The Equinox (1769)
Known in various times as the Marsh Tavern, Thaddeus Munson's New Inn, Widow Black's Inn, Vanderlip's Hotel, The Taconic, The Orvis Hotel, and Equinox House, Equinox today stands as a symbol of the history and lifestyle of New England over the past two centuries. It was at the Marsh Tavern that the local Council of Safety held its first meetings and that Ethan Allen's younger brother, Ira Allen, proposed confiscating the property of Tories to raise money to equip a regiment of the "Green Mountain Boys" during the American Revolution.
Ironically, the first property to be expropriated was the Marsh Tavern itself shortly after its owner, William Marsh, decided the British would win the war and gave his allegiance to the British. When his property was expropriated, Marsh fled to Canada. In 1780, Thaddeus Munson purchased the Marsh Tavern and operated it until he built a new inn next door. Munson's Inn changed ownership three times, with Martin Vanderlip adding the fluted columns to the front of the inn in 1839, which were to become a trademark of the hotel. The columns still stand and measure 285 feet across.
The 200-room Equinox House was established in 1853. The north wing was the original Orvis homestead where its fireplace, inscribed "L.C. Orvis 1832", still provides guests with a cozy fire on a cold winter's night. The north wing is now the "working" part of the hotel. It encompasses several guestrooms, as well as the Colonnade, lobby areas, front desk, gift shop, administrative offices, and the present Marsh Tavern, Chop House and Falcon Bar.
In the early 1900s, the symbol of the Hotel was a Native American male with Equinox written below his picture. However, there never were any actual Equinox Indians. Mount Equinox stands directly behind the hotel. The name Equinox comes from the fact that the Vermont Surveyor General, Colonel Partridge, reached the summit of the mountain on the autumnal equinox in 1823. Rising over 3,800 feet above the village of Manchester, it is the tallest peak in the Taconic Mountain range.
The Equinox faces the Village Green of Manchester. The 1891 statue in the Village Green is not of Ethan Allen, but instead represents an unnamed colonial soldier. Also clustered around the Village Green are the 200-year old Congregational Church, the Bennington County Court House, another vintage structure with white columns (a small reflection of the grand old Hotel), and an old Music Hall.
During its long history, the Equinox hosted an array of illustrious guests. The resort was visited by Presidents William Howard Taft, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt (who gave a campaign speech on the front lawn), Benjamin Harrison, and Vice President James S. Sherman. President Abraham Lincoln's wife visited the Equinox with her two sons during the summer of 1864. She enjoyed her vacation so much that she made reservations to visit again the following year with the President. A special suite was constructed in anticipation of the President's visit, but he was assassinated April 14, 1865. The only surviving son of Abraham and Mary was Robert Todd Lincoln who loved the areas so much that he built his summer estate, Hildene, just down the road (now an official historic site).
The hotel also offered many attractions, which were not part of its physical structure. One of those was its supply of pure spring water from Mount Equinox, advertised in the 1880s as "the best and purest water ... a great luxury to the guests." Shortly after that, the Equinox Springs Company began bottling and selling the water and a variety of products including ginger champagne and ginger ale. The company remained in business until 1920. Through the following three decades and three owners, The Equinox was saved from destruction on November 21, 1972 when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Galesi Group took over the hotel in 1974 and after a $20 million restoration, the Equinox reopened in July 1985 as a year-round resort hotel and conference center.
The actual restoration of The Equinox came after years of study, controversy, and debate about how to revive the structure without losing the unique qualities which made it a landmark and designated it a National Historic Place. In many ways, the restoration was much like an archaeological dig, and many of the hotel's secrets were uncovered in the effort. Workers found a secret passageway in the attic between two rooms in different wings of the hotel. The old hotel scale, which stood in the lobby for guest to weigh themselves, was found to be still in working order. It was originally used after a vacation stay by guests seeking proof that they had gained weight during their stay. It was completely restored in 2004 and now is located in the Spa.
In 1991-92, a major reconstruction and restoration of the hotel and golf course was completed. The 18-hole original Walter Travis-designed course was updated under the direction of Rees Jones with improvements in the appearance and playability of the hazards and greens. On June 5, 1992, the Equinox reopened its doors, after three months of renovations. In July 1995, the resort reopened the village home of Charles Orvis with suite accommodations for business and leisure travelers.
In March 2007, HEI Hotels & Resorts acquired the historic property and in the spirit of continuing its legacy, commenced a multi-million dollar refurbishment of the guestrooms and public spaces led by renowned designer Geoffrey Bradfield. HEI also acquired the 1811 House, a historic bed and breakfast in Manchester Village, adding another piece of history and old-world charm to the legendary resort. Located across from the main hotel building overlooking the Golf Club at The Equinox, the 1811 House is the former home of Abraham Lincoln's granddaughter. The 13-room 1811 House was originally built in the 1700s and features Federal period styling with fireplaces, porches, private baths, oriental rugs, authentic antiques and original artwork throughout the property.
Today, guests may also experience the handling of free-flying birds of prey at The British School of Falconry, Orvis Fly Fishing and the challenge of off-road driving at the Land Rover Driving Experience School.
Excerpted from my book "Built To Last: 100+ Year-Old Hotels East of the Mississippi."