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 started to churn in the colonies, one pub, Marsh’s Tavern, became a hotbed of dissent against British occupation. Over the years that followed, the famous site of Marsh’s Tavern changed when in 1780, Thaddeus Munson took over. Munson’s Inn was moved to a new location next door to Marsh’s Tavern. The building changed proprietors many times, and each time, the new owner added adornments and extensions. Martin Vanderslip added the fluted columns that remain a hotel trademark today.
In 1853, Franklin Orvis took over. When Orvis established the 200-room Equinox House, the north wing was the original Orvis homestead. The fireplace is still in place and inscribed with “L.C. Orvis 1832.” During this time, the “resort phase” of Manchester began. Tourists flocked to the charming town for fresh air and relaxation, away from the crowded cities. They loved strolling along the 4-plus miles of marble-lined sidewalks. Equinox House was visited by several illustrious guests who enjoyed outdoor pursuits, one of which was fishing. Charles F. Orvis’s fly-fishing establishment opened next door to Equinox House, selling tackle and patented rods. Equipped with Charles’ rods and reels, sportsmen discovered a passion for catching massive trout in the Battenkill. Orvis is still the oldest mail-order business in America.
Manchester is within a few hours’ drive of major cities such as New York and Boston, making it a leisurely road trip to a stunning location. The Equinox (shuttered for years) reopened in 1985. It later went through a major reconstruction and restoration in 1992 to serve modern travelers. The hotel and golf course were restored, preserving the blend of six different architectural styles and 17 different structures on the property. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is popular year round. There are many outdoor activities, art, cultural experiences, shopping, world-class restaurants, and events that provide the antidote to stressful living in any season. This Grande Dame witnessed fascinating scenes throughout America’s history, such as these seven events that occurred at the hotel now known as the Equinox Golf Resort & Hotel.
1. Raising A Militia In The Green Mountains
According to Vermont State Archives, the owner of Marsh’s Tavern, William Marsh, was concerned about the whispers of war with the British. He believed that the Crown would prevail. One evening, a group of locals met at the Tavern. The Council of Safety group included Ethan Allen’s younger brother Ira Allen. Ira suggested confiscating Tory property to sell and help raise funds for a local militia. When William Marsh declared his allegiance to the Crown, he turned “Tory.” The group, now known as the Green Mountain Boys, took Marsh’s Tavern as its 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 colonists who started to win the war for American Independence. Marsh returned to southern Vermont afterward and is buried in East Dorset Cemetery. There is a UAE Loyalist Stamp on his headstone.
2. Mary Todd Lincoln Was An Honored Guest
In 1864, Mary Todd Lincoln and her two sons visited the Equinox House. They loved their vacation in Manchester so much that Mary made reservations to return the following year. She planned to bring President Abraham Lincoln with her this time, and a suite was constructed specifically for their visit. Unfortunately, President Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865. Robert Todd Lincoln never forgot that enchanted summer. Robert returned to the area as an adult, and forty years later, he constructed Hildene just down the road. He often played golf with his good friend, former President William Howard Taft.
3. George Washington Didn’t Stay Here (But Four Other U.S. Presidents Did)
The hotel hosted four U.S. presidents and one vice president. President William Howard Taft, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Harrison, and Vice President James S. Sherman visited or stayed in the Equinox House. William Howard Taft visited in 1912, staying in October on the 9th and 10th. He gave a rousing speech in the Music Hall and shook hands with over 700 people. He later spent the evening at Hildene with Robert Todd Lincoln. A month earlier, former President Theodore Roosevelt gave a campaign speech on the hotel’s front lawn during a campaign stop. He began a run against Taft to secure a third term as president. Even though they were in 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 Became A Business
Mount Equinox had an ample supply of pure spring water. In the 1880s, it was described as “the best and purest water” and was an incredible luxury for the guests to enjoy. After that, it became a profitable business because guests wanted the water sent to them at their homes. 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 for .50 cents. The company closed in 1920.
5. The Equinox House Had Marble Sidewalks
The quarry near Manchester possessed gorgeous white marble. It became a big industry in the 19th century, and the town used the stone to craft sidewalks. Today, those sidewalks remain, and there are over 4 miles paved with the marble excavated years ago. The first of these marble sidewalks were laid in front of the Equinox House in 1832. Today, the marble in front has been replaced with textured pavers because marble is slippery. Still, the original stone now acts as a border around the pavers.
6. A Secret Passage Revealed
When renovations began in 1991, workers made some exciting discoveries. First, they discovered a secret passageway in the attic between two rooms in different wings of the hotel. No one knows why these rooms were connected in this way, but it’s fun to guess what it may have been used for and by whom.
Another find was the original hotel scale restored to working order in 2004. Since the menus at the Equinox House were so varied and the portions so generous, patrons weighed themselves after their vacations. If they gained weight, the hotel helped them regain their strength and vitality. The scale proudly resides in the spa today.
7. A Golf Club Adds To Outside Pursuits
The Equinox House offered its Victorian guests lawn tennis, croquet, fishing, and picnicking excursions. Guests could use the hotel carriage-provided footmen and rides to their destination further afield for picnics. Golf became a new outdoor pursuit to offer at the Equinox House. By 1894, George Orvis laid out a six-hole course for The Hillside Golf Club. According to hotel history, George used chestnut posts strung with barbed wire to keep cows and sheep off the fairways and putting surfaces. Iron wheeled tractors kept the grass trimmed. In 1896, The Hillside Golf Club expanded and offered visitors nine holes. Robert Todd Lincoln played with former President Taft here.
In 1900, Walter Travis, a native of Australia, won the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship only 4 years after learning how to play the game. He coincidentally designed the Ekwanok Country Club, a private course in Manchester Village. He went on to win three more U.S. Amateurs and one British Amateur before returning to golf course design. At the request of Louise Orvis, who assumed ownership in 1917, Travis designed a new course at the Equinox House, called the Equinox Links Club circa 1927. Its original purpose was to handle the overflow of players from neighboring Ekwanok, and his newest design abutted his first architectural gem. Walter Travis loved Manchester so much he is buried in Dellwood Cemetery down the road from his legacy courses. In 1991, Rees Jones undertook a significant renovation to the former Equinox Links spending 3.5 million dollars to restore and update Travis’s original design. The improvements included the “appearance and playability of the hazards and greens,” keeping the routing intact on the par 71, 6,423-yard beauty.
In 2007, HEI Hotels and Resorts became the newest proprietors of the Equinox Golf Club & Spa. HEI continued the tradition of previous owners and added to the footprint 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. Initially built in the 1700s, it’s a Federal Style home that sits across the street from today’s Equinox Golf Resort & Spa. The historical home overlooks the golf course and consists of 13 rooms, fireplaces, porches, and many original art pieces and antiques.
While Vermont may not be among the largest states, its uniqueness, and long history make it an interesting place to vacation, as you can see from these articles: