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Bygones Still Alive in Woodstock

<i> Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers</i>

This lovely old town in the foothills of Vermont’s Green Mountains is definitely not one that’s at odds with modern times, nor does it lack any of today’s creature comforts. Yet it seems more comfortable with its 18th- and 19th-Century heritage.

Chartered in 1761, Woodstock grew to be one of the three largest towns in the state and became an agriculture and trade center that flourished handsomely until the end of the Civil War.

In the late 1800s, after some lean years, it blossomed again as a beautiful summer retreat for wealthy Northeastern families.

In 1934, when the nation’s first ski lift started operations near town, Woodstock changed from a pretty summer resort into a playground for all seasons.

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Woodstock’s roots are still set deep in bygone days: graceful Georgian and Federal architecture; bells cast by Paul Revere pealing from church steeples; crafts, guilds and ice cream socials; gathering maple sap in the snow, and old-fashioned Christmas parades, with bell ringers, costumed citizens on horseback and the whole town laden with swags of greenery and decorations.

It doesn’t take long for visitors here to make the transformation to another time.

Getting here: Take American, United or TWA to Boston, then Precision or Command Airways to Lebanon, N.H. It’s 20 scenic miles from Lebanon to Woodstock.

How long/how much? A day or two for the village, but it’s a good center for side trips to many nearby towns and attractions. Some of New England’s best skiing is just down the road. You’ll also find lodging costs very reasonable, dining the same.

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Getting settled in: Three Church Street ($62 to $78 B&B; double) is a huge rambling home from the early 19th Century in mid-village. Large bedrooms, some with four-posters and fireplace, are cheerful. There’s a clay tennis court and pool. Breakfasts are herculean.

The Jackson House ($90-$100 double) may be the nicest B&B; you’ve ever seen. An old farmhouse a mile from town, the Jackson seems to float in a bower of flowers, with great views of surrounding trees and mountains from every room. Fine breakfasts. Early evening brings hors d’oeuvres, champagne and a wine bar, all included in room price. Several public rooms are furnished with antiques, fine paintings and books. More antiques and hand-crocheted spreads in the bedrooms.

The Applebutter Inn (Happy Valley Road; $55-$70 B&B; with shared baths) is a few miles away in Taftsville. A covered bridge and gorgeous views of the Green Mountains seen from the house. The owner’s store sells down comforters, so every bedroom has one. Breakfasts here might bring a spinach-and-mushroom quiche, with marvelous homemade granola.

Regional food and drink: Vermont’s excellent lamb, veal and turkey are always welcome. Locals have their own secret turf for finding morels and other wild mushrooms for sauces and garnish. The state’s cheddar is superb: regular, sharp or smoked.

If you’re here in late winter or early spring, look for a “sugaring off” party, during which maple syrup is spread on snow and eaten, always accompanied by dill pickles and raised doughnuts. The local apple cider is delightful.

Moderate-cost dining: The Village Inn (downtown Woodstock), a Victorian house with lace curtains, lovely china and old paintings, has a regional menu made interesting by its sauces. Try the pheasant in a Madeira cream sauce, roast duck with a cranberry-maple sauce, rack of lamb or turkey. There’s usually a selection of fish, and the wine list is surprisingly good. Delicious hot popovers come with everything.

The Mill, Quechee, Vt., is an unusual combination of glass-blowing studio and restaurant, presided over by Simon Pearce, a County Cork gentleman-artist. Dine inside, which is Scandinavian simple, or on the mill’s balcony beside a waterfall, the lilting sound being much better than Muzak.

Choose from a menu that emphasises Irish dishes: beef and Guinness stew, Irish shepherd’s pie, smoked salmon and brown bread. The wine card is truly formidable, with French and Californian splitting the list.

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The Wasp is that fast-disappearing relic of yore, the town diner. You’ll meet all the local heavy hitters here, catching up on gossip and politics over their breakfast of eggs, sausage, hash browns, toast and coffee for $3. Or drop in for lunch and a hot pork sandwich and one vegetable for $4.50. Nothing fancy, no credit cards, just bedrock Americana.

Going first-class: The Woodstock Inn on the green, ($99-$170 double) is the progeny of several inns that have graced the site since 1793, this one built in 1969 by Laurance Rockefeller, who married the daughter of a local patrician family in 1934 and adopted the village.

Rockefeller made certain that the new inn fit comfortably with the style of historic buildings surrounding the green, keeping the hand-carved wooden eagle from the original 1793 inn above the entry.

Within, everything is in exquisite taste: bedrooms with homemade quilts, fine period-reproduction furniture, gigantic fireplace in the lobby lounge and wonderful use of stone.

Every amenity is available, plus regional specialties and classic dishes in the formal dining room.

The inn also owns Woodstock Country Club (a Robert Trent Jones golf course for summer, cross-country skiing in the winter) and modern sports center.

On your own: Billings Farm & Museum features exhibits of Vermont home and farm life in the 1890s. It’s also a working dairy farm, and gives hot cider and homemade doughnuts to visitors. Laros Farmers Market on the edge of town is another must for all the locally grown produce, jams, cheeses, preserves and whatnot.

Just across the river in New Hampshire, Hanover beckons with Dartmouth College’s magnificent Hood Museum and its fine collection of American native art, Old Masters and drawings. And Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vt., spreads New England’s best collection of Americana over 45 acres.

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Skiers will find 18 slopes on the Suicide Six ski area just outside of town, plus the very challenging Killington ski area only a few miles east. And photo buffs will have a field day with the half dozen covered wooden bridges in the area.

Christmastime is a high point on the Woodstock festivities scene, with all the merchants serving eggnog or punch, Santa arriving by sleigh, logs blazing on the green and a formal cotillion open to locals and visitors at Woodstock Country Club.

For more information: Call the Vermont Chamber of Commerce at (802) 223-3433, or write Box 37, Montpelier, Vt. 05602 for a 36-page brochure on Woodstock, complete with map, plus another listing of accommodations and restaurants. Ask for the Woodstock package.


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