Four Days in Verdant Vermont

By Saul Schwartz

My wife Fern and I spent four days in September in the Green Mountain State during the time of year when the leaves were just beginning to color in hues other than green.  Our first trip together to the Burlington area allowed us to visit relatives who just moved there and to see friends who just happened to be in Vermont for a wedding.  Burlington is the largest city in Vermont, with a population of over 42,000.  We flew in and out of Burlington’s small international airport, just three miles outside central Burlington.  We stayed at an Airbnb on Charlotte Street, about 2 miles from downtown. 

Church Street Pedestrian Mall

This downtown pedestrian marketplace provides intriguing shops, restaurants and services in a festive atmosphere.  We walked up and down the mall several times during our stay, eating at a few of the cafes.  Street musicians added to the scene.  Fern and I were excited to see U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders walk by us on the mall, dressed up in a suit on his way to a television taping.  Parking for the mall was easily found on the streets nearby. 

At the top of the mall sits the First Unitarian Universalist Church at Pearl Street.  Built in 1816, the church is the oldest remaining place of worship in Burlington.  With its Greek Revival architecture, the red brick meeting house with its projecting tower is striking to see.

Church Street’s award-winning local mall is often listed amongst the top five pedestrian malls in the United States.  It is quite a hub of activity for tourists and locals.  Founded in 1981, the mall is now a National Register Historic District.  It extends for four blocks down Church Street from the First Unitarian Church to City Hall.  Its design was suggested by an architect student who had experienced the transformation of a similar space in Copenhagen, Denmark. 

Burlington Bike Path

One morning we rode for two hours along the beautiful 7.5-mile bike path, along a scenic route from Burlington’s waterfront along the Lake Champlain shoreline.  After leaving the waterfront area, the path skirts the lake’s shoreline and heads through neighborhoods, shoreline parks and wooded areas.  The views on the greenway are particularly good close to the city. 

Bike rental options are available near the waterfront.  The staff at Local Motion Bike Rentals were very helpful in bike selection and adjustment of our rental bikes.  This shop is located very close to the path at 1 Steele Street, #3.  Advanced reservations guaranteed us a time slot for the next day.  The rate was $25 for a four-hour block per adult bike, including the helmet.

The path is also used by runners and walkers.  I enjoyed a jog along the path on another weekday morning when it was not all that crowded.  Although the path is wide, it is an immensely popular and a more crowded attraction on weekends. 

Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park provides great lake views, especially at sunset.  The downtown park is located to the west of downtown on the Lake Champlain shoreline.  Paid parking is available at several nearby lots.  Many locals and visitors like us watched the beautiful sunsets on the park’s bench swings, as the sun sets over the lake with the mountains in the background. 

Shelburne Museum

Located at 6000 Shelburne Road just ten minutes south of Burlington in Sherburne, this art and history museum consists of 25 historic structures relocated to the museum and several galleries.  Spread of 45 acres, the museum grounds include a series of 22 formal gardens, ornamental trees and shrubs.  The 39 buildings house diverse collections of art and artifacts, focusing primarily on early New England life.  On-site parking is plentiful. 

We particularly enjoyed waking over the Covered Bridge transported from Cambridge, Vermont.  Built in 1845, the double-lane covered bridge also includes a footpath.  The Dorset house, originally from East Dorset, Vermont and built around 1832, contains the museum’s second most valuable collection, the wildfowl decoy collections.  Perhaps the most interesting building is the Electra Havemeyer Webb Memorial Building (built in 1967) which contains furnished rooms from the New York City home of museum founder Webb in a European style, along with impressionist art.  One magnificent room contains four works of Claude Monet. 

A lighthouse from Colchester Reef, Champlain, built in 1871, sits in the middle of the grounds.  The most impressive structure may be the 220-foot sidewheel steamboat “Ticonderoga” originally from Shelburne Harbor Vermont, from 1906, which we toured through. Several other buildings include art.  The Webb Gallery, built in 1960, features important American Art from the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including several Grandma Moses pictures; the Pleissner Gallery (1986) features sporting art by Ogden Pleissner; and the Pizzagalli Center Art and Education (2013) contains temporary exhibits. 

In the course of our afternoon, we had to pick and choose what to see, as there were so many buildings and collections.  Cost of admission was $25 for adults, but the admission covers two days.  Current hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday.  We stayed for two hours and it was not enough time for a full exploration.

University of Vermont

On the upper level of Burlington is the University of Vermont.  The University was founded in 1791.  We easily found free parking on the campus at University Place and strolled amongst the buildings on the 460-acre campus.  With an undergraduate enrollment of around 10,000, it is the fifth oldest university in New England.

Several of the buildings were particularly striking.  Billings Hall is named after Frederick Billings, a lawyer who donated a library collection to the University.  Designed by architect H.H. Richardson and built in 1883, the red brick building was designed to resemble the Winn library in Woburn, Massachusetts.  Ira Allen Chapel is one of the University’s landmarks with its gold-domed bell tower rising 165 feet above the campus.  Named for the founder of the University and brother of Ethan Allen, the building was designed by a New York architectural firm, McKim, Mead and White.  In a colonial revival style, the chapel was built in 1925. 

Ethan Allen Homestead and Museum

The Homestead is located off Route 127 in Burlington (near the North Avenue/Beaches exit) and is part of the public parks system operated by the Winooski Valley Park District.  One-hour guided tours are available from May through October, from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m.  Our guide Tom was informative and humorous.  The tour was well worth the cost ($12 for adults).

The Homestead was Ethan Allen’s last home.  The site commands rolling fields and scenic curves of the Winooski (Onion) River.  The restored modest farmhouse of Ethan and Fanny Allen and historic gardens provide a genuine slice of eighteenth-century life. 

Tom explained how Ethan Allen dominated the history of Early Vermont.  He is best known as a frontiersman, revolutionist and daring military leader, helping to shape the state as it gained independence.  He is especially well-known as the leader of the Green Mountain Boys taking control of Fort Ticonderoga from the British.

After the tour, we walked down to the river for a quick look at the Winooski and the trails by the river.  The site also includes a recreated native American encampment built on-site by Abenaki citizens.  Indoor space included exhibits and a bookshop. 

Burlington Food and Drink Highlights

We ate and drank outside twice at August First, a locally owned bakery and café.  The coffee and tea were really good.  Located at 149 South Champlain Street, this popular café is open daily for breakfast and lunch only.  The café is in a converted and renovated garage, several streets away from the center of downtown. 

We ate lunch outside one day on the Church Street Mall, eating salads from Thorn and Roots.  Located at 92 Church Street, the menu features healthy food options at moderate prices.  Our salads were filling and tasty. 

At the corner of Church Street and College Street near the bottom of the Church Street Mall, Leunigs Bistro has a kiosk featuring coffee, pastries and sandwiches.  On the day that we stopped by, the vegan dessert options were quite limited.  Clearly the French style options were the most popular. 

We had a superb dinner at The Daily Planet.  The vegan options were extensive, tasty and creative.  We ate outside.  The restaurant is located on 15 Center Street, near the downtown mall.  The portions were generous, and the prices were moderate.

Speeders and Earl’s is another Burlington coffee institution.  Located at 416 Pine Street, this café is primarily focused on roasted coffees alone.

For several meals, we went to the Shaw’s grocery store on Cambridge Street which had a wide variety of food options and we then ate at the Airbnb.  Also, the Panera Bread had outside seating, several vegan options and was conveniently located in the Williston suburb of Burlington. 

Ben and Jerry’s Factory

The Ben and Jerry’s journey began in 1978 with 2 guys from New Jersey.  They built a legendary ice cream business from a renovated gas station in Burlington.  We stopped at the Waterbury Factory, located at 1281 Waterbury Stowe Road, 28 miles south of Burlington.

Although the factory tour remains closed, the scoop shop remains open with an outdoor gift kiosk.  Three vegan flavors were offered on the ice cream menu and we sampled two of them.  The outdoor space included a playground, and an old-fashioned Ben and Jerry’s bus.  Fern and I particularly enjoyed walking through the Flavor Graveyard with headstones explaining the “dearly depinted” flavors that no longer were sold, their ingredients and the years the flavors were available.  The inscriptions on the headstones were funny! 

Montpelier (Side Trip #1)

Montpelier was chosen to be the state capital in 1808.  With a population of about 8000, Montpelier is the country’s smallest state capital and is located 39 miles south of Burlington.  The Winooski River flows through the south edge of the town.  Fun fact:  It is the only state capital without a McDonald’s! 

We started our day at the Capital Region Visitor Center which provided free parking and brochures.  Located at 134 State Street, the Center is open daily and is staffed by courteous travel professionals. 

Vermont’s Historic State House is the state’s third capitol building, built in 1859.  The current building is in the Italian Renaissance revival style.  Fern and I went on a self-guided tour.  Much of the furniture and fixtures are original. There is no admission fee and docents were available to answer questions.  The building is open to the public Mondays through Saturdays and is located on 115 State Street.

On the outside, a 57-foot-high golden dome and statue of agriculture (also known as Ceres) created by Vermont sculptor Larkin Mead are on top of the building.  Also, outside the entrance there is a large statue of Ethan Allen.  Upon entering the lobby, we saw the bust of Abraham Lincoln, another work by Larkin Mead.  The second floor contains the Senate Chamber with 1859 furnishings well-preserved and the Representatives Hall, home to the state House of Representatives, restored to the way it looked in 1859.  Also on the second floor is the Governor’s Office and the Cedar Creek Reception Room which is dominated by a 10 by 20 foot painting “The First Vermont Brigade at the Battle of Cedar Creek” painted by Julian Scott to commemorate one of Vermont’s finest moments in the Civil War and stained glass skylights from the gilded age.   

We then strolled down State and Main Streets and stopped for a mid-day coffee/tea and treat at the North Branch Café.  Located at 41 State Street, we people-watched from an outdoor table as we ate some of the best vegan desserts we have ever consumed!  The vegan cheesecake was particularly tasty.

We ended our day by stopping into the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, established in 1894.  The lovely building is built in the classical revival style from rough light-colored granite.  The library is located at 135 Main Street.  Inside the library, there are casts of the Parthenon freezes from Athens, Greece.  There is also a large bust of President Lincoln that graced the desk of former Vermont Senator and Governor George Aiken. 

Stowe (Side trip #2)

In the heart of the Green Mountains, Stowe has become a year-round destination, not just a ski resort.  Stowe is a picture-perfect New England village, complete with a white-steepled church.  The town with a resident population of about 500 is nestled beneath Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak.  Stowe is about 39 miles from Burlington and the drive takes about one hour.  As we entered the town, we first saw a pedestrian covered bridge, built in 1763.  It is a tiny, covered bridge, which crosses over the Little River which runs through the heart of Stowe.

After walking through the cute town, we went over to the Stowe Mountain Resort.  At the Resort, we took the Mansfield Gondola on a 7000-foot ride to a point just below the summit of Mount Mansfield.  The ride took about 15 minutes each way.  At the top, we had sweeping panoramas of the lush Green Mountains and valleys, as the leaves were beginning to turn to fall colors.  The view from the top of the mountain is one of the best in Vermont.  In the distance, we could see mountains in both New York and New Hampshire.  The cost is $32 per adult.  The gondola is only open mid-June through mid-October.

Vermont Vietnam Veterans Memorial

On our side trips, we stopped at the Sharon North Welcome Center off Route 89.  When the Welcome Center was reconstructed in 2005, the monument was moved into a dramatic new setting at the head of circular stone amphitheater.  This monument contains the names of 138 Vermonters who died in Vietnam in a site 138 miles from the Canadian border.  Believed to be the first state-sanctioned Vietnam Memorial, the monument was first unveiled in 1982, weeks before the dedication of the National Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

Fern and I really enjoyed seeing the Burlington area and its nearby attractions.  The outdoor beauty with the Green Mountains is quite striking.  Without traffic congestion, it was very easy to go from attraction to attraction.  We really enjoyed this trip.