Road Trip – Charlestown to Lebanon
The placid farms and pastures along the Connecticut valley were not always so serene. The river was the major route for Native Americans, as it was for settlers, and the French and Indian War was fought along its banks.
Leave Charleston heading north on Rte. 12, the town’s main street. About a mile beyond the Stick-Gothic Episcopal church, sidetrack left to The Fort at No. 4. The stockaded settlement was once the northernmost English-speaking village in the New World. In 1747, it withstood attack by a force of 400, a success that caused the French forces to withdraw to Canada. Today its reconstruction is New England’s only living history museum of that era.
Return to Rte. 12 and continue north past Hemingway Farms stand, turning left onto Rte. 12A (4 miles). Turn right at the roadside historical marker for Union Church (about 7 miles) to see two historic churches that sit facing one another — the state’s oldest standing Episcopal church, dating from 1773, and the brick St. Mary’s, the state’s first Roman Catholic church.
Return to Route 12A, which crosses Rte. 12/103 and travels north along the Connecticut River. On the left, at Northstar Canoe Livery, you can rent a canoe for half-day, full-day, or overnight trips on the river. Rentals include a shuttle to put-ins either 4 or 12 miles upstream (542-5802, www.kayak-canoe.com).
An historic sign marks Chase House B&B, a National Historic Landmark as birthplace of Salmon P. Chase, Supreme Court Chief Justice and Lincoln’s Secretary of Treasury (675-5391). About a mile beyond is the historic Trinity Church in Cornish, then the longest covered bridge in the United States comes into view, stretching across the Connecticut. Built in 1886 with an unusual timber lattice truss construction, it crosses to Windsor, Vt., in two spans.
About .5 miles upstream is a good canoe put-in, followed by Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, where the sculptures of Augustus Saint-Gaudens are beautifully displayed in his summer studio, home and elegant gardens. Walking trails lead throughout the grounds (675-2175, www.nps.gov/saga).
Blow-me-down Mill stands just beyond on the right, and about a mile farther, on the left, is the former summer home of Rose Standish Nichols, one of America’s pioneer landscape designers. Catch a glimpse of the restored gardens south of the yellow clapboard house.
Plainfield Town Hall may not look like an important art landmark, but inside is a complete stage set by Maxfield Parrish (4 miles). The Cornish Colony artists and writers enjoyed their summers, combining work with social activities that included theatrical performances, such as the one for which the stage sets were painted. On October 6 and 7, the annual Maxfield Parrish Vintage Print and Collectibles Sale, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., supports the upkeep of the stage, which will be on display (675-6866). Across the street, the library has records of the Art Colony and a Maxfield Parrish gift nook (675-6866).
Rte. 12A continues along the river, past McNamara Dairy (4 miles), which sells fresh milk in bottles. Ahead, past a stretch of strip-mall sprawl, is I-89 and the classier Power House Mall in West Lebanon.
Turn right onto Rte. 4 and right again onto Poverty Lane, where Farnum Hill Ciders sits amid the apple trees of Poverty Lane Orchards. The juices of heritage varieties are fermented, blended and aged here to create ciders that compare favorably to the finest from Normandy. In September and October, tastings are offered at the cidery (other times, call ahead).
Return to Rte. 4, which leads into Lebanon. Facing the common is Three Tomatoes Trattoria, where pizzas and grilled dishes emerge from a huge brick oven at lunch and dinner (448-1711, www.threetomatoestrattoria.com).
Length of trip: 35 miles