The village of Manchester in southern Vermont was settled in the 1760s. The rural hamlet had a few inns and taverns as a respite for weary travelers. As the American Revolution began to spread to the colonies, a pub, Marsh’s Tavern, became a hotbed of dissent against the British occupation. In the years that followed, the famous location of Marsh’s Tavern changed when in 1780 Thaddeus Munson took over. Munson’s Inn has moved to a new location next to Marsh’s Tavern. The building has changed owners several times, and each time the new owner has added ornaments and extensions. Martin Vanderslip added the fluted columns which remain a hallmark of the hotel today.
In 1853, Franklin Orvis took over. When Orvis established the 200-room Equinox House, the North Wing was Orvis’s original family property. The fireplace is still in place and bears the inscription “LC Orvis 1832”. Meanwhile, Manchester’s “resort phase” has begun. Tourists have flocked to the charming city for some fresh air and relaxation, away from the crowded cities. They loved to walk along the over 4 miles of marble-lined sidewalks. Equinox House has been visited by several illustrious guests who enjoyed the outdoor activities, one of which was fishing. Charles F. Orvis’s fly fishing establishment opened next to Equinox House, selling patented tackle and rods. Equipped with Charles’ rods and reels, sportsmen discovered a passion for massive trout fishing in the Battenkill. Orvis is still the oldest mail order company in America.
Manchester is a short drive from major cities such as New York and Boston, making it a leisurely road trip to a beautiful location. The Equinox (closed for years) reopened in 1985. It then underwent a major rebuild and restoration in 1992 to serve modern travelers. The hotel and golf course have been restored, preserving the mix of six different architectural styles and 17 different structures on the property. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is popular year round. There are plenty of outdoor activities, art, cultural experiences, shopping, world class dining, and events that provide the antidote to a stressful life in any season. This Grande Dame has witnessed fascinating scenes throughout American history, such as these seven events that occurred at the hotel now known as Equinox Golf Resort & Hotel.
1. Raise a militia in the green mountains
According to Vermont state records, Marsh’s Tavern owner William Marsh was concerned about rumors of war with the British. He believed the Crown would win. One evening, a group of locals gathered at the tavern. The Security Council group included Ethan Allen’s younger brother, Ira Allen. Ira suggested confiscating the property from the Conservatives to sell it and help raise money for a local militia. When William Marsh declared his allegiance to the Crown, he became “conservative”. The group, now known as the Green Mountain Boys, took Marsh’s Tavern as their first expropriation, and William Marsh fled to Canada. A local historian, Shawn Harrington, explained that the British never invaded Vermont during the conflict. After the Battle of Saratoga, the tide turned for the settlers who began to win the War for American Independence. Marsh then returned to southern Vermont and is buried in East Dorset Cemetery. There is a United Arab Emirates loyalist stamp on his gravestone.
2. Mary Todd Lincoln was a guest of honor
In 1864, Mary Todd Lincoln and her two sons visited the Equinox House. They enjoyed their vacation in Manchester so much that Mary made reservations to come back the following year. She had planned to bring President Abraham Lincoln with her this time around, and a suite was built especially for their visit. Sadly, President Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865. Robert Todd Lincoln has never forgotten that enchanted summer. Robert returned to the area as an adult, and forty years later he built Hildene just down the road. He often played golf with his good friend, former President William Howard Taft.
3. George Washington did not stay here (but four other US presidents did)
The hotel has hosted four US presidents and a vice president. President William Howard Taft, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Harrison and Vice President James S. Sherman have visited or stayed at Equinox House. William Howard Taft visited in 1912, staying October 9 and 10. He gave a rousing speech at Music Hall and shook hands with over 700 people. He then spent the evening at Hildene with Robert Todd Lincoln. A month earlier, former President Theodore Roosevelt gave a campaign speech on the hotel lawn during a campaign shutdown. He started a race against Taft for a third term as president. Even though they were on the same party, Roosevelt disagreed with Taft’s way of running the country. The Republican vote split in two and in 1912 Woodrow Wilson became president.
4. Equinox Spring Water has become a business
Mount Equinox had an ample supply of pure spring water. In the 1880s, it was described as “the finest, purest water” and was an incredible luxury for guests. After that it became a profitable business because the guests wanted the water sent to them at their place. The Equinox Springs Company began bottling and selling water and other products such as ginger champagne and ginger ale. A case of 24 half-bottles sold for $ 3.25 and could be shipped 0.50 cents. The company closed in 1920.
5. The Equinox house had marble sidewalks
The quarry near Manchester had a magnificent white marble. It became a big industry in the 19th century, and the city used the stone to make sidewalks. Today these sidewalks survive and there are over 4 miles paved with the marble excavated years ago. The first of these marble sidewalks was laid in front of the Equinox House in 1832. Today, the marble in front has been replaced by textured pavers because the marble is slippery. However, the original stone now serves as a border around the cobblestones.
6. A secret passage revealed
When renovations began in 1991, workers made some exciting discoveries. First, they discovered a secret passage in the attic between two rooms in different wings of the hotel. No one knows why these pieces were connected this way, but it’s fun to guess what they may have been used for and by whom.
Another discovery was the hotel’s original scale which was put back into operation in 2004. Because the menus at Equinox House were so varied and the portions so generous, guests weighed themselves in after their vacation. If they gained weight, the hotel helped them regain strength and vitality. The scale proudly resides in the spa today.
7. A golf club adds to outdoor pursuits
Equinox House offered its Victorian guests excursions to lawn tennis, croquet, fishing and picnic. Guests could use the valets provided by the hotel and travel to their destination further afield for a picnic. Golf has become a new outdoor activity to offer to Maison Equinox. In 1894, George Orvis built a six-hole course for the Hillside Golf Club. According to the hotel’s story, George used chestnut poles strung with barbed wire to keep cows and sheep away from alleys and putting surfaces. Tractors with iron wheels guarded the cut grass. In 1896, the Hillside Golf Club expanded and offered visitors nine holes. Robert Todd Lincoln performed with former President Taft here.
In 1900, Walter Travis, originally from Australia, won the United States Amateur Golf Championship just 4 years after learning to play. He coincidentally designed the Ekwanok Country Club, a private course in the village of Manchester. He went on to win three more American amateurs and one British amateur before returning to golf course design. At the behest of Louise Orvis, who took possession of it in 1917, Travis designed a new course at Equinox House, called the Equinox Links Club circa 1927. His original goal was to deal with the overflow of players from neighboring Ekwanok, and its new design resulted in its first architectural gem. Walter Travis loved Manchester so much that he is buried in Dellwood Cemetery down the road from his old courtyards. In 1991, Rees Jones undertook a major renovation of the old Equinox Links spending $ 3.5 million to restore and update Travis’ original design. Improvements included “the look and playability of obstacles and greens,” keeping the routing intact on the par 71 beauty of 6,423 yards.
In 2007, HEI Hotels and Resorts became the new owner of Equinox Golf Club & Spa. HEI continued the tradition of the previous owners and added to the imprint of the resort whose slogan is “Serving the Republic since before there was a Republic”. HEI acquired the former home of Abraham Lincoln’s granddaughter, a bed and breakfast called The 1811 House. Originally built in the 1700s, this is a Federal style home that sits across the street from the present day Equinox Golf Resort & Spa. The historic house overlooks the golf course and consists of 13 rooms, fireplaces, porches and many original works of art and antiques.
While Vermont might not be one of the larger states, its uniqueness and long history make it an interesting vacation spot, as you can see in these articles: