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Quiet old Vermont, where there's time to tie a fly

Email|Print| Text size + By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Globe Correspondents / December 17, 2006

QUECHEE, Vt. -- Is there an old building in New England that hasn't been placed on the National Register of Historic Places? Sure enough, when we reached the front door of the Quechee Inn, one of the ubiquitous bronze plaques proudly proclaimed that it had joined that august company.

To be fair, the old farm, surrounded by majestic trees and white rail fences, borders on the iconic. The original portion of the boxy white clapboard inn was built in 1793 by Colonel Joseph Marsh, the first lieutenant governor of Vermont. He chose a prime spot along the Ottauquechee River to erect what neighbors called his " baronial mansion."

Whatever airs Marsh might have affected, he ran a working farm, growing wheat and corn and cutting timber. The land continued to provide for its owners and successive herds of Jersey cattle well into the 20th century. In 1960, when a dam project on the river threatened the much-expanded home and outbuildings, the owners moved the structures up from the banks and resettled them on terra firma created by leveling the upper meadow. The main house and a later addition were temporarily separated by the move, but only a half step between sections betrays the traumatic split and patching. Fifteen years later, the property became an inn.

Our room, No. 11, was on the second floor of the original home. Wide pine-plank floorboards grown amber with age set the tone. The walls were painted a subtle beige, and the king-size bed was laid with a beige and rose floral coverlet. Each of the two wing chairs in front of a pair of windows was flanked by a good reading light. Dark wooden furniture -- a small desk and chair, low dresser (topped with TV), and night tables -- completed the country decor.

The large room had been created by joining two smaller rooms, which explained mirror-image bathrooms on opposite walls, each with a somewhat worn wooden vanity and sink and a combination tub-shower. The single walk-in closet was roomy enough for two.

A long second-story porch overlooks the property, but by early November we were more interested in the downstairs lounge where hot drinks and cookies are set out every afternoon and taciturn portraits of early Marshes adorn the mantel above a brick fireplace. Even without the glow of the fire, the barnboard walls, brick floors, and beamed ceiling give the room a rustic warmth. Overstuffed couches and chairs grouped into gathering areas fill the large space. Early in the evening, we eavesdropped on a business meeting as it dissolved, watched a youngster learning to tie flies (a fly - fishing school operates on the property), and endured an impromptu out-of-tune piano recital as a couple waited to be seated in the dining room.

Many guests are drawn to the property for its 11 miles of trails for hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. Despite a dusting of white, we were stuck between fall foliage and serious snow. So we followed the advice of the desk clerk and crossed the street to Dewey's Landing on the Ottauquechee , and took a path through golden marsh grasses to the North Hartland flood control dam and a peek at distant Quechee Gorge.

The inn's country ambience continues in the dining room where a generous breakfast buffet (eggs, bacon, pancakes, home fries, muffins, fruit, etc.) is laid out each morning and the ivy-pattern wallpaper gives a cheerful touch to the large, low-ceilinged room. In the evening, dim incandescent lighting and white pillar candles flickering in hurricane globes create a soft mood.

The dinner menu follows the culinary-school pattern of dressing up simple meats with exotic accoutrements. Roasted garlic aioli and tomato-lemon-caper relish perked up cracker-filled crabcakes, and the Caesar salad had an upcountry Vermont accent thanks to maple - smoked bacon, crumbles of cheddar, and slices of apple.

While they didn't exactly show finesse, entrees of pan-roasted chicken with a cranberry-raisin compote and roast duck with passion fruit and apricot demi-glace were hearty antidotes to an early winter chill. All attempts to be worldly disappeared at dessert: apple pie a la mode and cream puffs with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

But that was for the best. The Quechee Inn is a true slice of Vermont, an honest farm more than a baronial manse. On our way upstairs, we saluted the Marshes, congratulating their clan for carving out a country home that ought to last another 200 years.

Contact Cambridge-based writers Patricia Harris and David Lyon at harris.lyon@verizon.net.

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