Sunday, November 6, 2011

10/19/11 Colorful New England

Apple Barn, Vermont
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
North Conway, New Hampshire
10/19/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Inspiration from colorful New England towns

I was born with a yen-to-travel gene and I’m always updating a list of places I want to go. When I’m really bored, I don’t even mind getting lost in a strange city. I call it “a Kaiser adventure” and an opportunity to discover what’s around the next corner.

We had a few of those adventures on our recent trip to New England. Although we had been to some of the Northeast, we had not been to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont or Connecticut. So we planned a trip that included those states along with Massachusetts and Rhode Island where we had visited a couple of times.

Our goal was to visit as many small towns as possible and see if they were as charming as their pictures. We were not disappointed.

My inspiration was that I mentioned in a previous column. The site features appealing small towns with populations of 10,000 or less. Based on a variety of criteria, towns are either approved or disapproved as the best small town destination points for travelers.

We visited one of those ‘approved’ towns on our trip through the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Every year, thousands of leaf peepers (such as ourselves) drive the Kancamagus Highway and view the brilliant fall foliage. This year (thanks to Hurricane Irene) the colors were rather muted but still beautiful. Colored leaves, however, weren’t our primary focus.

We were there to ride the world’s first mountain climbing cog railway up to the tallest peak in the East —Mt. Washington (6,288 ft.). The ride up was fascinating, loud and bumpy. At the summit, a sign said, “Welcome to Mt. Washington, home of the world’s worst weather.” And they weren’t kidding. A gale force wind was blowing rain sideways as we lurched into the visitor’s center. The hoped for view of four states, Quebec and the Atlantic Ocean was covered with layers of clouds. Darn.

North Conway, one of the desirable small towns on the Gems website changed our perspective. This little village with a population of less than 3,000 sits lower in the beautiful White Mountain region. The family oriented town features two covered bridges, ski resorts and Settler’s Green Village (New England’s largest Outlet mall) and a Covered Bridge Gift Shoppe, located in ... a covered bridge!

As you drive into town, however, it quickly becomes clear that their impressive Victorian train station is the town’s claim to fame. Wow. The elaborately painted turrets and gingerbread mark the building as special before you even walk in the station door. The Conway Scenic Railroad offers a variety of runs including fall foliage routes to Crawford Notch. Just being there made my heart happy.

A large green area separates the station from downtown Main Street where a Victorian theme has been maintained. Smack in the middle of the old town shopping center sits a bright white church with a copper steeple. The stone paved sidewalk running past the buildings has contrasting stones donated by residents. My favorite was a Scotty dog with the inscription, “Always loved.”

First impressions of towns and people are important. No. Conway and most of New England make great impressions. The streets are wide and clean; the buildings are painted clear, crisp and historically bright colors. Even the North Conway 5 and 10 cent Store is located in an historic building. Buntings and flags were on display everywhere. The town was quaint and inviting.

Now if there’s one way to get into trouble in a small town such as ours, it’s to compare us with another town. Or to suggest that perhaps our town could use sprucing up. So, here comes trouble: Our town can use some sprucing up. There, I’ve said it. And if you had traveled with me through dozens of small New England villages that are neat as a pin and hundreds of years old, I think you would agree.

Sure, our town has ‘good bones’ and an interesting history but we’re not ancient. And yes, we have nice people who do good things but aesthetically, we need some help. And that’s not just my opinion. I hear it from other residents all the time. In fact, the Gems website disqualified Cottage Grove from their recommended list.

Their review reads: “The downtown area of Cottage Grove has several large, interesting murals. But unfortunately, these are romantic depictions of the past, not the present. Other than the murals, I find nothing attractive about this town.” Ouch!

Now that was pretty harsh. Seems to me that most murals are depictions of the past. That’s what makes them interesting. And it didn’t even mention our downtown covered bridge or the soon to be departed Dr. Pierce Barn.

So I walked around downtown and then checked out Dr. P’s barn with a visitor’s eye. True, our wonderful barn has needed some serious attention for a long time and still does. In addition to paint and shoring up, some simple weed-whacking is needed to clean up the perimeter.

But frankly, I think our downtown is visually confusing. We have some wonderful murals that tell the Grove’s history. Our buildings tell another story and I’m not sure what that story is. Our history was in mining and logging. What should our buildings and businesses be saying now? Whatever it is, they need to say it together.

The City and many committees work on ideas for the Grove’s future. But what do you think? Is our town visually attractive? Or do we need some help? If so, where should we start? Drop me a note or give me a call and if there’s enough response, I’ll publish a list of ideas for consideration. I promise to be discreet.

In the meantime, I’ll be planning the next trip for Chuck and I to check out a different area of small town gems—maybe the Deep South.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail —

No comments: