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Observe, Listen, and Reflect: Waterbury’s Uncommon Culture
Waterbury’s vibrant history, art, and music scene reflects a culture that honors its past as an integral part of its identity. If the town had a story board, it would chronicle the first footsteps of Native Americans, a town charter granted by King George III in 1763, and manufacturing of tools of the day such as scythe handles and children’s carriages. It would depict an early 1800s settlement of approximately 50 homesteading families in the forest that is now Little River State Park where you can still see evidence of lives as subsistence farmers. It would show that when the railroad arrived in 1849 regional commerce gained momentum, and subsequently the sheep and dairy industry blossomed.
Flip the story board to the 20th century and you would see the work of more than 2000 Civilian Conservation Corps men who took three years to build the Waterbury Dam at Camp Smith beginning in 1935, the construction of Interstate 89 in 1960, and the current emergence of Waterbury as a four-season recreation destination that inspires world-class cuisine and beverages. Waterbury’s benchmarks are based in classic New England ingenuity, strength, and agriculture, while its uncommon people breathe culture into this treasury through lively and compelling exhibits, preservation projects, historic tours, and music.
Main Street’s iconic Janes House is home to the public library as well as the Waterbury Historical Society and Museum. Born on the site in 1832, Dr. Henry Janes was a physician, soldier, farmer, and humanitarian. The museum features Dr. Janes’s collection, as well as books, calendars, artifacts, clothes, shoes, photos, signs, advertising items, booklets, craft items, paintings from local artists, items related to the Waterbury and Harwood Union Schools, and more.
The Waterbury Historical Society Museum displays Dr. Janes’s Civil War uniform and many military items from other local servicemen. Gravesites of local civil war veterans (and governors) can be found nearby at Hope Cemetery as well. For more history, check out Bridgeside Books for noted historian Howard Coffin’s Something Abides, a chronicle of Vermont in the Civil War that features a robust section on Waterbury.
Train enthusiasts will want to stop by the Green Mountain Coffee Visitor Center and Café, located just down the road in an impeccably restored, 1875 rail station at which the Amtrak “Vermonter” still pauses today. Stop in to the Community Room, which features videos on Waterbury’s train history and an operating model railroad. You’ll also find an exhibit on the history of coffee, “From Bean to Cup.” The café has an expansive deck overlooking Rusty Parker Memorial Park. Enjoy a cup of bold coffee and a fresh-baked cookie from the café, listen for the train whistle, and muse about life long ago.
If you find yourself in Rusty Parker Park on a Thursday from mid May through mid October, enjoy the late afternoon Farmers’ Market and stay into early evening, where you may catch a concert hosted by the local Rotary Club. Ride the tide of music to one of Waterbury’s local eateries, which also contribute to the music scene as well as offering memorable food and drink. The Reservoir and Zenbarn host live artists on weekends.
Other dining options offer the opportunity to eat among, or even on top of, slices of Vermont history. Request the table at the Blue Stone that is made from… the blue stone. This vintage piece of a water well was rescued from a c. 1700s farmhouse, and it can hold your meal as you enjoy pizza with savory, local toppings, wood-fired crust, and surprising combinations. Or make reservations well in advance for Hen of the Wood, an acclaimed dining experience located in an old grist mill, complete with stone foundation, powerful waterfall, and depression in the base of the building that held the stones that ground grain into flour.
After dinner, continue your culture tour at the Waterbury Festival Playhouse, an unexpected performing arts gem based in a fabric, tent-like building located between Waterbury and Stowe. This “black box-style” theater is characterized by its simple floor and walls. Throughout the summer season some of the best professional actors and actresses in the state create compelling productions, from dramas to laugh-out-loud comedy.
If you’d like to try to get a little closer than most to times gone by, consider a stay in the Old Stagecoach Inn, which some claim is haunted. Paranormal activity might be present; you may feel a strong energy field, observe an inexplicably rocking chair, or even catch sight of an apparition consistent with prior tales.
For a roundup of Waterbury’s historic sites, embark upon the self-guided historic tour. Featuring 30 area sites, you’ll stroll past notable landmarks and learn about their uses and architecture. The tour will also guide you as you envision the occurrence of seminal events and important buildings no longer standing.
It’s likely that your time in Waterbury will be packed, but if you have a moment, have a quick bite at Maxi’s or the Cold Hollow Cider Mill’s Apple Core Luncheonette and Brew, and head to Stowe or Shelburne for more art exploration. Stowe features many visual art galleries, the Helen Day Arts Center, and the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum. The Shelburne Museum may comprise the better part of a day; at less than an hour’s drive from Waterbury you will find 150,000 works of art and Americana in 38 exhibition buildings. Make Waterbury your home base and take time to wander.