Manchester, Vermont | A Blend of Old and New
At the tail end of April–the 29th to be exact–in Manchester, Vermont, the Green Mountains were more purple than green. Some years buds pop earlier, and some years they don’t. 2014 is taking the slower route. I decided to follow its lead and enjoy a slow day wandering around town.
I didn’t really have the option to speed things up since I decided to park my car for most of the day and travel by foot. If I realized that the planned stops on my list would take more time than I had, I would have worn my running shoes and a sporty backpack. But I didn’t. I also could have jogged from here to there since I was wearing “sensible” shoes, but I didn’t. In fact, at any point that I could have hustled a bit more, instead I just meandered.
Starting in Manchester Center, the heart of Manchester Designer Outlets, my first stop was at Nan-Z’s Hot Dogs, located on Rte 7A in the parking lot near Manchester Sports and Clothing Company (family-owned for 30 years).
I feasted on a turkey dog with sauerkraut and yellow mustard, though demand for Boars’ Head hot dogs, bratwurst, and spicy sausage was quite apparent with the regulars during lunch hour. The stand’s been serving up wieners for 29 years. You’ll find them grilling from April through the end of December. They take time off to ski during the winter. (Located near Bromley, Stratton, and Magic, who could resist skiing during the winter?)
Despite being in the midst of the high-end outlets, locally-owned businesses are sprinkled throughout the town. In fact, you can find a mixture of fancy and rustic, local and corporate, old and new, all co-existing side by side in Manchester.
With my turkey dog in hand, I headed North on Historic Route 7A. By the time I made it to Mother Myrick’s, I was ready to sample some Buttercrunch–highly recommended by my dear cousin Nancie. But. What? Huh? Closed for spring cleaning?!?!? I trudged onward and after a quick stop at the Orvis Outlet I arrived at Orvis’ flagship store.
Founded in Manchester in 1856, Orvis is America’s oldest mail-order outfitter and longest continually operating fly fishing business. Orvis is a big fish in a big pond. According to their Web site, it’s an “international, multi-channel retailer with more than $340 million in sales (2012) and approximately 1,700 employees. It’s also the the world leader in fly fishing.”
Speaking of big fish, I found some in Orvis’ well-stocked trout pond outside the store. For those new to the sport, Orvis offers free basic fly fishing classes here. You’ll need to reserve your spot in advance and the classes are only offered on certain dates, but you’ll be able to borrow a pole and get a free fly casting and outfit rigging lesson.
For those who are more advanced, Orvis’ Fly Fishing School is located across the street. And beyond the parking lot is the The American Museum of Fly Fishing. Established in 1968, it is “the steward of the history, traditions, and practices of the sport of fly fishing and promotes the conservation of its waters. The Museum collects, preserves, exhibits, studies, and interprets the artifacts, art, and literature of the sport and uses these resources to engage, educate, and benefit all.”
By now you’ve probably realized that Manchester is a destination for folks who love fly fishing. If you’re wondering why, the answer is one word or two depending on how you spell it: Battenkill or Batten Kill. It’s a nearly 60-mile long river that starts in nearby Dorset, Vermont, and flows to New York.
Just past the Orvis section of my walk, I strolled into Manchester Village, the very historic section of “Historic Route 7A.” The stately and storied Equinox Resort & Spa faces the Village Green and looming directly behind it is Mount Equinox, the tallest peak in the Taconic Mountain range at 3,825 feet. (This is the perfect hike to view fall foliage. Yankee named Manchester, Vermont, Number 3 on their Top 25 Foliage Town list in 2010.)
One tidbit from the hotel’s history centers on the Lincoln Family. To escape the summer heat of Washington, in 1864 President Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and her two sons visited the Equinox. They planned to return the following year with Lincoln himself, but he was assassinated on April 14, 1865. Lincoln’s son, Robert, fell in love with the area during his first trip and eventually built Hildene, his summer estate, down the road. Read two more articles about Hildene: One features the grounds and buildings and the other features a “Local Treasure” on permanent display, the 72-foot Sunbeam Pullman Palace railroad car, both written by Yankee‘s historian-in-residence Aimee Seavey.
After trekking around Manchester Village, I doubled back towards what was once called Malfunction Junction, where Routes 7A and 11/30 intersect and what has been re-branded as Function Junction with its easy-to-navigate rotary.
Just beyond the rotary at 4886 Historic Main Street I chatted with Anne Houser who has owned The Mountain Goat with her husband Ron since 1987. This duo know their stuff–outdoor sports apparel and gear–and their area. After offering me a pamphlet filled with The Mountain Goat’s “Favorite Day Hikes” (click that link for the electronic version), I realized I would not be hiking anywhere today so I asked about some of her in-town recommendations.
The lunch and breakfast time-frame at the Little Rooster Cafe had already passed, so that was out. Ice cream at Spiral Scoops; rats, another sweet treat shop already closed for the day. And, Depot 62, The Southern Vermont Arts Center on West Road. These were some of the same recommendations offered by my cousin who is also local, but the sun was setting and my opportunity to get everything in was diminishing. My earlier plan of slow meandering at this point had turned into a frenzied sprint.
I made a quick trip to Long Ago and Far Away which specializes in Native American art, art from the Arctic, Canadian Inuit art, Vermont arts and crafts, jewelry and more. I chatted with Betsy Turner, who along with her husband Grant, have owned this shop and educated consumers about these different artisans and cultures for over 25 years.
Finally, on my tour of Manchester I settled in at the Northshire Bookstore. I love, love, love, love independent bookstores, especially Northshire, which is the family-owned (opened in 1976) variety of independent.
They’ve moved locations within Manchester over the years and expanded to a 10,000 square-foot shop (big!) in 2003. With floors of all different genres of books, a kids section with toys, plus used books, they are the ultimate in bookstores. And doesn’t every great bookstore need wide-planked wooden floors?
Their staff also offers wonderful suggestions.
In 2003, they added the Spiral Press Café. Since I missed out on the Buttercrunch at Mother Myrick’s I decided to have a sweet treat and coffee from the Café.
Slightly over-caffeinated and completely over-sugared, I started browsing. I could not stop. After eating a hot dog for lunch and too much sugar for dessert, I decided to I should buy Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health.
That was the end of my day exploring Manchester, but there’s so much more on my list of things to do. Next time!