White River Junction is indeed a junction, with rivers, railways, and highways joining paths. Never quaint, this village of 2,500, located where the White River meets the Connecticut, was once one of New England’s busiest railroad centers, with trains passing through, or stopping, every five minutes. But as trains lost to cars (Interstate 89 connects with I-91 here), White River Junction began fading and became better known for its transients than tourists. Things keep changing. In the last dozen years or so, the village began rebounding. Northern Stage, a popular theater, started up in a refurbished opera house; the Center for Cartoon Studies, an art school, opened. New art studios and a few boutiques, music venues, and restaurants popped up. And now, the former railroad hub with a gritty past sees the arts in its future.
Calvin Coolidge spent a night there, so have thousands of other guests over the decades, many after clambering off the train platform. The Hotel Coolidge (39 South Main St., 802-295-3118, www.hotelcoolidge.com, single-bed hostel rooms $45, guest rooms $80-$120), established (but not so-named) in 1849, is a landmark, an option for the budget-conscious, one with art exhibits in the lobby, a historic mural in the banquet room, and wide hallways and creaky floors bespeaking an earlier era. Out-of-town but within a 20-minute drive are two historic inns, touting their New England charms: the Norwich Inn in Norwich (325 Main St., 802-649-1143, www.norwichinn.com, rooms $159-$299); and Hanover Inn in Hanover, N.H. (2 East Wheelock St., 603-643-4300, www.hanoverinn.com, rooms $200-$600).
White River Junction has several spots, casual and lively. A good place during the day to read a book, check your computer, and have coffee, sweets, or a sandwich is the Tuckerbox (1 South Main St., 802-359-4041, www.tuckerboxvermont.com, Mon 7 a.m.-5 p.m., Tue-Sat 7 a.m.-10 p.m.). Dinner at Tuckerbox features Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine, reservations suggested, entrees $13.99 to $20.99. After strolling hallways connecting Tip Top’s art studios, dine at Tip Top Cafe, a contemporary bistro (85 North Main St., 802-295-3312, www.tiptopcafevermont.com, Tue-Sat 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. for lunches, $7.95-$11.95; 5-9 p.m. for dinner, reservations suggested, $16.95 to $23.95.) For cocktails and dinner try Elixir Restaurant (188 South Main St., 802-281-7009, www.elixirrestaurant.com), Tue-Sat serving dinner, reservations suggested, 5-9:30 p.m., entrees featuring “modern American” cuisine $16-$21.
DURING THE DAY
In an old railroad village, visit the depot, 102 Railroad Row, a 1937 station, where Amtrak stops twice daily. On a stretch of tracks nearby, check out antique Engine No. 494, a restored 1892 locomotive that once hauled coal, passengers, and freight for the Boston & Maine Railroad. Servicing such locomotives decades ago were coal “heavers,” brakemen and switch tenders who lived in local rooming houses, but now it’s artists of various stripes who live in and around here, many of whom work in studios at Tip Top Media and Arts Building, (85 North Main St., 802-356-1933, www.tiptopmedia.com), a former bakery factory. The studios have an open house on the first Friday evening of every month but visitors anytime can view exhibited art in Tip Top’s hallways. If you’re shopping for art, one place to check is Lampscapes, (77 Gates St., 802-295-8044, www.lampscapes.net, Mon-Sat 10 a.m.-5 p.m.), where you can watch owner Ken Blaisdell construct lamps from car brake rotors, and hand-paint lampshades. The Center for Cartoon Studies, (46 South Main St., 802-295-3319, www.cartoonstudies.org), located in the former Post Office, a Colonial Revival brick edifice built in 1934, might be another stop. There, by appointment, you can view still another art form: graphic novels, cartoons, comics in books by the hundreds, from “Katzenjammer Kids” to “Captain America,” at the school’s (Charles) Schulz Library. Still, the village isn’t all art and railroad: There’s a quirky museum, Main Street Museum, open by appointment in summer, (58 Bridge St., 802-356-2776, www.mainstreetmuseum.org, admission $5, children under age 5 free). A veritable “cabinet of curiosities,” it features such disparate items as a stuffed passenger pigeon, a fox stole that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, and a display of shrunken heads.
Since 1997, theatergoers have been treated to performances, from Shakespeare to Broadway musicals, by renowned regional and national actors at Northern Stage (5 South Main St., 802-296-7000, www.northernstage.org). The theater is closed for summer, but now, from July 7-11 and 14-18, offers daytime camps for aspiring young actors, ages 5-14. During theater season, starting in September, the after-show crowd, including actors, is apt to assemble at C.J.’s (6 South Main St., 802-280-1810, Sun-Thu 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Fri Sat 11 a.m.-1 a.m.), a friendly basement tavern, serving pub fare at all hours. For live music, often by nationally acclaimed artists, whether folk, blues, jazz or rock, try Tupelo Music Hall (188 South Main St., 802-698-8341, www.tupelohall.com, admission $15-$65), located in a renovated 1930s Boston & Maine freight house. For another theater option, drive 20 minutes up I-91 and across the Connecticut River to Hanover, N.H., to the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College (4 East Wheelock St., 603-646-2422, hop.dartmouth.edu), for films, music, dance performances, and plays.Dirk Van Susteren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version incorrectly listed Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College’s website. It is hop.dartmouth.edu