Walk through this tiny village, part of the town of Rockingham, and you will sense time standing still yet marching on. It is a glorious gathering of 19th-century buildings reinvented into showcases of arts, antiques, music, and historic preservation. A 19th-century railroad hub, the village was built around the Connecticut River: The first bridge to span the river along its 410 miles was built between Walpole, N.H., and Bellows Falls in 1785 and the first canal company chartered in the United States was here in 1791. Predating all of that are ancient rock-carved petroglyphs.
STAY River Mist
(7 Burt St., 802-376-9954, www.river-mist.com
, rates from $100), a gorgeously restored 1895 Victorian, is darkly elegant, loaded with antiques, and a quick walk from downtown. I had the expansive suite with sizable living room and huge bath with step-up tub. Included is a massive breakfast; get the fruit compote and cinnamon-and-syrup-soaked French toast, and skip lunch. Added value: One of the innkeepers, Roger Riccio, heads the local Chamber of Commerce and can direct you anywhere in town. Like to read? Check out Readmore Bed, Breakfast and Books
(1 Hapgood St., 802-463-9415, www.readmoreinn.com
, rates from $150), where every room has books for sale according to theme, and where you warm up with hot tea in the afternoon. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places and was named one of the 10 prettiest homes in America by Ladies Home Journal — in 1899. It also was once featured on Bob Vila’s “Restore America.’’
Of historic and culinary note is Miss Bellows Falls Diner
(90 Rockingham St., 802-463-3700, www.missbellowsfallsdiner.com
, breakfast from $3.75, lunch from $5.99), an old Worcester car diner, also on the National Register of Historic Places. It has old wooden booths, worn floors, great power-up breakfasts, and locally raised “beefalo’’ burgers, a cross of bison and beef cattle raised in Westminster. Fat Frank’s
(92 Rockingham St., 802-463-4388, www.fat-franks.com
) proudly notes it is “The Wurst Place in Bellows Falls,’’ serving all manner of natural-casing franks from Boston, sausages from Mattapan, and bacon and smoked sausage from New Hampshire. Six dollars got me a beer-poached-then-grilled bratwurst, heaped with sauerkraut, laced with brown ginger mustard, and served with a huge pile of hand-cut fries. Joy Wah
(Route 5, 802-463-9761, www.joywah.com
, entrees from $9.50) has the look of a typical Chinese restaurant — red Naugahyde booths, giant Chinese art, and tin-dragon chandeliers — but the food is a cut above most. I had a combination shrimp in lobster sauce with peas, egg roll, and fried rice, served with egg-drop soup, for $10.95 that was quite filling. And Joy Wah, right on the river as it bends toward the village, offers diners some incredible views.
DURING THE DAY
Check your e-mail for free with a cup of coffee at Village Square Booksellers
(32 The Square, 802-463-9404, www.villagesquarebooks.com
), an independent store, the sort popular in rural Vermont. J&H Hardware
(20 The Square, 802-463-4140, www.jandhhardware.com
), is old and creaky and where you get your work gloves and wood pellets. A new component is J&H Sporting Goods
, a hunting and fishing haven for rods, reels, guns, and gear. The Exner Block
(9 Canal St., 802-463-3252, www.ramp-vt.org
) is the home of Project Space showcasing local artisans and featuring retailers such as Canal Street Beads and Ours Poetica clothing, current and vintage. Adventure Trek
(9 North Ridge Road, 802-591-0328, www.adventuretrekusa.com
) is brand new in the village. Sign up for activities like ice climbing, extreme sledding, and winter camping. Halladay’s
(59 The Square, 802-463-3331, www.halladays.com
), a florist shop, also produces specialty foods, and sells wine and gifts. I got a no-bake crème brûlée cheesecake mix for $4 that was outstanding. Take the self-guided walking tour
of the Bellows Falls Neighborhood Historic District (www.bellowsfalls.org/text/walking_tour.htm
), and also visit the cemetery
behind the Immanuel Episcopal Church, where Hetty Green, a frugal 19th-century millionaire heiress known as “The Witch of Wall Street,’’ is buried.
A crown jewel in the rising arts scene here is the town-owned Bellows Falls Opera House
(7 The Square, www.rockbf.org
), with its signature clock tower, which underwent a $3.7 million renovation and now hosts movies, concerts, and live shows. First-run movie tickets are $4 ($2.50 on Tuesday nights) and popcorn comes with toppings like garlic and Parmesan. It regularly features local and regional live music at the Downstreet Café
(7 Canal St., 802-463-4774, www.facebook.com/pages/Downstreet-Cafe/171427174559
), and not far away at Pleasant Valley Brewing
(16 Main St., Saxtons River, 802-869-4602, www.myspace.com/blacksheepffr
Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at email@example.com.
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