75 Things Every New Englander Should Do …
Here’s a life list for anyone who loves the region, native and visitor alike.
by Ian Aldrich, with the editors of Yankee Magazine and contributors from past Yankee issues: Don Snyder, Jay Paris, James B. McLindon Jr., Robert Sullivan, Tim Clark, Todd Balf, Dale Salm, Nicholas Howe, John Elder, Geoffrey Norman, Brook Dojny
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<icompiled by Ian Aldrich, with the editors of Yankee Magazine
1. Actually Climb Bunker Hill Monument
Two hundred and ninety-four steps doesn’t sound like that many at the bottom, but you feel it about halfway up the narrow spire. They should install inspirational signs along the way, like “How much do you love your country?” When you get back down, make sure to yell, “We made it!” at the park ranger. You’ve earned it, and he’s used to it by now.
2. Bet on Ice-Out
In Kent, Connecticut, spring is heralded not by the groundhog but by ice-out on the Housatonic River. Each year townspeople place bets on the actual day, hour, and minute; volunteer firefighters rig a network of ropes and pulleys, with a clock mounted on a tripod to record the exact moment when the ice breaks up enough to move at least 100 feet downriver. The winner gets as much as a thousand bucks–along with the confidence of knowing that soon that heavy parka can be put away until November.
3. Shop at 3:00 A.M. in Freeport
Although on a busy Sunday afternoon the crush and din of the L.L. Bean retail shop resembles that of a discount department store, you can still brush up against the past, you can still feel its old Maine heart beating, if you come in the middle of the night in the middle of winter, when the temperature is dropping to zero and big black clouds are shouldering in across Casco Bay.
4. Sleep with the Symphony
The Apple Tree Inn sits high on a hillside overlooking Stockbridge Bowl–a noisy neighborhood, what with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood right across the road. On summer nights in the Berkshires, retire early and let one of the world’s great orchestras serenade you to sleep.
5. Learn a Really Good Mud-Season Joke
“Two farmers are sitting on a front porch looking out at a muddy road. All of a sudden, they see a hat belonging to another neighbor, Frank, come sliding down the road. They go to investigate and lift the hat from the road. Sure enough, there’s Frank underneath, moving steadily through the mud. ‘No problem,’ says Frank. ‘I’m on my horse.’ “
6. Go on a Flea Market Spree
In the gypsy world of the traveling flea-market circuit, any deal is possible. Legends of the Brimfield (Massachusetts) Antique Show include the Texan who brought his barbed-wire collection and swapped it for a lobster boat docked in Rhode Island. Brimfield can be irresistible and as memorable as a tour through a Middle Eastern bazaar, with the find of a lifetime just over there, at the next booth.
7. Negotiate the Braintree Merge
Leaving Braintree, Massachusetts? At the end of the entrance ramp to I-93 from Route 37 it’s ready, set, merge. In a mere tenth of a mile from the merge, a commuter must cross three of those lanes to catch the left-hand split to Boston, or else find work in Weymouth. Of course, everyone on I-93 knows exactly what you’re up to, and they don’t like it much, especially if it means touching that really wide pedal next to the gas. So stay calm–because you’ve got just a full two seconds per lane change.
8. Have Another Doughnut! Or Two, or Three
At Cold Hollow Cider Mill in Waterbury, Vermont, the cider is pressed year-round. But the real reason to go there is the cider doughnuts. The recipe: a secret mix of fresh cider, whole wheat, cinnamon, and cloves. The machine: a near-round-the-clock contraption that drops rings of dough into vegetable shortening, lets them fry for a minute, then transfers them to a conveyor belt that lifts the cakes out of the fat and onto trays. The result: a crisp shell, a soft, slightly dry inside, and a tangy aftertaste.
9. Watch the Revolution Begin, Again
In truth, no one knows who fired first, and the Lexington production doesn’t seek to answer the question. But every April 19, before the sun has cracked the morning sky, the American Revolution begins anew. The British charge with bayonets leveled. It’s a mélée; there’s shouting and smoke, and in the gray dawn, it really seems dark and frightening. It’s over in a flash; moments after that first shot, the women of Lexington are on the green tending to the dead–there are eight–and wounded. The British are marching out of town, on their way to Concord.
10. Get Your Kodak Moment With the Big Indian
Since it opened in 1914, the heart of the Mohawk Trail–a 38-mile neck-craning stretch of road between the Western Massachusetts towns of Greenfield and North Adams–has forced drivers to take their time. All those hairpin turns … all those vistas … all those totem poles. And one Big Indian. It’s this 28-foot-tall icon standing in front of its namesake shop in Charlemont that has for the last 38 years reminded travelers that it’s not just about the destination–it’s also about the beaded belts, headdresses, and rubber hatchets you collect along the way. Say “Cheese.”
11. Know Where the Chowder Turns Red
The chowder line is that geographic boundary demarcating the place where creamy-style New England chowder asserts itself as top choice over tomato-based Manhattan chowder and clear-broth Rhode Island chowder. In the 1930s, one Maine publication went so far as to claim that the addition of tomato to clam chowder was “the work of the Reds,” who sought to undermine “our most hallowed tradition,” and suggested that housewives and chefs adding tomatoes be forced “to dig a barrel of clams at high tide as penalty.”
12. Weave Around a Real New England Frost Heave
Frost heaves, like the Lord, work in mysterious ways, casting down some parts of the road and exalting others. We memorize the smoothest routes, until they become automatic. We become Mississippi riverboat pilots, meandering down the road, subconsciously aware of every hidden snag and mudbank.
13. Make a Fool of Yourself Playing Candlepin
With an all-time high score of 245 (out of a possible 300), candlepin is a game that refuses to be mastered. Some say the small balls and tiny pins make for a game of grace and precision; others claim they’re punishment from God to humble smug ten-pin bowlers. Either way, the first time you strike the two center pins–and nothing else–you should learn to laugh at yourself, because everyone else at the alley already is.
14. Take a Whirl Down Maine’s Snow Bowl
The toboggan run at the Camden Snow Bowl is not your neighborhood sledding hill. The piercing squeals, the throaty primal whelps, are an involuntary (and universal) response to New England’s longest toboggan chute, a 440-foot straightaway that’s 30-mph fast. It’s over before you know it; with your heart still in your throat, you may just want to come back for seconds.
15. Save Your Pennies
Since its founding in 1946, the original Vermont Country Store in Weston has been serving up the expected (maple syrup and wheels of cheddar) and the unexpected (pants stretchers, anyone?). But it’s at the shop’s sprawling penny-candy counter where nostalgia is sold by the scoop. From Mary Janes to Bit-O-Honeys to Root Beer Barrels, there are hundreds of options. It’s all self-serve–open a paper bag and get to work.
16. Find Yourself on Sugar Hill in June
Acres of purple, pink, and blue lupine blossoms … the Presidential Range all around … and the inns of this old New Hampshire resort open for teas and tours. What possible reason could there be not to see this at least once?
17. Drink Your Coffee Milk
Hey, it’s Rhode Island’s official state drink. You don’t think a million people could be wrong, do you?
18. Ride the Scenic Railroad
Unless you’ve ridden the Conway Scenic Railroad through Crawford Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in autumn–chugging through the color, across a trestle so narrow that it seems to have no visible means of support, spanning a rushing stream 94 feet below–you’ve never seen the region like this before.
19. Get the Best Seat at the Finest Sculling Race in the World
The site: Boston’s Charles River. The competition: 8,500 rowers. The fans: 300,000 of them, lining the banks to watch the three-mile-long Head of the Charles Regatta. But only the most knowledgeable will be perched at the absolute best lookout during this two-day autumn competition: Off Memorial Drive, in the shadow of Mount Auburn Hospital, there’s a turn in the river just before it gets to the Cambridge Boat Club. From there, you can see the racers stroking furiously as they jockey for position heading under the Eliot Bridge arch. These are the most dramatic moments of the competition. Arrive early, put down blankets, and if you stroll, have friends hold your spot. There’s competition on land, too.
20. Brown-Egg It
The health benefits may be debatable, but New Englanders know that when it comes to the almighty egg, those bigger, tastier brown-shelled varieties (thank you, Rhode Island Red!) put the whites to shame.
Bring Your Appetite to These Iconic New England Restaurants
Since the 1800s, Boston’s Locke-Ober restaurant has been serving New England cuisine to well-heeled Bostonians in search of elegance. For years it was a men-only establishment, so the steak au poivre and lobster dishes became a rite of passage for the male graduates of our local colleges and the place where many a business deal was transacted. It’s still a celebratory spot, and we’re happy to report that women are now not only welcome, but the joint’s co-owner is chef Lydia Shire.
22. J. T. Farnham’s or Woodman’s
It’s not strictly necessary, but a slight sunburn and some post-Crane Beach sand in your suit add to the ambience of a fried-clam roll at J. T. Farnham’s or Woodman’s in Essex, Massachusetts. Both offer briny, fresh, local clams battered and fried to perfection.
About halfway up the Maine shoreline on Route 1 in Waldoboro, you’ll find Moody’s Diner, a seemingly run-of-the-mill roadside eatery–that is, until you try the Grape-Nut pudding. No frills, no bells or whistles–just good, honest Yankee seacoast cooking.
24. Pepe’s, Sally’s, or Modern
There’s pizza, and then there’s apizza (pronounced ah-beetz)–and in New Haven, Connecticut, there’s a lot to go around. These crazy-good, thin-crusted Neapolitan-style pies got going at Pepe’s many decades ago, but Sally’s and Modern are doing their fair bit of work to keep the dough rolling.
25. Autumn Rendezvous at Dead Creek
In late October, about 12 miles northwest of Middlebury, Vermont, in a wildlife sanctuary at Dead Creek, nearly 15,000 wild snow geese rise out of classic fields for their morning and afternoon fly-abouts, filling the sky with the scintillating light of their wings and the echoes of their calls. Autumn in New England has arrived.
26. This Land Is Tuttle Land
Talk corn, or summer squash, or blueberries with Will Tuttle, an 11th-generation farmer whose family has been working the same patch of earth (120 acres and counting) in Dover, New Hampshire, since 1632, making it America’s oldest family farm in continuous operation.
28. Eat Your Sauerkraut
No marketing blitz. No blaring billboards. Just as it has since it first opened for business in 1918, Morse’s Sauerkraut in Waldoboro, Maine, celebrates the season each mid-September with a simple ad in local Midcoast papers. It boasts just two words: Kraut’s Ready.
29. Test Yourself on the Batten Kill
What the Ganges is to devout Hindus, the Nile to archaeologists, the Mississippi to Mark Twain … Vermont’s Batten Kill is all of that to dedicated Eastern fly-fishermen. You don’t just come up here for a casual weekend of fishing. And maybe, just maybe, what you’ve learned in other streams–Colorado’s, Michigan’s, even New York’s–doesn’t apply here. The sensitive waters … those fussy trout. In May, when the Hendrickson hatch is in full swing, hearty, driven, focused anglers descend on this river, matching wits with nature and the hungry fish. The promise of a new season of dreams awaits.
Ten Recipes You Need to Make At Least Once
30. New England Boiled Dinner
31. Yankee Pot Roast
32. Boston Cream Pie
33. Boston Baked Beans
34. Down East Clam Chowder
35. Indian Pudding
36. Boston Brown Bread (in a Coffee Can)
37. Anadama Bread
38. Sugar on Snow
40. Find Your Own Separate Peace at Phillips Exeter Academy
Listen for the First Academy Building’s 6 o’clock bell– maybe even peek inside for a look at the “long white flight of marble stairs”–or just make your way around the Center Common as you tour the campus that inspired John Knowles’ timeless coming-of-age classic.
41. Fowl History
Head to Adamsville, Rhode Island–quite possibly the only place on earth that’s dedicated
a monument to a chicken– and find out why the Rhode Island Red is New England’s most important bird.
42. Know a Little Something About the Other Old Man of the Mountain
Perhaps you’ve taken in the spectacular evening views of the Pemigewasset Wilderness Area from the porch of the Galehead Hut. Maybe you’ve savored a lumberjack doughnut dipped in sugar at Zealand Falls. Or possibly you’ve found yourself engaged in a serious checkers contest in the game room of Mizpah Spring. Regardless of how you’ve taken advantage of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s eight huts in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest, you have Joe Dodge, the visionary behind the creation of the AMC cabins, to thank.
43. Eat Your Apple Pie with a Slice of Cheddar
Like Burt and I … like Fenway and the Green Monster … like the month of March and Town Meeting. These two institutions were made to be together.
44. Take a Swim in Maine’s Penobscot Bay
Better than coffee, better than chocolate–it’s the real Yankee pick-me-up. Those same cold Atlantic waters that reach maybe 60 degrees (in July!) and churn around Deer Isle, Eggemoggin, and Castine produce not only Maine’s dark-shelled lobsters but also the biggest goosebumps on the East Coast.
45. Make a Date With a Registered Maine Guide
Thoreau hired guides when he explored the Maine wilderness; they found him a bit of a complainer, more comfortable in environs not as raw. Whether you want to hike or paddle as deep into the wild as you’ll find in New England–or if you want, in season, to land trout or find a whitetail or a bear–Registered Maine Guides know the territory better than anyone. Not just anyone can wear the famous shoulder patch; the State of Maine tests to be sure they know their stuff.
46. Play the Name Game
Take a gander at the array of political campaign buttons at Robie’s Country Store in Hooksett, New Hampshire–a veritable required stop for presidential candidates come primary season.
47. Argue About Where the Sun Rises First
Untold generations of Maine-iacs know that Katahdin is where America has its first peek at the morning sun–everyone, that is, except people in Washington County, where a welcome sign proclaims “Sunrise County, USA.” And don’t forget about Cadillac Mountain–and the sleeper of this controversy, Mars Hill in Aroostook County. The answer? Depends on the time of year, and, of course, whom you ask.
Talk About the Big Storms Like an Old-Timer
The Blizzard of 1888:
Known as the Great White Blizzard, it dumped 50 inches of snow on central New England.
The Hurricane of ’38:
Gusts reached 186 mph; deaths (including New England and New York victims) numbered 690.
The Blizzard of ’78:
Winds as high as 100 mph were recorded, and that snow–55 inches of the stuff in some parts.
The Ice Storm of 2008:
More than 400,000 homes in New Hampshire alone went without power, some for several weeks.
52. Keep Your Eyes Peeled for the Lake Champlain Monster
The theories go on and on. Champ could be a reptile–or a large eel, or a sturgeon, or none of the above. He could be one or many. He could be a species known to modern biology or a genus never before discovered. But, most important, he could be.
53. Know the Pain That Came With Being a Red Sox Fan Pre-2004
It hasn’t always been about pink hats and multiple World Series titles, folks. Johnny Pesky holding the ball … Bill Buckner and Game 6 … Bucky Dent in ’78 … and Aaron Bleeping Boone. ‘Nuff said, right?
54. Learn the Story of a True New England Tall Tale
The name: Barnabas “Tall Barney” Beal. Birthplace: Jonesport, Maine. Size: 6’7″ with a weight of 300 pounds. The legend: His strength was renowned–as were the stories, like the one where he supposedly killed a horse with a single blow.
55. Visit E. B. White Country
Read about Wilbur, Charlotte, and the rest of the gang from Charlotte’s Web; then visit Maine’s Blue Hill Fair, the now 119-year-old event that inspired it all.
56. See the Potato Blossoms of Maine’s Aroostook County
“The County” has been called “the Crown of Maine.” To travel up, up, to Presque Isle, its largest town, almost three hours north and east of Bangor, is to climb to the top of the world. Here, it’s the earthly tuber, not the scenery, that defines the region. This Maine industry is 250 years old. Andovers, Superiors, Shepodys, Russet Burbanks, Kennebecs, Snowdens: These varieties, along with 50 or 60 others, are part of the everyday vocabulary of the region, where the local economy hinges on them and a meal isn’t a meal without a spud.
57. Visit Robert Frost’s House–Any of Them
For someone who claimed to have “miles to go before I sleep,” Robert Frost sure made a lot of pit stops; he seemed to drop into every town along the way to buy a house. Eight different New England towns can claim to be the poet’s home (four still have houses you can tour), making Frost the most ubiquitous local hero in the region.
58. Have an Awkward Conversation With Someone Who Won’t Break Character
Maybe it was a Pilgrim at Plimoth Plantation, or maybe a soldier at a Civil War reenactment, or someone claiming to be Mark Twain–we’ve all been there. For better or worse, living history is alive in New England, filling our museums with authentically clad time travelers who want nothing more than to tell you about their plough or the recent wave of white plague (tuberculosis). That’s the thing about having more history than the rest of the country–there’s more of it to come back to haunt you.
59. Watch Santa Make His Arrival … on the Water
Forget the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. At the “Christmas by the Sea” festival in Kennebunkport, Maine, Santa arrives in a fashion every Mainer can appreciate: by lobster boat.
Fill Up on Something Other Than a Boiled Dinner
60. Burritos: El Mexicano, Manchester, New Hampshire
The creations here feature layers of rice and beans, plus sparkling-fresh cilantro and chopped onions, along with a choice of meats (chicken, beef, or four pork variations) or just cheese. Just as important: They’re expertly rolled, so that the flour tortilla weaves between the filling ingredients, with far less spillage than other burritos.
61. Pierogi: Staropolska, New Britain, Connecticut
They’re large and plump, pan-fried in butter, and filled with mixtures of cheese and potato, bacon, beef, veal, mushrooms, and sauerkraut. The surprise treat is the dessert pierogi–a summery burst of raspberry.
62. Paella: Toro, Boston, Massachusetts
The great flavor comes from cooking all of the ingredients–the rice, vegetables, saffron, chicken, seafood, sausage, and peas–to their rightful tastes and textures without messing up the others.
63. Poutine: Chez Vachon, Manchester, New Hampshire
This place gets it right: The fries are crispy, and the mild cheddar curds are just beginning to melt under the chicken gravy, which is black-pepper spicy.
64. Play It Humble
Head to York, Maine, and pretend you’re not a tourist by trying not to take a picture of Nubble Light–perhaps the most photographed lighthouse in the world.
65. Raise a Glass
No, it’s not the bar where everybody knows your name, but Doyle’s in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, which first opened its doors in 1882, is the watering hole to go to if you want to drench yourself in Boston political history, the city’s Irish heritage, or, you know, any of the 21 draft brews on tap. Cheers!
66. Speak Like a Regular at Louis’ Lunch
At this New Haven, Conn., institution, birthplace of the burger, tell ’em to “burn one, take it through the garden, and pin a rose on it” (grilled, with lettuce, tomato, and onion). Grab a “stretch” (Coke) and finish up with a “blonde with sand” (coffee with cream and sugar).
67. Grin and Bear It: Bits of Life Every New Englander Has Learned to Contend With
Blackfly season: We know not to wear dark-colored clothes.
May frost: We know not to plant before Memorial Day.
Mud season: We know enough to park and walk down that “quaint” dirt road in March.
Boiled dinners: We just know that we’re supposed to like them. So we do.
Hollywood’s Boston accents: We know that Matt Damon should play all Beantown characters.
68. Start Your Cape Weekend on a Thursday
Beat the traffic and get a jump on a long weekend that may see you take in a movie at the Wellfleet Drive-In, see an over-the-water sunset at Race Point, and head away from land to see right and humpback whales breach the water.
69. Get Your Red, White & Blue On
Since 1785, the historic seaport town of Bristol, Rhode Island, has marked Independence Day with as much spirit and allegiance as Boston holds for its annual Patriots’ Day marathon. Its anchor: the oldest continual Fourth of July parade in the country. The roads are center-striped in red, white, and blue; marching bands wail; drum-and-bugle corps compete; parade floats amaze; the orations inspire; and all the while a little town in a little state comes up big in celebrating our country’s birth.
70. Tour the USS Constitution
The quick skinny on the world’s oldest commissioned warship still afloat. Launch: October 21, 1797, Boston’s Hartt Shipyard; one of the first six ships commissioned by the new U.S. Navy. Size: 204 feet long; 220-foot mainmast (just 1 foot shorter than Bunker Hill Monument). Crew capacity: 500 (uncomfortable) men. Name game: Earned its nickname, Old Ironsides, after a victorious battle against the British in the War of 1812. Current home: Charlestown, MA.
71. Read a Timeless New England Book (Any of These Will Do)
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
We Took to the Woods, by Louise Dickinson Rich
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
72. Tour the Bones in Our Closet
We may not be proud of all of our history, but that won’t stop us from putting in a gift shop and charging admission. Morbidly inclined travelers can pick from an assortment of macabre New England attractions, including the Lizzie Borden B&B in Fall River, Mass.; a tour of Boston Strangler crime scenes; and pretty much the entire city of Salem, also in the curiously ghoulish Bay State.
73. Buy the Maple Syrup That Locals Buy
Yes, you can pay more for that Vermont Fancy, but savvy locals know the better deal and a stronger maple taste comes from the Grade B stuff, sold in bulk at food co-ops and small shops around the region.
74. Debate the Cakes
Rhode Islanders have come to blows over jonnycakes for any number of reasons–over how they originated (Indians vs. settlers), over how to spell the name (journey-cake vs. Johnny cake vs. Jonny cake vs. johnnycake vs. jonnycake), over which kind of corn to grind for jonnycake meal (whitecap flint vs. white dent), and even over how to grind that corn (hot and round vs. flat and cool). Of course the most heated arguments occur over the “correct” way to make them: Debates about the merits of South County (West Bay)-style (thick, made with boiling water) vs. Newport County (East Bay)-style (thin, made with cold milk) have even reached the Rhode Island legislature. It’s enough to work up a healthy appetite.
75. Know That Covered Bridges Weren’t Covered to Keep Out the Snow
Joe Allen of Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, who answered Yankee reader inquiries for more than 35 years in his “Sayings of the Oracle” column, had a short fuse when it came to questions regarding the origin of the covered bridge. One of his last answers proved to be the hottest: “Jesus for Guard Almighty, we thought all hands knew by this time,” he wrote back to one reader. “Bridges were covered, damn fool, for the same reason women used to wear petticoats–to protect their underpinnings. Ever hear that wood rots when it gets wet? Your asinine suggestion that they were covered to keep the snow off the road is dead wrong. In fact, I recollect throwing snow inside the bridges after a snowstorm so our sleighs wouldn’t grind on the wood.” Rest in peace, Joe.