Best Hudson Valley Fall Getaways and Vacations in 2012
Seven historic hotels and fall getaways that make it easy to celebrate the season
(page 5 of 8)
The imposing Great Stone Dwelling was once the largest building north of Boston
Great Stone Dwelling (Enfield, NH)
By Rosemary O’Connor
For history lovers on the hunt for a good deal for a special event or group getaway, the Great Stone Dwelling in the Enfield Shaker Village is the place to try. Here, guests can experience some aspects of life during the mid-1800s without burning a hole in their pockets.
The group known as the Shakers — named for (you guessed it) their emphatic movements during moments of religious fervor — first crossed the Atlantic in 1774 and settled in the Valley near Albany. Later, they expanded to other parts of the country; one group moved to Enfield, New Hampshire in 1793. It wasn’t until 1837 that this sect began construction on a stone structure meant to house most of their community, though there was not a single experienced stone worker in their group. “They had no stonemasons among their company, but they went into the quarry and learned how to cut blocks of granite and built the whole thing themselves,” says Kate Mortimer of the Enfield Shaker Museum — the nonprofit that currently maintains the Dwelling and the historic village. The project took four years, but yielded the largest building north of Boston at the time, and the largest Shaker residence ever built in the nation. “At the community’s height — around 1850 — there were 128 people living in it,” says Mortimer.
Standing 80 feet at its highest point, the Dwelling is divided into six floors and a basement. On the first, you find the giant dining area, which is still used today for special catered events. (There is no on-site restaurant, but the staff is happy to recommend establishments in town.) The second floor is home to a 58-by-40-foot meeting room in which the community gathered for worship. Twenty sleeping rooms make up the third and fourth floors, which were originally segregated by gender. “The Dwelling was divided into a women’s and men’s section, because the Shakers were celibate,” Mortimer explains. “They weren’t allowed to mingle.”
Fortunately for guests, no such rules exist now, and men and women can share one of the original bedrooms — all with at least one queen-sized bed — that have now been outfitted with private bathrooms. Inside, you’ll find typical Shaker-designed furnishings: The décor is simple but comfortable, with the wardrobes, cabinets, and drawers all built into the walls. Just like during the 19th century, there are no TVs or phones; but, paradoxically, there is free Wi-Fi service, so you don’t need to worry too much about being out of the loop. Rooms are often rented to groups holding a wedding or conference on the site; however, individuals booking blocks of five rooms or more are also encouraged to visit.
One activity you’ll want to check out is the guided tour of the whole village — beginning with the Dwelling itself, which boasts intricate woodwork and two sets of enormous arches. “All of the structure rests on them,” explains Mortimer. “The whole thing is very strong and unlike any other Shaker building.” Another huge hit on the tour — especially with children — is the excursion up to the Dwelling’s fifth floor to see the 600-pound bell; some lucky little tykes even get to ring it.
But the Dwelling isn’t the only building worth seeing. The West Brethren’s Workshop is also open to the public and exhibits an impressive collection of Shaker artifacts; also on view is the stunning Mary Keane Chapel. By the 1920s, the Shaker population had dwindled significantly, and they sold the property to an order of Catholic brothers who used it as a seminary. The chapel they built still showcases the original and very intricate stained-glass windows and pipe organ.
Save the date: On October 6, you can get outside for the annual Harvest Festival. Guests make their own candles, take horse-drawn wagon rides, and crank their own ice cream, among other fun activities.
Can’t make it to this event? Mascoma Lake is available for a visit any day. Not far from the Shaker Village, the crystal-clear body of water begs visitors to go boating and fishing. Outdoorsy types can also follow in the Shakers’ footsteps — literally — and hike up Mt. Assurance, which the faithful used for religious retreats. “When you get up to the top of the hill, you can see all over, past the Dwelling, over the lake,” Mortimer says. “In the fall it’s just really beautiful.”
Single room: $95 per night; double room: $125; corner room: $135.
To get there: 447 NH Rte. 4A. 603-632-4346; www.shakermuseum.org
Fall Foliage Report: In its entirety, US Route 4 spans 253 miles from East Greenbush, New York to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Passing through Enfield, the 106 miles of the New Hampshire portion leads drivers through the heart of the state, with a particularly leafy leg from Salisbury to Danbury.
What to do
AVA Gallery and Art Center (603-448-3117 or www.avagallery.org): This gallery has been supporting and promoting New Hampshire and Vermont artists for nearly 40 years.
Lebanon Opera House (603-448-0400 or www.lebanonoperahouse.org) The 88-year-old performing arts facility is the largest proscenium theater in the Upper Connecticut River Valley. Performers this fall include the Village People (Sept. 14), and guitarists Steve Vai (Sept. 16) and Buddy Guy (Oct. 28).
Where to eat
Mickey’s (603-632-9400 or www.mickeycafe.net): Part café, part tavern, part drive-thru, this eatery serves everything from pasta to quesadillas to chowder, seven days a week.
» Skytop Lodge (Skytop, PA)
» Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa (Saratoga Springs, NY)
» Oheka Castle (Huntington, NY)
» Great Stone Dwelling (Enfield, NH)
» 1850 House Inn and Tavern (Rosendale, NY)
» Grafton Inn (Grafton, VT)
» Vanderbilt House Hotel (Philmont, NY)