Salisbury General Store & Pharmacy anchors a handful of pretty downtown shopsPhoto Credit : Anne Day
Once in a while, the past rises up unexpectedly. It can happen in a flash—a taste, a smell, a look—to rattle our equilibrium and spark long-buried memories. It can even trigger a strange nostalgia for something we’ve never known. And it can happen on a hillside, deep in the woods.
The vertigo-inducing ski jump at Satre Hill, in Salisbury, Connecticut, does that. It’s a dizzying, 30-meter-long slope that has launched (literally) junior jumpers and Olympic hopefuls for more than 80 years. It brings shivers just standing at the bottom. Exhilaration, too. A reminder of days gone by, when thrills required actual skills—not the bungee-jumping zipline variety.
Satre Hill says something about Salisbury, too—because the ski jump isn’t simply a daredevil dinosaur or a quaint village attraction, buffed up for tourists. The all-volunteer Salisbury Winter Sports Association (SWSA) keeps the hill’s tradition alive. It’s a source of tremendous community pride, and more than 600 locals have donated funds to spruce it up. Parents volunteer, families forge bonds, and kids learn to fly. That it also happens to be tucked down an impossibly picturesque Robert Frost–snowy road, not far from Salisbury’s Main Street, is just one more point for nostalgia.
Salisbury is pretty, the way you’d expect a historic town in the Litchfield Hills to be. Preserved farmland and expansive fields surround the township, incorporated in 1741, which includes the artist-packed village of Lakeville. The Appalachian Trail snakes along its borders, and in summer hikers pushing toward Maine to finish the entire 2,168-mile trail are a frequent (aromatic, some say) presence. The streets are filled with plenty of broad, beamy antique homes, just the right number of shops to supply the essentials, and a handful of restaurants and bakeries to feed the weekenders. Plus a fine dusting of low-key celebrities to remind you that we’re only 100 miles from New York City.
“It’s a little too far to be a real commuter town,” says Richard Boyle, former director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, who has co-owned the Earl Grey B&B with his wife, Patricia, for the past 21 years. But it’s certainly convenient when you crave a city fix—or if you’re Meryl (Streep) Gummer, who chose this laid-back yet sophisticated town as the place to raise her family. “Salisbury is everybody’s little secret,” Boyle says.
Scoville Memorial Library anchors the south end of town; The White Hart, a 19th-century inn, secures the north. Both are nourishing places where you can dip a toe into village life.
Native stone lends weight to the nation’s first free public library—with museum curators, writers, and photographers popping in to give weekly talks. The White Hart sees its share of lively chatter in the Tap Room, lit by a crackling fire; the inn’s more-formal dining room was recently listed among Bon Appétit’s 50 nominees for 2015’s “Hot 10” roster of best new restaurants. Neighbors gather for the holidays in front of the inn to light the Christmas tree and sing carols on the village green.
Scratch a little deeper, and you’ll find dramatic possibilities at Aglet Theatre Company—named for the doohickey on a shoelace—founded in Salisbury in 2005 to perform staged readings on “less than a shoestring” (so successfully that they needed a larger space in nearby Sheffield, Mass.). Plus, The Hotchkiss School, a renowned co-ed boarding school in Lakeville, opens its golf course, two Olympic-size pools, track, and skating rink to locals.
With dozens of books about gardening and cooking under her belt, Jacqui Heriteau brings a flavorful expertise and “French ethos” to Country Bistro, the intimate café she runs with her daughter Holly, just off Main Street. A few blocks away, at the other end of town, Mary O’Brien’s homey Chaiwalla Tea Room steams up the windows with endless pots of tea and earns raves for “Mary’s Tomato Pie.”
Side-by-side bakeries swell the village midsection: Sweet William’s, for early-morning cappuccinos and croissants, and Salisbury Breads, where rustic loaves warmed by rosy walls make a strong argument for gluten. Off the beaten path (but make a reservation), The Woodland in Lakeville is a favorite sushi-chic hotspot—the chef’s tuna crudo on a delicate whip of arugula is like a taste of summer in January.
You really can get almost everything downtown, thanks to LaBonne’s Market (a mini Whole Foods) and the attractively old-fashioned Salisbury General Store & Pharmacy (from cold remedies to dish towels).
After that, it’s all fun and games: Peter Becks Village Store for sporty Patagonia clothing, or Prime Finds for upscale used home furnishings at bargain prices. You can pick up a first edition at Johnnycake Books, an antiquarian bookseller housed in a 19th-century farmer’s cottage. “Salisbury has been a destination for book collectors for almost 100 years,” says owner Dan Dwyer, who’s lived here since 1985; in the past he worked for CBS and wrote speeches for presidents.
“People start as weekenders, fall in love, and find a way to retire here,” notes innkeeper Patricia Boyle. In fact, weekenders make up 50 to 60 percent of Salisbury’s current population, depending on whom you ask. It wasn’t always that way. “It was the most affordable, accessible, and prettiest town [in the ’80s],” says Dwyer, who’s been active in town affairs, sold real estate, and even run for the state senate. “The real estate here is driven by the Wall Street economy. But you can still find places, if you look.” With its rural properties and well-off owners, Salisbury boasts the lowest property tax rate in Connecticut.
At Satre Hill, the SWSA teaches ages 6 and up, with a Winter Ski Jump Camp during Christmas break and training from December to March. The Eastern National Ski Jumping Championships are an annual inspiration to all, and the February Jumpfest Weekend offers plenty of competitive fun in the 20- and 30-meter categories, plus ice carving and a Snow Ball Dance.
Getting Your Bearings
The White Hart offers airy in-town rooms; the Earl Grey B&B, Richard and Patricia Boyle’s stately 1850s Italianate mansion, overlooks the center of the village, with the largest documented Norway spruce in the country in their back yard.
For more information, visit: salisburyct.us; litchfieldhills.com; and nwctchamberofcommerce.org.