For more than a century, the Basin Harbor Club has remained true to its roots.Written by Wayne Mills | Above photo by Jen Wyman
Vermont has always been a rural agrarian state with family farms being an integral part of its culture and history. The lush and lightly populated state is blanketed with farmhouses, fields, barns, silos and cows.
The farms are often passed down from generation to generation, and in each family member, a love and respect for the land is ingrained at birth. The Beach family, owners of Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes for 131 years, is a shining example of that history.
Their descendants came from Connecticut to the shores of Lake Champlain in Vermont’s Addison County at the dawn of the 19th century to farm the rich plains. Ardelia Beach lived on the farm with her family, and she eventually became engaged to a man from the neighboring farm. She left Vermont after her fiancée died in the Civil War, but returned in 1882 when she heard that a 200-acre farm next to her old homestead was for sale.
In 1886, she started the family’s hospitality business by taking in a few summer boarders who rode the train from New York City. When Ardelia died in 1909, her nephew, Allen Beach, convinced his father to sell their neighboring farm and buy out her estate. He added a second floor to the main farmhouse for guest rooms and built wooden plank platforms with tents to accommodate even more people. By 1921, he decided to get out of farming and go full bore into the innkeeping business.
One of his first orders was to build a golf course. Alex Campbell, a Scotsman and head professional at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, laid out the first 18 holes over the vast fields adjacent to the lodge. Architect Bill Mitchell did renovation work in 1952, and in 1986 the dean of New England golf course architects, Geoffrey Cornish, molded the course into essentially what it is today.
The course is a rarity in Vermont in that it is laid out across a relatively flat landscape. Not long by today’s standards at 6,500 yards from the back tees, it plays as a links-style design, which makes it very walkable. Most of the holes are open and treeless, but some utilize the edges of the ancient forest. The small, slick greens look innocent enough from the fairway, but provide surprises if you are on the wrong side of the hole with a putter in your hand.
Probably the most photographed hole is the par-4 ninth. The green is framed by towering maples that require the approach shot to carry over a steep ravine, and the main hotel serves as the backdrop.
After Allen Beach passed away in 1963, his youngest son, Robert, and his wife, Merle, took over Basin Harbor. They ran the resort until they were bought out in 1990 by Robert’s son and daughter, current owners Bob and Pennie Beach.
With Bob mostly involved in the physical plant side of things and Pennie in hospitality, the Beaches are tasked with balancing the inn’s historic charm with running a modern hospitality business in the 21st century.
“Many of our guests have been coming here for many years,” Pennie says. “Bob and I grew up with them and we are proud of our relationship with them.”
Aside from the obvious beauty of the property, Basin Harbor presents a laidback atmosphere symbolized by its Adirondack chair logo. “We aren’t glitzy, but comfortable,” Pennie says. “Our hospitality is genuine, not scripted.”
The 600-acre Basin Harbor Club offers several different options for accommodations. Dotting the mile-long lake frontage are many of the 74 two- and three-bedroom cottages. Each cottage has a personality of its own that evokes that old summertime feel. Although rustic on the outside, they are modern and comfortable, and can accommodate up to eight people.
Each of the 45 guest rooms is decorated to reflect the charm of Basin Harbor. Four guest houses make up the offerings: The Main Lodge, The Homestead, Champlain House and Summit. The Homestead, a stone structure overlooking the cove, is the original home of the Beach family, while the Summit, opened in 2009, is an Adirondack Lodge style, and the Main Lodge, part of the original farmstead, houses hotel-style rooms and the main dining room.
Dining options at Basin Harbor run the gamut, from Ardelia’s, which serves three meals a day in the main dining room, to the Red Mill, serving casual to themed al fresco dinners on the North Dock.
There are creature comforts at Basin Harbor Club, and also the comfort of knowing it is family owned and operated. “We have been here for 131 years and we are here for the long haul,” Pennie says. “This is our heritage and our livelihood.”