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Upon leaving the Rowe Labor Day Weekend, I figured I should take advantage of my location and find another town to travel to fit the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge. I also wanted it to be one that I wouldn’t get to easily on another trip. After checking out the map, I decided to visit Colrain.
I’d heard of the town before, and knew that it had a lot of apple orchards and other farms. After a side trip into Vermont, we drove through beautiful green country roads along a Green River towards Colrain Center. Now, I knew the name Coleraine as its a popular contra dance tune and it I’d one if the first ones I learned on the hammered dulcimer. When I got to the center, I was really surprised at what I found.
While the rest if the town was bucolic beauty, the town center looked like 1600 square feet of urban blight. There were two abandoned churches, a condemned building, and an apartment block with four apartments and what looked like trash and junk spewed about. There was also this mental object that looked like a small pyramid. The whole situation was sort of surreal.
Granted, there might be a much better center of town, but this is what I found.
So, when where you completely surprised at what you found that seemed so out of place?
After following all the back roads and maps (GPS reception isn’t that good out there in rural Western Franklin County) I stopped by a country store that seemed to be a part of someone’s house. After waiting for the two men to pause from their discussion at the cashier’s, I asked for directions to the town center. They asked me why I would want to go there, as there’s nothing there. I found out I was standing in the only store in the town!
I got my directions and drove into the town center. There was a small common, with a community hall, a combination town hall and library (open only a few days of the week) and a church. I happen to strike up a conversation with the man who lives between the church and the town hall and told him why I’d traveled to Heath. When I mentioned that I needed to photograph something that could only be in that town, he said “We’ll, you’ll have to get a photograph of the Niebuhr church.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but then he explained that the Heath Union Church, next door to his house, was where Reinhold Niebuhr first read “The Serenity Prayer” in public in 1943. He also wrote it in a little cottage in the town. This was another surprise for me that I’ve been finding when I visit all these towns! The town center was certainly serene!
My new friend gave me some of his beautiful heirloom tomatoes and then he gave me directions back to Rowe, passing by the Heath Fairgrounds. The Heath Fair has been happening for about 100 years and is one of the oldest in the state still happening. Unfortunately, I’d missed it by three weeks, but if I were there then, I’d would’ve been a lot less serene.
So, where have you found done serenity?
On my way back home from my Dad’s birthday gathering in Upton where we visited Northbridge, I had a little bit of daylight left and thought that I had enough time to actually visit another town before it got dark. In looking at my route home and figuring out which towns I hadn’t visited yet, I set my sights to go through Hopkinton and visit Ashland.
I managed to find the town center, as it’s not on a numbered route, and found a really cool town clock/sculpture that was in the middle of town. Just as I was about to take my picture with it, the railroad crossing signs started flashing and ringing, and a huge train came through town. You can see it in my picture behind me. It wasn’t a commuter train, but an long haul working train. There was a cool little train station that had been converted to doctor’s offices, so I can image a time when the trains came through and stopped for people. I don’t know if you can still get a commuter train into Boston from here, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere in Ashland the MBTA has a stop.
It was a nice downtown, with a lot of while buildings. Not terribly busy on a lazy summer evening at dusk, but you had your standard pizza shop and municipal buildings. There were kids riding there bikes, and while there was a decent amount of traffic, it didn’t seem that busy. Again, this was a town center that was not on the main route to somewhere else. Next to the library, there was a cannon and a monument to a time capsule that they had buried at the town’s 150th anniversary in 1996. It was to be reopened on the 200th anniversary in 2046.
So, when have you planned for the future that you don’t think you’ll see?
On a beautiful summer’s day, I went over to my brother’s house in Upton to gather for my father’s 80th birthday. It was a very nice day and we went out for ice cream with the family at a local ice cream stand. My nephew, who’s six, really enjoyed it. Now, I got to Upton fairly frequently for family events, and as we were all there and already in the car, I said that it might be nice for us all to go and see the place where my father’s mother was born in the village of Whitinsville, which is not far from there in the town of Northbridge. It was also another opportunity to check off one more town on my list.
I had been to Northbridge before, at another time, and found the address of the house where my grandmother was born and lived as a young girl. Her family had moved to Maynard, Massachusetts (my home town) from Newfoundland around 1890, and her two brother’s were born there, but they moved to Whitinsville just before my grandmother was born, and then moved back to Maynard where she met and married my grandfather.
Whitinsville is the biggest of the many villages of Northbridge, and it’s where most of the town offices are. It’s not on a main route (you have to take the Main Street off Route 146 to get there), so it’s not really on the way to anywhere in particular. The mill there used to be very large and supplied spindles to other mills. It’s another one of the places that used to be quite prosperous when the mills where in full swing, but now is looking to reinvent itself. It’s in the Blackstone Valley National Historic Corridor, and you can see many sites from the start of the Industrial Revolution in the area.
So, have you ever visited where your family came from?
After the busy hustle and bustle of Provincetown, I wanted to get some exercise and a bike ride in before it got too hot, and as Provincetown is at the end of Cape Cod, the only place to go was to the next town of Truro.
North Truro, actually. Truro is very long and skinny, and it was about a 12 mile round trip to North Truro, and given that this would be the longest I had biked in many years, I didn’t want to over do it. It’s beach are and mostly flat and exposed to the sun, so I didn’t want to burn too badly, so I figured I’d take it easy. There were many cottages and complexes along Route 6A, and I could feel a much different pace from Provincetown. I was thinking that this is the Cape that most people think about when they come here. It’s quiet, non-rushed, and nothing to do but sit on the beach. I stopped at Beach Point and just sat and watched the waves and seagulls. As I’m really working on being more present and to slow down, this was a great practice for me. I’ve found that I need to be in vacation mind more, where there’s nothing much to do, and I don’t feel like I’m on the way to anything. This was where I was then, although I know I had to bike back.
I think that we all need those places where we don’t have to do anything.
So, where do you get vacation mind?
A video blog of my trip this summer to Provincetown!
I was on my way up to New Brunswick to do some family research, and because of dentist appointments and other things, I didn’t get to leave until 5 p.m. on the day before the July 4th holiday. As you can imagine, the roads were very crowded with people heading up to New Hampshire and Maine to vacation. I knew that the highways would be a parking lot in the Greater Boston area, so I figured I’d try to go the back roads to get around them. I went through Medford, Melrose, and then finally snaked my way up to Saugus. I’ve passed through there on Route 1, which is another of your typical big box store type highways, but I’d never been to any other part of the town. As I was just driving part of the way to get to my hotel, I wasn’t in a hurry and figured that I’d stop to get a feel what the town is like.
I stopped in the center of Saugus, and had a long conversation with a friend who needed to discuss a family issue. After that, I got out and walked around. In the center of town, there’s a big monument with streets going around every side of it. There are your typical churches and other municiple buildings, in addition to the ubiquitous pizza places and other non-chain store fast food places. It was actually pretty busy as far as traffic, and I don’t know if that is because of the day or if it’s normally like this. It was a beautiful sunny day and the pace seemed to be both busy and laid back at the same time.
I left the center and found my way out to Route 1, which was surprisingly close with the Square One Mall right there. It was back to the hustle of the drive!
So, Where have you found yourself both busy and laid back?
On the way out of West Stockbridge to get back on the highway, I noticed a sign for West Center Road and Alford Center. I had never even heard of Alford. Since there was a road here, I figured it wasn’t too far off. When I came back after my reunion weekend, I decided to take a side trip to Alford.
It was a little further than I though, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when you’re in that rural area of the state. It was a very pretty area, and it seemed like the type of place that’s a destination, as you wouldn’t go through it to get anywhere else. When I finally got to the center of town, it was just about as quiet as the roads I had been driving. In fact, in the 10 minutes that I hung around and walked the town center, there were only about 5-10 cars that passed through. It’s sort of what my father would call “a wide place in the road”. On one side, there’s the church and the cemetary, and a small building that I think is the town offices. On the other side is a building that houses the library (I think it said that it’s open from Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.) with a function room. There was a sign outside announcing a monthly community pot luck.
Upon looking at the website for the town (and the Wikipedia site), I see that it’s the third smallest town in the Commonwealth in terms of population (with 300 or so people) and only Monroe and Gosnold are smaller). The town has its own police, fire and public works departments, but does not have its own post office, and there isn’t cable service in town. They are right next to some bigger towns (notably Great Barrington) so they can get what they need from working with other municipalities.
So, do you know what skills you don’t posess and where to get them?
After leaving the cute town square of Merrimac, I continued eastward on Route 110. I managed to have a phone call with a prospective client (I have a hands free phone system in my car, don’t worry!) and managed to follow the signs on Route 150 until I found myself in the “Town of Amesbury“. (I mention this as Amesbury is officially a city, but it is one of about 15 municipalities in the Commonwealth that have city government but wish to be officially called “The Town of”.
I’ve heard of Amesbury before, but have never had the occasion to visit, and was pleasantly surprised. It has a nice center with your standard New England style white churches, but it doesn’t have a common, but a downtown intersection. Upon walking around, I could see that Amesbury was also proud to be a carriage manufacturing town (which shouldn’t surprise me as Merrimac was a part of Amesbury before becoming its own town.) There were murals of some of its famous ciitzens (Abolitionist and author John Greenleaf Whittier and Cartoonist Al Capp), and they had a really cool reconstructed mill complex with an amphitheater next to the Powwow River. It wasn’t really busy, but not many towns were very busy on this Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
I was getting hungry, and as a vegetarian celiac looking for food to buy, I’m a little leary of getting glutenized by contaminated food. I managed to find the Maggie Sundae Ice Cream Parlor next to Amesbury Town Hall, and got a really good blackberry chocolate chip frozen yogurt. Highly recommended.
It was a beautiful sunny day, and I just tried to take it all in. It was to be a big change from the calmness of Amesbury to my next destination of Salisbury.
So, what is it you’ve found special joy in lately?
In my further adventures of the Meditate Mass 351 Challenge, after visiting Newbury and West Newbury, I set off to visit the third of the six towns I planned on visiting on this day. I crossed over the Merrimack River and soon found myself in the town of Merrimac (I don’t know where the “k” went between the naming of the town and the river!)
What I was most surprised about was that when I came into the town center, almost all the buildings were brick and at least four stories tall. Whereas most towns have a town common or a rotary or something in the middle, this was sort of an open square where cars from four different roads all raced through. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon, so there wasn’t much happening here. There was a bank and a pizza shop (there always seems to be one in every town!) as well as a couple convenience stores. On walking around town, I found out that Merrimac was known for carriage making in its early history, but for the most part manufacturing died out here when most factories moved to the South and Midwest somewhere around the late 1800’s. Since then, the town has gone from agricultural to a bedroom community.
I walked around a few streets in the center trying to drink in the essence if the place (hence the meditation part if what I’m trying to do here!) and I ran into a pottery shop in a side street. I thought that this is like the small scale manufacturing that used to be here. People were craftsmen (trying to think of the non-sexist way to say this here, but failing!) back then, and it seems that in many ways those that remain still are.
After this brief stop, I was on to Amesbury.
So, where have you found remnants of former glory still living today?