Hospitality fit for generations of presidents.
With its clapboard houses, clear mountain
air, covered bridges and fly-fishing streams, tiny Manchester is
classic New England.
Text and Photos by Toby Saltzman
If Abe Lincoln had escaped assassination in April of 1865, he may
have spent the finest summer of his life that year in Manchester,
a pretty village tucked in a valley between the high mountains of
southern Vermont, in a suite specially designed for him at Equinox
The inn had served American history well by the time Lincoln's
wife, Mary, and son, Robert Todd, visited a summer earlier. Its
old Marsh Tavern (circa 1769) had harbored the revolutionary Green
Mountain Boys. When they confiscated the property, the owner, a
British sympathizer, fled to Canada.
Over two centuries the inn was transformed by successive owners
whose tastes (or lack thereof) resulted in a nondescript, incohesive
architecture. Yet the sprawling, white clapboard inn graced by fluted
columns was so pleasing with its fresh mountain air, ingratiating
hospitality and bathrooms running "splendid mountain water" that
it lured the likes of Presidents Taft, Grant, Harrison, and Roosevelt.
By 1972, however, the Equinox was shuttered, so dilapidated it
only missed demolition by the stroke of a pen listing it on the
National Register of Historic Places. It has been extensively renovated
since then. Today the Equinox is an impressive, all-season resort-hotel.
|Vermont has numerous covered
We arrived in Manchester Village on the dot of noon. Its white
marble sidewalks gleamed in the sunshine. The big "fish" weather
vane on a pristine cottage, which turned out to be the American
Museum of Flyfishing, twirled in the breeze. And bells in the church
steeple pealed a sentimental melody. When the chimes stopped, it
was blissfully peaceful.
Like many, early New England settlements that became fashionable
summer retreats in the late 1800s, Manchester is a haven of clapboard
estate homes, many of which are registered "historic", many of which
are now hospitable Bed & Breakfasts or inns. None approach the grandeur
of the Equinox.
Its sunny verandah, scattered with green rockers, gives way to
a formal interior rich with antiques, plush carpets and decorative
splashes of lemon and Wedgwood blue. Yet the ambience is absolute
Vermont, exceedingly amenable to folks in fishing gear, golf togs
or fancy dress clothes alike. And there's dining to suit. With its
flaming hearth and Windsor chairs, the Marsh Tavern invites casual
meals. Most nights it jumps with locals imbibing single malts to
the music of popular bands. The opulent Colonnade dining room has
a venerable sense of occasion. Once the inn's carriage house, now
elegantly contrived in hues of crimson and cream, it is a beautiful,
alcoved space with curved, hand-stenciled ceilings. Classical piano
music enhances the memorable cuisine. Roasted oysters, smoked trout
bisque and grilled yellow-fin tuna are tantalizing appetizers. The
farm pheasant is lightly herbed, succulent beyond belief; the trio
of snapper, scallops and lobster delicately poached so each flavor
shines. Desserts are divine concoctions spun with sugar, dolloped
with chocolate or dense with pecans.
Guests settle comfortably into rooms or suites appointed with bleached-pine
furnishings, rocking chairs and Audubon prints. Chances are, the
devoted team of concierges will entice you to Vermont's magical
outdoor pastimes: learning the art of fly-fishing at the inn's private
pond, horseback riding on guided mountain trails, hunting or shooting
sporting clays, hiking the Appalachian Trail or biking to quaint
You can choose to stay put, thank you very much, indulge in the
spa, or take cues on the art of "partner massage". Golfers who glimpse
the Equinox's gorgeous Gleneagles Course will be hard pressed to
stray...unless they're avid fishermen, too, in which case they'll
suffer an emotional tug-of-war between teeing off and tackling the
|View of Manchester Village
the Equinox golf course.
One of the finest 18-hole golf courses in Vermont, the Equinox
Gleneagles Course, named after its sister course in Scotland, hosts
the qualifying rounds for the US Senior Amateur Championship. Originally
laid out in 1926 by Walter Travis, the 6423-yard par-71 course was
rebuilt in 1991 by Rees Jones to incur a host of challenges: curving
sandtraps guarding elevated greens, hilly bunkers flanking undulating
Though thoroughly enjoyable, Gleneagles is tough for the average
player. Take the 13th hole. A long par-4 culminating in a slippery
green perched on a hilly peak, its rough of high, wild grass, dubbed
the "snake pit", virtually swallows stray balls. Even low-handicappers
cringe at the 17th hole, a meandering par-4 with an out-of-bounds
hugging its dogleg left.
"It's not the longest golf course in the world," said Gleneagles'
pro Richard Wood. "Most players finish insisting the yardage on
the score card is wrong. It's not. With the elevated greens, when
the wind comes up, the course plays long. Everyone who plays Gleneagles,
Summer in Vermont is glorious, but for true fishermen it pales
in comparison to the spring "mud season" or the dazzling fall foliage
season. Craig Lawrence Sr., the "Brookside Angler" who teaches fly
fishing at Equinox's private pond and organizes fishing excursions
said, "The Battenkill is the most difficult fly stream in the northeast,
if not the whole country. But if you get to know the river, the
fishing can be excellent."
On the verandah we met novice fisherman Dr. Mark Seal, a urologist
playing hooky from his practice in Ohio. Most of his time here,
he was knee deep in water, loving every minute. He said, "I learned
the end point isn't the fish, it's the art. Fly-fishing is a sport
you can enjoy alone that takes you to serene places hidden from
pagers and your hectic pace. Best of all, returning at day's end
to this peaceful village and the Equinox feels so fine."
Contact The Equinox, Historic Rte. 7A,
Manchester Village, VT 05254.
Phone: 1-800-362-4747 or 802-362-4700.
Rates vary from US $189. for a standard double room to US $599.
for the top suite. Fully equipped townhouse suites vary from US
$399. to US$699. Adjacent to the main building, the historic Orvis
Inn is an inviting, all-suite corporate retreat with a private concierge
and board room. (Call for current rates.) Golf, spa, sportsmen and
ski packages are available. Non-guests may book golf games two days
Manchester Village is a good base for enjoying Southern Vermont's
Hildene, Robert Todd Lincoln's
1905 Georgian Revival mansion, is southern Vermont's grandest dwelling.
In summer, its gorgeous gardens and meadowlands host the Vermont
Symphony Orchestra concerts, polo matches and craft fairs.
The American Museum of Fly Fishing
tells the "Reel Story" with displays of antique angling gear, rods,
reels and flies once owned by Daniel Webster and Dwight D. Eisenhour.
It is a good source of guidebooks, licenses and Vermont fishing
The Bennington Museum is a
treasure trove of decorative arts, historic New England artifacts
and the largest public collection of works by Grandma Moses.
Manchester shopping maps are
as popular as touring maps. Orvis, the world famous fishing outfitter,
is a hub of stylish gear and sexy fish lures. Manchester Commons
is a collection of terrific designer factory outlets.
Vermont Website: www.vermont.com