Christmas in Vermont
VIDEO: Christmas in Vermont
In the early-December dusk, carolers gather around the lighted tree and gazebo on Chester’s green. The sky glows, but the air is frigid, and after the final “Silent Night,” everyone heads into The Fullerton Inn for cocoa.Earlier on this same afternoon in Woodstock, 25 miles north, a top-hatted Father Christmas, costumed choristers, and hundreds of carolers sang around a blazing Yule log on the town’s green. The event, one of many during this annual “Wassail Weekend,” capped a parade of elaborately dressed celebrants on horseback and in carriages. In Grafton, seven wooded miles south of Chester, the village is dressed sumptuously for the season, decked with 250 wreaths and 3,000 yards of roping. Different as each of these communities is, all three towns offer real season’s greetings, about as far from hectic mall traffic as you can get.
Come Home to Chester
Chester (population 3,044) sits at the confluence of three state routes (five major roads all together). In winter, cars stream by heading north to Okemo Mountain. Few stop. If they did, they’d likely discover why Chester residents call their town “the Vermont you’ve been hoping to find.”
“I immediately felt the friendliness of people here,” reflects Canadian-born Jack Coleman, who launched Chester’s “Overture to Christmas” events more than 20 years ago. He’d been a writer, president of Haverford College, and head of a major foundation. Then he bought the 21-room Chester Inn, christening it “The Inn at Long Last.” Today the owners are Bret and Nancy Rugg, who have preserved its reputation for good food, refurbished its guestrooms, and revived the original name: The Fullerton Inn. “I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I hope it’s right here,” concludes Coleman, who still lives next door.
Chester consists of three villages, with its core along the stretch of Main Street (Route 11), flanked on one side by its mellow brick, original Academy and graveyard, and on the other side by the green, backed by a line of shops, restaurants, a church, a Masonic hall, and the inn. Folks who fork north onto Route 103 will find Chester Depot, a late-19th-century village centered around a brick railroad station (the terminus for the Green Mountain Flyer) and the town’s terrific general store, Lisai’s Market. Route 103 doglegs northwest at Stone Village (formerly North Chester), a striking double line of early-19th-century houses, all built from locally quarried granite. In the middle of the village an “Open” flag is usually out, marking the home of Bonnie’s Bundles Dolls.
“I want to meet the people who buy my dolls,” explains Bonnie Watters, who welcomes visitors into her parlor to inspect roughly 100 one-of-a-kind cloth dolls.
Nearby, watercolorist Jeanne Carbonetti greets visitors in the many-windowed Crow Hill Gallery, which she and husband Larry designed and built on a rise off above the meadows. It’s an ideal setting for her richly colored paintings.
The showroom at Tsuga Studios, squirreled up a back road on the western edge of town, is usually open by appointment only, but hosts an open house and holiday sale one weekend in December, when blown-glass Christmas ornaments festoon the rafters and seconds draw fans from afar. Glassmaker Nicholas Kekic is known for his deeply colored, elegantly simple pitchers and bowls.
Back near the green, Chester’s attraction for artists carries over to Baba-a-Louis Bakery. John McLure’s sticky buns, croissants, French loaves, and peasant breads are distributed throughout New England, but here you’ll also find his French pastries, including buche de Noel. The octagonal building, which McLure designed and built, features arches soaring 30 feet and also houses The Phoenix Cafe, serving made-from-scratch soups and sandwiches.
For many residents and visitors, Misty Valley Books, on the green, is the heart of Chester. This independent bookseller offers frequent author’s readings and hosts a “New Voices” weekend at a church in Stone Village in January, featuring first-time novelists. Past flyers for this event paper the walls in the store’s “Archives” (the bathroom), picturing a number of current best-selling authors.
“This store is an extension of ourselves,” explains Lynne Reed, when asked why Misty Valley also sells Persian carpets and offers French courses. (Husband Bill Reed has taught in Africa and France as well as in Vermont schools.) It’s also a place to find a schedule for Chester’s Green Mountain Festival Series (winter dates November 22, January 10, and February 28; 802-875-4473) and a trail map to the town’s hiking/snowshoeing trail.
According to Jo-Ann Silver, whose Park Light Inn specializes in romantic getaways, Chester’s crossroads status is also part of its appeal. In addition to steering guests to their choice of four nearby ski areas, Silver can also hook them up with Extreme Adventures’ Willy Williams, a guide qualified to introduce neophytes to ice climbing and extreme sledding as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Chester’s Overture to Christmas
Events are spread over two weekends, December 6-7 and 13-14 this year. The first Saturday is Children’s Day. Youngsters assemble around noon for a marionette show at the Wright Library, followed by story hour at Reed Gallery. Each child leaves with a book and a candy cane. Then there’s ornament making at the neighboring First Baptist Church, while kids wait for Santa and Mrs. Claus to arrive on a fire engine. After the tree lighting, Santa receives his petitioners at The Fullerton Inn. The day ends with an evening choral concert at First Baptist. The second Saturday in December features caroling and the reading of the Christmas story. The “Polar Express” excursion train from Bellows Falls to Chester Depot runs both days of the second weekend (at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.). Details at: okemovalleyvt.org
Grafton Turns Back the Clock
Arriving in Grafton (population 650) during snow season is like entering a Christmas card. Although it’s an easy drive to several ski resorts, Grafton on a wintry night seems a long way from anywhere. But serious cross-country skiers know Grafton. The 30-kilometer trail network at Grafton Ponds is meticulously groomed. Trails meander off from the warming hut, out over meadows, and up into the woods on Bear Hill, where there’s plenty more back-country skiing. The complex also offers rentals and great venues for tubing, ice skating, and snowshoeing.
Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.