Summer Vacation Guide: Middlebury Area
The museums keep on coming as you roll down Route 7: In Ferrisburgh the Rokeby Museum, once an official stop on the Underground Railroad, preserves the history of four generations of remarkable Robinsons. Ahead of its time in every way, the family was made up of Quakers, abolitionists and artists.
They were also successful farmers. Patriarch Thomas R. Robinson was among the first agriculturalists to import Merino sheep to the U.S. If he were around today, the old man might be raising something equally radical, like llamas. Two of them live across the road from the Rokeby, along with a camel.
People have been fighting over Lake Champlain as long as there have been personal flotation devices. The waterway’s strategic value is evidenced by the dozens of shipwrecks on the bottom. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has been discovering, researching and protecting those rusty relics, and the result is the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserve, a gallery of sunken ships that is only accessible to divers — and to shipwreck tour boats with ROV cameras. But there’s plenty to look at on land, too. The dry museum chronicles the maritime history of the area through exhibits, boat-building demonstrations, lectures and festivals.
LMCC is “strategically” located next to Basin Harbor, an Old World-style resort that recalls the era when wealthy families used to come up to Vermont from Boston and New York and stay for a month. It’s a beautiful, historic spot, and the dining room is open to the public. Jacket and tie are required. Alternately, you can hang out with a drink on the beach à la Shelburne Farms — and pretend.
North of Basin Harbor along the coast is Kingsland Bay State Park — a favorite spot for local weddings. To the south is beautiful Button Bay State Park, where you can rent canoes and kayaks. The easiest way to get from one to the other is to bike along back roads. The terrain is relatively flat and open.
A high point in Addison County is Snake Mountain. It’s less than two miles to the top — perfect for kids — and you get a big-mountain view.
Middlebury is a walking town. If you’re really ambitious, there’s a 16-mile Trail Around Middlebury — a project of the Middlebury Area Land Trust. A combination of hiking trails, dirt roads and paved highways, TAM stretches from the Otter Creek Gorge Preserve to the Battell Woods.
There’s an easier way to see the place, though: a leisurely stroll through downtown. It may not turn up any whitetail deer, but three very different museums are within walking distance: The Sheldon Museum, on Middlebury’s town green, serves as both a municipal archive and showcase of 19th-century Vermont life. The Vermont Folklife Center on Main Street has come up with some very inventive multimedia interactive displays. Their mission — to preserve Vermont’s oral history — expresses itself in the form of books, audio recordings and curricula. Check out the gift shop. Down the road is the Middlebury College Center for the Arts, a complex of theaters, dance studios and a concert hall that is eye-catching both inside and out. The building includes the Middlebury College Museum of Art, with its wide-ranging permanent collection. Middlebury’s foreign language schools are in session for most of the summer. So don’t be surprised if you come upon an Arabic-speaking soccer game or a free screening of some obscure French film.
English-language instruction takes place in Ripton, at Middlebury’s Bread Loaf campus. Midway through August, the teachers are dismissed, and the authors arrive for the annual, two-week Writers Conference. During the session, the “instructors” — published poets, novelists and memoirists — give nightly readings. It’s intimate, cultured and camp like. And free to listen.
If that’s not Robert Frost-y enough for you, head for the woods. The Long Trail is a few miles uphill, at the top of the Middlebury Gap. But a more sociable hike leaves from Lake Dunmore in Salisbury and climbs a few hundred feet, past Rattlesnake Cliffs and the Falls of Lana, to Silver Lake. It’s all part of the Moosalamoo Wilderness.
Serious bikers will be pulled in a different direction. From Bread Loaf you can cycle over three gaps — Middlebury, Lincoln and Appalachian — in one day. The swimming’s good in rivers along all of them, especially at Bristol Falls and under the bridge in East Middlebury.