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Vermont's Inn Places

July 31, 1988|JERRY HULSE | Times Travel Editor

Guests gather in a game room with a wood-burning stove, a piano and a fireplace framed by dried cornstalks. There's the singsong melody of a brook outside, while inside the notes of Vivaldi and Bach set the mood.

From Simonsville it is only a short drive to Andover, where recently young Trish and Dick Sherwood became the proprietors of a charming inn with the fetching name of The Quilted Cat. Stuffed and porcelain felines occupy perches in the rambling old 1810 mansion that faces a peaceful pasture, a red barn and a quiet country road only a nod from Weston.

Oriental rugs cover pegged floors and guests gather for Trish's breakfasts in a wood-paneled dining room with a beamed ceiling. Coffeetable books by Rockwell and Rembrandt are matched by other volumes occupying shelves near a fireplace with a wraparound sofa, baskets of flowers and a vintage spinning wheel. The Quilted Cat is a country cottage with a window on cattle that graze outside and lamps that give off a yellow glow.

On this odyssey I looked in on the Old Tavern at Grafton, a 19th-Century gem with canopied and four-poster beds and rare antiques. Long evenings are spent in a wonderful old barn behind the inn, complete with a bar and fireplace. The Old Tavern is filled with prints, pewter and charm.

Indeed it is without flaw, a rare discovery in a state renowned for its excellent inns. The Old Tavern has played host to Daniel Webster, Theodore Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Woodrow Wilson, Henry David Thoreau, Ulysses S. Grant, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Rudyard Kipling.

It is Grafton itself, though, that begs attention. Drawing visitors from around the world, it is the picture-book village that comes to mind whenever one envisions the typical New England town. Giant elms line its quiet streets, towering over Grafton's ancient homes, blacksmith shop, antique stores and factories. Arriving in Grafton is like turning back the calendar to horse-and-buggy days a century ago.

Vermont is a land that was loved by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and it was at Deacon Cephas Kent's Tavern in Dorset that Vermont drafted its own Declaration of Independence.

Dorset is the setting for Sally and Tim Brown's 31-room Barrows House (circa 1784) that rises on six acres of flowering gardens. This is not your dyed-in-the-wool, old-fashioned inn. Barrows is a trifle too sophisticated for that, what with a swimming pool and tennis courts and the subtle suggestion that gentlemen don jackets at the dinner hour.

Eric Sevareid is a neighbor. A CIA agent once found solace at Barrows House, as have film stars. Ten rooms are available at the inn; other guests seek shelter in cottages spread across the grounds.

In the same neighborhood, Hugh Miller and Edward Firenc welcome the wayfarer at their tasteful Marble West Inn that occupies a neighborhood of "quiet wealth." At Marble West a glassed-in alcove is reserved for lovers and the porch is supported by marble columns.

There's also a resident ghost that rattles about at night, and to avoid disturbing the ghost, guests pad across hooked rugs. Crocheted coverlets grace the beds in 16 rooms, each with its own bath. Marble West is a place to hang out the nerves to unravel. It seems perfectly suitable for book and nature types with an appreciation for the woods and a splendid garden with benches and two stocked trout ponds, a scene that's framed by Green Peak and Owl's Head, a couple of verdant mountains with splendid trails for hikers.

A Zigzagging Tour

On this zigzagging tour of southern Vermont we took in the Golden Stage Inn at Proctorsville, which catches one's fancy the moment it looms into view: a 1776 farmhouse on Vermont 103 between Chester and Ludlow whose hosts, Kirsten Murphy and Swiss-born Marcel Perret, surrendered lucrative positions as flavor chemists in New York for the serenity of old New England.

The Golden Stage charms the fussiest guests, what with its old-fashioned parlor and fireplaces, its handmade quilts, country wallpapers, ruffled curtains and big bay windows. The dining table groans with garden-fresh produce ("We grow everything from scratch," Murphy says). And there's a cookie jar that's always full. Menu items range from potato chervil soup with Pernod to tortellini with pesto, salmon steaks and a sumptuous dish Murphy calls her "Hungarian Rhapsody." Her five-course meal winds up with such delights as lime sorbet with gin and walnut tart St. Paul de Vence.

The inn is shared by a couple of cats (Natasha and Mischa), a wire-haired dachshund (Beanie) and a golden retriever (Maite). Scattered about the inviting old farmhouse are hooked rugs, framed needlepoint, antique beds, Martha Washington spreads and deep sofas that bid the guest to snooze.

Once the home of Cornelius Otis Skinner, the Golden Stage faces gardens blooming with dahlias and daffodils, pansies and peonies, roses, lilies, begonias, zinnias and immense Siberian sunflowers.

Own Strawberry Jam

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