White River Junction's compact downtown is clustered near the river and a confusion of old train tracks. It's easy to get a glimpse of the town's sooty history with a brief excursion by foot or car. This downtown was never particularly cheerful or quaint -- the bustle of rail yards has always overpowered it -- but it manages to retain a rugged historical character in the face of strip-mall sprawl that keeps expanding along the ridge above town. With an exception or two, downtown rolls up its sidewalk at dusk; a monument of sorts to its rail heritage can be found near the Amtrak train station (itself built in 1911), where an 1892 Boston & Maine locomotive, along with a caboose, are on display.
A few miles south of White River Junction is the historic town of Windsor. Asahel Hubbard put Windsor on the map in the early 19th century, when he moved here from Connecticut and invented the hydraulic pump. Other ingenious inventions followed, not only from Hubbard but also from his relatives and similarly inspired Windsor residents, including the coffee percolator, the underhammer rifle, the lubricating bullet, and an early variant of the sewing machine. Learn about this fascinating moment in American history at the American Precision Museum, 196 S. Main St. (tel. 802/674-5781; www.americanprecision.org). Its collections commemorate Windsor's role as birthplace of the state's machine-tool industry, and home to countless inventors and inventions. The museum has large, dark, and heavy machinery, and looks closely at the technology behind the Industrial Revolution. It's located in the 1846 Robbins and Lawrence Armory, itself a historic site, and opens from Memorial Day through the end of October daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, and free for children 5 and under. Families can enter for $18.
On Route 5 north of Windsor is the Windsor Industrial Park, which is more interesting than it sounds. The focus here is on local crafts, and it's the home of some of the Simon Pearce manufacturing (pottery and glass), and one of the two breweries owned and operated by Boston-based Harpoon Brewery (tel. 888/HARPOON or 802/674-5491). The brewery was originally built by Catamount Brewing Company, one of the first of the Vermont microbreweries, but was bought out in 2000 by Harpoon; both Harpoon and Catamount beers are now produced here. A free brewery tour (Fri-Sat only, at 3pm) provides a quick education in the making of a fine beer, and (more importantly) samples of beers with names like UFO Hefeweizen are offered at the conclusion. There's also a beer garden where you can eat sandwiches and bratwurst and sample more beers -- not for free, though. The store is open daily in summer, closed Sundays in fall, and closed Sundays and Mondays the rest of the year.
Also in Windsor is the new Cornish Colony Museum (tel. 802/674-6008), commemorating the artists' colony that once thrived a short hop across the Connecticut River. (Cornish is home to the lovely Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site). This museum focuses not only on the work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens but also on the paintings of Maxfield and Stephen Parrish, among other artists affiliated with the colony. It's located at 147 Main St. in Windsor, and opens Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm, Sundays from noon.
Finally, just outside Norwich on Route 5 is the interesting headquarters, bakery, and baking school run by the highly esteemed King Arthur Flour company, which makes some of the best baking flours in America. The Baker's Store (tel. 802/649-3361 or 800/827-6836) is open 8:30am to 6pm Monday to Saturday, to 4pm Sunday; in addition to all-natural breads and a program of demonstrations and classes, there's a good selection of high-quality cookware for sale at the store.
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.