Traveling in Yankee country

New England's countryside has unique architecture, rich history and lovely natural sights. Everything there appears much as it has been for many years.

 On the Kennebago River in Maine (photo credit: Kasaey Damoza Frantzman)
On the Kennebago River in Maine
(photo credit: Kasaey Damoza Frantzman)

Driving from Woodstock to Putnam, the road takes several bends. It crosses betwixt large farms. The houses here are large and stately, and there is plenty of room between them. Many appear to be old colonial-era estates. Woodstock was founded in the 17th century. US presidents once came here for 4th of July celebrations. The large fences of the Woodstock fair can be seen from the main street, Route 169. Everything here appears much as it has been for many years.

When it gets dark, it is also too dark. There are no cars on the road and it feels like the night is closing in. Except for the cacophony of crickets, there is no noise. This can be haunting. There is a gas station with $3.99 gas and a convenience store called XtraMart just across the Woodstock town line, in Putnam. Outside, the bright lights of the station contrast with the extreme black and it feels like one of those curtain raisers to a horror film.

Up the road in Woodstock there are several nice inns. One of them is called the Inn at Woodstock Hill. The beautiful home has been transformed into several floors of rooms. Room 316 has a wood paneled bathroom. Room 317 has light green walls. Much of this place is a reminder of how things were many decades ago or a century ago. The wallpaper reminds me of my grandmother’s old house, the Boat House, in Harthaven, on Martha’s Vineyard. The lampshades remind me of her house in the campground in Oak Bluffs. This is another time. The inn is quiet, but one assumes that when it hosts weddings it must be more raucous. We felt we had it to ourselves.

This part of northeastern Connecticut is very different from the congested roads of Massachusetts. The stately farms are one thing and so are the old colonial homes, more ornate than north of the border. There is a Masonic lodge, a public golf course and a myriad of little walking trails and wetlands to explore. To get here, we had driven down from New Hampshire. We had sushi in FiskDale at Kaizen Sushi and went to Walmart. From Sturbridge to Southbridge the road is depressing, dreary and urban. There is a cannabis distribution center. The Dunkin Donuts here is juxtaposed with the grandeur of St. John Paull II Parish, built in 1912 and the Sovereign Grace Chapel.

New Hampshire

We’d driven down from Hollis, New Hampshire. In contrast to the congested roads of Massachusetts and many brick towns that have seen better days that ring Boston, New Hampshire was pleasant and more relaxing. We’d driven the whole of New Hampshire from north to south. This was because we’d come from a camp in Maine on Lake Kennebago. To get down to Hollis we had transited route 16 through villages, such as Errol, Madrid and then the pretty town of Berlin. This route follows the Androscoggin river. The river itself is pretty and the whole country is dotted with ponds, lakes and rivers, some covered with lily pads, others with fishermen in them.

 Boating on lake George (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN) Boating on lake George (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

The river must once have been full of industry and logs because it has little rock piles in the middle. There must have been a major industry here and there are old dams. There was a railroad. Many of these towns were incorporated after the American Revolution, but as you head south the towns become older. It is history in reverse.

Towns such as Carroll and Franconia go by. The highway is initially only one lane each way and goes up a mountain pass. It is framed by the White Mountains, such as Mount Washington and Mount Moosilauke. There are resorts and skiing in the winter. We drive past Loon Mountain and Fronconia Notch and down into Woodstock, NH. It seems every state here has a Woodstock, a Plymouth, a Lebanon and other towns that all ring out. There is Bristol, Canterbury, Lincoln and Concord. The larger towns and capital cities have state houses that all seem similar to Boston, like a culture of power and architecture that radiates out.

We had traversed this same area days before, driving from Lake George through Vermont and New Hampshire. In the end it was a large circle; from Newark International airport north to Lake George, up the valley; and then across Vermont and New Hampshire to Maine; then back down via Massachusetts and Connecticut. The positives of this route are that you avoid the cities; no congestion from New York and none from Boston. The other towns you pass through are easy to drive through or around. The highways are mostly not full of traffic. We did see some traffic that was going the opposite direction; as we entered Maine there was a nest of weekend tourists going from Maine south back to wherever they had come from. We mostly avoided the Cape and the water .

Lake George was full of people in early August. We stayed at a place called Scotty’s Lakeside resort. The rooms were simple and the place child-friendly. Kids can play in the pool or on the beach next to the lake. There are kayaks and other water toys available. The Lake itself is a mix between succumbing to the hoi polloi and still keeping that sense of grandeur from when some in America must have imagined it as their own Lake Geneva.

Revolutionary history

Indeed, this landscape is all about the decision of Americans to rebel in 1775, and wrest control of this land from the British crown and from the Native Americans. Then, once it was taken, the land became developed by those who wanted to recreate some aspects of Europe here. But not too many aspects. The towns here are still dotted with quaint places evoking the 1950s and 1960s; think National Lampoon’s Vacation, with some of the kitsch that would now be seen as racist; such as cigar-store style Indians adorning the yards of some establishments. Is this reverence for the Native past or something more dark?

Crossing the landscape of the Revolutionary War, the traveler comes across Fort Anne, Saratoga and other areas from the 1777 campaign that led to one of England’s defeats. Eventually, when we arrived in Maine, we also crossed the path where Benedict Arnold tried to lead an invasion of Canada in 1775.

A brief stop in Freeport to shop at L.L. Bean to get some fishing rods, and a bow and arrow so we could play archery; we traveled onward toward Acadia National Park. This area, home of the Rockefellers, is part of the epic landscape of the coast of Maine. A few days near the park took us back by road through Skowhegan and up to Rangeley to stay at a place called Grant’s Kennebago Camps. These camps are situated on a lake, and there is ample fishing and cabins. Food is served three times a day and one can get a bit of the sense of being away from it all. It’s not so far away as to be devoid of electricity, so we could enjoy a bit of comfort and still feel the quiet of the Maine wilderness. Then it was back in the SUV to make the long drive south toward Connecticut and those stately farms and towns.