No.81 River of Glass

On a recent visit to Twin Farms in Vermont’s pastoral countryside, we got a tip from our host to check out the nearby town of Quechee for “the best glassblowing and lunch in Vermont”. What a combination, we thought, so we made the short drive from Barnard to Quechee and found a great way to spend an afternoon, and an amazing story to share.

Quechee is a small town along the Ottauquechee River. And it’s where Simon Pearce, the Irish-born master glassblower, in the 1970s purchased an abandoned 1778 wool mill to live and work in.

1778 may sound quite old, but Pearce is no stranger to ancient architecture. He grew up in the town of Shanagarry on Ireland’s south coast. That was the hometown of William Penn just before he headed over to the Americas in 1682 to start his new-society experiment in what’s now Pennsylvania.

Simon is the latest of a long line of artisans, including his father, who ran a small pottery studio. When Simon was pondering his career choice, the age of mass-market consumer goods was just getting into full swing and he recognized that hand-crafted arts were in danger of obscurity. So he decided to continue the family’s long craft tradition by enrolling in the London Royal College of Art. After graduation, he apprenticed with some of the best European glassblowing houses and then returned home to establish his own studio in Ireland.

Glassblowing is an energy intensive craft, and with power costs on the rise in Ireland, combined with a limited local customer base, Simon soon realized he would not be able to make a go of it in his home country. He decided to take his business west, to the US.

Searching for just the right place for his new studio Simon looked for familiar landscapes and a sustainable energy source. He was quite forward thinking, as this was in the ’80s—not an era known for its energy innovations. Starting in New York’s Hudson Valley, he slowly made his way northward up into Vermont where he happened across the deserted colonial era wool mill on the Ottauquechee River.


Replacing the wool mill’s water wheel with a hydropower generator, the operation was set for low-cost energy in perpetuity. With the glassblowing operation and shop on the first floor and the family above that, the new operation was off to a great start. Forty years later, the company has grown to become the premier name for American, lead-free, hand-blown crystal.

When Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on Quechee in 2011 it destroyed not only the town’s picturesque old covered bridge but most of the old wool mill as well. With impending repairs from the flood damage looming, the company decided to take advantage of the adversity and make plans for the next stage of development.


The whole site was reoriented, moving the glassblowing downstairs, expanding the shop and adding a restaurant and bar perfectly positioned to take advantage of the magnificent view over the Ottauquechee River.

Making our way through the shop and downstairs to the glassblowing floor we join the crowd of onlookers from all over the world watching in fascination as master blowers and apprentices work on glassware soon to be on display in the shop above. It’s an intricate system of back-and-forth between master and apprentice. Red glowing globs of molten glass are taken from the oven on long sticks and handed to the master who skillfully forms them into decorative and useful items.


The addition of a restaurant to the operation makes a visit more of an event and brings some of the Pearce family’s Irish heritage to the taste buds of enthusiastic visitors. The menu is packed with Irish classics, like home-baked Irish Soda bread based on a family recipe, as is the delicious cheddar soup. Everything is fresh and locally sourced with seasonal ingredients.


Make note that table 5 is the most scenic table. When you make a reservation ask if it is available, for the best lunch with a view


We have left the best until last—the crystal! We round out our visit by browsing Simon Pearce’s amazing work and selecting a few precious items to help us remember our visit.


Whether you’re driving through Vermont to points beyond, or looking for a great destination to visit in the northeast, the Simon Pearce glassworks is a great place to stop and enjoy old-world craft in America


For opening hours, directions, and to make reservations for the restaurant go to; www.simonpearce.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Planning a trip to Simon Pearce? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.