Windham County Courthouse
Newfane Vermont has long been one of my favorite nearby locations for exploration and, of course, photography. The town possesses the classic beauty of rural New England. It is notable for miles of rambling country roads and peaceful scenery, but Newfane is also the county seat and as the “Shire Town” has a perfectly arranged town center. Over the last couple of weeks, in preparation for this edition of my “Favorite Places”, I have been spending time re-exploring Newfane, and as usual, discovering new history and attractions in this place I thought I knew so well.
View South from Newfane Hill & Old Newfane Site
When, in 1753, Governor Benning Wentworth chartered the town , it was named Fane after the Earl of Westmoreland, John Fane. Before the area could be settle, the French and Indian War intervened, preventing a town meeting within the required five years and the charter lapsed. A new charter was issued in 1761 and, through a startling lack of originality, the town was renamed Newfane. The original village was located high on beautiful Newfane Hill, but, because of the difficulty of winter access, it was moved in 1825 to its current flatland location near the West River. Shortly after the relocation the town was named the Windham County seat and the classic courthouse building was constructed soon after. Throughout its early history Newfane prospered, benefitting from rich soils for agriculture and livestock, and abundant flowing water for various manufacturing.
Historical Society Bell
Today tourists and photographers are attracted to the town center by the lovely arrangement of 19th century buildings, including classic churches, inviting Inns, a welcoming general store and, of course the impressive Windham County Courthouse. Any photographic tour of Newfane should begin with a leisurely exploration of this quintessential New England village center. It is beautiful and, more importantly, gives me an excuse to, once again, use the word “quintessential”. But Newfane’s back country attractions are no less interesting and are worth long rambles along its many winding country roads.
War Memorial on the Green
Photographing Newfane Town Center
In addition to the various impressive individual buildings, the overall arrangement of the village next to Vermont’s Route 30, provides many opportunities for interesting views combining the complementary structures. The major challenges are dealing with the parked cars around the edges and, of course, the inevitable web of wires, which seems to contaminate every iconic New England town. The impact of these scars can be reduced through careful framing and the imposition of trees and other foliage, but eventually the decision must be made to leave the contamination or remove it through arduous post-processing. I often start by planning to leave the intrusions alone, but as I study the images and work on perfecting their impact, the locations increasing become my own. At that point, I usually settle in, grab a cup of coffee, and start removing those incongruous slashes. Over the last days, I have been grabbing, foliage rich, summer images of the center, but my favorite season is the autumn when the place glows with a special radiance. Facing East the buildings are generally best illuminated in the warm morning light, but can also be framed by the evening golden and blue hours.
Courthouse and Newfane Inn (Closed)
Union Hall & First Congregational Church
The village center has undergone struggles in recent years. The Newfane Inn and the Country Store have closed but the general store remains busy and the elegant Four Columns Inn and Restaurant has just re-opened under new management.
Around the Green
Four Columns Inn and Restaurant
The Windham County Courthouse was built in 1825 and is at the center of the village on a green which includes a Civil War Memorial and a somewhat incongruously decorated fountain. Arrayed around the green are the 1832 Union Hall, the 1839 First Congregational Church, the Four Columns Inn and Restaurant, and the Old Newfane Inn. The Four Columns is undergoing a major renovation and upgrade. Rita Ziter, the Inn’s manager, was happy to show me some of the beautifully designed modern and classic accommodations. The dining room and lounge are still under construction, but I’m excited to see how the locally sourced food and warm atmosphere will come together on their opening, scheduled for next month. Across Route 30 is the Newfane Market, a well stocked general store. The Windham County Historical Society and the Newfane Café are just down the road. The Historical Society building is filled with interesting artifacts and staff by friendly, helpful people who can assist you on your explorations. Stop by the Café for a bite and a chance to try the “Coin Couch” made from thousands of quarters by the local artist Johnny Swing. Really! Settle your butt down and don’t worry, it’s actually comfortable and, of course, all the coins are “tails”.
Coin Couch, Newfane Café, Newfane Vt
Outside the Center
Old Newfane Village Map, 2009
Beyond the village interesting explorations extend in every direction. Up the hill behind the general store lies the Newfane Cemetery. It is a poignant and peaceful spot which glows in the evening light. The West River can be seen from various points along both Route 30 and the River Road. Heading north Route 30 crosses the river before entering into Townsend. Just before the bridge, a side road leads to a small cascade whose intensity varies depending the rain and run-off. Newfane Hill is west of the village. There are lovely long views to the South at the top of Newfane Hill Road and here also are the stone pillars that mark the location of Old Newfane Village. Even the whipping Post gets its own marker. When I was there last, 10 years ago, a sign carried a map of the old village, but things are overgrown and I didn’t find the sign on my visit last week. The remainder of the road is filled with rambling dirt backroad charm and, at the north end, small Kenny Pond offers the opportunity for a quick dip. The other day the water was surprisingly warm for this early in the season.
Newfane Village Cemetery, Newfane, Vermont
Williamsville Covered Bridge
The Other Newfane’s
As is true of many New England towns, Newfane has a couple of separate and distinct villages. Both Williamsville and South Newfane are along the Dover Road, south and west of Newfane’s center. Williamsville is notable for its 1870 covered bridge. I’ve always found it challenging to capture the bridge in unique ways, but last week I discovered nice back-lighting and captured some interesting perspectives from the edge of Rock River.
South Newfane, Baptist Church
Newfane is full of New England charm. The Four Columns Inn described it as “the closest, authentic Vermont experience to New York or Boston” and although that claim might be debated, there is no question that Newfane is iconically New England and a great place for photographers to lose themselves
Baker Brook, Newfane Vermont