Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Saints Preserve Us............................Happy Halloween

The past is something I have always been intrigued with, local past especially. One particular morning some years ago, while I was still fumbling about like a lost hiker trying to decide which career path to take, I had a unique opportunity. I was going to sit down with a resident of the area that had weathered eighty-two autumns in her life time to record an oral history. One autumn in particular she remembered as if it was today, and I was to be the only one she had shared it with since it happened.

The elderly woman greeted me at her front door.

"You, sir, look quite lost", she smiled through the screen door.

I didn't want to tell her how dead on she was with her observation, both geographically and personally.

"Terribly sorry, " I offered, "I haven never driven out this far before. I guess I was getting a bit frantic looking for your place".

"If you had St. Christopher with you, you would not be late. The Saints preserve us.", she smiled even wider as she opened the door for me.

Elsbeth Mary Stow was born not far out of Sturbridge in a five room home her family had owned since her grandfather had come back from Georgia after the Civil War in 1866. He had stayed on longer than the rest of his division to assist with the repatriating of Union prisoners of war held by the confederates. After serving 4 long years in the Army, he came home a tired and withered man, but determined to make a living for himself and his family. The farm did wonderfully well over the years with acres of pasture land for raising his beef cattle, and crops.

On the land there was aver 150 acres of forest which most in town were welcome to use for hunting. There was more than enough game on the land for all since his parcel adjoined so many other larger forested patches of land from Sturbridge to Palmer, and north to Greenfield.

Four young men also grew up in the same area as Elsbeth. Harry DuPont, Edgar White, Samuel Flint, and Nate Campbell. These boys were together everyday of their lives from the time they could walk. They went to the same school house together in Fiskdale, worked the same horse farm in town, and when they grew older, often dated the same girls. They were as close as brothers could be without being joined by genes.

As teenagers they would often sit on the large rocks lining the Quinebaug River and talk about the world around them. The world was shown to them through the newspapers that were found in town, and by visitors traveling through. The war in Europe took on a special meaning to them. They each wanted to participate in it and to teach the Hun a lesson they would soon not forget, but they were young in 1915, and the war would have to wait. In the meantime, they lived a full life here, and one boy, Nate Campbell, became very attached to Miss Elsbeth Mary Stow.

Their relationship grew, as some teenage relationships do, and back then, it was usually something that would last a lifetime, but in the summer of 1917, Nate shared something with Elspeth that would put their relationship on hold.

In the summer of 1917 The 26th Infantry Division was formed, and was formally activated on August 22 of that year in Boston, Massachusetts. The Yankee Division, as it became known would ship out to France in the fall, and Nate, and his friends wanted to be part of the Expeditionary Forces that were going there to Halt the Hun. Elsbeth was stunned. She was all for Nate serving his country, but not now, not when their lives were coming together in a future she saw as bright and promising.

It did little good to argue the point Elsbeth soon found out, and she prepared herself for the goodbyes that would come in August. On that sad day, at the train station in Southbridge in the summer of 1917, they said their goodbyes. They kissed, and then Elsbeth took from her coat pocket a small box and gave it to Nate as he was boarding the train. "We will always be together, Nate. Come home to me", she whispered to him. "I will. I promise", Nate whispered back to her.

She told him that in the box was something to protect him when he got to France, and to remember who she was and where she lived for when he came home. She said the last part with a smile. Nate clutched the tiny box in his hand, blew her a kiss as the train pulled away, and all four boys waved goodbye until they were far from sight.

On their train ride to Boston, the boys swore that they would be there for each other no matter what happened and that they would all return home together. With that oath taken, they sat quietly for the remainder of the trip. Nate took the small box that Elsbeth had given him out of his coat pocket, and opened it. Inside was a large medal of St. George, the patron Saint of soldiers. On the front of the medal was a likeness of St. George with the words, "St. George Protect Me". Nate stared at the medal in his hand for sometime, and then turned it over. On the reverse side was the following,

"To Nate Cambell
May God Keep You Safe
Elsbeth Stow Fiskdale, Mass."

Nate smiled as he read the words. She had made sure that her name and address were on the back of the medal. She wanted him to come back to her, and was making sure he didn't forget where she was.

In France, it took a bit of time for his unit to actually engage the enemy, but once they had, it was hell. The letters he sent home to Elsbeth were detailed, and as time went on they became more worrisome to her. His boyish patriotic enthusiasm had not so much waned, but rather been taken over over by the realities of what he was seeing each day. He had no regrets for enlisting, but saw little good he was doing since each day was a constant artillery barrage onto their trenches just outside of Verdun. When they were able to leave their earthworks, they would charge ahead, and gain fifty to one hundred yards only to loose it again the following day. This went on for sometime.

During their time in the trenches, the boys looked out for one another, and swore that they would all go home together.

In October 0f 1918 there was a a horrible barrage of artillery from the enemy. It seemed to go on for hours. Finally, when there was a lull, a whistle was heard, and the troops that had been leaning into the side of the earthworks for most of the day for cover stood up, and went over the top towards the German trenches on the other side of the grey, black turned up earth. They were half way across the moonscape of craters and charred earth when the German artillery began again, and this time it was landing in their midst. The boys ran with all their might toward the German lines, through the smoke, and air filled with flying dirt and mud, and over the countless bodies along the way. It was then that Private Nathaniel Campbell disappeared into a cloud of dirt and broken trees leaving behind only a hole in the saturated ground.

The three remaining friends fell to the ground, and covered their heads from the the flying debris with their arms. The artillery eventually fell back, and after a short time, was silent once again. Slowly they looked about the world around them, and as the smoke began to lift, they did not see one person standing for as far as they could see ahead , or behind them.

Nate was gone.

For the next few hours they took turns scouring the ground where they had last seen their friend finding only pieces of comrades, helmets, and rifles. As they were about to return to their trench, Harry gave a yell from somewhere in the distance, and the others saw a form in the smoke waving an arm, beckoning to them to come fast. When they arrived they found Harry sitting in a crater with his back against the mud, crying. He stretched out his hand to Sam, and opened it. In his blackened palm was the medal Elsbeth had given Nate at the train station.

They never found Nates remains that day, or in the weeks that followed. The Armistice was signed just three weeks after the barrage, and the boys searched the battlefield until they were ordered to return home.

When the arrived home they all went to call on Elsbeth. She had found out several weeks after the battle that Nate was among the missing, but had held out hope that he would be found alive. When the three remaining comrades arrived on her porch that January morning, she knew she would never see her love again.

That morning the friends told Elsbeth what had happened that day in France, and when they were done, Sam extended his hand and placed the medal she had given Nate into her hand. She clutched it tightly, and then dropped her head and cried.

Elsbeth never married, nor did she ever remove that medal from around her neck. In every photograph taken of her over the years, every portrait, or candid family picture it was always there, hanging on a silver chain until the day it was gone.

A few months ago, Elsbeth told me, the medal was no longer around her neck. She became frantic, and thought the clasp must have broken and the medal fallen off during her travels during the day. The loss of her remembrance had definitely left it's mark on her. According to friends, and family, she was no longer the spirited woman she had always been, instead, she had become quiet, almost subdued. Elsbeth had always held out hope that the medal would be found and returned to her. Everyone in town knew the medal very well, and the story behind it.

As Elsbeth spoke to me about her lost love, the lost medal, and her life since that day, I felt as if it was a cathartic for her. She was releasing so much emotion that she had held deep inside for almost her entire life, that she seemed to be speaking more freely, and with a certain brightness as she came to the end of her story. I was honored that she chose to share her life with me, but could not help but think there was more to her story.

And, there was.

"Two things happened this week that I wanted to share with you", and with that Elsbeth stood up from the wing back she had occupied since my arrival, went to the kitchen, and made two more cups of tea leaving me alone in her living room wondering what more she had to tell me. She returned in a few minutes and sat down again.

"I received a visitor this week", she told me as she poured our tea, " A visitor from the Army."

"The Army?"

"Yes, a Captain Walton, and his assistant, Sergeant Masters came by the day before yesterday. I wasn't expecting visitors at all, so I was quite surprised to find the two soldiers standing at my door."

"Why were they here, Miss Stow?"

She sipped her tea, and as she pulled the cup from her lips she said, "They found Nate."

I felt a tingle go up my spine to my neck, and a chill came over me almost simultaneously. "They found Nate? Where? How?". I was almost stammering as I asked her.

"Have you ever heard of 'The Diggers?'", she asked.

"The Diggers were Australian troops on the western Front during the War, right?"

"True, but I am talking about the modern day Diggers. They are amateur battlefield archaeologists. they are from France, Germany, Belgium, England, all the countries involved in the Great War, and they use maps, and shovels to find the remains of battlefields. They also find the remains of those that died there. Once they find the remains of a soldier, they notify the authorities, and a team comes out from Brussels, or Paris, and help identify those remains."

"Are you saying Nate was found by these diggers in France?"

"Yes, but there was little to identify any of the remains they found that day. Leather boots, buttons, and metal insignia of the unit they were with was all that was left for the most part. One set of remains was identified by the contents of a leather wallet inside a rusted mess kit."

"But what about Nate? How did they identify him? How did they know for sure the remains were his?

"The Diggers had mapped out the battlefield and marked on the map where each unit was on each day of the war. They also took into account the men that were missing from each unit, and the most probable location each soldier was when they died. Nate's friends had been very specific in their report about the location. Today, the battle field is a green field, with scattered concrete pillboxes still remaining. The Diggers knew they had the right place, but to make a positive identification they needed more."

"Dog tags?", I asked.

"They were there, but the cord that joined them together had long since rotted away, and the small, round tags were scattered in the dirt amongst all of the remains so it was impossible to identify which remains were Nates. No, they didn't use the dog tags. They used the one thing that was actually around the remains. They used this."

And with that, Elsbeth took from a pocket on the front of her dress an object and placed it into my hand.

It was her lost medal!

I am not sure if I dropped the medal, or it simply fell from my hand onto the table, but as it lay there on the table cloth, and I read,

"To Nate Cambell
May God Keep You Safe
Elsbeth Stow Fiskdale, Mass."

The medal had been found intertwined with Nates remains.

Nate Cambell did not have any surviving family left in the area, and was buried in a plot Elsbeth had purchased many years ago here in town. The medal she had given to him was buried with his remains. The following week, Elsbeth joined her love forever.

Nate had kept his promise, he had come home.

The day of the funereal I walked back to my car parked in one of the little lanes in the cemetery. As I sat inside and glanced up at my rear view mirror, I almost stopped breathing. Hanging from the mirror on a long chain was a St. Christopher medal.

Saints preserve us.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Trail Committee: Last Call For Help

Volunteers are needed to help on this final volunteer trail day for 2009, Saturday, Oct 31st 12 noon to 3 PM. The Trail Committee wants to put its finishing touches on both the Pond loop and Cabin loop trails on the Heins Farm conservation lands.

Work includes spreading fine gravel, rock and root removal, along with some barb wire removal and trash pick up. Small utility type tractors urgently needed! Bring work shoes, work gloves, hard steel rakes, shovels and wheel barrows if you have them. Don't forget your water bottle!

Meet at the trail head parking lot, 197A Leadmine Rd.
Call Randy Redetzke for any questions: 508-344-9823


--Tom Chamberland

You Have Got To Be Kidding Me

I received the following message on my iPhone yesterday regarding my previous post.

Ticket number 101000088093 City of Boston
Status: Closed
Reason: Sign readjusted
Updated Oct 28, 12:18 PM

The sign was turned 90 degrees to the left. Now, pedestrians coming across the street will know not to stop.

You know, there are few things in life one cannot change. First comes death. Can't do much about it. It happens. The next thing on list is stupidity. Can't do much about it either. It happens.

As I said in my last post, the program may be great, but if the data isn't handled right, it's pretty much worthless. I guess all this new smart phone application did was put out there, for the world to see, just how city workers process information, and correct problems.

Some things can't change, no matter how noble the attempts.

I guess we can apply that rule to more important things in the world right now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

There's No App for Not Having A Clue...Yet

One would think that the signs to the left would be completely understood by Boston drivers.

One would think.

Unfortunately, as funny as it is to see the two signs arguing with each other, and drivers actually scratching their heads trying to figure out just what the heck to do, they aren't completely ignored--most drivers follow the advice of the top sign.

The message given here is like a sign at a rotary stating, "Vehicles in the rotary have the right of way", and another sign on the road leading into the rotary stating simply, "Go For It".

I am at this intersection for twelve plus hours a day and I see most cars roll through the intersection without coming to a complete stop. This includes official vehicles for the City of Boston, police vehicles, taxis, shuttle buses, and private vehicles as well. Oh, some come to a complete stop if there are pedestrians in the crosswalk, but even then most will roll up and through the crosswalk in time with the pedestrians walking speed so they are on there way just as the walker touches the opposite curb. Do the signs have anything to do with enabling this behavior? I haven't a clue. It may just be the rule of the road for little side streets in Boston, but it sure doesn't help.

Are we that pressed to save time that we need to save every possible moment in our lives so that we what? Twitter more often? Probably.

The above signs are in the City of Boston, and the City of Boston has recently added an "app", or application, for smart phone users to post complaints such as graffiti, potholes, traffic lights not working, or anything else one feels the city may need to correct. This is a great idea. One can post the information either anonymously, or by using ones real name and contact information.

I used the app the other night and posted the photo, and explanation on the cities app. I figured it would do two things:
  1. Bring a smile to the city workers face as they scrolled through the countless complaints they must follow up on each day, and
  2. Start the process of moving the top sign a bit down the road so that it does not compete with the actual stop sign.
Simple. I know, most drivers should be able to understand the difference in the signs, but they don't.

A few hours after I posted the photo and my reason for bringing attention to it I did receive a phone call from Boston City Hall, but they did not leave a message. I did receive an email however:

show details 10:37 AM

Mr. Hersee:

Please clarify specific request. We are unable to discern what you are asking for.

(sigh) Seems like the person that actually posted the two signs together has been transferred to the department answering complaints.

There is a lesson in this. One can develop technology to fit the needs of society, and offer it to help save time, correct problems, or offer advise , but unless the folks at the receiving end of the information have a clue as what to do with the submitted information, then it is useless.

The meeting room that lent itself to the development of the application was full of promise as the developers came up with the idea, but they never figured on the person at the other end of the complaint being unable to figure out what to do with it.

So, what the heck has this have to do with Sturbridge? Well, nothing really, except that as our town moves on in this new century, and they put in place technologies to make our lives easier, they need to think how those technologies will not only be used, but what to do with the information once they have it. Take a lesson from Boston.

In the meantime, keep the new technology coming, we'll iron out the wrinkles as it is implemented, and hopefully there will be a person on the other end of the technology that has a clue. If not, then I'm sure there will be an app for that soon.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What? No Sturbridge?


New England's Best Small Towns

From mountains to shoreline, our region offers no end of burgs filled with postcard ingredients: gleaming church spires, warm old red brick, jewel-like town greens. The 15 best towns, though, have something extra—a certain flavor that offers not just great snapshots, but also a great escape.

The harbor at sunset in Camden, Maine. Photo by Martin Child/Getty Images

Page 1 of 16

Because... it's a little slice of Napa in New England.


Because... your great-great-grandparents might have slept here.

Because... it's like a movie set (with actual movie stars)!

Because... of this place.

Because... ivory towers make for a storybook escape. By William Martin

Because... sometimes the river trumps the sea.

Because... it's home to the Berkshires' own Restaurant Row.

Because... this is the Main Street of all Main Streets.

Because... this is what picture-perfect looks like.

Because... of this guy.

Because... if you can imagine it, they can make it.

Because... a piece of history can be yours for the haggling.

Because... your kids (and spouse) will thank you. By Steve Almond

Because... the pickings are prime.


Because... you can go a little wild. By Amy Sutherland

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's Time For A Do-Over

This past September marked the beginning of the development of a new Master Plan for Sturbridge. The last Master Plan developed was in 1988, and although full of wonderful intent, there was little that ever came of the plan. It was if it had to be done since the Commonwealth mandates that one be done, and there it was left. The next step in the process, implementation, was left out, and only a few things were ever started from that plan.

This time around I hope there will a different energy. One thing that is encouraging is at the meeting in September it was stressed by Senior Planner Ralph Wilmer of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. is that once the plan is completed that it be utilized.

Well, one would think, "Well, duh.", but things have a way of not getting to that point here in town in the past. After spending countless hours on developing a plan specific to the growth of our town why would a plan sit stagnant on the shelf?

We can only speculate, but that is in the past, and we are about to embark on a new journey, and I have a good feeling about the leadership. I know a no-nonsense approach will be taken, and that the plan will be used as a guide for our growth for years to come.

How can I be so sure? Simple. Unlike 20 years ago when the last plan was drawn up, and there was no follow through, there is this whole new way of our watching from a distance, and to insure that it is not only designed correctly, with the entire town in mind, but used with each new endeavor -- we can watch it all online. We have almost instant access to not only what goes on in town government, but we can instantly voice our approval, or dismay. Those that are on boards, and committees receive feedback just as instantly, and therefore the accountability factor is not only stronger, but more widespread than in the past. People respond to input.

For the process to start off on the right foot a general survey of the overall needs of the town will be made, input from the residents of Sturbridge will be taken, both of which are already being planned, and a sharing of that information at a public forum in November. A web site devoted to the the process of developing of the Master Plan would be an excellent idea. Minutes of meetings, maybe video of special speakers, and a way of further offering input to the committee would be ideal.

By setting the expectation of accountability early on, it should be easier to maintain that accountability throughout the entire planning , and most importantly, the implementation process.

I wish the committee members the best of luck. This is no small chore. I will also be watching, reading, and commenting on things as the process evolves. I believe we are in a different place, here in Sturbridge, than we were just 18 months ago. I really do believe that with most everyone being on the same page for once (yes, I realize there are folks still reading the foreword, too) that we are more than able to do develop this plan right, and to implement it over the long term.

I don't see this plan sitting on the shelf underutilized for 20 years. There are too many folks out there that will be watching more closely than in the past.

We all perform better when we have an audience.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Feel The Fall

This past weekend Mary and I took a ride up to Killington, Vermont. We heard there was something going on with the leaves up there.

There was.

Fall foliage viewing is one of the most underrated fall sports. Well, actually, it's not truly a sport unless you add something to it like hiking, horse back riding, or mountain biking, then it becomes a more active thing. Although, there are some folks that treat this passive act like a full contact sport. There isn't anything scarier than walking along a pretty country road and seeing a 1974 Mercury headed toward you and all you can see behind the wheel are white knuckles and blue hair.

In that instant you will become a leaf-peepin' marathoner.

Yes, I, too, like to drive all over heck and stare off at "the colors, man", but I also like to get out and feel the fall as well.

This weekend we felt the fall.

Saturday was sunny and bright, just perfect for doing autumn stuff like looking at leaves, stopping by farm stands, drinking hot mulled cider, and eating maple flavored things. When the sun hits your face through the cool fall air under puffy clouds hanging in a very blue sky it is like the last birthday present in the pile--it's always the best, and one you savor most till next year.

The photo above was taken on that day in Woodstock. It was a great day.

That was Saturday.

On Sunday it was in the low 30's at the base of Killington Mountain a mile or so from our hotel. We froze our summer skin right off that morning. That dose of Fahrenheit was numbing, but at the end of the day, it was appreciated.

We ascended the 6200 feet up the now cloud shrouded mountain in a gondola, and slowly the land pulled away from us in the distance. The clouds began to settle around our enclosed ship, and in a few minutes we were at the top of the mountain. The only way we actually knew that we had arrived was because the doors opened and the gondola slowed down.

Outside it was if we had been teleported to a different world. It was at least 15 degrees colder at the summit than it had been at the base, and it was snowing. There was even a dusting of snow stuck to the gondola deck and on the ground surrounding the summit building.,

We had been transported directly into winter. That autumn scene above normally takes two months to become December. This time it took just 24 hours.

We went inside of the summit building and bought a couple of hot drinks at the restaurant, found an empty table by the large floor to ceiling windows, and stared off into the clouds only eight feet from our faces. The view was so, so...,well, white. Just white. No color. Just white.

What a difference a day makes.

Very soon, maybe within a week, those peak fall colors we enjoyed in Vermont will be in our backyard here in Sturbridge. Every day they are a-changing more and more.

Enjoy it now.

Feel the fall sun on your face. Take a walk around Westville Lake, or around the Heins Parcel on Leadmine Road this weekend. Savor the Autumn now, because December will be here tomorrow.

Photo above: Snow making at Killington Resort, VT on October 13, 2009.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Are We Cool Enough?

From Nominate our town at

America's Coolest Small Towns

Every now and then, you stumble upon a town that's gotten everything right—great coffee, food with character, shop owners with purpose. These 10 spots have it all, in perfectly small doses.

Cayucos, Calif.
(pop. 3,000)
About halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Cayucos is everything you want in a mellow beach town — an anomaly on the increasingly built-up coast. While the vibe is decidedly relaxed, two things get residents fired up: serious waves and serious food. Surfer Wade Rumble bridges both worlds as owner of Rogue Wave Cafe, where most mornings, after drying off his board, he sells fair-trade, organic coffee beans. Just off Highway 1, Cayucos requires a dedicated detour, which has helped it remain untouched. "We have beautiful beaches and beautiful people," says Christa Hozie, who runs Brown Butter Cookie Company with her sister Traci Nickson; the duo make super-addictive sea-salt-topped cookies. "I came to visit three years ago and thought it was such a magical place," explains Hozie. Grace Lorenzen had a similar reaction. She moved back to the Central Coast from Seattle in 2002 and now manages the five-room Cass House Inn (from $165). The restored 1860s Victorian has a fitting soundtrack for the coastal town: the lulling surf. — Mario López-Cordero

Lexington, Virg.
(pop. 6,867)
right out of a Norman Rockwell
Locals often describe this 19th-century hamlet between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains as "right out of a Norman Rockwell painting." Lexington, about 50 miles north of Roanoke, is the kind of place where people are invested in making sure history is paid real respect. Take Hull's Drive-In Theatre: When the 1950s institution was in danger of closing in 1999, a group of 50 — dubbed the Hull's Angels — banded together to save it; they succeeded after raising an initial $10,000 selling popcorn. Meanwhile, family-owned B&Bs like the 1868 Magnolia House Inn dot Main Street (from $139). "It's like a movie set," says resident Siobhan Lomax. While history has a hold, modernity has entered in just the right way, in part thanks to Lomax, whose two clothing boutiques, P.S. Pumpkinseeds, and George and Bob, stock labels such as Trina Turk and Penguin. At the year-old Red Hen, chef Tucker Yoder, who trained at the New England Culinary Institute, creates dishes like pork belly with garlic scapes. The sense of community has proven fertile ground for his business — and family. "I have three kids, and I don't have to worry about them riding their bikes down the street," says Yoder. Norman Rockwell indeed. — Mario López-

Breaux Bridge, La.
(pop. 8,200)
big crawfish in a small pond
In the world's crawfish capital, an hour southwest of Baton Rouge, days revolve around Cajun meals and music. Locals two-step to upbeat zydeco tunes at places like Café Des Amis, a brick-walled space that's famous for its crawfish étouffée and where the dining room doubles as a dance floor. The music is what drew long-time New Orleans resident Ellen Wicker back to the area from Maryland five years ago. "I was out dancing, and I met a guy who knew of a B&B that was for sale," Wicker recalls. She picked up the converted 1860s French Creole-style house and opened Maison Des Amis, a B&B with a half-acre of landscaped gardens and a gazebo looking out on the bayou in the back (from $100). "Locals in Breaux Bridge are just friendly and generous," she says. "Right after the hurricane, families took in people they didn't know from Adam and put them up." While his New Orleans shop was being reconstructed after Katrina hit, decorator Patrick Dunne opened satellite locations of his culinary antiques store Lucullus in Breaux Bridge, upon a friend's recommendation. Now Dunne and his French bulldog, Clovis ("He's very much into zydeco"), split their time between city and country. Says Dunne: "It's fun being a big crawfish in a small pond." — Maria Ricapito

Tubac, Ariz.
(pop. 1,900)
galleries are framed by mountain views
Over the years, everyone from Spanish missionaries to maverick cowboys has called this high-desert town — 40 minutes south of Tucson — home. These days, you're most likely to find artists roaming the streets of Tubac, where dozens of galleries are framed by rugged-mountain views. "Not only is there no traffic, there's no traffic lights," says Dennis Rowden, who runs Spanish-meets-Western housewares store Pancho's with his interior decorator wife, Lorraine. While the Western charm is obvious, Tubac's sophistication is a subtler surprise. "People underestimate us," says jeweler Martita Foss, who moved to Tubac last year from southern California to work at the Tubac Center of the Arts, a 4,000-square-foot space for concerts, lectures, and gallery shows. "They may say, 'Oh, it's just an old historic town,' but we're really pretty hip." Foss discovered Tubac on a road trip with friends. "The light is amazing, and the sunsets are phenomenal," she says. The long wooden porch at the five-room Tubac Country Inn is the perfect place to see the orange-and-red-streaked sky at sundown as it casts its shadow on the area's cacti. Notes Foss: "It's not hard to see why painters and photographers have been drawn here." — Keith Mulvihill

Wallace, Idaho
(pop. 1,000)
a place that mines its own history
Preservation and industriousness are key in Wallace, a former mining town about 40 miles east of Coeur d'Alene in northwest Idaho, where every single building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Bicyclists setting off on the roughly 87 miles of area trails fuel up on huckleberry shakes at Red Light Garage, a café decorated with vintage musical instruments. The café is run by musician turned contractor Jamie Baker and his wife, Barbara, who have made a second career out of restoring Wallace's 100-year-old buildings. Their latest, Hercules Inn, opened to visitors this summer, and each of the four units has a kitchen (from $75). "Some folks would call this retirement," says Chase Sanborn, who ran a snowboarding-apparel company before opening Wallace Brewing Company, where you'll find him filling kegs seven days a week. — Jason Cohen

Saugerties, N.Y.
(pop. 5,000)
shop owners extend the welcome mat
Don't be surprised if you're invited into someone's house the minute you set foot in Saugerties, 100 miles up the Hudson River from New York City. Richard Frisbie operates Hope Farm Press & Bookshop out of his converted living room. "We're the book capital of the Hudson Valley," says Frisbie, who often shares anecdotes from some of his 3,500 books, which focus on the region. It's not uncommon for other shop owners to extend the welcome mat, too. In their two-story 1826 building, chef-owners Marc Propper and Michelle Silver serve homemade brown-sugar ice cream at long, wooden farm tables downstairs at Miss Lucy's Kitchen; upstairs they rent out two warmly inviting apartments, each with a kitchenette. Saugerties can feel so much like home for weekenders that some have made it official. On a mushroom-foraging trip in the Hudson Valley, friends Mark Grusell and Juan Romero decided to plant themselves for good and opened Love Bites Cafe, a cozy, 16-seat café with an open kitchen that serves dishes like coconut-carrot French toast with vanilla-citrus butter. — Thisbe Nissen

Mount Vernon, Iowa
(pop. 4,671)
art isn't confined to gallery walls
In Mount Vernon, about a 20-minute drive east of Cedar Rapids, art isn't confined to gallery walls. As you're driving in on Highway 30, a local artist's rendition of Grant Wood's American Gothic, splashed on the side of a barn, immediately sets the town's tone. And at an annual sidewalk-chalk festival, which takes place each May, hundreds of people put their stamp on more than 4,000 square feet of the main drag. "There's a certain amount of culture here that's not as unapproachable as in a larger city," says Matt Steigerwald, a chef from North Carolina who runs Lincoln Cafe, where dishes like the Carolina pork BBQ sandwich draw diners from all over the state. The unofficial clubhouse for Mount Vernon's creative types is Fuel, a 4-year-old coffee shop that doubles as an antiques store. Some of the shop's sofas, tables, and lamps are for sale, along with everything from ceramic tiles to handmade greeting cards. — Thisbe Nissen

Jacksonville, Ore.
(pop. 2,750)
a refuge from the tourist whirl of napa
Just across the border from California and 4½ hours south of Portland, this old gold-rush town is getting its second wind from liquid gold. With 17 wineries in the surrounding Applegate Valley, and a climate that's ripe for growing multiple types of grapes, Jacksonville is a refuge from the tourist whirl of Napa. Herb Quady is among the residents integral to the burgeoning scene. Quady, whose father, Andrew, produces dessert wines at Quady Winery in Madera, Calif., opened the Quady North tasting room in April. "There isn't anyplace in California that's nearly as cute," Quady explains of his move. "We're all about the bucolic southern Oregon life." The best way to tap in is at South Stage Cellars, which stocks bottles from nine area wineries. The Garden Bistro at the five-room McCully House Inn & Cottages showcases local growers of a different sort, with food products from 27 area purveyors, including cheese from the goats at nearby Pholia Farm (from $135). The lifestyle drew Constance and David Jesser, a chef and a commodities trader, respectively, from Sonoma five years ago to open Jacksonville Mercantile, where the shelves are filled with provisions like black-truffle-roasted almonds. — Jason Cohen

Rockland, Maine
(pop. 7,680)
sophistication mixed with saltiness
You'll find just enough sophistication to balance the saltiness of mid-coast Maine in Rockland (about an hour and a half northeast of Portland), where regional mainstays are reinvented every day. After honing her skills working for Perry Ellis in New York City, Beth Bowley was lured back to Maine four years ago. "Rockland is filled with folks who've seen what the world has to offer and want to be here," says Bowley, who opened the boutique FourTwelve, which she stocks with clothing and accessories like Sea Bags, made from recycled sails. Down the street at Suzuki's Sushi Bar, Japanese-born chef Keiko Suzuki Steinberger infuses freshly caught lobster, shrimp, and crab with modern Japanese flavors. Steinberger first came to Rockland to visit a second cousin but stayed after falling for her now-husband. As pleasant as a short visit can be, the real risk of visiting Rockland is that you'll do the same and need to move here for good. It's worth testing the waters by renting a house, which you can find 19th-century Capes for $125 a night. — Carole Braden

Whitefish, Mont.
(pop. 7,723)
ski bums and urban refugees congregate
After a frenzied stint on Broadway's 42nd Street, actor Luke Walrath was ready for a quieter pace. His actress wife grew up in Whitefish, about a half-hour north of Kalispell, so the two decided to make it their new home. "It's at once folksy and stylish," he says of the town, a 35-minute drive southwest of Glacier National Park. The couple cofounded the Alpine Theatre Project, which stages seven shows a year. At the foot of the Rockies, Whitefish has long drawn adventure seekers. To live out a rustic Montana fantasy, book a cedar-walled room at Good Medicine Lodge, which feels like a set from Legends of the Fall (from $95). — Kathryn O'Shea-Evans
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