Look out the front windows of the inn and there’s the red covered bridge, the white Gothic-steepled church, and the Battenkill Grange, all lined up like something Norman Rockwell would have painted. Actually, he did — and this 215-year-old Vermont farmhouse is where Rockwell lived from 1943 to 1953, some of his most productive years.
At one time, Arlington was a little mecca for artists and writers. It’s remarkably unchanged from the time when Rockwell attended Town Meeting and swung his partner at the Saturday night dances.
There’s no shortage of fine inns and B&Bs to choose from in Arlington — you’ll find seven in this town. But the fact that Rockwell’s spirit lives on here was appealing, so we made reservations to stay at the Inn on Covered Bridge Green. Although the main house offers more luxurious rooms, we chose to stay in Rockwell’s big studio in the back. It remains virtually as he left it: pine-paneled walls, big open fireplace, wagon wheel chandelier, and an enormous window that lets in the artist’s coveted north light. Innkeeper Julia Dickens laid a hearth fire for us while we unpacked. Out the studio’s kitchen windows, we saw llamas, horses, and Scottish highland cows pushing for hay under the new-fallen snow.
We had reservations for dinner at The Arlington Inn, just down the road. We banked the fire, rather regretfully, and bundled up for dinner. But at our destination, the grand dame of Arlington’s array of historic inns, another roaring fire greeted us. The Deming Tavern, so alluring with its Victorian parlor furniture and hardwood bar, seemed just as hard to leave, once our table was ready. Chef/innkeeper Eric Berger provided a sumptuous, leisurely meal. Back at the studio, we were able to revive the fire and sit in its warmth for another few hours before turning in.
In the morning, breakfast was served around the dining room table at the inn’s main house. Julia is from California and had never even visited New England before she and her husband found this property for sale. “I flew out to see it and bought it that day,” she explains. Was she a Rockwell fan? “I didn’t really know much about him at the time,” she says, while setting platters of French toast and sausage in front of guests, “but now I’m such an admirer.”
The day was crisp; the new snow blew about in white bursts. Other guests were headed for a day of cross-country skiing at Hildene, once Robert Todd Lincoln’s home, now a museum outside Manchester. A lot of people, we discovered, like to stay in Arlington but go elsewhere to ski or shop. (Arlington is just 7 miles south of Manchester — Vermont’s answer to Fifth Avenue — and 17 miles north of Bennington.) We stayed close to home base, browsing at the East Arlington Antiques Center and stopping at the Martha Canfield Library to see its small exhibit on another favored former resident, education activist and writer Dorothy Canfield Fisher (open Tuesdays or by appointment).
After a tasty lunch at the Southside Cafe, we dropped in to see The Arlington Gallery’s Norman Rockwell Exhibition. Housed in an old church, this exhibit space boasts hundreds of examples of Rockwell’s work: framed magazine covers, ads, and illustrations. Some days, Arlington residents who once modeled for Rockwell are on hand to offer anecdotes. Quotes collected over the years from town residents are also arranged here. “He was just common and ordinary,” said the postman who delivered his mail. “Just like one of us.”
Which is probably why we still cherish his work and the memory of the man. And the town he loved.