I remember first driving up to Montpelier, Vermont on a truly awful autumn day. With its dreary drizzle and a landscape nearly as grey as the sky, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. “It’s so ugly!” was the first thing my girlfriend had to say about the little town we’d ventured seven hours to find. Worn out by the hours-long journey, I wasn’t enthused either, and, frankly, it really was ugly from this distance in this weather. But I forced myself to give it a chance. And thank God I did: Montpelier, Vermont happens to be one of the finest small towns in the country, with or without good weather.
Main Street Montpelier
A couple things clued me in to this fact when we rolled into Montpelier’s main street. First, unlike just about every other town in America, Montpelier’s town-center is devoid of even a single corporate logo. Instead, hearty little hole-in-the walls like Coffee Corner offer home-cooked breakfasts for a homey price, neat little nooks like Bear Pond Books make for a nostalgic shopping experience, and the Lost Nation Theater, housed in a magnificent 19th century restoration, provides professional plays and dramatic productions.
The Vermont College of Fine Arts
Further up the road (which is the only real measure of distance in a town this small) lies a true New-England campus that’s definitely worth a look, if only for the architecture of it’s many historical buildings. This unique little educational junction is actually comprised of several college campuses rolled into one: Vermont College of Fine Arts, The New England Culinary Institute, and the Community College of Vermont, each of them some of the best in their fields. The Vermont College of Fine Arts, especially, has offerings to share with more than just it’s students, with one of the most complete galleries in the state located on it’s campus. Open to all, the T.W. Wood Gallery was established in 1896 and has on display one of the largest collections of Wood’s work in the country, complimented by a wide array of artistic achievements by his colleagues and contemporaries.
The Down Town Community Association
After breathing in some academic air, and reveling in that classic-campus vibe, take a stroll back into town to check out the Montpelier Downtown Community Association. Here you can really delve into the Montpelier’s vibrant artistic and outdoorsy offerings: check out their live music and theater performances, experience their July 3 Independence Day Celebration, or take the “Montpelier Art Walk” to get a sense of what this little community is capable of.
The Great Outdoors
Perhaps arts, academics, and shopping don’t quite get your goat. If you prefer caribou to coffee, and icicles to impressionism, don’t fret: situated in the center of Vermont’s rolling green-hill country, Montpelier is the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts. Whether it’s a laid back morning of golf at Montpelier Elks Country Club, or something a bit more rugged at The Nature Conservancy, a tidy little set of trails less than a mile out of town, there are no shortage of ways to get some northern sunshine. And if you happen to be a hardened woodsman in the mood for a real outdoor adventure, you can always hop in your car, venture about 5 miles northwest on Route 89, and try your hand some whitewater rafting at the Winooski river.
Worn out from a long day of trails and rapids? Perhaps it’s time to check out the history of this unique area. Montpelier, Vermont was first settled in 1787, and experienced much of it’s growth in the 19th century. A happy result is the preponderance of historical buildings, ranging from the dazzling display on Main Street, to another, even more spectacular attraction: the Vermont State Capitol. Designed in 1857, it’s classical Greek Revival architecture may look slightly out of place amongst the snow-crusted pines of Vermont, but, incredulity over it’s out-of-place appearance slowly fades to awe as one notices it’s grand Corinthian columns, gleaming golden dome, and rich historical saga, open for all to see on weekdays, 4-8PM.
If the grand gardens and wooded foothills of the capitol don’t suit you, consider a more nautical alternative: the USS Montpelier museum, offering visitors a chance to explore the martial drama of the many US Navy Ships sporting the name of Vermont’s state capitol.
Anyway you do it, you can keep yourself thoroughly engaged in Montpelier’s myriad of offerings, and you may just find your self-agreeing that, block-for-block, there’s more going on in Montpelier, Vermont that just about any other town in the country