Originally published in Manchester Life Magazine on May 1, 2018.
Tucked away in the beautiful Battenkill valley, between the bustling communities of Manchester and Bennington, you may spot a small town named Arlington on your map.
Despite its diminutive size, Arlington offers a treasure trove of culture for travelers. With a history as rich as the culinary traditions of the region, the community is the ideal destination for a daytime excursion full of hometown hospitality.
Following a drive through the quaint landscape, you’ll realize why the iconic American artist Norman Rockwell chose the town to be his home between 1939 and 1953. It was in Arlington that Rockwell painted some of his most notable works, including the World War II–era paintings, The Four Freedoms.
In those works, like many others, Rockwell found inspiration in the countless friendly faces and bucolic landscapes of Arlington. To immerse yourself in the artist’s sweet and stylized depictions of everyday life, start the day at the Norman Rockwell Exhibition, nestled along historic Route 7A. There you will not only find many of Rockwell’s works on display, but also brief profiles on the more than 200 Arlington residents who served as his muses. With an informational film and extensive gift shop to boot, the humble gallery provides can’t-miss cultural context on the artist’s life, works, and role in the Arlington community. If you’re really a Rockwell buff, a visit to the nearby Norman Rockwell Studio and Inn—where the artist lived and worked for a time—is guaranteed to prove an edifying experience.
Considering Arlington’s appetizing and authentic culinary landscape, it’s no surprise that many of Rockwell’s paintings were set around the dinner table. Before leaving the Norman Rockwell Exhibition your sweet tooth may sway you toward a stop at the adjoining Sugar Shack, which features a wide range of locally made maple syrup. Other sinful sweets to be found among their shelves include homemade baked goods, artisan jams and mustards, and the classic maple creemee alongside a selection of souvenirs. Don’t tell the kids, but sugary samples are available at the Shack every day. Craving something more substantial? Stop by the family-owned Jonathon’s Table just next door for a cozy and delectable dinner.
East Arlington’s Chocolatorium will provide a similar sugar rush, augmented with fascinating facts and hands-on fun. Although you may wonder if you’ve stepped into Willy Wonka’s world, there’s no lack of local flair—and food— to bring you back to the Green Mountains. If you fancy a flight of chocolate, you’ve come to the right place, and if the timing’s right you may even find yourself embedded in a full-on tasting event. Youngsters, as well as the young at heart, will enjoy the opportunity to hand-craft their own chocolate bar under the guidance of a master confectioner. Don’t leave without a look at Cocoa, the world largest chocolate teddy bear brought to life by owner Nick Monte (who also crafted the world’s largest peanut butter cup in 2013).
If sweet isn’t your style, you’ll find the same unique flavor with savory undertones at The Vermont Cheese House. The establishment isn’t difficult to locate, having been erected in the likeness of its namesake: a giant wheel of cheese. With round walls and a bright yellow hue, it seems as though a slice has already been savored, and you’ll feel equally eager to sample from the House’s vast selection. Take home a wheel of Vermont cheddar hand-dipped in wax (Ol’ Rat Trap is a classic), artisanal meats, or some mountain brews and you’ll walk away satisfied.
Although fast-food joints are scarce within the village, the Arlington Dairy Bar will give you a taste of homestyle American cuisine if you’re on a tight schedule—or budget. This classic Vermont snack bar is a picturesque spot for a satisfying burger, a classic milkshake, or a cold cone of softserve. Looking to grab some grub for the road? Snag a sizzling slice of pizza from East Arlington Takeout, and if there’s time enjoy a stroll along one of the town’s main roads.
After fueling up with a plate of local food, a scenic drive or adventure can be found around almost every corner of Arlington. For an extra dose of history visit one or both of the area’s majestic covered bridges, which look as though they could transport you to another era.
Built in 1852, the Arlington Green Covered Bridge, for example, is one of the oldest surviving covered bridges in the state. Spanning for approximately 80 feet over the Battenkill River, the bridge is a can’t-miss excursion—as is the Chiselville Bridge in neighboring Sunderland. Constructed in 1870, the imposing yet elegant structure will carry you over the Roaring Branch Brook under an intricate lattice truss. Diane Keaton fans may even recognize the covered bridge from its appearance in the 1987 film Baby Boom.
If the babbling Battenkill below piques your sense of adventure, its crystal-clear waters won’t disappoint. Rent a tube or kayak to traverse the almost-60-mile river, flowing into nearby New York, or enjoy a guided day of fly fishing if patience is your virtue. Those enamored by the art of angling will be interested to learn that the craft has roots in Southern Vermont, with The Orvis Company’s flagship retail store and rod shop, and the American Museum of Fly Fishing just a quick drive north. If you can’t get enough of the outdoors, pitch a tent along the banks of the Battenkill to immerse yourself in all of the natural beauty that Arlington has to offer.
More comfortable with your head in the clouds? Take a drive up the Mount Equinox Skyline Drive to soak in the panoramic views from the 3,848-foot summit.
For those exploring with the little ones in tow there’s no lack of family fun to be found at the town’s recreation park—more suited for a community twice its size. Spend the afternoon enjoying a rousing round of basketball, baseball, soccer, volleyball, or tennis at the park’s pristine fields, or embark on a quick excursion along its nature trail. If you’re looking to hone your golf swing, take advantage of the town’s ninehole golf course, available within the park for a small donation of five dollars.
To truly experience Arlington, however, be sure to connect with the community and soak up the unique Southern Vermont culture. Dinner at one of the town’s bustling restaurants, which are populated with Arlington natives more often than not, will guarantee a taste of everyday life. You’ll find no shortage of small-town heart, hospitality, and humor within the walls of these establishments.
Comfort food abounds at Chauncey’s Family Dining, where the welcoming rural atmosphere will make you feel at home the minute you walk in the door. A family-owned and -operated eatery, their maple-seared pork chops will leave you satisfied and there are plenty of choices for children.
If you’re craving classic New England fare featuring farm-fresh ingredients, look no farther than the West Mountain Inn, situated on 150 acres of picturesque woodlands. Enjoy the local and sustainable cuisine from the inn’s outdoor seating and plan your trip for a Wednesday to catch live music accompanied by a slice of wood-fired pizza.
For a more refined rendezvous, reserve a table at The Arlington Inn, which also boasts a full-service tavern. After your meal, indulge in a romantic stroll through the inn’s meticulously maintained and fragrant gardens to conclude the picture-perfect evening.
By investing a day in this small town you’ll begin to understand why artists such as Rockwell found such immense inspiration in this little corner of paradise.
“Moving to Arlington had given my work a terrific boost,” Rockwell reflected later in life. “Now my pictures grew out of the world around me, the everyday life of my neighbors.”
Similar to the intricate brushstrokes of a Rockwell classic, it’s the rich texture hidden just below the surface that makes Arlington truly special.
Now, it’s your turn to explore it. •