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Monitor Board of Contributors

Behind the touristy charm, a slice of real life

Intriguing history found on a town’s back streets

Mel Graykin shot on November 17, 2010. She is a new Board of Contributors columnist.
(John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

Mel Graykin shot on November 17, 2010. She is a new Board of Contributors columnist. (John Tully/ Monitor Staff)

My husband and I decided on a little getaway up at the Woodstock Inn and Brewery up in the White Mountains. The weather wasn’t great. After a notable lack of April showers, the rain had returned and planned to make up for lost inches. North Woodstock is just off Interstate 93, the business end of the Kancamagus Highway, and the views ought to have been lovely. It was all rather soggy and gray.

But what did it matter; we were on our way to a pleasant, relaxing time which would mostly occur indoors. The Woodstock Inn building has an interesting history. The original structure on Main Street had once been a lovely old home but had fallen on hard times and been abandoned. After sitting empty for 17 years, it was in rather sorry shape. But the new owners saw its potential and restored it. Then, in another act of inspired insanity, they rescued the historic old train station in Lincoln, cut it in half and transported it to North Woodstock, where it was put back together and cozied up to the inn building. It is now Woodstock Station, an expansion of the dining room, kitchen and living quarters of these brilliantly crazy owners.

The decor is inspired

and creative, a delightful mix of the historical and the rustic with a liberal dash of humor. With its quirky history, friendly atmosphere and excellent menu, the Inn prospered, and the owners began gradually acquiring other properties in the neighborhood, continuing to expand. The brewery was added

in 1995, and is, by the way, powered by solar panels on the roof. They don’t waste anything in the brewing process, either. The byproducts are used in the kitchen to flavor bread and pizza crust among other things, and what isn’t suitable for the kitchen is used locally to feed cows and other critters.

At the end of the brewing process, the beer lands in the serving tanks, where it goes right up to the bar taps. It doesn’t get any better than this. Of their assortment of fine brews, the Pig’s Ear brown ale is an award winner (the “Grand National Champion” at the U.S. Beer Tasting competition), but our favorite was a seasonal called “Last Chair” (as in ski lift), a brown IPA that was just exquisite.

So after an excellent dinner and more brown ales than one would have had if one had been driving home, we spent a good night in a comfortable room and enjoyed breakfast as part of the deal. There was a little time to kill before the tour, so we took a walk around town.

Behind the inn, along the little roads off Main Street, were a variety of houses, fancy and modest, many with lovingly tended gardens. Some were neglected and sad, victims of hard times. Others clearly made do with cheap materials and hard work. The air was fragrant with the scent of lilac, the road scattered with petals brought down by the rain. We passed an older gentleman and his wife, who were working among bags of clothing piled in front of their garage. The man hailed us, and we stopped to chat. Seems the bags of clothing were being collected to benefit local veterans.

We asked him if he’d been in town long. “I was born here,” he said, and he told us how he’d grown up in the era of the grand hotels. Local boys would earn money as caddies on the sprawling golf courses. Back then, there were massive logging operations going on in the mountains. Loggers would come out of the hills with their pockets loaded and land in town, drinking away their fortunes until they were reduced to sterno (a fuel made from denatured and jellied alcohol, an intoxicant of last resort). If that didn’t kill them, they went back up into the hills to log again, repeating the cycle.

He told us how he left town to join the army, moving through various branches of the military until he came back home to a career in law enforcement. He was sheriff in the area until he quit “because of politics.” Now he’s retired. It’s a good neighborhood. Folks grow their own produce, trade honey for vegetables or fruit from the trees flowering so profusely around us. But it’s also a troubled neighborhood.

“There’s a lot a veterans,” he said, naming five or six right on that street or the next block. “A lot of them came home in terrible shape. And the VA doesn’t give a damn about them.” He told us about a man who was exposed to Agent Orange and has permanent brain damage. One day you’ll talk to him and he’ll be fine; the next, he’ll be totally out of it, slack-jaw and staring. There’s another man who takes long walks, mile after mile, trying to get away from the image that haunts him of his buddy bleeding to death in his lap. People who served honorably. Damaged, broken and forgotten.

So he does what he can, clothing drives and kind words. We thanked him for his time and returned to the inn.

And I thought, this is the real story behind the Woodstock Inn. Not the history of the building or the brewery, interesting as it is. It’s the people who live their quiet lives behind the scenery.

(Justine “Mel” Graykin lives and writes in Deerfield and practices freelance philosophy on her website at justinegraykin.com.)

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