7 Fascinating Events That All Happened At This Historic Vermont Hotel

The village of Manchester in southern Vermont was settled in the 1760s. The rural hamlet had a few inns and taverns as respite for weary travelers. As the American Revolution began to sweep through the colonies, a pub, Marsh’s Tavern, became a hotbed of dissent against British occupation. In the years that followed, the famous site of Marsh’s Tavern changed when in 1780 Thaddeus Munson took over. Munson’s Inn has been moved to a new location next to Marsh’s Tavern. The building changed owners several times, and each time the new owner added ornaments and extensions. Martin Vanderslip added the fluted columns that remain a hotel hallmark today.

Franklin Orvis outside Equinox House (Photo credit: Equinox Golf Resort & Spa)

In 1853, Franklin Orvis took over. When Orvis created the 200-room Equinox House, the north wing was Orvis’ original property. The chimney is still in place and bears the inscription “LC Orvis 1832”. Meanwhile, Manchester’s “resort phase” began. Tourists flocked to the charming town to get some fresh air and relax away from the crowded cities. They loved strolling along the more than 4 miles of marble-lined sidewalks. Equinox House has been visited by several illustrious guests who enjoy outdoor pursuits, including fishing. Charles F. Orvis’ fly-fishing establishment opened next door to Equinox House, selling tackle and patent rods. Equipped with Charles’ rods and reels, the sportsmen discovered a passion for massive trout fishing in the Battenkill. Orvis is still the oldest mail order company in America.

Manchester is a few hours drive from major cities such as New York and Boston, making it a leisurely road trip to a beautiful location. The Equinox (closed for years) reopened in 1985. It then underwent a major rebuild and restoration in 1992 to serve modern travellers. The hotel and golf course have been restored, preserving the blend of six different architectural styles and 17 different structures on the property. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is popular year-round. There are plenty of outdoor activities, art, cultural experiences, shopping, world-class restaurants and events that provide the antidote to stressful living in any season. This Grande Dame has 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.

The Equinox Golf Resort & Spa today
Equinox Golf Resort & Spa today (Photo credit: Jeanine Consoli)

1. Raise a Militia in the Green Mountains

According to Vermont state records, Marsh’s Tavern owner William Marsh was concerned about rumors of war with the British. He believed the Crown would prevail. One evening, a group of locals gathered at the tavern. The Security Council group included Ethan Allen’s younger brother, Ira Allen. Ira suggested confiscating the Tories’ property to sell and help raise money for a local militia. When William Marsh declared his allegiance to the Crown, he became “Conservative”. The group, now known as the Green Mountain Boys, took Marsh’s Tavern as their 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 settlers who began to win the American Revolutionary War. Marsh then returned to southern Vermont and is buried in East Dorset Cemetery. There is a United Arab Emirates loyalist stamp on his headstone.

Stairwell used by Mary Todd Lincoln during her summer stay at Equinox House.
Stairwell used by Mary Todd Lincoln (Photo credit: Jeanine Consoli)

2. Mary Todd Lincoln was a guest of honor

In 1864, Mary Todd Lincoln and her two sons visited Equinox House. They enjoyed their holiday 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 built especially 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 built Hildene just down the road. He often golfed with his good friend, former President William Howard Taft.

Robert Todd Lincoln golfing with President Taft.
Robert Todd Lincoln and President Taft playing golf (Photo credit: Equinox Golf Resort & Spa)

3. George Washington didn’t stay here (but four other US presidents did)

The hotel has hosted four US presidents and a vice president. President William Howard Taft, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Benjamin Harrison, and Vice President James S. Sherman have visited or stayed at Equinox House. William Howard Taft visited in 1912, staying October 9 and 10. He gave a rousing speech in the Music Hall and shook hands with over 700 people. He then spent the evening at Hildene with Robert Todd Lincoln. A month earlier, former President Theodore Roosevelt delivered a campaign speech on the hotel lawn during a campaign stop. He began a race against Taft to secure a third term as president. Even though they were in the same party, Roosevelt disagreed with the way Taft was running the country. The Republican vote split in two and in 1912 Woodrow Wilson became President.

Equinox Springs bottled water.
Equinox Springs bottled water (Photo credit: Equinox Golf Resort & Spa)

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 finest and purest water” and was an incredible luxury for guests. After that, it became a profitable business as customers wanted water sent to 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 0.50 cents. The company closed in 1920.

Marble pavements in front of the equinox.
Marble sidewalk (Photo credit: Equinox Golf Resort & Spa)

5. The Equinox house had marble sidewalks

The quarry near Manchester had magnificent white marble. It became a big industry in the 19th century, and the city used the stone to make sidewalks. Today these sidewalks remain and there are over 4 miles paved with the marble excavated years ago. The first of these marble pavements was laid in front of the Equinox house in 1832. Today, the marble in front has been replaced by textured pavers because marble is slippery. Yet 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 passage in the attic between two rooms located in different wings of the hotel. No one knows why these pieces were connected this way, but it’s fun to guess what they might have been used for and by whom.

Another find was the hotel’s original scale, restored to working order in 2004. With the menus at Equinox House so varied and the portions so generous, guests weighed themselves after their vacation. If they gained weight, the hotel helped them regain strength and vitality. The scale resides proudly in the spa today.

Golf building at Hillside Golf Club at Equinox House.

7. A golf club adds to outdoor activities

The Equinox House offered its Victorian guests lawn tennis, croquet, fishing, and picnicking excursions. Guests can use the footmen provided by the hotel and travel to their destination further afield for picnics. Golf has become a new outdoor activity to be offered at Equinox House. In 1894, George Orvis laid out a six-hole course for the Hillside Golf Club. According to the hotel’s story, George used chestnut posts strung with barbed wire to keep cows and sheep away from fairways and putting surfaces. Iron-wheeled tractors cut the grass. In 1896, the Hillside Golf Club expanded and offered visitors nine holes. Robert Todd Lincoln played here with former President Taft.

In 1900, Walter Travis from Australia won the US Amateur Golf Championship just 4 years after learning to play. He coincidentally designed the Ekwanok Country Club, a private course in Manchester Village. He went on to win three more American amateurs and one British amateur before returning to golf course design. At the request of Louise Orvis, who took ownership in 1917, Travis designed a new course at Equinox House, called the Equinox Links Club around 1927. Its original purpose was to manage the overflow of Ekwanok players neighbor, and his new design resulted in his first architectural gem. Walter Travis loved Manchester so much he is buried in Dellwood Cemetery down the road from his legacy courts. In 1991, Rees Jones undertook a major renovation of the old Equinox Links spending $3.5 million to restore and update the original Travis design. Improvements included “hazard and green appearance and playability”, keeping the routing intact on the par 71, 6,423 yard beauty.

In 2007, HEI Hotels and Resorts became the new owner of Equinox Golf Club & Spa. HEI continued the tradition of previous owners and added to the station’s footprint whose slogan is “Serving the Republic since before there was a Republic”. HEI acquired Abraham Lincoln’s granddaughter’s former home, a bed and breakfast called The 1811 House. Originally built in the 1700s, it is a Federal-style house that sits across from the current Equinox Golf Resort & Spa. The historic home overlooks the golf course and features 13 rooms, fireplaces, porches, and lots of original artwork and antiques.

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