Woodstock Vermont: The Quintessential Vermont Town

Woodstock Vermont is our favorite Vermont town. When we lived in Boston, we would visit at least once per year. Why? Why not? First is the postcard-perfect town.

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We love:

  • Its many outdoor activities including hiking or just walking around town;
  • Lovely scenery, especially fall foliage when Mother Nature and our schedules mess properly, which didn’t happen this trip;

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  • Its proximity to Killington (although we no longer like the snow or ski);
  • The number of quality restaurants near the city;
  • Its interesting galleries, boutiques; and
  • The charming Gillingham General Store.

Things to do in and around Woodstock Vermont

Woodstock has a number of nearby attractions that we always find interesting to check out.

  • VINS (Vermont Institute for Natural Sciences), a non-profit organization that takes in, rehabilitates and releases injured raptors and also has a display and ongoing educational programs of birds that are not capable of being reintroduced into the wild. The Institute has interpretive displays of more than 20 raptors, ranging from beautiful white snowy owls, to speedy peregrine falcons to majestic bald eagles. The regular shows (three a day), may explain parts of the institute’s mission (such as its Emergency Room activities) and provide informative demonstrations and explanations of different birds in flight. The Institute also has exhibits on local insects and wetlands wildlife and about a mile of interpretive trails.

Woodstock 5 - VINS Owl - Good

  • Sugarbush Farm is always one of our first stops on every Woodstock trip. For those who wish, the maple forest tour and the sugarhouse provide a good overview of the entire maple syrup-making process. The real fun, however, starts with the tastings. This begins with a guided tasting of a selection of about a dozen different cheeses (especially the cheddar, which range all the way from a very mild to a 120-month cheddar) and then to the maple syrups, from the first-flow Fancy to the end of spring Grade B Amber. This, however, is only the start. The next room takes you through a self-guided tasting of sausages, cheese spreads, jellies, dips and assorted other goodies. Then comes the real challenge—deciding what and how much of these to buy and take home. A tough decision based on all the tastes you experience through the afternoon.
  • Cabot Creamery Quechee Store at which you can sample many of the dairy cooperative’s cheeses and local Vermont wines and see a range of Vermont crafts.
  • Queeche State Park, which includes a 2-mile round-trip walk along the edge of the gorge, which provides at least a first step in walking off lunch and all of the cheese samples.
  • Simon Pearce, the focal point of what passes for downtown nearby Quechee Vermont, contains a large hand-blown glass and pottery gallery, a demonstration workshop showing how each is made, and a good restaurant. The workshop was built in 1991 from the remains of an old woolen mill. It uses the power from the neighboring falls to fuel furnaces in which artisans blow the glassware that is sold upstairs and in Pearce’s other stores throughout the country. The restaurant, meanwhile, is cantilevered over the river, with a great view of the river, dam and the charming Quechee covered bridge.

Billings Farm and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park

We also visited Billings Farm and Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Park.

Marsh Billings Rockefeller Park

Although we did not take either of the tours this visit, we wanted to reexplore the National Visitor Center to reacquaint ourselves with the inspiring founders and conservators of the farm and the home. First came George Marsh, born on the large prosperous farm and returning to it after a distinguished career as a Congressman, diplomat (U.S. Minister to Turkey and then to Italy) and author of the pioneering book “Man and Nature”, which explored how humanity was abusing nature, the consequences of its actions and the need to act as a steward and conservator of the land.

Then came Frederick Billings, who returned to his boyhood Woodstock home after making his fortune in San Francisco’s Gold Rush-era as the founder of the city’s first major law firm, a real estate speculator, a founder and first president of the University of California and president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. when he returned to Woodstock, he bought Billings Farm and hired George Aitken, a professional farm manager to turn the farm into a professional, sustainable enterprise. Billings and Aitken instituted sustainable farming practices, bred and created a dairy herd of pure-bread Jersey cows, helped neighboring farmers improve their practices and rehabilitated the surrounding forest by replanting thousands of indigenous trees and repaired streams that had been decimated by early 19th-century logging. When Billings died, his wife, daughter and grand-daughter continued these practices, including through the Depression.

Then came the final conservator. Billings granddaughter, Mary, married Laurence Rockefeller who was committed to the same time of sustainability and conservation practices as Marsh and Billings—and brought much greater funding (via his grandfather John D. and father John D., Jr.) to the endeavor.

While he and Mary continued and expanded upon the pioneering practices of the farm and the land, they also committed their efforts and their resources throughout the country. For example, they were among the driving forces behind the recreation of Historical Williamsburg Virginia, bought and donated the island of St. Johns to the U.S., preserving most as a National Park and encouraged and worked with businesses throughout the country to integrate sustainability and conservatorship into their businesses. He worked closely with Lady Bird Johnson on many national beautification projects. George H.W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Gold Medal and he and Mary ended up granting the Marsh -Billings-Rockefeller Mansion to the National Park Service upon their deaths.

A fascinating and inspiring story of the commitment and accomplishments of three families over four generations.

New Woodstock Area Discoveries

Each time we return to Woodstock, we also find some new discoveries. This year, we discovered:

  • Andrew Pearce (Simon’s oldest son) Wooden Bowl Carving workshop and showroom. The showroom provides interesting information on how they select the trees to use for bowls. Then how they use logs in a way that yields 7-, 10-, 13-, 17-, and 20-inch (and occasionally larger) bowls from each 24-inch section of a log half, the 34-day process of kiln-drying the wood, the use of coring lathes in shaping the bottoms and watching the hand-carving, sanding and oiling processes required finish each bowl. In the shop you can see and buy bowls including the handful of huge, unique, hand-carved bowls with fascinating shapes and unique grain patterns that sell for $2,000 or more.

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  • Robin Mix Glassblowing Studio. When we were in Quechee, we saw some of Robin’s glass which was so interesting that we took the 30-minute drive to his workshop in Tumbridge VT. Robin spent time explaining and demonstrating the Venetian techniques he uses for creating his unique pieces.

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  • Blake Hill Preserves is the factory store for a company that makes (and tastes) an extraordinary range of jams, preserves, marmalades and mustards. After learning the differences among each (and also jellies, which do not contain pieces of fruit and which Blake Hill does not produce), we explored the amazing range of offerings which included a wide variety of unique combinations (such as lime-tomatillo and french onion preserves) and especially jalapeno and chipotle (think jalapeno-cucumber and chipotle-lime) jams. Our, older, more staid taste buds, however, tended to lean toward the less adventuresome combinations—such as the raspberry-hibiscus and blueberry-thyme jams.
  • The explosion not only in craft breweries (a number of which we have toured and sampled on previous visits), but also craft distilleries that now operate in the area surrounding Woodstock.

One drawback, however, has always been the lack of things to do (other than eating and drinking) in the evenings. Our friends helped us address that problem by guiding us to the Woodstock Inn. We have never stayed at the Inn (very pricey, especially during foliage season) and never found the menus at either of its two restaurants (fine dining and tavern) interesting enough to draw us in. Our friends, however, guided us to the Inn’s basement, which has a large game room with a full-size pool table, foosball and shuffleboard tables, three pinball machine and a video game machine from which numerous games can be selected. All of these are free and you can buy and bring down drinks from the upstairs tavern to the game room.

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