Robyn, Cambridge, NY alumna


In honor of the cold weather, I’m remembering back to the summer, when I was in Cambridge, NY.  Walking around one morning, I ran into Robyn and her son near the Round House Bakery Café).  Robyn lives in Los Angeles now, but she and her son spend some time each summer with her parents, who still live in the village.  We had a nice early-morning chat about her old home town and how she enjoys giving her son the Cambridge summer experience, so different from their life the rest of the year in LA.

How would you describe Cambridge?
I would just say Cambridge is really small and everybody knows each other.  We all go to the same school.  My parents went to the same school.  My niece is now going to the same school.  It’s just really small.  It’s like a small, little family.

The Brewmaster, Cambridge, Maine

My admittedly brief visits to Cambridges in NY, Vermont, and Maine have, nonetheless, left me feeling very connected to these communities.  I’ve already written about how I was happy about the opening of East Outlet Brewing in Cambridge, Maine, so naturally I needed to speak with its founder.

East Outlet logoImagining that someone who just started a new enterprise would be busy, I wasn’t sure we’d find a good time to talk by phone.  But with relatively little fuss, on a recent afternoon, I was chatting with Nathan DiMeo, who started the brewery and restaurant, which he said is “Doing a really good business.  This will be the fifth weekend coming.  We’ve got the wood fired pizza, our own homemade beer, and live glass blowing.”

Nathan isn’t originally from Cambridge, but he said he’s lived there for about 13 years, after a move from New Hampshire (which I understand is also the path followed by the town’s founders in the 1800s).  “We just happened to be driving through, looking for houses in Maine.  We started looking at a house in Cambridge in the center of town, and we ended up liking it.”  What did he like about Cambridge?  “We were just looking for a smaller community, a little less craziness.  Cambridge is just a really laid-back town.” Moultonborough, New Hampshire, where Nathan started, would still be called a small town, but one with more summer tourism.

For most of the length of his residence in Cambridge, Nathan said he has worked from home.  He also blows glass, which explains the inclusion of that theme in the restaurant’s weekly offerings, though he told me, “I mostly have other glass blowers coming in.  I’m manning the oven at the moment.”

As for how he got into this business, Nathan said, “I had done home brewing for eight or nine years now.  I never worked in a commercial brewery.”  And East Outlet doesn’t yet reach the scale of a significant commercial brewery, given the size of the equipment he uses.  “I purchased the system two years ago.  It’s still a small system.  It’s a home brew/commercial version, so it was easy for me to convert over to use it.”  He said they’ll upgrade to a larger system soon, but, “We’re mostly going to be selling in this area of Maine.  We probably will never make it past Portland with this size system.”

The restaurant is open on Friday and Saturday and Nathan is able to rely on friends for staffing.  “We have a family friend doing the waitressing and we have one worker in the kitchen making pizza, and then there’s me doing the brewing and all that.”

East Outlet comedy nightRegarding his motivation for starting the restaurant and brewery, Nathan said, “Our whole goal was to bring a little bit of city vibe, Portland vibe, but keep it country.  We love artwork so we have spray painting around the walls, the glass blowing, the live music, a comedian coming on Saturday.  We’re trying to do something different, not the same thing that’s always here.”

I asked Nathan about his customers, and he answered, “I would say it’s a half-and-half mix.  We have an older crowd who comes and a younger crowd.  Not everyone is from Cambridge, some people travel to Cambridge.”  Is he seeing a lot of friends at the restaurant?  “Yes, a lot of them are people I’ve just kind of met as I opened the place, and I do have a good number of friends who are rooting me on in there.”  But even some folks who weren’t looking for a brewery are being supportive.  “There are people who have lived here for a long time, and they don’t want to change very much, but they have accepted this.  We do have them coming here.”

Not long before we spoke, I had been reading that there was an extended power outage in Cambridge, so it seemed worth asking about the challenges that Nathan was facing with a fledgling business.  In addition to the power outage — about which he didn’t say much more than “We have a generator now” — Nathan noted, “It’s not easy to become a brewery.  There’s a lot of licensing, a lot of figuring out if we can do this in this building, if the town will be okay with this.  We weren’t sure if people would be okay with it, but we’re not rowdy here, we’re not a bar.  There are no complaints yet, that we’ve heard of.”  And he noted that the the town selectmen have been there.

Looking ahead, aside from increasing the capacity of his brewing equipment, Nathan anticipates continuing with a busy restaurant.  “We’ll always have the live glassblowing and we’re going to try to have live music here each weekend.”

To me, it sounds like East Outlet Brewing will continue to provide a fun social setting for folks who want a weekend dinner without leaving Cambridge.

How would you describe Cambridge
I would definitely say it’s a quiet peaceful town that’s great for hunting, snowmobiling, getting away from the city life.


Politics in Cambridge, Vermont

This is my final post on my conversation back in September with Marguerite Ladd and George Putnam, of the Cambridge, VT government.  (You can read the first post here.) On my first trips to New York and Maine, the subject of politics came up in subtle ways, but I never raised it myself.  In Vermont, I decided to dip a toe in, and found it was a good place to do so.

First, I needed to be brought up to speed on the Vermont Town Meeting tradition, which George explained takes place once each year, in March, on a declared state holiday.  The agenda for a town meeting includes the election of officers, the town budget, and questions from the town.  In Cambridge, the election of officers is conducted through open discussion, not by secret ballot.  The regional newspaper offers coverage of the meetings and those who can’t attend can watch the livestream from home.  (You can, too.  Check it out.)

George said that “One of the good things about town government is there’s very little politics in it.”  There are no traditional political parties involved when folks run for the selectboard, which can include three or five members.  In 2019, George said there were four good candidates for open positions.  They didn’t campaign ahead of time but, instead, “stood up and explained their positions.”  George, himself, has written quite a bit about town government, as he has learned about it from the perspective of a selectboard member.

Marguerite noted that the candidates’ positions don’t necessarily line up with the national parties, and George said that local views in town are “a mix, where it comes to state and national politics.”  Still, it seems that Cambridge, Vermont is a place where civility can rule.  Note that the two candidates for an open seat in the Vermont House made news in 2018 with their respectful campaign and the fact that they joined together for a musical duet following a debate.  (Lucy Rogers ultimately prevailed.)

Finally, Marguerite answered my last question from our conversation.  Perhaps her description of Cambridge’s residents gets to how the politics remains civil.

How would you describe Cambridge?

MargueriteTo me, it’s a unique mix — and maybe by unique, I mean the actual ratio — of traditionalists and people who are forward thinking.  And maybe that’s the magic ratio.  They’re all passionate about their beliefs but also share that common goal of a high standard and quality of living that’s equal for all.  What that means to them is different for different people, for sure, but somehow it merges into a good median of what needs to happen to keep Cambridge sustainable and keep it growing, with moderate growth being key there.

In the end, everyone is searching for that quality of life.  Being able to live in a place you love, do the stuff you love, and have neighbors who aren’t crazy.  Somehow it shakes out that, even with all the different viewpoints, that’s what makes Cambridge what it is, and also that it can thrive.  Even if they wouldn’t say out loud they’re working together, I think that common denominator is there at the core of it.

Cambridge, NY’s gem of a bookstore

Battenkill Books photoDuring my visit to Cambridge, NY, I had a chance to visit Battenkill Books, a great independent bookstore right on Main Street.  And there I chatted for quite a while with Connie Brooks, the owner, and Kate Reid, who was handling a large sale.

I asked my standard question and Connie and Kate discussed and answered.

How would you describe Cambridge?
Kate: It’s a place with big ideas and creative energy, surrounded by beautiful agricultural land.  There’s a community theater and education program, so there’s lots of arts and an educated population, along with diversity.

Connie: There’s diversity in education level, for example.  And it’s not a homogeneous community as far as politics.  It’s diverse in that sense.

If I had to describe Cambridge, I would say:  A very special and unique upstate New York village, because we are a village–it’s important to point out not everybody’s a village, but we are–and very community oriented.  I think Cambridge is perfect, but I’m so biased.

Connie and Kate
Connie (left) and Kate.

Me: Are you both from here?

Both: No, no. We’re not.

Kate: I grew up in New York City.

Connie: And I grew up in Massachusetts.  Not terribly far.

When I first moved here, I thought, “I have landed in a Norman Rockwell-esque town.”  There’s a Christmas parade and there are all these trappings of, I don’t know, this image of what a village used to be, but it’s real here.  It’s all really real.  Gosh, it’s beautiful.

Cambridge is really community oriented.  I think that’s why a bookstore can survive in such a small town.  We have a very supportive community.  And, like Kate said, very arts oriented.  It’s amazing how many shows you can go to, how many artists live here.  I think that’s something that continues to surprise newcomers.

At roughly this point a customer joined the conversation.  She noted that she lives in Greenwich (pronounced Green-witch) and comes to Cambridge for the bookstore.  She bought a nice pile of books to make it worth the trip.

Then followed a little further chatter about how lucky the town is to have had a bookstore continuously while so many other towns (including Cambridge, MA) have lost them.  Connie told me, “We took over the existing bookstore, so there’s been a bookstore here for 40 years.  I’ve owned it 10 years.  A decade of the many decades.”

And that, more or less, was our conversation.  Except for a digression while Kate took a call and I was challenged to consider the question offered by Connie’s young son:  How many people in the world are sneezing at any one time?  Now, whenever I sneeze, I think of him and his question.

Then I was off, glad to have met Connie and Kate, two relative newcomers who are meeting the book needs of the area.

The view from the Cambridge, NY library

Christina Becker, libraryContinuing my spin through Cambridge, NY, I’d like to jump to an evening chat with Christina Becker, the director of the Cambridge Public Library.  Even in our larger city of Cambridge, MA, the library is a hub of activity, with services going way beyond books.  Along with the Cambridge Central School, the library is a center for Cambridge community life.

Christina is not from the village of Cambridge, but she lives in the immediate area and grew up there, too.  In between, she lived elsewhere for a while, before returning with children.  She’s an enthusiastic spokesperson for the region, though one with a window into some of the area’s hardships.

The Cambridge (NY) Public Library is chartered by the village, but receives additional funding from the Cambridge Central School district and the surrounding towns (Cambridge, White Creek, and Jackson).  It can be found toward the edge of the village in a historic building.  A plan is just getting going to enlarge the building to enhance accessibility and to enable the creation of appropriate spaces for children and groups that meet there.


Christina told me it’s “a beautiful building, but not a conducive space for the things we’re doing.”  By way of services, this includes free assistance with tax preparation and in navigating the health insurance marketplace, along with tutoring around literacy, computer technology, and GED programs.  The library also offers a meeting room for outside groups, including scouts (boy and girl), youth sports organizations, and mahjong players.  But any expansion plan, which could offer accessibility and a quiet meeting room, will have a long lead-up and may not happen until 2020/2021.

About a year ago, Christina and Mayor Bogle partnered on “Community Change Agent,” a series of “aspirational meetings” that gave local folks the opportunity to express their thoughts on areas for improvement in Cambridge.  Christina said that “regardless of demographic, people were on the same page.”  One key issue was communications.  She said, “Outside the village, there is no high-speed internet.  The digital divide is real and economic opportunities follow the digital divide.”  The library’s contribution toward easing the divide is 24/7 open-access wifi.  Anyone can access the internet from inside or directly outside the library.

The village’s work in connecting people will get a boost from Verizon’s extension of FIOS into the area and the NY governor’s broadband initiative, but it still remains to be seen how many people are reached.

As a general policy, Christina said, “We do everything we can to offer as many free services as we can to enhance people’s life.  We’re big on connecting people.”  To that end, the library lends tablets, Kindles, and laptops, and they’re working on lending mobile hotspots (which don’t yet work everywhere).  They also lend out a metal detector and plans have been floated for next summer to lend a fishing pole.  And the library has partnered with the local farmers’ market to connect the arts and agriculture with a maker tent.  Christina said, “Libraries are more about people now than about the things we’re lending.”

How would you describe Cambridge?
Cambridge is a tight-knit typical rural town.  The beauty of Cambridge is that it’s a safe place.  I have two kids, 13 and nine, and I’ve never once worried walking down the street with them.  The people who see them will know they’re mine.

Mayor Carman Bogle reflects on Cambridge, NY

While I travel to Cambridge, NY, I’d like to share this Q&A with Mayor Carman Bogle, who took office in April 2015, following the village’s March election. 

I should note that Mayor Bogle was extremely generous in answering a long list of questions that I have since learned was simply too long.  But her kind response made me think that I might be onto something with this blog — that there is a lot to learn from each other. I’m excited to visit her village and to meet her this afternoon.

Carman Bogle
Mayor Bogle (waving from the front of the cart). Photo credit: Eric Fellows

How would you describe Cambridge?
The village of Cambridge is a charming walkable community with a population of about 2,000 people. Most properties are historic with a mix of Victorian and Colonial homes and businesses.

Because of close proximity and a smaller population, Cambridge is a close-knit community. Everybody knows their neighbors and fellow community members. People are always ready to help each other, as well as welcome new people to the community. Smiles and friendly waves of hello are readily available as you walk down Main Street. There is no shortage of those willing to volunteer to make and keep Cambridge a warm inviting place where people want to raise their families.

What are Cambridge’s current challenges?
Challenges facing Cambridge right now are a lack of infrastructure and economic development, particularly with regard to wastewater infrastructure. This has deeply impacted business development since property sizes are small and too close together to meet standards. Jobs are hard to come by in Cambridge.

What are one or two national issues that particularly affect Cambridge now?
I would say a national issue affecting Cambridge as of late has been the negativity that we see displayed through the media and social media, and the overall divide that seems to be developing nationally. While we are close-knit, there have been times when attitudes and treatment of each other have not reflected our local core values. We often need to remind ourselves that we are friends and neighbors, and ultimately we care about each other more than our opinions.

As you look ahead to the Cambridge our children will inherit in 25 years, what concerns you most?
What has me most concerned for the future we leave for our children is that the economic conditions will leave them with no option but to leave Cambridge.

As you look ahead to the Cambridge our children will inherit in 25 years, what leaves you feeling most hopeful?
What leaves me most hopeful when I think of the future we are leaving our children is that this is always home. There is always someone here who cares about you and wants to see you succeed in life. The feeling of community and belonging has been instilled in our children, and I hope they pass that on to their children.

From the Cambridge, MA mayor’s viewpoint

Marc McGovernMy goal for Our Cambridge is to include many voices and perspectives, and I’ll be reaching out to community leaders to describe the town or city they lead. 

Cambridge, MA’s mayor, Marc McGovern, has lifelong Cambridge roots.  He served four two-year terms on the School Committee (elected) before being elected to a seat on the City Council in 2013.  Following a vote by the City Council, he assumed the position of mayor in January 2018.  In this Q&A, he shares his perspective on the city.

How would you describe Cambridge?
Cambridge is a diverse community dedicated to ensuring that all of its residents live in a safe and thriving city. We are home to two of the world’s best universities and the greatest concentration of biotech companies in the world. But there is another story. Cambridge has a higher poverty rate than the state average. 50% of our public school children live in affordable housing, and we have over 500 homeless on our streets every night. So, although one story of our city is of increased prosperity, another story is that many in our community are not accessing that prosperity.

What is going right in Cambridge?
Cambridge has a strong commercial tax base that allows us to do things that other communities can’t. For example, due to our AAA bond rating, we are allowed to borrow money at very low interest. That is allowing us to build three new, net-zero public schools at a cost of half a billion dollars, without raising residential property taxes. We are also investing in climate resiliency, infrastructure, public safety and our public schools at very high amounts. Although we still have challenges to overcome, the quality of life in Cambridge is very good.

What are Cambridge’s current challenges?
Our biggest challenge is the lack of affordable housing. With Cambridge being such a desirable place to live and having such a strong job market, people are moving to Cambridge in droves. Because those moving here are being paid higher salaries, they are able to pay more for rental housing and home ownership, driving up prices. The result has been that many moderate and middle income residents, those who earn too much to qualify for subsidies, but not enough to pay market rent, are being forced out of the city.

What concerns you about the Cambridge that our children will inherit?
As someone who has grown up in Cambridge and is raising my children here, I have seen our city go through many changes. Most of those changes have been positive, but some have not. The loss of middle income residents and the challenges of maintaining our diversity is a serious concern. In addition, on a wider scale, I am deeply concerned about climate change and resiliency and what the world will look like for the next generation.