Photo by Salt Water New England

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Characteristics of a classic New England town?

A reader question:

What are the immutable characteristics of a classic New England town? What are some examples of towns exhibiting those characteristics? 

 

43 comments:

  1. Without question, a town center with a Congregational church and a town common (preferably with a bandstand and a war memorial). The library should be very close by (and well used), too. I grew up in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, which has all these--albeit with too much traffic now to make the center of town picturesque.

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    1. Bingo! What kind of a New England town is it without a Green and a Congregational Church?

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    2. Or Unitarian! Of course in that case then the Congregational Church will be a block or two away from the town green with a name like, TRINITY or something else pointed.

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  2. Camden, Rockport, to be sure! Thank you!

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  3. Old graveyard with winged skulls. Tempus fugit memento mori!

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  4. Lack of: chain stores/restaurants, fast food, strip malls (or other malls, for that matter), well-defined neighborhoods, noise, pollution, new-build homes, or multi-family housing.

    Abundance of: parks, green space, mature trees, gardens, stone walls (but not the manufactured, "perfect" kind), boutique shops, local restaurants/bakeries, farm stands/stores, Congregational/Unitarian/Episcopalian churches, libraries, town halls, and historic (and upkept) homes.

    Proximity to un-commercialized and preserved seashore.*
    Proximity to bucolic countryside.*

    *Ideally both.

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    1. I get where you are going with this but it feels a bit twee. What if you need to go to the grocery store, service your car, buy a new vacuum cleaner, pick up a case of beer, etc.?

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    2. Go to the grocery store, service your car, pick up a case of beer; needs that are easily met by stand alone family businesses. How often do you buy a new vacuum cleaner? So maybe you need a trip to a mall, or “big box” store, once every ten years. If, you’re fortunate to live in a classic New England town.

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    3. I totally agree with Sartresky. This is why I like living in the historic district (a sort-of-removed enclave with the requisite Unitarian church, green, and historic graveyard) of my northern MA town, which is right next to a medium-sized city with supermarkets & pharmacies, a Kohl's, and plenty of auto services, excellent restaurants, and liquor stores. We also have many small local businesses which we always patronize. Best of both worlds!

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    4. Sad that we need these. It’s always more and get that more with ease at the expense of beauty and simplicity.

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    5. Living in Manhattan we didn’t need big box stores. All of our little local stores to the job. He’s big stores and malls are hideous. To each his own.

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    6. I think Anon 12:37 made it clear that he/she likes having the choice and benefits of both. No need to pooh-pooh nearby conveniences, especially if they include medical care, and not everyone who loves classic New England is independently wealthy.

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    7. What does living in Manhattan have to do with this discussion of small classic New England towns?

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    8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    9. Miele's my brand. It sucks.

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    10. When we start talking about the "preppiest vacuum" we have jumped the shark.

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  5. Can a better use be made of a dated Volvo wagon than to motor from the green to a nearby commercial area to tend to getting life's necessities?

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  6. Lebanon, Connecticut. It boasts a bucolic mile-long town green (still occasionally used for pasturage) with a handsome Congregational Church designed by the artist John Trumbull at one end (and other denominations around the green), and the home and campus of the very active Lebanon Historical Society. Nearby is home of William Williams, signer of the Declaration of Independence, nearby as well is the classic New England house of Jonathan Trumbull, Jr., CT Governor and commissary for General Washington, and his "War Office" from which he ran Connecticut's participation in the Revolutionary War. Also there is the Buckingham estate where William Buckingham, Connecticut's Civil War governor lived near the Green. The town was the birthplace and home of many other notables: Eleazar Wheelock, founder of Dartmouth College and William Beaumont, War of 1812, pioneering doctor. And just one sweet convenience store, general market near the green. Stunning graveyard with many early gravestones with the requisite winged skulls, many working farms and no chain stores for five miles, at least!

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    1. Your Green in Lebanon has no New England peer.

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  7. Thinking of coastal Maine: A lack of conspicuous consumption. Pride of ownership. Lawns that are well manicured but not treated to look like a golf course. A small downtown. A working waterfront. Multiple churches and denominations, all very old. Old graveyards. Annual events that bring the town together. In the summer, little farm stands at people's driveways with a can to leave money. Contentious town meetings fit for reality TV.

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    1. Yes - the annual Town Meeting! Our formerly small NE town is now growing exponentially because of rampant greedy developers, and you can imagine what the town meetings are now like. Very stressful.

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    2. The town meetings are far more frequent in Maine, and like your small town, the bulk of anger and time is in response to "development".

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    3. If you are interested in Town Meeting read “Real Democracy.” Professor Frank Bryan sent students from Saint Michael’s College and UVM, for years, to cover the annual
      first Tuesday in March Vermont town meetings. His data goes back to the sixties. Many aspects of the meetings were dutifully recorded; how many men spoke, how many women spoke, what were the budget line items etc. etc.. Only in New England.

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    4. Thank you. I found this useful site that summarizes the history and different types of local governments and meetings for Maine:

      https://maineanencyclopedia.com/local-government/

      So when I said the meetings are more frequent it depends on the type of local governance, but yes there are still annual town meetings in some places. Development, in any case, dominates the discussions it seems.

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  8. Villages within the town. Winding back roads and stone walls. Clapboards and cedar shakes. A green and a meeting house (or church that did double duty).

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  9. An old town center, well-preserved and maintained colonial architecture, absence of McMansions, stone walls, window boxes, a town green, practical/sensible vehicles parked in driveways, access to the water, lots of dogs around, women and men dressed in classic, seasonal clothing that isn't overly trendy...

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  10. Lincoln, Massachusetts: A small town 'center' with open spaces, charming brick library, several churches and the town hall abutting. Vast conservation lands with walking trails, ponds, a river, Walden Pond, DeCordova Art Museum, Codman House with community gardens, Drumlin Farm, colonial and modern (Gropius) architecture. Headquarters for Massachusetts Audubon. No stores to speak of. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lincoln,_Massachusetts

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  11. Very interesting. Though I have never been to New England I have become a New England file and an anglo-file. ONe other question. Are there Congregational churches that believe the Bible is true, or is it mostly a social gospel?

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    1. Religion can be a very, very hot topic in a small New England town. Good people don't discuss it nor is it something to shun anyone over because that would be the tackiest thing ever. Religion is kept to oneself----at least in my circles in my small New England town. Once you leave that church, it's "mums the word". So, to answer your question, well, no one really knows because it's not discussed outside of the church up here, again, at least in my little circle it's not.

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    2. I was throwing a dinner party for a friend's new bride to be. The table was filled with wasps and preps. The conversation was lively and fun and our little bride to be brought up religion. You could hear the silverware drop to the fine china and people began to stop talking and reaching for their wine glasses. I don't think she knew about etiquette at table. It was so quiet, one could hear the faint sound of the bell buoy a mile away!
      The stares stopped and nobody answered her. The groom to be ushered her off to the other room. Let's just say dessert was, well, quiet.

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  12. Some of this does not sound unlike areas outside Philadelphia (Bucks, Montgomery, Berks, and Lehigh counties).

    Best Regards,

    Heinz-Ulrich

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  13. So many spot-on answers: The village green, Unitarian church, white steeples, houses built in the 1600's painted crisp-white, a SMALL yacht club, a SMALL golf club, a beach perhaps? Lots of old preppy cars: old volvos, old Jeeps, British cars, small parades on the Fourth; Christmas bazaars at the old town hall; plant sales in the spring to benefit the Garden club; house tours; a good bakery that does catering for parties; an ice cream shop that's been open since the 40's, no fast food; a small diner; a restaurant right on the water that serves lobsters cooked outside; a small British/Irish pub; gorgeous Inns; I could carry on for days...

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    1. Sorry, but it is completely inauthentic to paint 17th and 18th century houses white, except maybe very late 18c, when the Federal period started.

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    2. Edit: My mistake on the painted house blurb. I should've done my research before I commented on historical houses that I obviously know nothing about. "Be Best"

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  14. Many people here seem to be missing that one very defining New England characteristic: practicality. It's not always picture-puzzle pretty.

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  15. Every classic New England town has at least one ghost story that no one ever talks about.

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  16. WASPs. What else?

    We
    Always
    Say
    Please

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  17. Social capital, for one thing. Self-sufficient people who don't wait for the government to tell them how to look out for their neighbors.

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    1. A lot of great replies here, but this one was the best, in my humble opinion.

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  18. I think Guilford CT fits the bill. Big town green, lots of shops and restaurants, a couple of churches, a library, plus all the necessities on Rte 1. Plus the shoreline and a yacht club. Kind of nice.

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