No trip to New England would be complete for us without staying at our favorite New England town: Woodstock. We have visited Woodstock so often that we almost feel like natives.
This charming late 19th/early 20th–century Currier and Ives-type village was created in 1777 when it became the terminus for the White River Junction Railway. It began attracting tourists since the beginning and hasn’t stopped. The town prospered under the environmental stewardship of James Perkins Marsh, the progressive farming and forest management practices of Frederick Billings and the support and philanthropy of Billing’s daughter Mary and her philanthropist husband Laurence Rockefeller.
What We Love About Woodstock Vermont
What’s not to love:
- Its many outdoor activities include hiking, cross-country skiing or just walking around town which includes the charming Gillingham General Store. This large, old-time general store seems to carry everything that anyone may someday need for some unanticipated purpose.
- Lovely scenery, especially during fall foliage season when Mother Nature turns the area into a spectacular scenery;
- Explore the town’s interesting galleries and boutique stores.
Things to do around Woodstock Vermont
Woodstock has a number of nearby attractions that we always find interesting to check out.
- VINS (Vermont Institute for Natural Sciences). This non-profit organization takes in, rehabilitates, and releases injured raptors. It also has a display and ongoing educational programs of birds that are not capable of being reintroduced into the wild. The Institute provides interpretive displays of more than 20 raptors, ranging from beautiful white snowy owls, to speedy peregrine falcons to majestic bald eagles. The regular shows 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.
- Sugarbush Farm is always one of our first stops on every Woodstock trip. Their maple forest tour and the sugarhouse provide a good overview of the entire maple syrup-making process. The real fun, however, starts with a guided tasting of their cheeses (especially the cheddar, which ranges all the way from a very mild to a 120-month-aged 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 local sausages, cheese spreads, jellies, dips, and assorted other goodies that they sell. 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.
- Quechee State Park, which includes a 2-mile round-trip walk along the edge of the gorge, provides at least a first step in walking off lunch and all of the cheese samples.
- Billings Farm and Museum is an outdoor museum that contains a self-guided tour of this historic, working dairy farm that provides a range of exhibits, interactive activities, and educational programs;
- Simon Pearce is located in nearby Quechee Vermont. It contains a large hand-blown glass and pottery gallery, a demonstration workshop that hows 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 is cantilevered over the river and has a great view of the river, dam, and the charming Quechee covered bridge.
- Andrew Pearce (Simon’s oldest son) Wooden Bowl Carving workshop and showroom educates visitors on how they select the trees to use for bowls and the process of bowl carving. And, of course, they offer bowls for sale, including the handful of huge, unique, hand-carved bowls with fascinating shapes and unique grain patterns that sell for $2,000 or more.
This park offers tours of the mansion, in addition to outdoor activities such as hiking and other activities.
Its inspiring founders and conservators of the farm and the home started with George Marsh. he was born on the large prosperous farm and returned to it after a distinguished career as a Congressman, diplomat (U.S. Minister to Turkey and then to Italy). He was also the 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 repairing streams that had been decimated by early 19th-century logging. When Billings died, his wife, daughter, and granddaughter continued these practices, including through the Depression.
The final conservator was Billings granddaughter Mary. She 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.
In addition to expanding upon the pioneering practices of the farm and the land, Mary and Laurence 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. Laurence 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.
Interesting Stops A Little Further Out
- Robin Mix Glassblowing Studio. If you like glass, Robin Mix has a workshop in Turnbridge Vermont, a 30-minute drive from Woodstock. We watched Robin blow glass while he explained and demonstrated the Venetian techniques he uses for creating his unique pieces.
- Blake Hill Preserves is a factory store in Windsor Vermont (25 miles away from Woodstock). You can taste and buy an extraordinary range of jams, preserves, marmalades, and mustards. They have an 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.
- For skiers, there is the nearby Killington Ski Resort area
- And don’t forget to explore the numerous craft breweries in the area as well as craft distilleries that now operate in the area surrounding Woodstock.
For more on Woodstock, check these out: