A foliage and history tour through Shrewsbury

View from Shrewsbury Center. Photo by Julia Purdy.

SHREWSBURY, Vt. – At the height of a good foliage season, when all the trees seem to be turning at once in a symphony of colors, the best viewing is done from high places, where the horizon is dominated by solid flanks of incandescent color.

A loop drive that is easily accessible from Ludlow takes you up into the heart of Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury is one of the oldest towns in Vermont, chartered in 1761 by New Hampshire Gov. Benning Wentworth, and it remains one of the unspoiled corners of the state thanks to its relative seclusion, considering how close it is to Rutland, the state’s second largest city.

This takes you along historic back roads to high pastures with sweeping views and picturesque Vermont settlements. In addition to high viewing points with distant mountaintops there is also a dash of intriguing history.

All roads are well maintained, either paved or packed gravel. For best views, follow the driving directions, which go clockwise around the loop. Plan on half an hour of drive time, plus stops to eat, shop, or take pictures along the way.

This drive begins and ends just outside Ludlow. The starting point is the junction of Route 100 and Route 103.

Set your trip meter here.

Stay on Route 103 over the top of the pass through Mount Holly, a long gradual climb with passing lanes and in very good condition.

Route 103 traces the route of the 218-year-old Green Mountain Turnpike, which linked the Rutland area with the Connecticut River in Bellows Falls. Typical fees to enter the turnpike were 75 cents for a private coach drawn by two horses, and 1 penny for each sheep or pig.

Beyond the pass, the highway becomes winding as it descends into the little valley of the scenic Mill River. Keep well to the right at the several tight bends in the road. Continue to Cuttingsville, a 200-year-old hamlet with the only post office in Shrewsbury and a fourth-generation Ford dealership.

On the way into Cuttingsville, you can observe devastation wrought by Tropical Storm Irene. Entering Cuttingsville, if you take it slow, you may notice the Laurel Glen Mausoleum on the right. The Rustic Rooster, open daily, offers good food and restroom facilities.

Shrewsbury Meeting House. Photo by Julia Purdy

At mile 8.6, at the bridge, bear right onto Town Hill Road. This road takes you to high, rolling farm fields with broad vistas in all directions. At the T turn right and look for the handsome white Shrewsbury Meeting House and Community Church on your left at the top of the hill.

Just beyond the Meeting House and the Smith Maple Crest B&B, you will notice the signpost for the Crown Point Road, a 1759 military route that passed through here on its way to Lake Champlain. Continuing on Northam Road, you are now on your way to Pierce’s Store, a cherished landmark and resource for this mountain community.

At the last height of land, the view opens up to the north, revealing the peaks of Shrewsbury, Killington, and Pico. At this farm in 1986 a bull moose made national news by wandering out of the woods and starting a summer romance with a cow named Jessica.

Down another dip and up the other side, and you’ve arrived at Pierce’s Store in Northam, a very early settlement of Shrewsbury. The building was donated to the Preservation Trust of Vermont in 1997 when the last Pierce could no longer operate the store. Now owned by the Shrewsbury Co-op, it preserves the low-key atmosphere of an old-time general store. Stop in for a friendly chat, wholesome snacks, soup or groceries, Vermont products and a restroom.

Up for adventure? Visit the recently restored Brown’s covered bridge on Upper Cold River Road. Ask directions at the store. A narrow forest road, but a spectacular spot on the Cold River. Drive it if you dare!

To return to Ludlow from Pierce’s Store: double back onto Eastham Road.

Pierce’s Store, Shrewsbury. Photo by Julia Purdy

Reset your trip meter.

At the T at 2.5 miles, continue left on Eastham Road. Continue to the Mount Holly Road and turn right. At 5.5 mile, at the junction with the Shunpike, turn left and follow the Shunpike straight to Route 103.

The big mountainside ahead is Okemo, formerly known as Ludlow Mountain.

The Shunpike is so named because, to avoid paying tolls at the turnpike gates, enterprising townspeople often built an alternate, free route – a “shunpike.”

Arriving at Route 103 at 8.3 miles, turn left to return to the intersection with Route 100, at 11.6 miles.

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