To date we’ve had the opportunity to spotlight three of the Distinctive Inns of New England (DINE) on the DINE blog. We started our series with a focus on the Manor on Golden Pond. Next in line was an article about the Rabbit Hill Inn. The third in the series was all about the Chesterfield Inn. These spotlight stories allow readers who might be planning for travel in the future to get a more in-depth look at the DINE members, and to begin dreaming of a time when regular romantic getaways to our New England inns might be possible. Don’t forget, however, each of the DINE member inns have taken precautions that exceed the state standards to ensure that guests and staff alike are safe. Some travelers are still enjoying close-to-home getaways, and all of the DINE properties offer those. After all, DINE inns are within a day’s drive of nearly half of the American population, and certainly for New England travelers.
Today we’re shifting our focus to Vermont to take an up close and personal view of the Grafton Inn in bucolic Grafton, VT.
Picture the Grafton Inn
Established in 1801 and known as one of the original stagecoach inns, the Grafton Inn’s legacy is centuries old. In fact, the Grafton Inn is celebrating its 220th birthday in 2021 with a year-long look back at its heritage.
With multiple buildings surrounding the main inn and two in-house restaurants the Grafton Inn is the largest of the ten DINE member inns. The Grafton Inn describes itself as an inn with a mission. Owned by The Windham Foundation whose activities support the preservation of Vermont’s rural landscape and the vitality of small towns, the Grafton Inn is the centerpiece of Grafton, VT, a quintessential Vermont country village. With great care, the Grafton Inn has merged Vermont’s pastoral heritage with beautifully curated modern amenities and award winning cuisine to become one of Vermont’s stand-out inns.
The Grafton Inn offers a wide range of accommodations with individually designed rooms, each capturing a nod toward traditional with touches like four-poster beds, attractive antiques, a wide collection of traditional Vermont artwork and wood burning fireplaces. Yet, the amenities that travelers seek and require are seamlessly blended into guest rooms, such as wireless Internet connections, coffee makers, hair dryers, jacuzzi tubs and more. Vermont’s distinct rural character is clearly present here in the fine dining, décor and disposition.
The Grafton Inn’s 45 guestrooms offer a wide range of room accommodations. From spacious two-room suites with king or queen beds to deluxe double double rooms to cozy inn rooms, the choice of room configurations will offer something for every traveling party. Choose between rooms located in the main inn or in guesthouses and cottages surrounding the inn. All guest rooms offer private baths with upscale amenities. One of the signature touches that make the Grafton Inn a standout is the wonderful cheese and cracker board awaiting your arrival featuring Grafton’s own premier cheese from the Grafton Village Cheese Company. This complimentary amenity is heralded by all who stay. Right across the parking lot from the main inn, be sure to visit the fabulous Grafton Village Cheese Company shop for tastings, treats and handmade gifts.
With cheese a prizewinning talisman for the town of Grafton, it’s no surprise that dining is a fundamental part of the experience at the Grafton Inn. With its award winning fine dining 1801 Tavern and the more casual Phelps Barn tavern, the dining experience here is always memorable. Of course, while Covid restrictions are in place, presently in-house dining is restricted to Wednesday through Saturday, and reservations are expected, a creative take-out program is in place offering inspired options for in-home or in-room dining from weekly specials to dessert boxes and quarts of homemade ice cream.
Chef Cal Hingston and his team in the kitchen pride themselves on a rotating seasonal menu featuring innovative cuisine, prepared with the freshest local ingredients and plated to perfection. As a farm-to-table restaurant and member of the Vermont Fresh Network, any of the foods enjoyed throughout the inn’s dining room are prepared with ingredients sourced from local and sustainable purveyors throughout New England (and sometimes, straight from the inn’s own abundant gardens and greenhouses).
Once Covid restrictions are lifted, visitors to the Grafton Inn will be once again treated to a wide variety of options. Those seeking fine dining, tend toward the 1801 Tavern (formerly known as the Old Tavern Restaurant). Rich woods, traditional Vermont artworks, burgundy highlights, candlelight and superb service are the hallmarks here. Menus offer inspired dishes utilizing fresh local ingredients beautifully plated and expertly served.
Located within the 1801 Tavern you’ll find the recently renovated Pine Room Bar, where a wood burning fireplace is the highlight during the cooler seasons. The bar’s four-draught system offers up popular Vermont craft beers and eight quality wines served by the glass. Specialty cocktails mixed with local Vermont spirits and traditional libations are also always available here too. Seating for up to 10 guests at intimate two-top tables in addition to eight seats at the bar itself and soft seating by the working fireplace make this a favorite gathering place for those who prefer a more intimate dining room. However, presently, while Covid restrictions are in place, the Pine Room is open for dining, but the bar is presently closed. The 1801 Tavern menu is served here.
Phelps Barn Pub is the inn’s more casual dining option offering a varied menu of pub fare, always with a Vermont attitude. Appetizers, sandwiches and plenty of weekly specials and comfort foods are what draw guests to Phelps Barn. This former carriage barn for guests’ horses is preserved with plenty of rustic elements, including a repurposed hay loft offering elevated seating overlooking the dining below. The eight-tap bar serves up a selection of Vermont craft beer and local spirits. On weekends, Phelps Barn is often hopping to the tunes of local musicians playing everything from Celtic to folk to oldies or more contemporary tunes.
A fourth dining room is reserved entirely for breakfast. The inn’s brightly daylit breakfast room offers private tables for guests to enjoy a hearty Vermont breakfast, included in the stay. Order off a menu including everything from Egg Bennies to pancakes served of course with Vermont maple syrup.
Another signature element that sets the Grafton Inn apart from many other inns is it’s own outdoor trails and recreation center. The Grafton Trails and Outdoor Center serves as both the inn’s and the town’s recreation center, offering a trail network perfect for recreation in all seasons. With access included in the stay for guests and half-priced from now to the end of the season for Vermonters, look for just the kind of outdoor recreation that gets the heart pounding in the fresh Vermont mountain air. In the winter, go here for XC skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, and sleigh rides. In the summer plan to enjoy mountain biking, swimming, and hiking. The views of the town and the inn from the trails here are exquisite. In years when residents and guests alike can once again gather, the center is the heart of events like July 4th fireworks and picnics for the whole town.
In addition to the Grafton Trails and Outdoor Center’s swimming pond, families will delight in the natural swimming pool that slopes gracefully into a hill closer to the inn.
The Grafton Inn has been stalwart in their insistence on safety during the pandemic. With adherence to state and federal standards, plus utilizing protocols from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Grafton Inn has gone above and beyond to assure guests a safe stay. Vermont also has one of the strictest travel restrictions in the country. Click here to read about the Grafton Inn’s “Stay Safe” policies and to understand the guidelines on traveling to Vermont.
Vermont’s premiere wedding venue
For brides and grooms looking for the perfect start to happily ever after, the Grafton Inn is consistently named among Southern Vermont’s best wedding venues. From Vermont elopements and micro-weddings so popular in 2021 to larger weddings when it’s once again safe, the Grafton Inn covers all the must-haves. With scenic stream-side, meadow, mountain-view or indoor settings, you can count on photos that will wow. The inn’s dedicated wedding staff will work with brides and grooms to ensure that every detail is covered from simple elopements to larger weddings with dinners and receptions. Grafton Village and the Grafton Inn offer guests the storybook setting for a destination or weekend weddings, filled with Vermont authenticity and beauty.
Additionally, from family reunions to corporate meetings and retreats, Grafton Inn’s private dining rooms and meeting rooms offer an ideal place for gatherings when it’s once again safe. Meeting facilities and break out rooms are conveniently located throughout the inn’s historic buildings, just steps away from one another. The DINE membership has held many very successful and enjoyable meetings at the Grafton Inn.
Meet the Innkeeper: Angela Comstock
No visit to the Grafton Inn is complete without the chance to meet innkeeper, Angela Comstock. We say that because we know that it’s likely that sometime during your stay you’ll have the good fortune to have a conversation with Angela. She’s spotted everywhere you look – at the front desk, helping to host at the Phelps Barn, helping with details of weddings and so much more.
A Vermonter through and through, Angela grew up in Chester, VT. Beyond a stint with CTM Media Group, she was Director of Sales for Northeast and Western Ski Resorts, which took her to meetings throughout the country, Angela has been based at the Grafton Inn. In 2013, she started as Director of Sales and Events and just nine months later was promoted to the innkeeper position. Angela has overseen the addition of the second floor of Phelps Barn, the building of the Pine Room bar, and numerous room renovations.
Angela admits while she is rarely intimidated by a challenge, the Coronavirus pandemic has been the biggest test of her fortitude yet. “I have to simply hold tight, be strong and be firm,” she says referring to the challenges the virus has had for the entire tourism industry in Vermont and beyond.
To learn more about Angela Comstock, Grafton Inn’s innkeeper, click here.
Grafton Inn History
The legacy of the Grafton Inn started in 1801, when Mr. Enos Lovell converted his two-story private home to a Vermont inn for people who were looking for a place for good food and lodging. His home still stands as part of the Grafton Inn. As the village of Grafton prospered, so did the inn, and by the time it was taken over by Hyman Burgess in 1823, it had doubled in size. By 1841 the inn was the center of activity for the town, so much so that court was even held there.
In 1861, with Abe Lincoln as President, the inn fell on unstable times. Ownership changed eight times. Sadly, little is known about the owners during this time as records stored in a schoolhouse were lost in a fire.
The most colorful period in the Inn’s history started in 1865 with the 35-year era of brothers Francis and Harlan Phelps. Francis bought the inn in 1865 for $1,700 and sold a half interest to his brother Harlan. Harlan caught California gold-rush fever and returned to Grafton with $4,500 – a modest fortune in those days. He invested every penny in the inn and added a third floor and the porches, making the building look much the same as it does today. Harlan was a good businessman and managed the inn. Brother Francis, aided by his wife, Achsa, handled the rest of the operations.
The Grafton Inn was in its heyday during the second part of the 1800s. While the inn was popular among the literary set (Kipling was a visitor in 1892) and was the “in” place for local social events, it was still patronized mostly by commercial travelers who knew it as a “good place to stop.” There were notable exceptions. Ulysses S. Grant came to the inn on December 19, 1867, while campaigning for his first term as President. During its tenure, the inn has hosted a number of famous guests including Daniel Webster, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
By 1903 the Phelps brothers had died, and their widows sold the inn to Norman Blodgett who ran it for 27 years. Not much is known of the inn’s history during these years, but we know they were not good years for Grafton as the population declined. The inn went through a series of owners throughout the first few decades of the 1900s and went into serious disrepair lacking any of the “modern” amenities travelers at the time sought, such as hot and cold running water and central heating.
At last, along came Dean Mathey, a man who has influenced life in Grafton more than anyone else in the village’s history. Dean was a man of many talents – financier, philanthropist and super-star athlete- and he gave of himself generously in expressing his love for this tiny community which he came to savor for its peace, quiet and rural beauty. With a longstanding appreciation of historic architecture, he was distressed to see that several fine buildings in Grafton (the inn included) were falling into disrepair. Never slow to develop a good idea, in 1963 he founded the Windham Foundation which purchased the inn. About a year after it had been purchased by the Foundation in 1965, a major renovation was completed, and no expense was spared in giving it the finest modern conveniences while preserving meticulously its country-inn character.
To read more about the history of the Grafton Inn, go here and learn all the details of its colorful legacy.
Angela has a few INNsider tips to share based upon questions she often gets from guests.
Engraved on the front step of the inn are the words MONTANI SEMPER LIBERI. One of the most often asked question of inn staff is what that means. Here’s the scoop…it means…Mountain men are always free. When you come to the Grafton Inn, you’re free to relax and enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery surrounding you.
One more famous celeb we didn’t mention earlier used to come to the inn more recently. Paul Newman was at one time a regular guest at the inn and loved to stay at in The Barrett House.
Did you know that Grafton is listed in the book 1,000 Places to See Before you Die?
Lastly, but probably most importantly, during MUD SEASON (generally April through May) take the long way to the Grafton Inn. Don’t follow the shorter scenic route that your GPS tells you to use unless you want to arrive much later than expected and covered in mud!
Innkeepers favorite recipes
There are so many amazing recipes to choose from the Grafton Inn’s collection. However, Angela and Chef Cal would like to share these two delicious dishes – a tie for their favorites.
Chicken Roulade – Grafton Inn
Makes 4 Servings
4 Chicken Breasts (butterflied)
2 Granny Smith Apples (Small dice)
1# Brie Cheese with Rind (medium Dice)
4 Cups Fresh Spinach
½ Cups Ricotta Cheese (drained)
2 stems Fresh Sage (Chopped fine)
1t Kosher Salt
½ t Course Black Pepper
12 Slices Smoked Bacon (thin Slice)
Butterfly Chicken Breast and use a meat tenderizer to lightly pound them flat. Careful not to pound them too hard as it will tear the chicken. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl combine apples, brie, spinach, ricotta, sage, Salt and Pepper. Mix with Spoon until combined.
Place ½ cup apple filling onto prepared chicken breasts and fold over.
Place 3 slices of bacon down on a clean cutting board, Place chicken pocket onto bottom edge of bacon Strips. Starting from bottom, roll bacon and Chicken up so that the bacon tightly wraps the chicken.
Place chicken seam side down into a lightly oiled sauté pan over medium heat. Once seam is sealed, roll chicken ¼ turn and cook for 3 minutes until bacon is golden brown. Repeat until chicken is golden on all sides.
Place in 350-degree oven for 8 minutes or until a thermometer reads 180 in center of chicken breast.
Slice chicken and serve with a Nice Buttery Chardonnay!
Grafton Inn Rum Cake
Makes 3 nine-inch cake pans
½ Cup corn starch
6 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
2 ½ Cups Sugar
1 Cup Butter (softened)
½ Cup Oil
1 Cup Evaporated Milk
8 Eggs (large)
2Tablsp Vanilla Extract
2/3 Cup Dark Rum
In Mixer, combine Flour, Corn starch, Baking Powder, Salt, Sugar, Butter and Oil. Blend until smooth.
Add Evaporated Milk and Eggs, Scrape Down Bowl and Blend Smooth.
Add Vanilla Extract and Rum. Mix for 30 seconds.
Pour Batter in Pre-Greased Cake Pans and Bake at 325 for 45 minutes or until cake spring bakes when pressed in the middle.
Cut and serve warm with Vanilla Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce.
Contact the Grafton Inn
Address: 92 Main Street PO Box 9, Grafton, Vermont 05146
Local Phone: (802) 843-2231
Toll Free: (800) 843-1801
Throughout the coming weeks we’ll continue to spotlight additional DINE member inns to offer intimate insight into DINE inns. We look forward to welcoming you in the coming weeks and months when you’re ready to travel. Don’t forget to book directly with the inn for the best availability and rates.
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