Situated about halfway between Rutland  and Middlebury , the delightful little village of Brandon makes a good lunch stop or home base for exploring the northern branch of Green Mountain National Forest. The town was founded in 1761 and quickly became an important mill town, with both saw and grist mills situated at strategic points on Otter Creek. Supplies of iron ore nearby later led the town to become an important manufacturing center, constructing iron stoves and railroad cars in the 19th century.
More recently, Brandon has been reborn as a center for art galleries, which inhabit the brick storefronts of its downtown mill area and attract teary-eyed parents on their way up from New York  to drop their kids off at college in Middlebury .
Take a time-out to saunter around Brandon’s quaint brick downtown, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At the lower end of town, Lower Falls is an impressive urban waterfall that once powered the town’s mills.
On the other side of town, the Stephen A. Douglas House (Grove St. at Champlain and Pearl Sts., 802/247-6401, www.brandon.org , open by appointment) is the birthplace of the politician who challenged Abraham Lincoln in a famous series of debates on slavery to decide the 1860 presidential race. Brandon is in the process of turning the home into a visitors center and historical museum.
Upstairs from Briggs Carriage Bookstore, the Ball and Chain Cafe (16 Park St., 802/247-0050, www.briggscarriage.com , 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Wed.; 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Thurs.–Fri.; 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.) is Brandon’s one-stop cultural hub. Regular events include author readings; folk, jazz, and classical music performances; and a weekly knitting circle. During the day, the café serves up espresso drinks, pastries, and free wireless Internet.
More than 35 artists have banded together to form the Brandon Artists Guild (7 Center St., 802/247-4956, www.brandonartistsguild.org ), a gallery showcasing modern and whimsical takes on typical Vermont scenes. Works for sale include jewelry, hooked rugs, and modern folk art paintings.
Brandon’s most famous folk artist, Warren Kimble, sells his distressed wood paintings at Liza Myers Gallery & Studio (22 Center St., 866/442-8680, www.lizamyers.com ), which also features Myers’s arresting acrylics of birds and other animals from around the world.
Owned and run by a French couple, Café Provence (11 Center St., 802/247-9997, www.cafeprovencevt.com , 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.–9 p.m. Tues.–Fri.; 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.–9 p.m.Sat.–Sun.,, $17–21) successfully evokes south-of-France charm with both its yellow walls and its flavor-rich seafood stew. The bustling open kitchen adds to the energy of the handsome room at dinnertime; if you can work it into your weekend itinerary, the brunch is terrific and filling.