We needed a new dust mop. Our old, formerly yellow mop head had chased so many dust bunnies over the years that now when I took it outside for a vigorous shake it no longer had the strength to cling to its wire base and was prone to try to fly off toward dust mop heaven. I suppose there may have been enough life left in it that I could have affected some sort of repair, but instead it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to take a drive to Rockingham, Vermont.
For years and years Vermont Country Store catalogs have arrived in our mail box and these were never summarily taken to the recycling bin with the rest of the day’s catalogs and advertisements. Instead they were placed on the hassock in front of my favorite morning reading chair.
As we drove down the increasingly narrow roads taking us to Rockingham, I realized that these colorful mailers had come to replace the Sears Roebuck Catalogs of my youth. My sister and I spent days pouring over the glossy pages of those catalogs. In the Fall, we looked with care at each and every dress comparing the plaids, buttons and details as we chose the one store-bought dress we would have to start the school year…other dresses were made on mother’s sewing machine. The Sears Christmas catalog’s pages were about worn thin before we made our final decision on which toy it was that we wanted to ask for in our annual letter to Santa.
At this point in life, I find myself looking at each page in the Country Store catalogs with almost the same sense of anticipation and excitement. No…there weren’t going to be any letters to Santa, but there were flannel nightgowns that might be as warm and comforting as the ones that were in the brightly-wrapped packages we used to open on Christmas Eve. When the paper fell away, we would be holding a soft, printed flannel, floor-length gown our mother sewed for us with its yoke and collar trimmed in cotton lace and round-top white buttons at the throat and cuffs. These nightgowns helped keep us warm through winter nights when the heat of the gas stove in the living room did little to bring warmth to the rest of the house. They were always long enough that even as we added inches of height they could still be worn, growing softer and more comforting as they aged until the years of use finally took their toll…but their usefulness was far from over. The seams were opened and the buttons carefully removed and saved for reuse then the fabric was cut into cleaning rags, the much faded colors still evoking memories as we used them in our chores.
I digress, but not really since this was the reason we were taking the drive. A visit to the Vermont Country Store is about returning to a place in memory and a time when life seemed to be less complicated.
The two-lane roads we traveled had forests of green on each side, occasionally broken by a farmhouse, barn and out-buildings or a cluster of houses in places too small to be named on a map. We also drove at a speed that allowed for curiosity stops like this twin arch stone bridge we spotted in New Hampshire.
Its historical marker said that it was built without any mortar and is “typical of a unique style of bridge construction employed primarily in the Contoocook River Valley in the first part of the Nineteenth Century.”
A little farther down the road we spotted the Marlow (NH) Town Pound. The sign erected by the Marlow Historical Society read: “Land purchased from Nathaniel R. Butler on May 15, 1847. In later years the tramp house stood on this site.”
We were intrigued by the “tramp house” reference and an internet search provided the answer. A newspaper article in the Richmond (NH) Sentinel told of a similar structure that had been restored. These houses had “served as a homeless shelter of sorts for the community during the first decades of the 1900s.” The house in Richmond was a 10- by 12-foot structure that “was built in 1914 as a place to house homeless men traveling through town in their quest to find financial stability. At the time, they were known a “tramps,” “hobos” and “bums” (Foley).
A few miles short of our destination, we drove into Bellows Falls, Vermont, which is a village within the town of Rockingham. The village sits on a bend in the Connecticut River and is where the first bridge spanned the river to connect New Hampshire and Vermont. This bend on the river, with its forty-plus foot falls, also provided the necessary power for Bellows Falls to become an industrial center in the early 19th century with paper mills, woolen mills, and other factories producing farm equipment. The affluence of that era also produced many beautiful Victorian homes.
As we entered the business district, we were greeted by this mural depicting the street in that bygone era…
…and we couldn’t help feel the historic sense of place as we passed the red brick Opera House and storefronts that were also built with the profits those factories brought to the area.
We parked across from the Opera House so we could take a look in the Windham Antique Center.
The store is a wonderful repository of treasures and I will let these photos speak for themselves as to the breadth and quality of the merchandise.
Before driving away, we took a minute to enjoy this woodsman mural on the far side of the building.
Six miles later we arrived at the Vermont Country Store.
It was everything it promised to be…
…and I found my “Big Wooly All Natural” dust mop. The tag read that this “Original Wool Dry Mop” had been being produced for “111 Years!” It also promised that the all wool yarn head with natural lanolin “draws dust like a magnet and holds on tight ‘til you give the mop a shake.”
Mission accomplished we were now free to ramble our way back to Maine. We hadn’t gone but a mile or so when a historic marker along the side of the road alerted us to the Rockingham Meeting House, “the oldest intact public building in Vermont.” The structure was built in 1787 and was used for nearly a hundred years for religious services and public meetings.
Many of the headstones in the adjacent cemetery were repaired and propped up and years of rain and snow had worn away many of the names of those long ago buried beneath them.
There were two unusual markers that caught my attention. One was a large monument with a stack of books within the four-column opening at the top.
The other was a comfortable looking bed with its carved granite covers laid back…some stone carver’s idea of an inviting long-term resting place.
Our next stop was supposed to be Grafton, Vermont, but the Green Mountains and forests of that state make direct routes rare. Instead, we wound along more beautiful two-lane roads, stopping at antique shops along the way. In the outskirts of Chester we visited the Stone House Antique Center. Its long aisles of booths and cases were filled with an enormous selection of great old items. This drive was turning into a collector’s dream.
In town we chanced into The Bargain Corner, where we were pleasantly surprised to find floor to ceiling antiques and collectibles that we would never have expected based on the shop’s name.
The 260-year-old town of Chester is known for its Victorian and Federal and stone architecture.
The town is on the banks of the Williams River, which is a popular fishing and swimming site in the summer months. In the heart of town there are colorful shops and cafes for those who like to browse.
Continuing along our route, we arrived in Grafton, Vermont. It was almost like stepping out of the car into a Norman Rockwell painting. This town of just over 600 residents is one of the most charming places we have visited. The old Grafton Inn has been hosting guests for more than 200 years and is the perfect place to get away to enjoy peace, quiet and rural beauty for a few days. The inn is right on Main Street and has both period-decorated historic rooms and another building with more modern and larger accommodations. It is easy walking distance to galleries, museums and shops and it is only a half hour or so drive to local ski areas if you are considering a winter visit.
The Grafton Historical Society was organized in the 1960s and their museum is reputed to be “one of the finest small museums in the state.” The museum’s permanent displays feature stone books, textiles, farm and fire equipment and more. Dedicated volunteers have worked to preserve the town’s and region’s history and to create displays and programs to share this heritage with others.
Stone books are something we see at antique shows, but I had never taken the time to consider them. The museum sign identifies them as “an unusual form of American Folk Art.” The earliest “show[ed] up around 1860, including books carved by soldiers during the Civil War.” These little volumes became very popular between 1870 to 1900 with the most beautifully carved ones “probably made by professional stone cutters or monument makers.” Besides being unusual decorative items, these little treasures probably were convenient for use as paperweights.
A full wall of the museum is dedicated to the story of Lucy Joslyn Cutler Daniels, a local suffragette who graduated from law school in 1896. She and her sister refused to pay property taxes because they were refused the right to vote…ultimately leading to the foreclosure of their farm. She also was a strong advocate for the inclusion of “black women marching in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington, D.C.”
In a village filled with beautiful period homes, the house named Eaglebrook is of particular interest.
In 1826, the owner of a local “fulling” mill had this Federal style home built, and five years later a sister house was built next door. Originally the two homes were very close in style and size, but “in 1840 the building was enlarged with Greek Revival porches and arch to become the Eagle Hotel, a temperance stage stop.” The property later became a private residence once again and those early exterior changes make it difficult to see the similarity in the two homes today (Eaglebrook Historic Marker).
The Grafton Public Library is across the street and the Grafton Village Store (1841), which is known for excellent sandwiches, is conveniently nearby.
We still had a long drive and a planned stop to make in Milford, New Hampshire, so with reluctance we drove out of Grafton, which felt a bit like we were leaving Camelot.
Our route home brought us to Flying Pig Antiques in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. The shop’s name and appearance gave no hint of the fine early period American antiques we would find within its blandly functional facade.
We planned our drive to include a visit to Milford so we could shop the New Hampshire Antique Co-Op. This enormous, two-story facility is filled with top-quality pieces and is a must-visit for any collector.
In addition to beautiful furnishings from different periods, there are cases filled with small objects and the second floor art gallery rivals many if the museum collections we have seen.
While we were still in Milford, we took a little time to visit two other shops: Off the Oval and …
What a day it had been!! It was finally time for us to drive back to Maine with our new mop and a few other older treasures.
Foley, Megan. Richmond [NH] Sentinel. Sentinelsource.com. January 3, 2016.