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Boston, Art, Cape Ann and Connecticut Country Roads

Author: Bob W.
Date of Trip: October 2007

My dad recalled that my grandfather, after he purchased his first car, would pile the family into the car on weekends and set out to explore unmarked dirt roads in the quiet northwest corner of Connecticut. Although I was born too late to meet my grandfather, I seem to have inherited his love for exploring Connecticut’s beautiful country roads.

When my wife and I planned a trip from our home in New Jersey to Boston’s art museums and aquarium and Cape Ann, we decided to travel Connecticut’s most scenic roads to get there. We gladly accepted more miles and hours of travel to enjoy the beauty of country roads.

Our route on Tuesday took us east on I-84, then 12 miles north on New York’s lightly traveled Taconic Parkway and 15 miles northeast on NY route 44 past dairy and horse farms and through small, picturesque towns. Outside of Amelia, we picked up NY route 343 east, which becomes Connecticut route 4 and soon connects with route 7. In Sharon, CT, as route 4 takes a sharp turn, there is a most unique and attractive building of rounded granite stones. A block farther stands a tower of similar construction. Don’t know why I didn’t stop at both for photographs. Next time!

Our scenic routes in northwestern Connecticut — routes 7, 44 and 8 — form three sides of a square. Route 7 is one of New England’s prettiest roadways. We took route 7 a few miles south to visit Kent Falls State Park whose cascading waterfalls are always a delight. Then we reversed course and headed north to Cornwall Bridge where we stopped to take pictures of the long, narrow, covered bridge with its red-painted wooden walls and the gentle river that flows beneath it. After walking the streets along the river (and finding the area’s only cafe closed for the day), we returned across the bridge and drove 16 miles north to Canaan then 17 miles east on beautiful route 44 to Winsted where we turned south on route 8. Route 8, while also very scenic, is a high-speed, divided highway. After twenty-one miles southbound we picked up route 6 east to Bristol for our overnight stop at the Clarion Inn and an enjoyable dinner with my brother and his family.

Wednesday morning, we took I-84 east through Hartford, to CT route 2 — a divided, multi-lane highway that connects with northbound I-395 (the Connecticut Turnpike) near Norwich. Our objective was to travel route 169 (exit 83A from I-395) to Pomfret, CT. This two-lane road, which parallels the Rhode Island border, heads due north towards Massachusetts. If there is a quieter, prettier or more relaxing road in Connecticut, I have yet to find it. This road has always been lightly traveled but became even quieter once parallel I-395 was opened. Drivers of the few other vehicles we saw seemed as interested as we were in savoring the quiet beauty of this country road.

Now and then, we stopped to take pictures of properties with trees bedecked in fall colors, Pomfret’s Congregational and Catholic churches and the Pomfret School. After 23 miles on this road, we reached the intersection of route 44. On the northwest corner, we discovered an inviting and busy cafe where we chose from among a long list of tasty offerings. My wife had a bowl of curried soup and half of a turkey sandwich. I had the other half sandwich plus a delicious bowl of homemade chili. The chili alone would have been enough.

During lunch, we contemplated driving through Pomfret looking for the old house my aunt and uncle had owned, where our family had gathered for many a Thanksgiving dinner. As a kid, so much about that house had fascinated me. The historic three-story dwelling had been an inn in 1772. From its appearance, you could discern the many additions made to the main structure over the years, and to the barn. Most floors pitched at an angle because, over two centuries, the tree trunks supporting the cellar beams had sunk to varying depths in the dirt floor of the basement. Walls were blistered from moisture where fireplaces had been walled in to reduce drafts. There was an 8′ wide staircase, interrupted by a large landing halfway between floors. The landing received daylight through tall, colorful stained-glass windows. Somewhere, in the oak- paneled wall in the master bedroom, was a moveable panel behind which my uncle was said to keep a pistol. Hatches along the outside wall in every second floor room opened to a narrow crawlspace that circled the house within a roof overhang. Historians have reported that Revolutionary War General Putnam once hid in that space, escaping detection by a British patrol that searched the inn. I was fascinated, as well, with the wood-topped, copper sheet bathtub in the third floor bathroom.

Upon leaving the cafe, I realized that I no longer remembered how to find the old house. In any case, we had to get on our way to Quincy, Massachusetts if we were to have time to visit Adams National Historical Park. We particularly wanted to see the beautiful home that had been occupied by President John Adams, his son, President John Quincy Adams and his grandson — all three of whom served a term as U.S. Secretary of State. We headed east on route 44, which became anything but picturesque as it approached Providence, Rhode Island and Interstates 295, 95 and 93 that would bring us to Quincy.

We arrived in Quincy and got lost twice, helped back on course by a kind customer in a local business. Because we had lost time, we decided to forgo the Adams presidential birthplaces (modest saltbox style homes). Instead, we went directly to Adams Street where we parked in front of the magnificent “Old House,” built in 1731 and occupied by four generations of the Adams family from 1788 through 1927. We paid for admission and wandered the grounds and formal garden, taking photographs and awaiting the day’s final house tour. Our visit to the “Old House” was well worth the trip. We were shown where John Adams (at Abigail’s insistence) had added two large wings to the old federal style home and converted the original detached kitchen into a library. In the library are the 14,000 books collected by John Adams and John Quincy Adams (a brilliant man who could speak and read 14 different languages). The home is furnished mostly with original Adams family furnishings. The wallpaper in the living room addition dates from 1840! The high-backed, overstuffed wing chair in the living room has been reupholstered in the original fabric pattern. It was John Adams’ favorite chair. He died while seated in that chair, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

After the very informative house tour, we checked in at the Best Western Adams Inn in Quincy. The Inn is attractive, clean, and comfortable and only about a 7-minute walk to the North Quincy stop of the famous Boston “T.” Our room, which looked out at the Neponset River, cost $150 per night, plus taxes. That is a very reasonable rate for a room in the Boston area, particularly given the quality of the hotel, the included breakfasts, and the property’s convenience to public transportation. The “T” can get you anywhere in Boston and vicinity at a modest cost. We stayed at the Adams Inn for three nights, using the “T” to connect with places of interest in Boston and Cambridge. The first night we dined in the hotel’s pub, which has a nice water view, tasty food and reasonable prices. After dinner, we walked to the “T” to familiarize ourselves with subway routes, determine connections and purchase fare cards. Two days of travel via the “T” cost only $20 for the two of us — the easiest way to travel in the Boston area.

After returning to the inn, we walked a gravel path located between the Inn and the river. The path extends the length of the Inn’s property, ending at a gazebo and dock that overhang the water. Although it was nighttime, there were lights along the pathway and on the gazebo and dock. Standing in the gazebo, we watched a blue heron sit quietly by the edge of the dock, ignoring us. The Neponset River is tidal and the tide was coming in. Swiftly, the otherwise motionless heron would thrust its beak into the water to grab small fish illuminated by the dock lights. Then we heard splashes in the water in front of the gazebo. Looking down, we spotted a group of fish, each about two feet long, waiting to pounce on smaller fish floating in with the tide. As the smaller fish approached, the larger fish would leap to acquire their dinner, helped by Mr. Edison’s invention of the light bulb.

Thursday morning, after enjoying an expanded continental breakfast in the Pub (which doubled as the breakfast area), we walked to the “T” and headed into Boston to visit the Museum of Fine Arts and the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, located within blocks of each other. Boston’s Fine Arts Museum has an extensive and impressive collection of paintings, photographs, sketches, sculptures, musical instruments (many hundreds of years old and from all parts of the world) and artifacts from Roman, Greek and other ancient civilizations, including an extensive Egyptian sarcophagus collection. I was thankful that non-flash photography is permitted.

After touring portions of the museum’s collections, we stopped for lunch in the Courtyard Cafe, a cafeteria with a view of the open-air atrium in the center of the museum. We were pleased with the food choices, quality and prices. After lunch, we stopped in the gift shop where I spotted a book of color prints entitled “Edward Hopper’s New England.” Not wanting to cart a book around all day, I decided to wait until just before leaving the museum before making the purchase. Too late I discovered that the gift shop closed earlier than the museum.

Around 3 p.m., we headed for the Gardener Museum, which had a scheduled 5 p.m. closing. We would later return to the Fine Arts Museum, which stayed open until 9 p.m. The Gardener Museum is modeled after a 15th century Venetian palazzo surrounding an attractive inner courtyard. Isabella Stewart Gardener, who donated the museum and its 2,500 art objects, left restrictions against moving any of her art objects, or labeling them. Although the museum’s collection includes works by Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Raphael, Degas and Sargent, extremely poor lighting, and the lack of identification of most of these works, made them difficult to appreciate. Photography is not permitted. Members of the museum staff told us of plans to install a much improved lighting system once they figure out how to do so without moving the furnishings and art objects — a formidable task!

Discouraged with conditions in the Gardener Museum, we returned to the Fine Arts Museum where we had supper in the Courtyard Cafe and continued to enjoy exhibits until closing time. We were more than a little foot-weary. En route from the North Quincy “T” stop, we made a stop at a Dunkin Donuts for a low-fat blueberry muffin and a toasted bagel. Having given up eating donuts (which I love), I was glad to find an expanded choice of treats!

Friday morning, after breakfast, we headed to the New England Aquarium on the Boston waterfront at Central Wharf. Outside the aquarium is a glass- enclosed area containing fur seals whose constant swimming, mostly in an upside down position, is a great source of entertainment. Inside (requiring a ticket for admission) are a variety of spectacular displays. Three types of small penguins were standing on rocks or showing off their superb swimming skills. Many of the aquarium’s 15,000 specimens and 600 species of fish and aquatic animals were displayed in a four-story glass tank containing a coral reef and more than 200,000 gallons of water. On display were a vast variety of reef fish, sea turtles, eels, sharks and skates. Each level contained separate, smaller exhibits of various habitats and their inhabitants. The New England Aquarium provides an excellent and broad exposure to sea life.

After leaving the aquarium, we wandered around looking at restaurants in the dockside area. We ended up eating two blocks away at the Dockside at 183 State Street — a somewhat worn looking sports bar and pub near a “T” stop. The one waitress/bartender on duty took our orders promptly. The chef was not so swift. No complaints about our sandwiches except that my cheeseburger was far larger than my appetite required. It was raining outside when we finished eating; but, we had only feet to go to the “T” entryway.

We headed to the Harvard Yard stop in Cambridge to visit Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum and the Busch-Reisinger Museum, which are located on two floors of the same building at 32 Quincy St. Both had exceptional art displays and both permitted (non-flash) photography after I signed an affidavit agreeing to restrictions on the use of my photos. The Fogg Art Museum contains sculptures, paintings and other art objects from Europe and North America, dating from the middle ages to the present. Among other displays, the Busch-Reisinger Museum contains impressionist masterpieces, Vienna secession art, and examples of abstract and contemporary art. Both museums have exceptional exhibits. At closing time, we wandered a block or two to the Grafton Street restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue where we had delightful meals (but more than we needed after our large luncheon sandwiches).

Saturday morning, we drove through Boston headed towards Rockport and Gloucester on Cape Ann. On a trip years earlier, we had stayed in water-view motels in both Gloucester and Rockport. This time we could visit only briefly before we headed to Lynn, MA, to see an old friend. Cape Ann was beautiful, particularly with trees and foliage bedecked in vibrant fall colors. We browsed through shops and galleries in Rockport, chatted with artists and proprietors and had lunch at The Greenery on Dock Square with a great view of the harbor. We felt we might still have time to drive into Salem. It turns out that October is a month-long Halloween-inspired festival in Salem. The streets were jammed and clogged. Parking areas were full. Despite the absence of available parking spaces, signs still offered parking for $20.

Since we had little time to spare, we continued on to routes 128, 95 and 1 to reach our night’s accommodations at the Days Inn in Saugus. Route 1 was densely packed with Saturday traffic. As for the Day’s Inn, it is much less attractive that the Adams Inn in Quincy and was priced higher but did provide a good expanded continental breakfast. Our purpose for stopping in Saugus was a visit with our friend “Frannie,” who had recently moved back to Lynn, MA, after living for seven years in New Jersey. After a bit of a search, we found her apartment, enjoyed a visit, then headed to dinner at Spuds Restaurant & Pub in Lynn. The food in this family restaurant was tasty and prices were reasonable.

Sunday morning, we headed to Norwalk, CT, for a very enjoyable overnight visit with my sister. Monday, we completed our trip home. In retrospect, our only regret was that most trees were not in peak fall color as we traveled through New Jersey, New York and most of Connecticut; but, we enjoyed flaming colors at home a week or two later. The trip certainly met or exceeded our expectations.

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