The Strafford Town House is one of those iconic Vermont buildings that looks very familiar. You’ve probably seen photos of the white clapboard building in guidebooks, magazines, or coffee table books. But photos don’t do it justice. The Town House is one of those places that makes you swoon when you see it up close for the first time.
Built in 1799, the Town House — which resembles a classic New England church — is where Strafford residents have held every March Town Meeting since 1801. The historic building sits on a small hill in the center of Strafford’s upper village, overlooking the town green. When you think of Strafford, the Town House is most likely what comes to mind.
But Strafford is not one of those places you immediately consider when you want to visit a scenic Vermont town. With just 1,000 residents, Strafford is tucked away in southern Orange County, ten miles northeast of Interstate 89 in the Ompompanoosuc River Valley.
Many communities in Vermont — Newfane, Peacham, Woodstock, Jamaica, Warren, and Grafton — are famous for their classic, iconic village settings. By comparison, Strafford is just as beautiful as those other towns, although not nearly as well known.
“It’s a well-kept secret, and we’re off the beaten path,” says Bob Johnston, a local historian who has lived in Strafford for 15 years. “A resident once described Strafford to me as a ‘bubble within a bubble.’ ”
Johnston says that Strafford attracts visitors during the summer and fall, but noted that its secluded location between Interstates 89 and 91 keeps it from seeing a heavy influx of visitors year round.
At one time, the town’s population was double what it is now. Strafford used to be on the Boston Stage Road that ran from Massachusetts to Montpelier in the early 19th century, and the town was home to the longest operating copper mine in the country from 1809 to 1958.
Justin Morrill Homestead
Other than the Town House, another notable spot in Strafford is the Justin Morrill Homestead State Historic Site, which is open from May to October. Morrill, a congressman who was born in Strafford, was the chief author and sponsor of the Land Grant College Acts, which became the most important piece of educational legislation in the 19th century.
Morrill built a 17-room Gothic Revival mansion and designed gardens and an orchard in his hometown. All of the buildings on the property are salmon-colored (or pink) to look like sandstone, and the grounds are mix of gardens and fields. I’m not always overly interested in historic sites, but the Justin Morrill Homestead was offbeat and beautiful enough to grab my attention from the moment I arrived.
A Perfect Little Town
If I hadn’t had to dash back to Burlington to pick up my daughter, I would have stayed in Strafford longer. On my way back to the highway, I quickly went into the village of South Strafford, where I came across the well-reviewed Café 232 and the no nonsense Coburn’s General Store on Route 132.
As I drove back home, I wondered, what makes Strafford so special? The town’s history? The location? The locals?
All of the above, Johnston says.
“It’s a beautiful town, and the people here are beautiful, too,” he says. “It’s just a great place.”
**If You Go: From Interstate 89, take Exit 2 and travel east on Route 132 for about 9 miles. At the stop sign, you’ll be in South Strafford. From there, turn left onto Justin Morrill Memorial Highway, which will take you to Strafford’s upper village, where the Town House and Justin Morrill Homestead are located. For a scenic loop, stay on the Justin Morrill Memorial Highway, which eventually turns into Strafford Road. The road will turn west and connect with Route 110 in Tunbridge (home to many covered bridges), which leads back to Interstate 89.