Killing four birds with one stone (history, exercise, food, and scenery)
The Fort Hill historic district in the Cape Cod town of Eastham is a small attraction. But it has several activities that can easily evolve into a full afternoon of enjoyment.
The area was originally settled by English colonists in 1644 amidst worries against an invasion by the Dutch. Over time, it developed an agricultural focus. Soon, the natural resources were over-consumed and scarce, leaving a largely barren landscape. Life was challenging, and drove many young men to the sea for work.
Now, the Fort Hill district offers one of its best attractions right from one of the two small parking lots. It’s perched on a rise, overlooking Nauset Marsh. The amazing, panoramic view includes inlets, marshes, the beach, and the ocean beyond, as well as fields of flowers sloping towards the water. Plenty of boats can be seen on the main waterways, with kayakers weaving through the marshes. Whether taking in the view at sunrise without even leaving your car, or picnicking with family in the small field next to the parking lot, the scenery is spectacular and easily accessible.
Fort Hill’s parking lot is also a trailhead. A sandy trail gently works its way down from the rise and weaves along the edge of the marsh. Views constantly change, giving a feeling of variety despite the easy hike. Several routes exist, allowing for shorter or longer walks. Despite choosing one of the lengthier routes, our walk was still under two miles, lasted about an hour, and was easily managed even by the younger children in our group. Markers and a brochure educated on some of the plant life and historical significance of the area. Also, the Red Maple Swamp Trail includes a long, meandering boardwalk through the swamp that created further diversity to the hike.
The district’s last attraction is the Edward Penniman House. Penniman, like many young men, was driven to the sea. He returned in 1868, a successful 35-year-old, and built an impressive house. He raised the land several feet to afford views of the ocean and bay. The house itself featured hot and cold water and an indoor bathroom – both rarities for the day, and was decadently furnished.
The house is routinely open to the public and the ranger and volunteer during our visit were very knowledgeable about the house, family, and time period during our visit. The barn behind the house is currently undergoing renovations. Once open, it will offer even more antiques and places to explore.
The combination of the views, hikes, and tour offer something for everyone: they can capture the imagination of children or the interest of a history buff or environmentalist; they can deliver a unique trail run for the athlete, a casual walk for a family, or a bench for those looking to sit and relax.
While easily overlooked in favor of the beaches or the hustle and bustle of some other activities, Fort Hill in Eastham is a great alternative for people looking to explore a quieter corner of New England.
Witnessing the evolution of a place over three centuries
Sometimes, great things are easy to go unnoticed. So was the case with Armeno Coffee Roasters, on the border of Northborough and Westborough, Massachusetts. Tucked away in a small building on a side road, it’s easy to drive past without a second glance. But if you stop and go inside, you’ll be quickly rewarded.
The site itself has a long history, stretching back almost three hundred years. The store is on the site of a mill dating back to 1727, adjacent to Smith Pond. Over the centuries, the site operated first as a saw mill before evolving into a grist mill. The namesake stemmed from the next incarnation of the site, into Armeno Cereal Company, before its current iteration as Armeno Coffee Roasters began in 1994.
The store has a great ambiance, with many signs of its past. These range from the original Armeno Cereal Company sign and equipment to storage bins and equipment used in separating wheat from chafe during its earlier years. Beyond the front room where coffee is sold, the middle of the building where the roasting takes place can be seen; you can walk around, checking out the burlap coffee bags from around the world, lots of old wood, and equipment supporting the roasting operation.
The coffee business was the brainchild of Paul Kalenian, who sold it a half-dozen years ago to loyal and trusted employees Chuck Coffman and John Parks. But they’ve continued to grow the business. At this point, there are typically about 50 coffees to choose from, sourced from around the globe and fresh roasted daily to maximize the quality and flavor. These are available for in-store or mail order purchases.
The owners have also diversified; beyond the roasting operations is a temperature- and humidity-controlled room filled with a small but enticing wine selection. Wines are sourced from the world over, while also including local, boutique wineries such as Broken Creek, Zoll Cellars, and Turtle Creek. Armeno’s holds wine tastings most Saturdays (monthly during the quieter summer days), from 1:00-4:00, and offers attendees discounts from 10-20% on individual, half-case, and case purchases.
Also, across the street is the Berberian farm stand, with local produce; combing the two into a single stop can allow for a quiet, fragrant break in an historic building, followed by enjoyably searching for just the right local wine and food for a nice dinner on a Saturday night, all of which supports local businesses and farm-to-table concepts.
The tasting room itself is in a renovated barn from the late 1800’s. It’s kept a lot of the old wood and so much character, making it a uniquely interesting building. However, you can sit outside or stroll the grounds if you choose but don’t go too far. Down the hill sits one of the older homes in the area, which is still a private residence to this day. They also host live jazz every Saturday afternoon from May to November.
Greenvale Vineyards itself was founded in 1982, so the oldest vines have matured over the course of 36 years. They produce about 3,500 cases (all estate grown) per year from 27 acres of grapes. While they lost a lot of grape leaves in a storm a few years ago, which hurt the yield that year, the vines all bounced back with even better production since then. The tastings covered seven wines and a vermouth, with an eighth wine being sold out. What was great about the tastings was that they covered the entirety of the wines produced. Sampling the full range offered a broader understanding of the winery and left no opportunity for buyer’s remorse.
Like other vineyards in the area, there were more whites than reds due to the climate and soil. However, over five whites and two reds, we found a nice variety, and wines that would combine to cover any occasion and pair with any food. The chardonnay was particularly interesting, with two versions. One paired newer vines with reused oak barrels; the other combined the oldest chardonnay vines with new barrels. Vermouth was their bigger experiment, which was unexpected but fun to try. The cabernet franc topped our list, with a classic taste – flavorful but light, good for any season. With springtime beginning and barbecue season not far away, this wine will pair very well with grilled meats.
Greenvale Vineyards is quiet and off the beaten path. But with the live jazz and historic feel, it’s a great location for functions, or bachelorette parties, a couple of which we saw during our stay. However, it likely wouldn’t ever feel crowded and cramped. The staff also were excellent: knowledgeable of the product, friendly and attentive, and they truly hustled hard and went out of their way to make sure our experience was as great as possible.
Given our overall experience, Greenvale Vineyards is absolutely worth your time and money, and deserving of the successes they’re accumulating.
The town of Concord not only offers this park, but also boasts a beautiful and pedestrian-friendly downtown, historic cemetery that is home to famous authors, and more. While the two-hour kayak trip can pass the afternoon nicely, Concord can also provide an all-day affair
The Dennis Historical Society operates the Josiah Dennis Manse, named after the first minister for whom the town was named after. Open part-time during the summer, it features guides in each room who will educate you, answer questions, and are clearly well-versed in the history of the house and period.
The house also features a room about the town's nautical history, with names and facts that will tie to street signs people might not have otherwise thought about. There is also a rotating exhibit. On the day we visited, we learned about the first major resort in town, the Nobscusset Inn. The dinner menu, photos, and other items on display made for interesting conversation with my daughters.
Donations help keep this house operating, and they're now beginning work on renovating the adjacent 1745 one-room schoolhouse, and discovering the secrets it holds. On a day when you choose to skip the beach, this provides a low-cost, educational opportunity for the whole family that supports a good cause.
The Good Life...
can't exist alone. Places form the setting for your memories. People around us allow experiences to be shared, enriched, and leave us feeling connected and loved.