Take exit 150 and you’re there

MA to ME map1It turns out that the directions from Cambridge, MA to Cambridge, Maine are almost as straightforward as they were to Cambridge, NY.  It’s basically U.S. Route 95 all the way north to exit 150 for Maine State Route 152, which (with a few quick turns) takes you straight into town.  I’m still going to give the edge for ease to Cambridge, NY because of the abundance of rest stops on the Massachusetts Turnpike, but there was little opportunity to go off track on the way to Cambridge, ME.  It’s the farthest north I’ve gone into the center of the state, though I may have been further north on the coast.

My schedule was, to say the least, not over-booked for this trip.  I almost accepted that I wouldn’t have any appointments until I tried a new potential contact and succeeded in connecting.  So I left early Friday morning, aiming to be in the Town Office by 11:30.  More about my meeting with the town selectmen later this week.

Harmony CambridgeBeyond that, I wasn’t sure what I’d find, but my focus was on the General Store and the Post Office, which are the only two entities of consequence in the town.  I had good conversations all around.  Everyone was very friendly and generous with their time.  Plus, I have a special fondness for the Maine accent, which is increasingly difficult to find in the southern part of the state.  (There’s more detail here than you might want.  While the old (also increasingly rare) Boston accent similarly involves dropping final R’s, the two accents do not sound the same.)

Much to my own surprise, I learned a lot on this trip.  That is, I assumed I’d learn something (or why would I even do this?), but I left with a whole new framework for how to think about small towns.  I’m going to pull together my notes and share this week and next, even while I haven’t finished reporting on Cambridge, NY and I’ve written almost nothing about my own Cambridge, MA.

Take exit B3 and you’re there

Cambridge, NY is a place that, I feel confident, will see me again.  I had a delightful (if short) time there, chatting with folks and exploring.  It’s going to take me some time to gather up my notes and share the content of the conversations, so today I’ll simply talk about the trip.

Travel map

It’s hard to imagine that I’ll find any other two Cambridges that are as easy to travel between as those in MA and NY.  Once I pulled onto the Massachusetts Turnpike (I90, about two miles from home), I went west until I had crossed the border into New York.  I took exit B3 for NY Route 22 and traveled past NY towns with names reflecting the upstate area’s tradition of mixing the classical (such as Troy), international (Lebanon), Biblical (Canaan), Dutch (Rensselaer), Native American (Hoosic), and English (Greenwich).  Another hour later, I reached the Motel Cambridge, right on Route 22 and where I would spend the night.  The local address is 51 South Park Street and, given that the address of my childhood home was also 51 Park, there was no doubt but that I’d be staying there.  (Also, it’s pretty much the only game in town.)

Common Sense Farm

Cambridge, NY doesn’t sprawl far beyond the intersection of Park Street and Main Street, where you’ll find the village’s only stoplight.  A few streets radiate out from Park or Main but, really, not too many.  That made it super easy to get around and meet up with everyone I had arranged to see.  Once outside the compact center of the village, most of the roads I followed took me past a farm, such as this one: Common Sense Farm.

The Cambridge Valley Chamber of Commerce describes the location of the village this way.  “Cambridge is located in southern Washington County, eastern upstate New York. We are northeast of Albany, east of Saratoga Springs and southwest of Manchester, Vermont….Driving Times: Albany-55 minutes; Manchester, VT-45 minutes; Greenwich-10 minutes; Saratoga Springs-25 minutes; Bennington, VT-20 minutes; Williamstown, MA-45 minutes.”  In other words, it’s neither completely isolated, nor is it part of a teeming metropolis.

Continental RoadCambridge has a long history, with Native American settlements and a significant role in the Revolutionary War.  And that long history is what, I think, has led to a very complicated government structure.  There’s the village, which was the focus of my visit, but there’s also a Town of Cambridge.  Most public services are provided by the village, which is probably a good thing, as the village is split among three towns — Cambridge, White Creek, and Jackson.  All of the towns are in Washington County, which stretches up the eastern edge of New York State.

(My home town on Long Island, NY is also a village that, along with several other villages, is rolled into a town, so the governance structure wasn’t totally foreign to me, but no one in Cambridge told me it was better to be part of three towns, much as they might be used to it.)

CoOpBefore my trip, I looked at the restaurant options in town and discovered that nearly all are closed on Monday, and many on Tuesday, too.  Folks seemed more amused than irritated when I commented on how eating out must be confined to Wednesday to Sunday.  With a lunch picked up at the local co-op, dinner at one of the open restaurants, and breakfast supplies from the supermarket, I easily got by.

After all the conversations on Monday and Tuesday morning, I followed a suggestion I received several times and zipped out to the local monastery (!), located on a hill that truly brings out the loveliness of the surrounding area.  From there, back to the stoplight, a left turn onto Rt. 22, and the drive back home.  My next posts will reflect my Cambridge, NY conversations.