Christmas in Vermont
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.
Grafton’s attractiveness today owes as much to the Windham Foundation — incorporated in 1963 by a wealthy family with ties to the town — as it does to nature. The organization bought up most of the central village, buried the power lines, revived the general store, and then tackled the imposing three-story Old Tavern. Craftsmen renovated and winterized it, and even added an elevator, all while carefully preserving the building’s historic detailing.
The holidays are a busy time at the Grafton Village Cheese factory, producing some of Vermont’s best prize-winning cheddars. Visitors are welcome to learn how 6,000 to 10,000 gallons of buttery milk from Jersey cows are processed daily, from cutting the curd to waxing the wheels and blocks of cheese. Different colors connote age and flavor, and visitors are welcome to sample.
Within its few streets, Grafton offers a surprising amount to savor, especially once you adjust to its pace. Step into the vintage 1811 Butterfield House, now home to the town library. Stop by The Nature Museum and be amazed by the extent of its exhibits, both interactive and stuffed.
Then step into the Jud Hartmann Gallery and find yourself in the midst of lifelike Iroquoian and Algonkian warriors and chiefs. Hartmann is nationally known for his limited-edition bronze sculptures of the Woodland tribes of the 17th- and 18th-century Northeast. Then stroll around the corner to Hunter Artworks and on up the road to Gallery North Star, hung with a variety of New England landscapes.
Woodstock’s Winter Welcome
“Summer people” began arriving in Woodstock (population 3,232), the shire town of Windsor County, in 1875, with the completion of a railroad trestle and spur line from White River Junction over Quechee Gorge. The town’s year-round resort status was assured in 1892 with the opening of the lavish Woodstock Inn, which drew guests from New York and Boston — even in winter for snowshoeing and skating. And then in 1934, America’s first rope tow began hauling skiers up Gilbert’s Hill.