A Guide to Spring Adventures in Colebrook
The small town epitomizes the Great North Woods region
Stretching along Rte. 3, Colebrook may look like any other northern town with a state highway for a main street. Then you notice a couple of things that don’t quite fit your image. First is a collection of imaginative and colorful bird condos, more like fanciful yard sculptures, on the sidewalk in front of a white clapboard cottage. The sign says Creative Natives. They’re creative indeed, we discovered inside, where beautifully crafted home décor and clothing is displayed on antique furniture in a polished room-style setting. Mixed with the contemporary art were vintage jewelry, Victorian teacups, handmade lace and other fine antiques, at a third of city prices.
Two doors up an even bigger surprise is guaranteed to inspire a nose-down stop: Le Rendez Vous Bakery. It’s the real deal, with buttery croissants, pains au chocolat and baguettes fresh from the oven. Today’s News & Sentinel sprawls across a low table between comfortable armchairs, but we take our croissants and coffee to a round dining room table and inhale the fragrances of baking bread. Surely there’s a backstory here, and we ask how a couple of Parisian bakers came to open a French café in Colebrook. With a Gallic shrug, Verlaine Daeron replies in her rich chanteuse voice, “We liked it here.” Colebrook obviously likes them too; while we munch, a steady stream of locals come and go, most stopping to chat.
Farther south, or across the river in Vermont, we’d suspect places like this were designed to lure city tourists, but we’re a little out of that territory in this land that’s called the Great North Woods for a good reason. Tourists here are more likely to be hunters, snowmobilers or intent on fishing in the Connecticut Lakes.
In the café we learned a bit about this town of 2,300 when conversation turned to the building that once housed Howard’s Restaurant, a three-generation Main Street institution that had closed after the owner’s death. Shortly after, the building’s foundation was seriously damaged by undercutting in a flood. It was clear the building would collapse unless something happened fast. Colebrook has a history of pulling together in adversity, so local attorney Phil Waystack, local contractor Dennis Thompson and town leaders cut through red tape within days to save the building. It’s still empty, but still standing and ready for a new life.
The idea of pulling together is what motivates North Country Marketplace & Salvage, a combination year-round farmers market, artisans’ co-op, salvage yard and community sharing center. The salvage center is a barn-full of furniture (including some easily restorable antiques), building materials, architectural elements and repurposed crafts (we liked the dustpans made from Live Free or Die license plates). In the shop, locally grown farm products — from salad greens and cider to organic beef and goat cheese — join fudge, granola, vintage kitchen collectibles, hand-knit hats and works by local artists. Many, like Grammy Haynes Little Herbal Shop and Hurley’s Honey, are right here in Colebrook, others from nearby farms.
Agriculture has always been important here. In the mid-1800s Colebrook’s potato farms, thanks to the rich alluvial soil along the Connecticut River, grew enough potatoes to supply five percent of all the starch in the US, about 1,500 tons annually. That’s a lot of starched petticoats.
There’s more about Colebrook’s past at the little historical museum in the Tillotson Center for the Arts, a combination museum, local artists’ gallery and performance center with a 171-seat theater. Across the road at Moose Muck Coffee House, we order hand-built sandwiches and pumpkin-spice whoopee pies with maple filling (made with local syrup) and drive a couple of miles out Rte. 145 to Beaver Brook Falls. From a picnic table maintained by the Colebrook Kiwanis Club, we watch Beaver Brook plunge over a 112-foot ledge, about 30 feet in free fall before shattering into a frothy cascade. And we don’t even need to hike to it.