After my husband and I were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in March, we were thrilled to celebrate our new status by having a weekend away, in the sleepy picture book village of Grafton, Vermont. My husband wrote a piece about our escape for our newspaper, The Chronicle. I have reproduced it below, accompanied by my photos.
By Mark Frost
Late last October, desperate for a respite in COVID lockdown meltdown, my wife Hutch located a haven in Vermont with everything we craved for a weekend away — a house in a classic Vermont town with a working wood fireplace and a welcome mat for dogs. We had to have our Wheatens with us.
Enter Tuttle House, Grafton, Vermont, one of several houses in the cozy little town that the Grafton Inn rents out in addition to the rooms in the inn that dates from 1801. (Its guests have included Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ulysses S. Grant, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Theodore Roosevelt.)
When Hutch booked our reservation last fall, the clerk warned that under Vermont protocols then in effect, they would check our county’s COVID rate on the Tuesday prior to our scheduled arrival. If it was too high, they’d cancel our reservation and refund our deposit. That ended up happening. Curses, foiled again.
Flash forward to the weekend before Easter. Vaccinated now, travel rules less draconian, Tuttle House available, we booked it again — and this time we weren’t turned away. They let us rent just the first floor. We had two bedrooms, one bath, a full kitchen and living room. What a terrific long weekend we had.
Grafton is on the way to nowhere. From Manchester, we drove 30 miles east past Londonderry on State Route 30, then Route 11; then 10 miles southeast on Route 121. In Vermont, its being a state highway doesn’t mean it’s a paved road. Route 121 wasn’t. And it was mud season. Rutted, mushy, slippery enough that the chance of running off the road or bogging down was real. Can’t drive fast, but don’t want to risk going too slow. We had a big laugh when along the way through the woods we passed an AAA sign in front of a house, presumably where a tow truck operator lives. We told ourselves, at least we know where we can turn for help — although we wouldn’t be able to call for it. No cell service on our phones. We found out later only AT&T reaches around there. The road was passable, but on the return home Monday we opted to take the longer, paved Route 35 back to Route 11.
Grafton, 76 miles from our home in Glens Falls, New York, isn’t on the way to anywhere, which is its charm but was almost its demise. In the 19th century it thrived with production of cheese, wool and soapstone quarried on Bear Mountain. As those industries faded, Grafton did too. The population dwindled, the town withered. Enter Dean Mathey, Princeton-educated “successful New York financier who [as a youth] spent summer vacations with his cousin, Matt Hall, in Grafton.”
In 1963, Mathey established the Windham Foundation, which bought and restored the inn and numerous other houses and buildings — and set about making Grafton a viable, attractive destination. Mr. Mathey died in 1972 at 81, but the Windham Foundation continues its mission “to preserve Vermont’s rural way of life,” in Grafton and elsewhere.
The Inn and town are wonderfully low-key, friendly and genuine. There are extensive trails for hiking and snowshoeing. The inn has bicycles for guest use. The Inn’s 1801 Restaurant and Phelps Barn Pub are open to the public as well as to guests. Our room rate included one night’s dinner and daily breakfast. The inn was just a short stroll through our backyard to get to. Our dogs appreciated having a backyard, which has a grill like you find on a Lake George picnic site and a bag of charcoal was there for us. Nice back porch too.
We enjoyed our dinner at the inn. Another night we ordered the daily take-out dinner — this night it was chicken marsala —offered by the market around the corner. The privately owned store is in the mercantile building the Foundation owns.
Our fireplace was large and ready for instant use — just light the match; the kindling, wood and paper were prepped. There’s a vintage pot arm once used for cooking. On the front porch was plenty of good, seasoned firewood. We used a lot of it, particularly Sunday, when it rained and the wind blew hard most of the day. It was perfect. As Hutch is now telling people, it inspired me to skip my usual fare of news and sports and read a novel. The inn and its houses have WiFi available — until, on Sunday, the power went out in the wind and rain for a couple of hours.At that point — Sunday afternoon — the inn was actually closed for business, the start of a 10-day mud season shutdown. But because we were already in our house, they let us stay over even though we may have been the only lodgers still there.
Another thing we prize about Vermont is that they trust you not to be an imbecile. The only guidance at the fireplace was “Please Open Damper Before Lighting Fire.” In New York, we’d have expected 27 warning clauses that would have ended in a ruling that you couldn’t actually use the fireplace.
The Grafton library was at the other end of the block where our house was. Hutch moseyed in and had a nice conversation with the friendly librarian, who let her take a book for the weekend on the history of the Windham Foundation.
The Foundation headquarters is a short walk away, adjacent to a pond that says “Swim At Your Own Risk,” “No Diving” and “Fishing Only by Children Under 12.” Just up the hill is the local elementary school.
The Foundation re-launched Grafton Cheese as an additional economic development effort. The pandemic has curtailed its operation in the town, though its cheese shop in Brattleboro is said to be doing well.
There’s a nice little home furnishings store and a blacksmith shop, too, but Grafton is not a shopping destination. It’s a relaxation destination, and that’s exactly what we did.
We hope to get back to “our house in Vermont” with both our dogs, both our sons and maybe more friends and family too. Several other houses are also available. The Innkeeper told us, though, that in normal times, on most weekends May through October, all the rooms — in the inn and houses — are frequently taken entirely by a wedding. For Vermont enthusiasts, this would be as nice a destination as a wedding entourage could hope for.