Vermont: Montgomery, Vergennes, Norwich, and Newfane
It takes time, determination, and a certain frame of mind to give a town a distinctive personality. Vermont has had plenty of the first two; as for the third, most folks would agree that among the state’s 251 towns and cities, there must be, well, 251 different frames of mind.
Personality especially abounds in Vermont towns of a certain size — say, roughly between 1,000 and 3,000 people. They’re big enough to have local institutions and traditions and usually a compact little downtown, and they’re small enough that they haven’t attracted any sprawl. Throw in a snug inn or two and a good restaurant, and you’ve got a true Vermont treasure town. Here are four of our favorites.
Montgomery is a town with overlapping personalities. (In fact, it’s really two towns in one. Montgomery Center, where most of the businesses are, is 2 and a half miles southeast of the village known simply as Montgomery.) One of the faces it wears is that of a ski resort gateway, with Jay Peak’s slopes and summer attractions — including a brand-new 18-hole golf course — a 15-minute drive up Route 242.
It’s also Montgomery the covered bridge town, proud of having more of the Vermont icons within its municipal limits than any other town in the state (OK, so you have to count one just over the line in Enosburg, but it was built by the same Montgomery family that put up all the others). For a guide to the bridges, which are constructed with the ingenious crisscross “town lattice” frame, just stop at the town clerk’s office on Main Street in Montgomery Center. Up the street, Trout River Traders stocks an attractive line of Vermont products as well as antiques and local art. Take your seat at its soda fountain for some homemade soup or a big sandwich made on fresh bread from Klinger’s in South Burlington.
As befits a town that knows how to tire you out — in addition to Jay Peak, with its Long Trail access to the summit, the Hazen’s Notch Association maintains 15 miles of hiking trails — Montgomery also knows how to make you comfortable for the night. Montgomery Center boasts the Victorian-style Inn on Trout River, and in Montgomery Village, The Black Lantern Inn offers cozy accommodations in an 1803 stagecoach stop. Both inns feature fine dining.
New England’s third-oldest incorporated city (after Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut) is also one of its smallest, occupying a scant square-mile-plus of territory at the falls of Otter Creek. But Vergennes packs a citylike assortment of shops, eateries, and civic institutions into its bustling “downtown,” just a few blocks long. There’s a domed brick library that would do credit to a community several times as large, and the handsomely restored Vergennes Opera House hosts a full schedule of musical and theatrical performances.
Main Street looks like the kind of place where you’d see Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey walking to work at his savings and loan. But although George would be familiar with institutions such as band concerts on the town green, he’d be amazed that small-town America now has such a food fixation: There are panini on homemade ciabatta bread and delicious Belgian beers at 3 Squares Café; at the Black Sheep, there’s French bistro fare indoors or at sidewalk tables; and for a splurge, there’s Christophe’s on the Green, where côte de boeuf bourguignonne or braised rabbit might grace the menu.