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Home » PEOPLE AND PLACES » VERMONT » Montpelier Comes Alive: Attractions
Montpelier Comes Alive: Attractions

Montpelier, Vermont

By Mike Dunphy | December 05, 2011

Maple Grades - Morse Farm, Montpelier, Vermont
The Sheep Fold at Morse Farm
The Cedar Creek Room, The Vermont State House
The House Chamber
The Last Catamount on Display at Vermont Historical Museum
View from the Hubbard Trail
The Hubbard Tower
Hubbard View
Chain Saw Art

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Growing up in Vermont, I rarely heard the phrase, “Let’s go to Montpelier” ever said with an exclamation point. Unless it was to renew a driver’s license, pick up new plates, or attend a legislative session, the capital was always the place we passed through on the way to somewhere else.

Twenty first century Montpelier has worked hard to change this and now confidently invites tourists for a full-day’s worth of fun at the following four attractions.

Morse Farm

Situated on a hill just north of the downtown area, the Morse Farm offers a comprehensive lesson on the wonders of maple syrup.

Morse Farm

With eight generations of sugaring in his blood, owner Burr Morse leads visitors from sap to pancake—first with a film in the woodshed theater and then a presentation in the sugar house.

Among the lore Burr would like you to know is it that one gallon of syrup takes forty gallons of sap, a good west wind makes all the difference, and squirrels are not a sugar maker’s best friend. To see the process in action, plan a trip for the thaw of winter, usually in March.

The rest of the year is an elaborate and very entertaining show and tell, with additional fun like Burr’s chainsaw art gallery, a hike on the maple trail, sugar on snow, and Otis the pulley pulling goat.

In winter, the farm fills up with cross country skiers, who enjoy the fifteen miles of groomed trails through the surrounding countryside. Inside, the gift shop contains more maple products than you can shake a stick at, or rather an entire tree.

To reach the Morse Farm, follow Main Street north to its termination and bear left onto Country Road at the fork. The farm is on the right.

Hubbard Tower and Park

Hubbard Tower

“Montpeculiars” have always wanted a tower of their own. It’s even depicted in an 1821 drawing of the city even though it wasn’t actually built until a century later.

Once the hilltop and surrounding forest behind the statehouse was bequeathed to the city in 1899 by John Erastus Hubbard, it took fifteen more years to raise funds to build the tower.

Built like a ruined castle, the 52-foot tower has become a repository of local legends (few of which are true, alas), no doubt partially inspired by the inspirational and romantic view from the top.

Hiking up through the 194 acres of trails is part of the fun and a good workout.

The Hubbard Tower can be accessed by car via Parkway and Corse Streets or by footpath from just behind the State House.

Vermont Historical Museum

An Exhibit of Vermont in the Forties at the Vermont Historical Museum

History offers yet more reasons for Vermonters to be proud. From the taking of Fort Ticonderoga to the nation’s first civil unions, “Freedom and Unity” has been the call.

At the Vermont Historical Museum, the story begins with the question “Who are Vermonters?

Going back to the native Abenaki tribes, the museum takes visitors through more than 300 years of history with special attention to the Revolution, Civil War, agricultural transformation of the land, growth of the ski industry, and the creation and protection of the Vermont brand.

The state’s progressive politics is also featured in a film examining three key debates in history—slavery, women voting, and civil unions.

The Vermont Historical Museum is located at 109 State Street in downtown Montpelier.

The Vermont State House

Built in 1859, the Greek revival capitol is the third to stand on the site. The first was torn down and second burned, leaving only the granite portico on the front.

Stained Glass Panel in the Cedar Creek Reception Room

Begin in the central lobby, where the portraits of Vermont’s two presidents, Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur, welcome guests (somewhat sternly). A marble bust of Lincoln by Vermont sculptor Larkin Goldsmith Mead dominates the corridor between them. The work was a study for his bronze version now standing on Lincoln’s tomb.

Upstairs, you’ll find the senate chamber; the nation’s oldest in active use and original condition. Like much of the capitol, the flowery carpet, green upholstery and dark wood furnishings are the result of a sixteen-year renovation to restore the building to its original Victorian elegance (after an unfortunate renovation in the seventies that involved lots of Naugahyde).

The same meticulous attention is also on large-scale display in the central House Chamber, where the color scheme becomes red, white, and gold.

The most awe is reserved for the Cedar Creek reception room. Against the backdrop of a the twenty by ten foot depiction of Vermonters fighting in the Civil War battle of Cedar Creek, this is where formal state receptions are held.

The rest of the walls display portraits of Vermont war heroes over decorative gold and copper-leaf stenciling. Look up and find two stained glass panels fixed in the ceiling depicting the state coat of arms and goddess of agriculture.

The Vermont State House is at 115 State Street in downtown Montpelier. Guided tours run from July to the end of September, but self-guided and audio versions are available.

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