In every season, a visit to Grafton, Vermont, offers the definitive “timeless New England village” experience. Learn more about the history of Grafton, and discover some of our favorite things to see and do in this quaint southeastern Vermont town.
Grafton’s history is marked by an 1830s heyday, when the region bustled with woolen mills, gristmills, and factories producing sleighs, butter churns, and cheese. A waning wool market and devastating flood in 1869, however, led to a century of hardship. Relief eventually came with the formation of the Windham Foundation in 1963. The foundation is credited with bringing back Grafton’s small-town New England greatness through its preservation efforts, open-land stewardship, and financial support. Today the town is small and quiet but also thriving — and it’s that combination that makes Grafton so special.
If you’re visiting Grafton, consider spending a night or two at the beautiful Grafton Inn (formerly the Old Tavern at Grafton), one of the Windham Foundation’s holdings. Originally a stagecoach inn dating back to 1801, it’s one of the oldest operating inns in America and has welcomed such famous guests as Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. With the emphasis here on “unplugging,” none of the 45 cozy rooms (11 in the main inn, the others in guesthouses) have televisions or telephones, but free Wi-Fi is available throughout the property. Breakfast is included in your stay.
The inn’s two restaurants are also popular spots for visitors looking for a memorable meal or even just a quick bite. The Old Tavern offers historic, candlelit ambience and an upscale farm-to-table menu; reservations are required. Meanwhile, the Phelps Barn serves up classic pub fare, local beer, and frequent live entertainment in a laid-back setting.
Harking back to Grafton’s early cheese-making days, the award-winning Grafton Village Cheese is a modern continuation of the Grafton Cooperative Cheese Company, founded in 1892 by area dairy farmers. The original cooperative was destroyed by a fire in 1912, but in the mid-1960s the Windham Foundation helped bring back local cheese-making with the founding of Grafton Village Cheese. The company’s visitor-friendly outpost (which includes a wine and cheese shop) can be found about 25 miles south, in Brattleboro, but in Grafton you can pick up a stash at MKT: Grafton, a grocery and café located just steps from the Grafton Inn. It also stocks other specialty and local food items alongside pantry essentials and handmade gifts, plus it serves breakfast and lunch daily, weekend brunch, and dinners-to-go on select evenings.
Love the outdoors? The Grafton Trails & Outdoor Center — also part of the Grafton Inn and the Windham Foundation — has year-round activities for all types of adventurers. In summer there’s mountain biking, swimming, canoeing, and hiking; in winter, there’s fat biking, snowshoeing, snow tubing, and even sleigh rides.
To satisfy sweet-tooth cravings, head to Plummer’s Sugar House for maple candy, maple cream, maple sugar, and (of course) 100 percent pure Vermont maple syrup. If you visit during sugaring season, in late winter and early spring, you can actually watch this third-generation Vermont producer turn maple sap into liquid gold. You can also indulge at the Scoop, a seasonal ice cream stand open on summer weekends, at Rushton Farms — whose farm stand, the Milk Shack, is open daily year-round, selling farm-fresh milk, eggs, and ice cream.
For art lovers, the Jud Hartmann Gallery is a favorite stop. Known for its bronze sculptures of Native American peoples, the gallery (which has a second location in Blue Hill, Maine) is open daily from June through the end of October, and by chance or appointment the rest of the year. There’s also the Hunter Gallery of Fine Art, open seasonally.
Visitors should also set aside time to simply admire the many scenic “everyday” spots around town, such as sheep fields, a pond, two covered bridges, the post office, the library, a steepled church, a cemetery, and classic clapboard houses. A favorite detail: the absence of overhead utility lines. The Windham Foundation had them moved underground to further enhance the village’s timeless feel.
Have you ever visited Grafton, Vermont?
Note: We took a trip to Grafton, Vermont, in season 2 of Weekends with Yankee, our public television show created in collaboration with WGBH. Check the Weekends with Yankee site to learn more about the series, along with when and where to catch episodes.
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated.