Vermont’s Venerable Byway

The state’s Route 100 offers an unparalleled access to old New England, from wandering moose to Robert Frost’s hideaway cabin

Route 100, studded with historic landmarks like the Scott Bridge, "offers such remarkable visual experiences," says filmmaker Dorothy Lovering. (Jessica Scranton)
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About 25 miles north of Scott Bridge, just off Route 100, Vermont’s oldest professional theater faces Weston’s charming village green. (In 1985, the entire town, with its concentration of 18th- and 19th-century architecture, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.) The Weston Playhouse opened in 1937 with a youthful Lloyd Bridges starring in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever. The original theater, housed in a converted Congregational church, burned down in 1962, when an overheated gluepot caught fire. The church was quickly reconstructed, right down to its white-columned Greek Revival facade.

“Our audiences like the fact they are seeing some of Broadway’s latest shows as soon as they are available,” says Steve Stettler, who this summer is directing a production of Death of a Salesman. Stettler came to the playhouse in 1973 as an actor fresh out of Kenyon College in Ohio. For the current season, the playhouse will also offer The 39 Steps, a play based on the Alfred Hitchcock murder mystery, productions of the hit musicals Avenue Q and Damn Yankees, and the world première of The Oath, a drama focusing on a doctor caught in the horrors of the Chechen conflict.

Sixteen miles north, the hamlet of Healdville is home to the 128-year-old Crowley Cheese Factory, today owned by Galen Jones, who in his day job is a New York City television executive. He and his wife, Jill, own a house in Vermont and plan to retire here eventually. “If you look at it dispassionately, it’s not a business that looks like it’s ever going to make a significant amount of money,” says Jones of the cheese-making operation. “But it’s a great product.”

As far back as the early 1800s, Vermont’s dairy farms were turning milk into cheese, mainly cheddars of a kind first introduced from Britain during colonial times. But with the invention of refrigerated railroad cars in the late 19th century, Midwestern dairy facilities claimed most of the business. Crowley, one of the few Vermont cheese makers to survive, carved out a niche by producing Colby, a cheddar that is smoother and creamier than most.

Cheese-making staged a comeback in Vermont in the 1980s, as demand increased for artisanal foods produced by hand. The number of cheese makers in the state more than doubled—to at least 40—in the past decade. And the University of Vermont, in Burlington, has established an Artisan Cheese Institute. At Crowley’s stone-and-wood frame, three-story factory, visitors can view the stages of production through a huge plate-glass window. On weekday mornings, 5,000 pounds of Holstein raw milk, chilled to 40 degrees, is pumped from refrigerated storage in the cellar to a double-walled, steam-heated metal vat, where it is cultured. About four hours later, the milk has been processed into solidified chunks, or curd. It is then rinsed, salted and shaped into wheels or blocks, ranging in weight from 2 1/2 to 40 pounds, before being pressed, dried, turned and moved into storage for aging.

The cheddar produced here comes in nine varieties, according to mildness or sharpness and the addition of pepper, sage, garlic, chives, olives or smoke flavor. While the largest Vermont cheese makers churn out 80,000 pounds daily, Crowley’s takes a year to produce that much.

Ten miles or so northeast of Healdville lies Plymouth Notch, the Vermont village of white houses and weathered barns where President Calvin Coolidge spent his childhood. Preserved since 1948 as a state historic site, it remains one of Route 100’s most notable destinations, attracting 25,000 visitors annually.

The village, with its handful of inhabitants, has changed little since our 30th president was born here on July 4, 1872. His parents’ cottage, attached to the post office and a general store owned by his father, John, is still shaded by towering maples, just as Coolidge described it in a 1929 memoir.

“It was all a fine atmosphere in which to raise a boy,” Coolidge wrote. The autumn was spent laying in a supply of wood for the harsh winter. As April softened into spring, the maple-sugar labors began with the tapping of trees. “After that the fences had to be repaired where they had been broken down by the snow, the cattle turned out to pasture, and the spring planting done,” recalled Coolidge. “I early learned to drive oxen and used to plow with them alone when I was twelve years old.”

It was John Coolidge who woke his son—then the nation’s vice president on vacation at home—late on the night of August 2, 1923, to tell him that President Warren G. Harding had suffered a fatal heart attack. John, a notary public, swore in his son as the new president. “In republics where the succession comes by election I do not know of any other case in history where a father has administered to his son the qualifying oath of office,” the younger Coolidge would write later.


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