Artists flocked to the bucolic Connecticut River valley region north of Claremont in the late 19th century; the gentle beauty of the Cornish area, still evident today, makes it clear why. The first artists to arrive were painters and sculptors, who showed up in the late 1880s and early 1890s, building modest homes in these hills. They were followed by politicians and then affluent city folk, who eventually established a summer colony. Among those who populated the hills that look across the river toward Mount Ascutney were sculptor Daniel Chester French, painter Maxfield Parrish, and New Republic editor Herbert Crowley. Visitors included Ethel Barrymore and presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. A 1907 article in the New York Daily Tribune noted that artists made these homes in Cornish not "with the idea of converting it into a 'fashionable' summer resort, but rather to form there an aristocracy of brains and keep out that element which displays its lack of gray matter by an expenditure of money in undesirable ways."
The social allure of the colony and the town eventually peaked, and the area has since lapsed back into a peaceful slumber. Those who come here now do so for the beauty and seclusion. Indeed, the country's most famous recluse -- author J. D. Salinger, who hasn't been seen publicly in decades -- lives in Cornish. The region lacks obvious tourist allure -- no fancy hotels or four-star restaurants -- but it's worth visiting and exploring. At twilight, you can see how Maxfield Parrish found his inspiration in the pellucid azure skies for which his prints and paintings are so noted.