White River Junction is a Vermont rarity: an industrial-era town that was built on the fruits of industry rather than wrenched from hardscrabble farmlands or deep quarries. Industry, in this case, was the railroad. In 1847, White River Junction had only one farmhouse; within 15 years, however, five different rail lines had established terminals here and the town was bustling, noisy, full of grit and commerce. Railways have suffered a well-documented decline since that golden era, and White River Junction slipped from prominence right along with them: When the mighty steam trains and the lonesome whistle shut down, so did this town. Ever since, it has struggled to get back to its feet, and today the area retains a shopworn grace.

A half-hour or so south of White River down Interstate 91, Windsor is rightfully considered the "birthplace of Vermont"; it was here that the treaty separating the state from Massachusetts was signed, and the town celebrates both its industrial heritage (which was considerable) and a new wave of fresh artistic blood.

Just to the north of White River, Norwich is a peaceful New England town slightly off the beaten track. The town has a fine selection of wood-frame and brick homes, and boasts a superb restaurant and a science museum for kids. First settled in 1761, Norwich has long-established ties with Hanover, New Hampshire, across the river. Many Dartmouth College faculty and staff still commute to work from Norwich, and the two towns even share a school district.