Hanover Inn -- with many happy returns

Winter had clamped a cold but clear grip onthis quintessential college town, leaving it as crisp and bright as an Ivy League football banner. Georgian-style brick storefronts, sporting the Dartmouth colors with their neat white trim and green awnings, lined the main street leading to the campus center, the town's venerable centerpiece and cultural heart. The campus green was flanked by the white buildings of Dartmouth Row and the brick buildings of Administration Row; the Baker Library, modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, graces its north side.

It was a classic scene, all of it visible from my window at the Hanover Inn here. Dartmouth College's gracious, brick hostelry is celebrating its 200th birthday this year, and I had come to see what celebrations had been planned. Regular weekend events will, in fact, mark the bicentennial, and they promise to rival the annual Winter Carnival (Feb. 7-9 this year) as local attractions.

Special events aside, the inn itself is an attraction on its own. As a lover of antiques, I knew I was in for a treat as soon as I saw the black and gold Concord coach parked outside the entrance to the inn. Sure enough, the Hayward Lounge where guests can relax and enjoy a sumptuous afternoon tea has some early treasures mixed among its comfortable sofas and easy chairs.

I was no less delighted with my rose and blue wallpapered room, which fulfilled a childhood fantasy of sleeping in a canopy bed. Antiques partially furnish every room. From the royal vantage point of my bed, I could admire 19 th-century prints in burnished walnut frames, Queen Anne-style chairs, a lovely mahogany dresser, and appliqued lampshades exquisitely made by local craftswomen -- a far cry from the plastic uniformity of most hotel furniture.

Although the inn is a 103-room hotel, complete with function rooms and underground garage, it provides the homelike charm for which the small, classic New England inns are famous. Responsible for much of this pleasing atmosphere is manager Robert Merrow, who has innovated such touches as the afternoon tea, special after-game dinners, Christmas festivities, and the coming bicentennial events.

All corners of the hotel bear evidence of his attention to detail. One that especially catches the eye is a massive, black Howard clock hanging at the far end of the cream- colored Hayward Lounge.

"When I first came here I found a repair receipt for it from Shreve, Crump, & Low, where it had been unclaimed for seven years," he told me. "I hurried down there with my station wagon to pick it up, not knowing if it would still even be there."

It was indeed still here -- one year the delighted store had used it on the cover of its Christmas brochure. Mr. Merrow planned to load it in his station wagon there and then, but was told by the store manager that the neglected clock was worth some $20,000 and should be more carefully delivered. It was.

The inn's bicentennial marks the fact that it has sheltered guests for 200 years rather than the age of the building, which has gone through several reconstructions over the years -- the west wing was built only in 1968. Festivities were kicked off with a celebration last Christmas that featured a Yule log ceremony, cookie baking in which guests took part, a carol sing, and a sleigh ride that became a hay ride because of unusually mild weather. It was so successful that the inn plans to continue it every year.

On Jan. 31 to Feb. 3, Hanover Inn will host a special "winter games" weekend complete with a Dartmouth hockey game, skating with former Boston Bruins star John Bucyk, cross- country skiing, ski clinics, and downhill races using all sorts of methods, including inner tubes.

Two weekends will be literary in nature, including "The Fascinating World of Children's Books" on Feb. 15 and 16 during which local authors and illustrators will discuss their art and "Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel With the World" on April 11-13, an in-depth seminar of the poet's work. Lillian Gish, a long-time fan of the inn, will be there on March 7 and 8 to talk about her half-century career in films, and the weekend of March 21 and 22 will include demonstrations of Colonial cooking.

Rates for these weekends fall under the inn's special Birthday Package Plan, which includes breakfast, dinner, lodging, and activities for two days at $98 per person based on multiple occupancy ($56 for children under 12 in the same room with an adult). Regular rates are $47 and $50 for single rooms, $53 and $ 57 for doubles. Special ski packages include one night's lodging, breakfast, dinner, and a lift ticket to nearby Dartmouth Skiway at $50 per person based on multiple occupancy.

As a nonskier who happened to be at the inn during a regular weekend, my attention turned to the multitude of artistic offerings at the Hopkins Center just next door (there is even an underground tunnel connecting it with the inn). Hanover is generally acknowledged as the cultural center of northern New England , and Dartmouth's four-acre arts complex, which attracts top performers in theater, opera, music, and dance, has much to do with reputation.

If the front view of the complex bears an uncanny resemblance to the opera house at lincoln Center it's because it was designed by the same architect, Wallace Harrison (also responsible for the UN building and Rockfeller Center). Inside there are spacious theaters, including the newly refurbished Spaulding Auditorium, which has received rave reviews from Rudolf Serkin and George Szell for its accoustics and design. But if you happen to be there when a symphony or an opera is not, there are also vintage films, art galleries, and special exhibits.

But the Hopkins Center is not Dartmouth's only artistic treasure, a fact I discovered the next morning when I set out for a campus tour in single digit weather. I was amazed at the students actually studyingm in Baker Library; the beauty of its richly paneled rooms, splendid portraits, and violent Orozco murals would surely have kept this student from sociology notes. Not far up from Baker is the rococo Carpenter Hall with excellent exhibits of ancient Syrian mosaics and modern paintings (including a Picasso or two from Dartmouth alumnus Nelson Rockefeller) on the top floor.

Across the street and up a little way is Webster Cottage, perhaps the most overlooked landmark on campus (my guide, Dartmouth '81 and daughter of an alumnus, didn't know what it was). This charming white Cape built in 1780 was home to Daniel Webster while a Dartmouth student at the turn of the 19th century and is now a museum with Webster memorabilia and other antique furnishings. Although closed during the winter, the Hanover Historical Society will usually open it for interested visitors.

My guide from the society, Margaret Zug, was only too happy to escort me through the low-ceilinged rooms, one of which contains the massive, pigeon-holed desk Webster used while secretary of state. Up an unusually steep staircase are two garret bedrooms, one completely furnished in Shaker simplicity and the other comfortably furnished with more Webster mementos.

But young Webster never did enjoy these comforts, my guide explained. Opening a small door, she revealed a tiny, unheated, wooden garret not high enough to stand up in and just wide enough to lie down where he slept during his undergraduate years.

Although this cottage is not well known, Webster's powerful presence still hangs over the campus; it is impossible to see much of Hanover without encountering at least one of the many portraits of the swarthy orator. Dartmouth remains a private institution today because of the famous court case of 1818 during which Webster successfully argued for the right of a college to resist absorption by the state.

Heading back through the idyllic campus, I recalled a statement from his court oration: "IT is, sir, as I have said, a small college, and yet there are those who love it." The words are still eloquent and still true.

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