Monday, June 15, 2009
A Jaunt to Royalston
Royalston, Massachusetts is not exactly on the beaten track and I believe the residents like it that way. I've been to many New England towns, villages, cities and crossroads and there are few places more intriguing than Royalston. My friend Linda, who has lived in New Hampshire for over thirty years, had never been so I thought it would be fun to take her there.
This house was purchased by the Landmark Trust USA in recent years.
Located just below Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire and east of Warwick (another town that time forgot), Royalston is defined by rocky hills and chasms. Their main village is a series of mostly white buildings with green shutters, many of which are propped up in the old-fashioned style for the summer. South Royalston, four miles to the east, is where the general store is located, a bar and an old school.
There is an unselfconscious shabby chic quality to the village. Road signs are old and rusted, and likely from the middle of the 20th century, as are the street light fixtures and the utility poles. Their historic district commission–and they do have one–is clearly committed to keeping things real without making it too precious. Many homes might benefit from a coat of paint but I find this unaffected, and yet preserved, village core a refreshing pause in an often hyper-restored New England world. [For an interesting article on Royalston that appeared in the Magazine Antiques, click here.]
Many of the roads to Royalston are even more odd. It's as if the Massachusetts road crews have not been near them for a half century. For example, as soon as you cross Route 32 from Richmond into Massachusetts it is a "dodge the potholes and raised patches" proposition. Again, I sense the locals want it that way. Royalston Falls is owned by the The Trustees of Reservations and is a 200+ tract of preserved land with a 45 foot waterfall that drops into a basin (and often a swimming hole in summer). The roads in the region are thickly wooded and there is a sense that you are driving into the past and far away from the world as you know it. It is both an exhilarating and disconcerting feeling.
Before we got to Royalston we went to Sunflower's Café in Jaffrey, New Hampshire for a delicious brunch. Sunflower's has taken the old space that Aylmer's Grille used to occupy before they bought the Woodbound Inn in Rindge. It's still a great bistro-type atmosphere and it's always good to see downtown Jaffrey doing well and revitalized. After brunch we popped into Mindfull Books & Ephemera, a used bookstore on Main Street, and I always find something there that I've never seen before in book world and of course think I need. [This time a special find was an out-of-print cookbook by the incomparable Ivy Vann who, in addition to trying to develop a New Urbanist concept neighborhood on her proposed Larrabee Street in nearby Peterborough, is an amazing cook, knitter, teacher, community and church organizer, and all-around domestic goddess.]
In Richmond, we stopped at Pickering Farm, a quilt shop that had all sorts of yummy fabrics and other goodies and assorted antiques and reproductions. I enjoy fabrics but am not a sewer or quilter. I did, however, buy a transfer pattern of chickens that I can put onto linen toweling and attempt to embroider. This will keep my busy while I watch my Mennonite friends quilt on winter afternoons. And, I like vintage chickens. Linda found a square tin angel food cake pan and I was glad she beat me to it! (Sort of...)
The shop is in an old farmhouse and even the bathroom is well-appointed with charming primitives and other items. The friendly owner, Diana Gallagher, told me that she is hoping to restore her old pantry space that has been a laundry room for decades. I told her about The Pantry and she was happy to purchase it (I happened to have some in the trunk of my car and felt a bit like a peddlar man–a pantry peddler).
Mount Monadnock from Ingalls Road in Rindge, New Hampshire
After we went to Royalston and back, enjoying another country road back to Fitzwilliam again, we took Ingalls Road back to Jaffrey from Franklin Pierce University. This road is a class six road that has been discontinued for most of the way which means it isn't plowed in winter or maintained. It was once a main route to Rindge from Jaffrey. At the other end, in Jaffrey near Gilmore Pond, is the Victorian farmhouse that I used to rent long ago in another time and place when my daughter was a young girl.
On the several mile stretch, and one of the most isolated roads in the region, I literally almost ran into an old high school friend. I recognized the license plate on his SUV, we chatted for a few minutes and on we went. It was a surreal out-of-time experience. Further along, parents of an old friend were outside in their yard so we stopped and visited with them for a little while, too. What began as a drive into the past only ended in an odd drive down Memory Lane. It's been that kind of week.