The Inn at Sawmill Farm
West Dover, Vermont, USA
Converting an 18th century barn and its outbuildings into a first class romantic inn, while keeping the original hand-hewn posts and weathered boards intact is no easy task. And that is precisely the miraculous feat Rodney Williams and his wife Ione performed when they moved from South New Jersey to West Dover Vermont in 1967, and set up The Inn at Sawmill Farm located in the southern rural Vermont town of West Dover.
Rodney at the time was a well-known architect having designed the historic Smithville Village in Smithville New Jersey. Consequently, he had the necessary expertise to understand the challenge and rewards associated with preserving and renovating old structures. Ione, the second member of the original team, is a designer by profession, and for many years she had been extremely successful in operating her own firm.
Olde Tyme Travelers
Together, the combined talents of this enterprising couple were just the right formula to pull this off. The result of which is a perfectly positioned Relais & Chateaux inn attracting couples that seek privacy and at the same time the opportunity to explore scenic back roads, historic towns, picturesque villages, and cultural venues.
When I asked their son Brill, who together with his sister Bobbie Dee Molitor have pretty much taken over from their parents, “Were your parents ever afraid that their dreams would end up in disaster and no one would show up?” He explained to me that their original plan was to build something very simple, basic and to keep it as humble as possible. In fact, initially, their idea was to only build a summer home. They had always loved this area of Vermont as they passed many a winter skiing on the nearby ski hills.
Before they knew it, an inn was opened in the late 1960s’ and their daily tariff was $48. This included the meals his mother, Ione, would prepare. You did not have a choice of menu, and whatever his mother decided to prepare on a particular day is what you were stuck with.
Brill indicated that there was no need to worry about Ione’s cooking, it was always consistently good, and he owes a great deal of his knowledge to his mother’s culinary skills. We can certainly vouch for Brill’s talents as a chef. In fact, when we visited the Inn at Sawmill Farm it had just re-opened for its summer and fall season, and the dining room was filled to capacity; a good indication that we were not the only ones who appreciated fine dining.
We had the opportunity to try his sautéed sweetbreads on a bed of fried spinach with white butter sauce, as well as the grilled tenderloin of beef with black truffle Madeira sauce. Both were out of this world!
Brill mentioned to us that he likes to use a great deal of local ingredients as well as rabbit, partridge, quail and venison. Deserts reflect his mother’s Pennsylvania Dutch Family’s influence, such as the ice cream covered with rich, hot sauce of dark chocolate, butter and walnuts.
Also joining the inn’s competent team are Brill’s two adorable young daughters, Letica (Lettie) and Chinon (Chi Chi), who help out serving the guests in the inn’s romantic dining room on tables adorned with fine linen, crystal, and china. It was something to watch these two young ladies serve their beaming grandparents! We even had Letica practice her French with us with her cute accent, as she will be off to Paris shortly.
Being a guest at The Inn at Sawmill Farm gets you an additional bonus. The opportunity to savor one or more of the 28,000 to 30,000 bottles of some of the finest wines stored in the wine cellar that is situated under the main dining room. Brill showed us around the wine cellar that he indicated was no easy task to build, and we could well understand why it has brought the Inn a Wine Spectator Grand Award yearly since 1992. Incidentally, the tour of the wine cellar is available for any interested guests who want to see what beckons below. You will be amazed, as we were, at the tremendous choices!
There are twenty one cozy guest rooms in the inn of which ten are located in the main house and eleven in nearby buildings, ensuring an intimate romantic experience. All of these rooms reflect the spirit of Vermont living, permitting their guests to enjoy the changing days and seasons. Exquisite room décors reflect Ione’s decorating talents. Some rooms even have decks for relaxation during the late spring. Eleven also have fireplaces, and let me tell you that even in late May, when we visited the inn, the heat radiating from the crackling fireplace was sheer delight! There are even Jacuzzis and canopy beds in a few rooms.
As far as the inn’s activities go, The Inn at Sawmill Farm takes a minimalist approach. The principal attractions are the swimming pool, the trout ponds, where you can try your hand at fly fishing and even sign up for lessons given by an Orvis approved instructor, snowshoe, hike or cross country ski. However, once you venture outside the inn’s grounds, there is a great deal to do in the way of cultural, sporting and other adventures.
Cross Country Skiing
Timber Cross-Country Ski Center
Fly Fishing (The Inn at Sawmill Farm offers various packages in collaboration with an Orvis Company endorsed representative. They also offer a shooting school package pertaining to the fundamentals of shooting sporting clays)
Lowell State Park (Excellent for fishing, swimming, canoeing, ice-skating and cross country skiing)