Our region is located in the heart of Vermont and is conveniently accessed by Interstate 89. Not surprisingly, a good many of our first-time visitors stop here on their way to someplace else. What they quickly discover, however, are scenic vistas, warm greetings and unique shopping, lodging, and dining experiences – such that the next time they come this way, this is their destination.
The eleven towns that make up our region offer all of the beauty and charm for which Vermont is well known, as well as all of the amenities and benefits of a more populated area. We are home to an exceptional hospital Gifford Medical Center; outstanding educational institutions, including a four-year baccalaureate college, Vermont Tech, which for four years running has been ranked among the top ten public colleges in the North by US News and World Report; the Chandler Center for the Arts, which hosts a wide range of concerts, programs, and festivals throughout the year; and numerous restaurants, retail businesses, services providers and manufacturers. We have some fantastic localvore dining options and incredible art galleries & shops. We are also home to a number of family and commercial farms that are making a steady move toward diversified and sustainable practices.
Bethel was the first town chartered by Independent Vermont in 1779 and was named after the the Biblical village of Bethel. Dudley Chase, a grantee, was on a surveying expedition with a group of men. The men made camp in an area near the (now) entrance to Gilead Brook Road where there is a group of large moss covered rocks. The men slept on the rocks and upon waking, Dudley Chase declared that it was the best night sleeping he had ever had, just like the Biblical experience of Jacob when sleeping in a field with a stone for a pillow. In the Biblical story, Jacob named the place Beth-el (House of God). Chase’s associates were so impressed that they named the town the same.
Bethel sits at the intersection of three branches of the White River. The downtown of Bethel sits quite literally ‘over’ the river, looming above the rushing waters that sidle through the village. Full of local community pride, each year a two day Bethel Forward Festival is held, celebrating the town, the residents, and the businesses that call Bethel home. It is a charming community, located just off Exit 3 on I-89.
Most of Bethel’s Main Street is an Historic District. One of the most important buildings in downtown is the Bethel Town Hall, at the junction of Main and Church Streets. Architect George Guernsey designed this historic building in 1891. The Town Hall is home to the Bethel Historical Society, which displays materials related to the history of Bethel.
Bethel is known for being the source of Bethel White granite which was used to build Union Station in Washington D.C. and the National Museum of Natural History.
A Unique Treat for Visitors
Braintree was likely named by its founders, many of whom came from Braintree Massachusetts. The Braintree Hill Meetinghouse on Braintree Hill Road, was originally used as a church in the early 1800’s. Today it serves school functions and Old Home Day festivities, and is home to the Braintree Historical Society’s museum (in the basement).
In 1991 local sculptor Jim Sardonis installed “Mother Panther with Cubs” on the green in front of the Meetinghouse. The granite he carved came from an abandoned quarry in Braintree. The sculpture is a great place to photograph children, climbing and sitting on the piece, as it was designed to be enjoyed.
The village of East Braintree was called Snowsville for a time, after Jeremiah Snow, who arrived there around 1812. Local tradition has it that he was a sailor, that experienced a religious epiphany and converted. Jeremiah gave up the sea and became a preacher in Braintree. He never accepted money for preaching and always dressed in his sailor clothes when he preached, because it’s what he had on when his life changed.
Snow and his wife were certain the main stage line from Boston to Burlington would come through the town so they built a gristmill and sawmill in East Braintree. Other businesses followed suit and the village grew. The stage went elsewhere, but the village’s former name lives on in the general store in the center of the village.
The Snowsville General Store carries groceries, beer, candy, native clothing, a wide assortment of firearms, worms for fishing, a scale for weighing deer and bear during hunting season, and a display of taxidermied animals that is a sight to behold. No visit to the area is complete without visiting Kris and Gene in the Snowsville General Store. If you have any questions about Braintree, it’s the best place to ask them.
Sunset Lake and the Brookfield Floating Bridge
“The Pond,” as it is referred to locally, has always been central to life in Brookfield; as a source of recreation for swimming, fishing, boating and ice skating, and as the main focal point around which the town grew.
It was the place where festivals happened, many ceremonies were held, and the backdrop to which local and visiting couples were married. It was used all four seasons for races, ice harvesting, catching a meal or just cooling off and enjoying the day.
When, frozen, it was typical for residents to cross the icy pond to save themselves time getting from one side to the other. Unfortunately, in 1813, local resident Daniel Belknap crossed the pond while it was covered by only a thin layer of ice. Mr. Belknap fell through the ice and drowned.
In response to the tragedy, Luther Adams and several of his neighbors decided it was time to finally build a bridge across the pond.
Adams and others wanted to make certain that people could cross the pond safely. Together they pitched in for the cost of materials and labor and a basic bridge was built. The bridge was no more than logs bound together on top of the ice. When the ice melted, the logs floated, and the first Brookfield Floating Bridge was open for use.
Townsfolk now had a safer way to get from one side to the other, but in short order it was clear it was not an ideal bridge. Old logs became waterlogged and begin to sink, so logs had to be replaced every few years.
Despite the maintenance required to keep it operational, in March of 1826, Brookfield town records indicate the townsfolk voted to “lay a road across the pond by Colt’s Mills,” making the first floating bridge a town owned structure and part of the official town road system. Today the bridge is an official section of VT Route 65.
Twin Commons and Much More
Chelsea is a peaceful community with a timeless feel. It sits neatly in the valley called First Branch. Buildings range from new to more than two and a quarter centuries old. With such age comes wisdom, and Chelsea was selected to be the seat of county government for Orange County, VT.
On one side of town is the Chelsea Animal Hospital, which offers holistic and homeopathic treatments as well as mainstream medical care to bring good health to pets. On the other end of town stands the Chelsea Health Center, the nation’s oldest community-owned medical center, and in between are charming properties, the country store and more.
The town center boasts the unique feature of twin commons surrounded by classic buildings. Here they hold the Chelsea Flea Market, known far and wide as one of the best places to find unique and antique items and deals. People drive for hours to see what vendors will have for sale – collectables, furniture, comic books, baseball cards, old china patterns and silver are commonly sold next to homemade crafts, fresh squeezed lemonade, jelly, and gently used toys.
Chelsea has beautiful farms, recreational fields, a public library, horseshoe pits and a friendly and tight knit community. It is a beautiful setting for hiking, hunting and fishing, and for raising a family.
Home of Texas Falls
Hancock is located where VT Route 100 meets Route 125. It is ideally situated midway between Killington and Sugarbush ski areas and it is a small town with Hubbard’s Store and the Hancock Hotel as its anchors. Hancock is mostly woodlands and an ideal location to enjoy nature’s bounty.
In the winter, Hancock is home to Middlebury College Snow Bowl, a family ski area on Route 125. The ‘Snow Bowl’ is operated by Middlebury College and has been since 1934, when its first trails were cut. Skiers can enjoy 17 trails, 3 lifts, and access to 110 acres of winter terrain. Middlebury College Snow Bowl became the first carbon-neutral ski area in the United States in 2006. You can rent skis, get lessons, and purchase food in the lodge at very reasonable rates. Half day tickets are also available so you can split your day between skiing and exploring the region. And if you are interested in ski lessons, they have great group and private deals during the school vacations.
One of the nicest ways to spend a summer’s day in Hancock is to explore and picnic at Texas Falls. These falls are viewed from a series of pathways and bridges kept by the Green Mountain National Forest. They provide stunning opportunities to appreciate the power of water in nature, and the photo ops are amazing. Hikers can enjoy the nearby Robert Frost Interpretive Trail and the Long Trail, or just meander along the marked paths by the falls. There is ample parking and a covered picnicking area as well and dogs are welcome as long as they are leashed.
Small Town Life in All its Glory
Randolph exudes small town charm. It is the hub of the White River Valley region, with a population just under 5,000. Here you will find shopping, many restaurants operating with Farm-to-Table practices, charming galleries, an Amtrak station, churches and many other businesses, all without a single stop light.
From I-89, you enter downtown Randolph (not to be confused with Randolph Center) by crossing over the river. There you arrive on Main Street, taking in a view straight through the town center that makes you want to stop and take a photograph. If it’s not summertime, just imagine the scene with American flags on the lamp posts, and the 4th of July Parade marching right down Main Street, which happens every year.
Beautiful historic buildings line the road, interspersed by charming homes. Chandler Music Hall, voted best small theatre in New England by Yankee Magazine, has become a completely modernized facility while preserving its historic integrity. Kimball Library stands nearby to welcome you for story time, computer use or just to relax with a good book. In Randolph you can take in a movie at The Playhouse, Vermont’s oldest operating movie theater. The Playhouse has been completely upgraded including dolby digital sound and 3D digital projection, so don’t expect anything old fashioned when you catch a show (except the prices).
Amenities are offered by the town such as a town skating rink in the winter, and in the summer a playground, town pool and a Frisbee golf course that travels along the river’s edge. Randolph has an award winning medical center and critical access hospital, the State’s only technical college, and a full size grocery store, along with many amenities of a larger town, all while remaining a close and personable community.
Small shops and delicious places to eat are found throughout the town. Don’t miss a trip into Belmain’s, one of the few “Five and Dime” stores still left in the area. There you will find a little of everything from greeting cards, to fabric, to household goods, to chocolates. You can purchase clothing, mementos, and they have a wide selection of gift items, including toys and games for children of all ages.
Across the road is The Blue Moon Boutique, the favorite store of many females near and far, with their wide assortment of colorful fashions, and there eclectic jewelry, incense, bags, hats and other gift items. “Blue Moon” is a kaleidoscope for the eyes.
At the intersection of Main Street and Merchants Row you can find delicious food at Black Krim Tavern, One Main Tap and Grill, and The Randolph Depot. Sapp restaurant, the only authentic northern Thai restaurant in the state, is just up Randolph Avenue, only a couple blocks from downtown. Other fine food choices include Village Pizza, East Garden Restaurant and Al’s Pizzaria. Further down the road is Chef’s Market Produce and Provisions where you can get amazing sandwiches, soups and other organic, specialty and gluten free foods.
Outside of downtown, just down Stock Farm Road, you will find the Three Stallion Inn. Here you can stay in well appointed country charm, and enjoy dinner in the tavern from Willy B’s. On warm summer evenings, you should consider sitting on their deck and at times you can even catch entertainment there. The Three Stallion Inn boards horses, hosts trails for hiking, cross country skiing, mountain biking, snowshoeing and just plain walking. Across from the inn you will see part of the Montague Golf Course, which you access off Randolph Avenue in town. This 18 hole course is both relaxing and challenging all in one.
Gifford Medical Center, the community’s medical home, is open 24/7 and has some of the nicest and most experienced doctors you could hope to find. With centers of excellence in the Birthing Center, Sports Medicine, and Palliative Care, Gifford is a special place to get the primary or urgent care you need. On Tuesday evening’s in the summer, you can usually find a free Concert on Gifford Park. One of the many things the hospital does for residents and visitors of the region.
Community at its best
As you meander your way north on Vermont’s Scenic Route 100 Byway, you will find the town of Rochester midway between the Killington and Sugarbush Resorts-both easily accessed, but far enough away from the hustle and bustle of resort development. Tucked between the Green Mountains and the Braintree Range, Rochester is a quiet, unhurried place with a picturesque village and park that hosts Sunday night summer concerts, fairs, and just plain relaxing.
Rochester is home to several employers and is a good place to raise a family – in a country setting surrounded by friendly neighbors and Mother Nature’s beauty. Farmers raise llamas, cows, pigs, sheep and goats, and agritourism is alive and well at Liberty Hill Farm. The Huntington House and Doc’s Tavern will delight your taste buds at night, and dining on their porch during one of the summer concerts on the park is an experience not to be missed. Sandy’s Bakery and School Street Bistro are also excellent places to eat. For a touch of nostalgia, visit the Rochester Café and Country Store and enjoy a milkshake while sitting at an authentic 1940s soda fountain.
A drive through “the Hollows”, situated above the village along the Braintree Range, provides superb views and delightful alternation of field and forest. The Western portion of the town lies within the Green Mountain National Forest and is used by sportsmen, picnickers, campers and hikers. Swimming holes, old town roads, mountain bike trails-all kinds of recreation awaits you.
Rochester is a town with exceptional community spirit. Although small, the turn-out at high school sports games is fantastic, and their teams frequently make the playoffs. The annual Harvest Fest and July 4th parade are attended by almost every resident, and they all take the opportunity to stop and chat, catching up with people they have not seen ‘for a spell’.
A place like no other
By S. Royalton author Kate George
Royalton is a place like no other. Stand on the hill above the South Royalton Green and view the village laid out in front of you – so picturesque it was used in the opening scene in the popular TV show Gilmore Girls. It is a community in the strongest sense of the word, neighbors helping neighbors in a town where neighbors could be from anywhere in the world. Vermont Law School makes its home there, drawing students from all over the world, creating a diverse multicultural community.
Visitors to Royalton can breakfast at one of the delicious local restaurants, climb the trail to Kent’s ledge and view the town, fields and river laid out in front of them, or sit on the banks of the White River and watch it roll by. They can enjoy the reflection of the trees in the deep, clear water, or swim, paddle, and tube from bridge to bridge. Dinner and a brew can be purchased at Cross Roads Bar and Grille, the Worthy Burger, or 5 Ole Tavern followed by a stroll to the park is a perfect summer evening. On Thursday’s you can listen to the town band play at the gazebo.
An ancient cemetery and Celtic caves await intrepid adventurers. During the summer sample local produce, jams, baked goods and handmade items from local artisans at the weekly Farmer’s Market held on the town green Thursday afternoons. The Joseph Smith Memorial is especially beautiful at Christmas festooned with lights. And don’t forget to look up at night. If you’ve never lived in a place without city lights you can’t know what the night sky is really like. There are more stars than you can imagine, and South Royalton is the perfect place to take some time to learn their names.
A Mormon and Connecticut Connection
Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Latter-day Saints was born in Sharon and a visitor center and monument can be explored just a short drive up Dairy Hill Road to LDS Lane. In the winter the church lights up a winter spectacle, complete with a covered bridge made from lights and a live nativity scene using real animals in a manger. The visitor center offers a multimedia presentation of the story of the prophet and church good for all ages. The grounds are beautifully kept and a wonderful place to walk, meditate and contemplate one’s spiritual life.
Sharon gets its name from Sharon, Connecticut, where many of its original settlers once lived. Located alongside the scenic White River, Sharon enjoys wonderful fishing spots, deep swimming holes and whitewater rapids ready for riding in the spring. With a community population of just under 1,400 people, the town offers small town life with elegant dining, general stores, a post office, and a public library with free 24-hour high-speed WiFi.
Sharon is home to the Vermont Institute for the Arts and to the Sharon Academy, a private middle school and high school. Sharon is also home to the Seven Stars Art Center, Camp Downer summer camp, and Gifford Medical Center’s renowned sports medicine clinic the Sharon Health Center. And let us not forget that Sharon is home to Sandy’s where you can get a great creemie in the summertime!
More than 2,000 acres of wildlife habitat have either been put into conservation or are part of the State Forest, making Sharon an ideal place to commune with nature. Bird watching, mushroom hunting, leaf peeping, pinecone collecting, or searching for fiddleheads in the spring are all great ways to get the whole family into the woods and meadows.
Flow like the river….
Stockbridge has more than its fair share of rivers and streams, making it the ideal place to spend a day relaxing on the water’s edge, or in the river during hot summer days. Residents and visitors enjoy several options in deciding where to go, including the White and Tweed Rivers and Fletcher and Stony Brooks. The Tweed and White Rivers are known far and wide for their excellent fishing, white water canoeing, and plentiful shore space for sitting in a beach chair and dipping your toes.
Everyone should spend some time in Vermont enjoying the river. Major roads have turn-offs that allow parking all up and down the shores. On a warm day you can see groups large and small tubing, kayakers paddling and friends and families swimming. One of the deepest fishing and swimming holes in the region is under the bridge on Blackmer Boulevard in Stockbridge. Just off Route 107, this bridge has parking off to either side and a trail that takes you down to the waterfront. It is a popular place for locals to spend the day fishing, floating, tanning, swimming and picnicking.
Tunbridge is home to to the famous Tunbridge World’s Fair, held annually in mid-September. Generations of farm families have displayed their livestock, entered their giant pumpkin and/or their best apple pie in contests. The fair awards sewing, art, photography, flower arrangement and group projects as well as prizes for the most creative vegetable-face creations. It is a fair steeped in generations of farm family tradition. Many Vermonters consider the days of the Tunbridge World’s Fair to be unofficial holidays, and take this time off from work to spend it with their family members at the fair.
The first fair was held at the Lougee Farm in North Tunbridge in 1867 and was organized by the Tunbridge Agricultural Society. The Union Agricultural Society moved the fair to its current location at the fairgrounds when it assumed sponsorship in 1875. The fair features a wide array of agricultural, livestock, and traditional crafts along with food, horse shows, sulky racing, entertainment, and antique displays.
According to the Tunbridge Fair website at www.tunbridgefair.com,“The Tunbridge World’s Fair has run continuously since 1867 except in 1918, due to the great flu epidemic, and during World War II.” The fairgrounds are also used for many other events throughout the year, including the Vermont History Expo held biennially on even years.A drive through Tunbridge is a visual treat. The vistas include rolling hills, pastoral landscapes showing its agricultural roots, classic New England architecture, and the bridges that cross the First Branch of the White River and other major brooks.
But Tunbridge is so much more than just the fair. It has several historic sights including Hayward & Kibby (or Hayward & Noble) Mill on Spring Road in the village and the South Tunbridge Methodist Episcopal Church. It is also home to five covered bridges: Cilley Bridge (in the village off Howe Lane from VT 110), Flint Bridge (on Hill Road off VT 110), Larkin Bridge (on Larkin Road off VT 110), Howe Bridge (at Belknap Road entering Vt 110), and Village Bridge (in the village on Spring Road). All of these bridges are listed on the National Register.
It is where dairy farmer and actor Fred Tuttle, was born, raised and lived out his entire life. It has one of the liveliest grange halls around and is a true agricultural community. Tunbridge is a very special place. If you are lucky enough to attend one of the grange hall dances, you know what we are talking about!
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