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Willa Cather North by Northeast

Cather Related Site-Seeing North of New York City and East of Ohio

Ripton, Vermont

Bread Loaf Campus of Middlebury College

Tour written by Sherrill Harbison

The Five Colleges, Amherst, Massachusetts

In 1922, while working on A Lost Lady, Willa Cather taught at the summer graduate school offered by Middlebury College at its Bread Loaf campus. She accepted the assignment of four formal lectures, James Woodress reports, "three on writing and one on the writer and the magazine editor, and…a fifth session in which she would field questions from her students." In spite of some health problems, Cather was in good form that summer, striking an interviewer as "alert, alive, quick-witted, vigorous-minded and assertive." She was open enough to share parts of her new novel with her students, and her lectures were highly successful. On her departure the students presented her with an appreciative ditty: O Miss Cather, when we gather For your talks so wise and clear Now you're going we're all hoping You'll come back another year. (Woodress 322)

The 30,000 acres of land, including the mountain for which the Bread Loaf campus is named, was willed to Middlebury in 1915 by the nature-loving Joseph Battell, a newspaper proprietor and breeder of Morgan horses. Battell had converted an existing Victorian farmhouse into what is now the Bread Loaf Inn, and built other structures to house his summer guests. The college established the summer school there in 1920. Cather could see the mountains from her own cottage, and there she adhered to her custom of keeping mornings for her own writing. She found the teaching exhausting, however, and never did return to Bread Loaf.

The idea for an annual writers' conference at Bread Loaf came first from Robert Frost, who taught here in 1921 and was inspired by the setting. Cather's own connection to Frost was more respectful than personal. Like her friends Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, she was an early admirer of his poetry, and she encouraged his idea for a writers conference. She was also among the guests at his fiftieth birthday party at the Brevoort Hotel in New York in 1924.

The Bread Loaf Writers Conference was launched in 1926, and has attracted many distinguished writers over the years, including Stephen Vincent Benêt, John Crowe Ransom, and Carlos Baker. Frost himself returned to the conference for 42 years, and left an indelible imprint there.


Emilie C. Harting, A Literary Tour Guide to the United States: Northeast. (New York, 1978)

James Woodress, Willa Cather, A Literary Life (Lincoln, NE, 1987)

Getting There

Bread Loaf is in Ripton, about seven miles southeast of Middlebury, on VT Rte 125. The yellow Victorian buildings stand out against the rolling hills. Map.

Other attractions

Robert Frost Memorial Drive. A 14-mile route through woods, farmlands, and mountains starting at the junction of US Rte 7 and VT Rte 125 in East Middlebury ( map). Two miles east of Ripton is the Robert Frost Wayside Area, where the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail begins: seven of his poems are mounted on plaques on the 3/4-mile stretch between the Wayside Area and the Bread Loaf Campus.

Robert Frost Farm. From the late 1930s to 1962 Frost spent his summers at the Homer Noble Farm, several hundred acres of fields, brooks, and forest which he purchased in 1940. He was then 66 years old and a widower, and chose a cabin on the property to use as his studio and living quarters, renting the farmhouse to his secretary, who took care of the practical details of his life. The farm is at the end of an unpaved road near the Robert Frost Wayside Area, and his cabin is maintained by Middlebury College as a National Historic Landmark.

Hiking. The 8.6-mile Emily Proctor Loop, ( Bread Loaf Mountain) in South Lincoln offers strenuous exercise in the Green Mountain National Forest. From South Lincoln, follow the Big Basin Road (USFS Road 201) 4.6 miles to USFS Dispersed Camping Site parking lot. From the trail head the Cooley Glen Trail continues along the road. Take the Emily Proctor Loop on the right, up a steep climb to the Bread Loaf Wilderness at 0.5 mile mark. Here the trail eases before beginning its steep, rocky assent. At 3.5 miles is the Emily Proctor Shelter, and just beyond to the right is an intersection with the white-blazed Long Trail. At 4.2 miles take the signed and blue-blazed Overlook Trail to the summit. The return hike follows the same trails back to the parking area. Hiking Time: 6 Hours. Vertical Rise: 2235 ft.


Mr. Ups, 25 Bakery Lane, P.O. Box 663, Middlebury, VT 05753, (802) 388-6724. Summer patio dining overlooking Otter Creek. Grilled steaks, seafood, pasta, casual but intimate.

Black Sheep Bistro, 253 Main St. Vergennes, VT 05491 ( map), (802) 877-9991

Mary's at Baldwin Creek, Inn and restaurant at 1868 Rte 116 N., Bristol, VT 05443, (802) 453-2432. Award-winning chef, Wednesday Farmhouse Dinners with local farm partners. Reservations necessary.

Tour written by Sherrill Harbison, The Five Colleges, Amherst, Massachusetts - 2003

Sponsored by the Cather Project, 2003