more than 4,000 books and pamphlets, and 400 feet of shelf space and files containing manuscripts.

The Walter Cerf Gallery was built in 1991 and hosts a variety of exhibitions including work from local, contemporary artists. Travelling south on Main Street (Vermont 30), turn right at the church onto Mill Street for a tour through the quirky hollow district alongside the Otter Creek. Frog Hollow Vermont State Craft Center is the centerpiece of the district. Established in a renovated 1870s mill, the 25-year-old center provides a showcase of items created by juried Vermont artisans. Studios on the lower floor host craft classes. "We're very fortunate to be here in this community with the college," says executive director Bill Brooks. "A hundred thousand people go through this shop a year. Its a destination in Middlebury." In the early '90s, the center expanded to include locations on Burlington's Church Street Marketplace and at the Equinox Shops on Vermont 7A in Manchester. All galleries feature a half dozen special exhibits from May to October. If you stay on U.S. 7, turn left onto Vermont 125 in East Middlebury and watch for the Waybury Inn on the left. Built by John Foot as a tavern and boarding house in the late 1800s, you might recognize it as the fictitious Stratford Inn from TVs "Newhart" series, which ran from 1982 to 1990.


Population (1997) 8,517
change 1990-97 +6%
Year-round housing units (1997)2,872
change 1990-97 +7.1%
Vacation/seasonal housing units (1997) 18
change 1990-97 -10%
Representatives (Addison 4-1): Harvey T.
Smith (R); (Addison 4-2), Anne V. Ginevan
(R), Betty A. Nuovo (D)
Senators (Addison County): Tom E.Bahre (R),
Elizabeth M. Ready (D)

More towns