New England's Best Historic Inns
Entry is through this addition, and from there guests step back in time, into the broad central hall with its high dividing arch and four flanking parlors, each with intricately detailed original paneling. In one of these rooms, said to be the former kitchen, a table is piled high with an extravagant afternoon “tea,” substantial enough to preclude any need for dinner.
We settled into a third-floor room but were lured from our crackling hearth by the bright lights below us, along Thames Street and the neighboring wharves–and into a Newport that turns December into a monthlong celebration filled with glimmer and greenery (details at christmasinnewport.org).
THE DORSET INN
Set above marble steps, the three-story, pillared Dorset Inn anchors the village green. Opened in 1796, this is Vermont’s oldest continuously operating inn. The low-ceilinged lobby and parlors have slightly slanted, wide-planked floors, and there’s a cheery tavern and a graceful, deep-rose-colored dining room. The 25 recently renovated guest rooms wander off in several directions.
In 1785, the country’s first commercial marble quarry opened in Dorset, source of its marble sidewalks, conferring on the village a touch of class that’s also evident in its handsome homes. The inn grew when Dorset became a summer destination, and summer and fall rates are still higher than at other times of the year. At holiday time, guests can find shopping bargains at the designer outlets in neighboring Manchester, or ski at nearby Stratton and Bromley.
We visited on a gloomy midweek day, grateful for the gas fire in our rear-wing suite; also for the tea, coffee, and cookies by the parlor hearth. Past guests will be pleased to know that the inn still serves its iconic turkey croquettes and that its beloved waitress of 25 years, Nuni, still presides in the Tavern. (Ask her about the ghost.)
THE INN AT WEATHERSFIELD
Built as a private house in the 1790s, The Inn at Weathersfield, in Perkinsville, Vermont, is a rambling, luxuriously relaxing place to stay and one of the best places to dine in the Green Mountain State.
Chef Jason Tostrup is recognized as one of Vermont’s foremost locally grounded chefs, no small feat in a state where the “locavore” esthetic enjoys near-religious status. He begins his workday by visiting farms, collecting eggs and produce. He enthuses about the quality of locally raised meat and waxes lyrical about the variety of farmstead cheeses available on his circuit–which guests are invited to tour themselves, using innkeepers Jane and David Sandelman’s map and guide to local farms.
Today the house is a far cry from the boarded-up property the Sandelmans bought from the bank a decade ago. From original rooms in the front of the house to suites squirreled away up multiple staircases and tucked under the eaves, the dozen guestrooms are furnished with comfortable antiques and fitted with every conceivable amenity, many with gas fireplaces and Jacuzzis.
The inn’s Restaurant Verterra is warmed by a blazing fire in a fieldstone hearth. Patrons may choose from several menus, but we went for Tostrup’s unwritten specials. We lost count of the number of small, artistically arranged plates we admired and consumed, savoring every crumb. Again, it was like unpacking a Christmas stocking. Who knew that crispy veal belly could taste so good?
THE HANCOCK INN
Hancock, New Hampshire
The Hancock Inn opened in 1789 at the heart of a classically New England village in New Hampshire’s Monadnock region. It’s the state’s oldest continuously operating inn and remains an authentically historic, friendly, and comfortable place to stay.
Innkeepers Jarvis and Marcia Coffin and Potter the golden retriever greet guests at the door. It’s easy to visualize past patrons gathering in the tavern around the big old bar and fireplace. The 1860s ledger here records hundreds of guests, including Franklin Pierce, recently retired from the U.S. presidency at the time. The inn is still known for good food, especially its signature Shaker cranberry pot roast.
The 14 guestrooms are all attractively furnished, and many have gas or electric hearths. One guestroom wall features a mural of trees and hills created in the 1820s by itinerant painter Rufus Porter. In another guestroom, stencils replicate patterns by famed 19th-century artist Moses Eaton, a Hancock resident. Eaton himself decorated several rooms, but the only sample of his original work that has survived here is in a closet.