Classic New England: Five for the Road
W hen my wife and I took two young nieces to see the Goldie Hawn-Steve Martin flick “Housesitter” some 15 years ago, one of them asked if that was a real town we were seeing on the screen. “No,” my wife answered. “How can you tell?” the girl pressed. “It’s too perfect,” my wife, the New Yorker, said. “They could only create that on a Hollywood set.” Three years later, by pure serendipity, we found ourselves living in an antique house with a wooden roof just a few miles from where the movie was filmed. The setting is Boston’s South Shore — a string of soul-restoring, classic New England villages set along the coast be-
tween Beantown and Cape Cod. No one ever sees them. Everyone’s always trying to get from the Hub to the Cape as
quickly as possible on Route 3.
All the better for you. It leaves the byway nearer the coast pretty much unclogged for taking in the views of coastal New
Five towns in particular are feasts for the eyes. In certain ways, all are of a piece, with houses dating to the 1600s and
1700s nestled against varied shoreline — ocean, bay, back river and cove. But each comes with its own distinctive charac-
ter. It’s possible to see them all in a day, but a long weekend is better for appreciating not only their attractions, but also
their nuances and temperaments.
Hingham, about 20 miles south of Boston, has the tidiest look. The spine of the town, five-mile-long Main Street, is lined with proud Colonial and Victorian houses. Eleanor Roosevelt called it the prettiest Main Street in America.
Hingham has a reputation for snobbiness. True, there has been an influx of new money, but in the main, the town prides itself on its friendliness. Even strangers say hello on the street, and my wife likes to tell the story of the time she bought a bag of chips at a convenience store at noontime and the clerk admonished her, “That’s your lunch?”
THE TOUR: At one point, Main Street widens to accommodate carriage roads that flank it, and almost every house set back along that stretch — called Glad Tidings Plain — is painted white with dark shutters. (The pristine white church sprouting the tall spire was built in 1742.) Just before you reach Hingham Square, you’ll pass a string of particularly magnificent Colonial, Federal and Victorian homes.
Park and start walking. A few blocks to your right on North Street, you’ll reach Hingham Harbor, which leads to Boston Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean. That stretch of trees across the water from where you’re standing is World’s End, a nature reserve with easy walking trails.
Turning back toward town, stroll the streets off Hingham Square. A more satisfying collection of 18th-, 19th- and early 20th-century homes you’ll be hard-pressed to find — and with no tourist busloads.
Don’t miss the Old Ship Church. Built in 1681, it is the oldest church in continuous use as a house of worship in North America. The ceiling, made of great oak beams, looks like the inverted frame of a ship. Townspeople and newcomers both still sit for services, speeches and chamber music in the wooden pews, accessed via gates. Behind the church is Hingham Cemetery, with gravestones dating to the 1600s.
EATS: Brewed Awakenings (19 Main St., 781-741-5331) has pastries, soups, salads and sandwiches; nothing costs more than $8. Hingham Lobster Pound (4 Broad Cove Rd./Route 3A, 781749-1984), a take-away shack, has incredible fried clams (whole bellies or strips), lobster rolls and scallops. Entrees start at about $10. The Snug (116 North St., 781-749-9774) is Hingham’s answer to Cheers. Dinner entrees are $10 to $15. Tosca (14 North St., 781740-0080) serves world-class Italianinspired food in a 100-year-old granary. Entrees start at $23.
SLEEPS: Bare Cove B&B (235 Rockland St., 781-740-1422, www. bare-cove-bnb.com) offers nicely appointed rooms and a peacock that roams the well-landscaped grounds. Doubles start at $125 a night; despite the name, breakfast is not included.
THE TOUR: Cohasset Village (heading east and south, Jerusalem Road becomes Atlantic Avenue and eventually Elm Street) is a scaled-down version of Hingham Square. Right outside the commercial center, a little bridge spans a narrow sliver of water that separates the inner harbor from the Gulph River.
Check out Cohasset Common, a block from the shops. First Parish church is the one in which Jack Nicholson, covered in feathers, coughed up
From Hingham, drive south for a few minutes on Route 3A; turn left onto Route 228 north, then right onto Jerusalem Road. If Hingham looks tidy, Cohasset looks a bit sleepy, more pastoral, yet with a dramatic shoreline reminiscent of Maine’s rocky coast.
The oceanfront homes along Jerusalem Road and Atlantic Avenue are a bit of a hodgepodge: antique, contemporary, 1920s grand and everything in between. But those views of the Atlantic stretching to forever are a heady contrast to the contained waters of Hingham Harbor. That lighthouse in the distance is called Minot’s Ledge Light, and local lore says its 1-4-3 blinking pattern means “I love you.”
cherry pits in the 1987 film “The Witches of Eastwick.” There’s a nice pond and, in the summer, Sunday afternoon carillon concerts from the bells of St. Stephen’s (across the common from First Parish).
For a look at more beautiful old homes, take a one- to two-mile stroll down South Main Street. Back in town, even reluctant museumgoers will enjoy walking through the Captain John Wilson House on Elm Street.
Right next door is Cohasset’s Maritime Museum. In addition to displaying the town’s history as a shipbuilding and fishing village, it houses artifacts from an Irish ship that carried 122 people fleeing the potato famine in 1849. Ninety-nine of them drowned when the ship crashed a mile and a half off the coast.
Near the two museums, there are a number of upscale stores, including Ports and Co. for day and evening wear (think first-class on a transatlantic cruise for a young but well-heeled set).
EATS: The Silver Spoon Cafe (5 S. Main St., 781-383-8700) serves a pleasant breakfast or brunch for $6 to $8 a person. And French Memories (60 S. Main St., 781-383-2216) has savory dishes along with sweets; $5.95 for a sandwich or salad. Red Lion Inn (71 S. Main St., 781-383-1704) has an elegant dining room with entrees from $12 to $24. Bistro-style Bernard’s (107 Ripley Rd., 781-383-8300) has entrees from $18.
SLEEPS: Red Lion Inn (see above), in a 300-year-old building with gas fireplaces in the rooms, has doubles starting at $215 a night. Cohasset Harbor Inn (124 Elm St., 781-383-6650, www. cohassetharborresort.com) has doubles facing the harbor starting at $199.
Your 15-minute route to the next town over, Scituate (sih-chew-it), will take you past beautiful fields and stone walls, with lovely peeks at the Atlantic and seabirds lounging on rocks along the way. (Take Border Street from Cohasset to Gannett Road, turn left, then right onto Hatherly.)
THE TOUR: Scituate is a little more real-world than Hingham or Cohasset. And that’s much of its charm. It has the same kind of museum-quality Colonial and 1800s houses, and some chichi stores and bakeries. But on vibrant Front Street, you’ll also find trinket shops, conch shell souvenirs, his-andhers shamrock mugs and lighthouse Christmas tree ornaments.
One of our favorite diversions is buying a slice of blueberry coffee cake from the Silent Chef, the retail outlet of a local catering company, and walking along the harbor behind Front Street, perching on a bench to watch the boats bob — very soothing and sleepymaking in warm weather, bracing and invigorating in cold.
Scituate has its own lighthouse, which was used in the War of 1812 to help prevent the British from sacking the town. Unfortunately, forays up the 50-foot tower are possible only occasionally (but the grounds are open all year).
The Lawson Tower also is rarely open but, like the lighthouse, is worth a drive-by. Said to be the most expensive (and most photographed) water tower in the country, the 153-foot edifice was fashioned after a 15th-century castle tower on the Rhine to please the aesthetic sensibilities of one Thomas Lawson’s wife, who did not want to have to view an unadorned water tower from her nearby estate.
Before you leave Scituate, take a loop drive around what locals call the First and Second cliffs by turning left onto Edward Foster Road from Front Street. The houses aren’t extravagant, but the views of the ocean are.
EATS: Riva (116 Front St., 781-5455881) has good Italian eats and a convivial atmosphere. Entrees are about $16 to $22. Mill Wharf (150-R Front St., 781-545-3999) has fresh fish dishes and a panoramic view of Scituate Harbor. Entrees start at $17, pub menu specialties $11.
SLEEPS: The Inn at Scituate Harbor (7 Beaver Dam Rd., 800-368-3818, www.innatscituateharbor.com), right in town, has doubles with harbor views starting at $149 midweek, $209 on weekends. Oceanside Inn (8 Oceanside Dr., 781-544-0002, www. bnboceansideinn.com) has doubles with knockout ocean views starting at $99 a night.
As you make your way down Route 3A to Marshfield, another 10 minutes south, you’ll enjoy views of marsh and back-river tributaries that feed off the Atlantic, and even a cranberry bog or two. Marshfield, more than any other town on this itinerary, is a study in economic contrasts, with fine old houses on acres of land in Marshfield Hills in the northern part of town and winterized summer cottages nearly falling into the water over by Brant Rock.
THE TOUR: Take a right onto Highland Street soon after you cross from Scituate into Marshfield (a small marina marks the dividing line), then another right onto Union Street. The views of antique homes with land backing up to the North River are worth the detour.
Retracing your steps, head for the Brant Rock area by continuing on 3A south, then veering off to Route 139 east. Brant Rock has a honky-tonk feel, with restaurants such as the Lobster Tale, Venus II and Cosmo’s Cafe. At the tip, late Victorian homes are piled together across the road from open ocean. Have a meal on the deck of the Fairview Inn while you gaze at the limitless Atlantic.
Don’t miss Winslow House, built in 1699 by Mayflower descendants. Virtually untouched by modernization, it was owned at the time of the Revolutionary War by physician Isaac Winslow, a Tory loyalist who embraced the British cause. (Probably the only reason it wasn’t confiscated from him was that he was beloved by his patients.) Next to it stands the law office of Daniel Webster, secretary of state in the 1840s.
If you should visit the town during the second half of August, and especially if you bring the kids, don’t miss the Marshfield Fair just off 3A (Aug. 1726 this year). An extravaganza that seems plucked from the 1950s, it offers 60 acres’ worth of rides, farm animals, fried dough, a demolition derby and plenty of sparkly, tacky attractions.
EATS: At Fairview Inn (133 Ocean St., 781-834-9144), entrees start at $15.95, with ocean views much better than “fair.” If you’ve already enjoyed the Hingham Lobster Pound, you know the drill at Green Harbor Lobster Pound (131 Beach St., 781-834-4571) — superb take-away from a shack; entrees $10 to $15.
SLEEPS: Doubles start at $200 at Fairview Inn (see above). Seven of the eight rooms have terrific ocean views.
About 10 minutes farther south on Route 3A lies Duxbury. The town feels a little like Nantucket, the kind of place that makes you sigh longingly and contentedly at the same time. Had the artist Carl Larsson been American instead of Swedish, he would have lived in Duxbury and painted his family against alluring backdrops of the town.
THE TOUR: Duxbury has a number of small historical museums in antique homes. It also boasts a great Art Complex Museum on 13 acres of woodland and open fields that features the unlikely combination of Shaker furniture and Asian art.
But the most important thing to do is just drive. Just about everywhere you go, you’ll pass stretches of lovely homes, fronting or near the water. Washington Street, a stretch of village road a couple of miles long, is especially beautiful, with gorgeous old houses lining both sides of the road. Go down any of the narrow dead-end lanes to view the homes and tranquil Duxbury Bay. Shipyard Lane has a parking lot you can linger in.
At the north end of Washington Street, turn onto Powder Point Avenue to begin an excursion around Powder Point, a little knuckle of land that is the Duxbury of Duxbury. Let your car take you where it will. Weave in and out of streets with such names as King Caesar Road, Upland Road and Russell Road. You’ll pass the entrance to Powder Point Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in the United States, leading to a pristine beach (with cold water that’s hard to adjust to even in the height of summer). All along, the magnificent homes and views of the bay will transport you.
Heading off Powder Point, turn onto St. George Street. That will take you either to 3A for a leisurely and beautiful return trip to Boston, with the tall trees making canopies over the road in spots (figure an hour and 15 minutes if you get back on the highway from Hingham) — or, a few miles farther along, to Route 3, which will have you back in Boston in less than an hour, without traffic.
EATS: Winsor House (390 Washington St., 781-934-0091, www. winsorhouseinn.com), in an 1803 building, has an inviting interior, with dark woods and fireplaces. Entrees start at about $18; pub menu from $11.
Sun Tavern (500 Congress St./ Route 14, 781-837-4100) offers elegant dining in a 1741 house. Entrees from $22.
SLEEPS: Powder Point B&B (182 Powder Point Ave., 781-934-7727, www.ppbab.com) is a lovely antique home with doubles starting at $165. Winsor House (see above) has doubles starting at $150. Lawrence Lindner has two books out this spring: “Puppy’s First Steps: The Whole-Dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Puppy” (Houghton Mifflin); and “Fighting Weight,” written with Khaliah Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter (HarperCollins).
A pond, a steepled church, centuries-old houses — could Cohasset, Mass., be any quainter? Beyond the common, above, the town boasts an ocean shoreline.
One of the houses overlooking Hingham Bay. The town is home to a 17th-century church built to resemble a ship.