Perhaps Bennington's major claim to fame is the Battle of Bennington, which took place just outside town on August 16, 1777. A relatively minor skirmish, it nevertheless had relatively major implications for the eventual outcome of the American Revolution.
It happened this way: The British devised a strategy to defeat the colonists and were putting it into play. Divide the colonies from the Hudson River through Lake Champlain, they figured, then concentrate their forces to defeat first one half of the upstarts and then the other. As part of this strategy, the British General John Burgoyne was ordered to attack Bennington and capture supplies that had been squirreled away by Continental militias. He came upon Colonial forces led by General John Stark, a veteran of Bunker Hill; after a few days playing cat-and-mouse, Stark ordered an attack on the afternoon of August 16, proclaiming, "There are the redcoats, and they are ours, or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!" (Well, so the story goes.)
In less than 2 hours it was all over -- the British and their Hessian mercenaries were defeated, with more than 200 casualties, while the victorious colonials lost but 30 men. The British would soon suffer another embarrassing setback at the Battle of Saratoga not far away, and these two losses effectively ended the idea of dividing and conquering; the British never recovered, and soon lost the war.
This battle is commemorated by northern New England's most imposing monument. You can't miss the Bennington Battle Monument (tel. 802/447-0550) if you're passing through the countryside. This 306-foot obelisk of blue limestone atop a low rise was dedicated in 1891. It resembles a shorter, paunchier Washington Monument. Note also that it's about 6 miles southeast from the actual site of the battle; this monument marks the spot where munitions were stored. The monument's viewing platform, which is reached by elevator, is open daily from 9am to 5pm from mid-April through October. A small fee ($2 adults, $1 children age 6-14) is charged.
Near the monument, you'll find distinguished old homes lushly overarched with ancient trees. Be sure to spend a few moments exploring the old burying ground, where several Vermont governors and the poet Robert Frost are buried. The chamber of commerce provides a walking-tour brochure that helps you make sense of this neighborhood's formerly vibrant past.
Bennington College was founded in the 1930s as an experimental women's college. It has since gone co-ed and garnered a national reputation as a leading liberal arts school. Bennington has a great reputation for the teaching of writing; W. H. Auden, Bernard Malamud, and John Gardner all taught here. In the 1980s, Bennington produced a fresh wave of prominent young authors, including Donna Tartt, Bret Easton Ellis, and Jill Eisenstadt. The pleasant campus north of town is worth wandering.
A fun local find is Hemmings Sunoco tel. 802/447-9652), a gas station at 216 W. Main St. (just west of downtown on Rt. 9, across from the Paradise Motor Inn). This isn't just any gas station. It's also the headquarters for Hemmings Motor News, a monthly publication that's considered essential reading for vintage car collectors around the nation. You can tank up here (it's full-service!), ask to take a free escorted peek at the vintage cars housed in the storage area, and buy auto-related souvenirs such as old Route 66 signs and model cars. It's open daily from 7am until 7pm.
"I Had a Lover's Quarrel with the World." -- That's the epitaph on the tombstone of Robert Frost, who is buried in the cemetery behind the 1806 First Congregational Church where Route 9 makes two quick bends west of downtown and down the hill from the Bennington Monument. Signs point the way to the Frost family grave. Travelers often stop here to pay their respects to the man many still consider to be the true voice of New England. (Frost was born in California, but was raised in Massachusetts from the age of 11 and lived mostly in New Hampshire and Vermont the rest of his life.) Closer to the church, look for the old tombstones -- some decorated with urns and skulls -- of other Vermonters who lived much less famous lives.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.