Whenever I’m struggling to decide where to go shooting in the Monadnock region, I know I can’t go wrong by heading south on Route 124 from Marlborough to Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Everyone in our region has their own personal relation with Monadnock. The mountain dominates and defines so much of our lives that many may argue passionately for their own favorite locations and vistas. I don’t believe, however, that there is a stretch of road in this corner of New Hampshire that can match the concentration of classic New England scenes that can be found along the 12 miles from Marlborough to Jaffrey. Mt. Monadnock’s dramatic profile is the major attraction along the route, but the road is rich in classic historic New England architecture and pristine farmland. Let’s take a trip down this winding and often bumpy slice of New England.
The exploration of an old New England road is always about the joy of wandering. As you proceed through this virtual tour, you can also wander off, from time to time, to my personal blog, Jeffrey Newcomer Photography, to see more photographs from Route 124 that didn’t fit into this article. But don’t forget to come back to complete the journey.
So grab your coffee, que up some tunes and let’s get started.
Route 124 heads southeast from Route 101 in Marlborough, NH, about 4 miles east of the intersection of Main Street and Route 101 in Keene.
1) Frost Free Library
Shortly after taking the turn and crossing Miniwawa Brook, the road passes through a small village which includes the Marlborough Frost Free Library. Built in 1865, the library is a classic example of a small New England town library. The original stone building was donated by Rufus Frost who grew up in Marlborough. Although he moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts, he never lost his sense of attachment to his small town New England roots. Expanded in 1967, the library remains a vibrant part of the community and well worth a visit. If you have a chance, check out old Rufus’ portrait above the reading area.
2) Frost Hill Road Views
At 2.3 miles Frost Hill Road turns off to the left. Immediately after the turn you will find the first – and arguably one of the a best – views of Mount Monadnock. The mountain is beautifully framed through road-side trees and I think shows its best profile. This view alone is worth the trip and you might want to get there soon. The land has been for sale for a number of years and development could easily destroy this vista forever. A short distant further on Frost Hill Road is the old Marlborough Meeting House site with a lovely glade overlooking Monadnock through white birches. Back on Route 124, the road from here is spotted with views opening to the mountain, as well as lovely old houses and farms.The next major attraction though is Perkins Pond.
3) Perkins Pond
The road actually traverses the Perkins Pond on a narrow causeway, but there is a shallow pull-over which accommodates a car or two. The view from here is spectacular in all seasons, but in the fall, the reflection of the mountain and the surrounding foliage is perfection. There isn’t much room on the side of the road to set up your tripod, so be careful. The locals are accustom to seeing entranced photographers wandering across the road, but they also know that a sudden horn blast could send you entertainingly into the water.
4) East Hill Farm
At the far side of the causeway, Monadnock Street heads off to the right. Just about a half mile up the hill is East Hill Farm, a combination working farm and family resort. In all seasons, there is something to do at the farm: swimming indoors or outdoors, boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, water skiing, hay or sleigh rides, Nordic skiing and ice skating. This is a great place to experience New England farm life, and all in the shadow of Mount Monadnock. The farm has great views of the mountain and you might even get a cow to provide your foreground interest.
5) Old Toll Road
If you are up for a hike the Old Toll Road connects to trails leading to the summit of Mount Monadnock. The road travels about halfway up the mountain to the site of the Half-Way House which, before it burned in 1954, hosted many illustrious guests including Mark Twain. Today there is one private home just below the site. The owners get to drive, but the rest of us must slog up along the Old Toll Road Trail. The views from the top of Monadnock are breathtaking. On a clear day you can see the Boston skyline to the south and Mt Washington to the north. Our journey though is along Route 124, so get out of the clouds and back in your car!
6) Grand View Inn and a Grand View
As you travel further on Route 124 the profile of the mountain begins to change. Monadnock becomes more rounded, accentuating its mass rather than its prominent peak. You begin to feel how glaciation has ground the mountain into its current form. I think this is best seen across the broad pasture just beyond the Grand View Inn. There are few other places where the full mass of the mountain is so clearly displayed.
7) Sheridan’s Pasture
Take it slow. This view comes on quickly. Just beyond an old inn is a elongated pasture leading straight toward the mountain. The pasture has apple trees that bloom in the spring, a nice old barn and one stately horse. Sheridan is frequently in the field and can almost always be counted on to look the wrong way when you are ready to shoot. The horse is cared for by two lovely sisters who live in the adjoining family home. In their youth, the house was a popular family run inn catering to city dwellers who frequented the Monadnock region to escape the summer heat. They are extremely friendly, but please respect their privacy and don’t venture out on their land without permission. But I didn’t need to tell you that.
8) Long View to Monadnock
Here is another long pasture leading the eye to Monadnock. If you are lucky, or persistent, you will see cows contentedly grazing and oblivious to the spectacle.
9) Jaffrey Center
One of my favorite stops along Route 124 is the old Jaffrey Center with its quintessential colonial New England meeting house. It is an amazing building with an amazing story. The Jaffrey Meeting House was raised on June 17, 1775, the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill. It was recorded that the workers could hear the distant canon fire from Charlestown over 60 miles away. The meeting house is the center piece of a wonderfully preserved little village. Behind the meeting house are the old horse sheds built for the parishioners in 1808 and the Old Burying Ground, which contains the graves of freed slave Amos Fortune and Author Willa Cather.
10) Monadnock Inn
Just down the road from Jaffrey Center you will find the Monadnock Inn. Built in 1830’s as a private residence, the Inn has been welcoming guest since the 1870’s. It is a warm and comfortable choice for a center of operations for your exploration of the Monadnock Region. The Inn features Thorndike’s Restaurant and Parson’s Pub.
11) Jaffrey Village
As you approach the end of the tour you will come to Jaffrey Village, a more modern community, but still with wonderful attractions. The Jaffrey Civic Center, at about 12.5 miles, is a non-profit cultural facility whose focus is to provide a community center for education and artistic purposes. The building has some of the nicest gallery space in the region and hosts a great variety of expositions featuring regional artists. They even allowed me to show my work last April. Check out their web site for current activities.
12) Sunflowers Cafe
There are a number of great places to get something to eat after your tour, but Sunflowers Cafe, across the street from the Civic Center, deserves special mention. This cozy cafe has wonderful food in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Perhaps most importantly, the Cafe will be worth a visit later this spring when my pictures will be on the walls.
13) Kimball Farm Ice Cream Restaurant
Where better to end a tour than at a “Ice Cream Restaurant”! Kimballs is a classic, summer only, family attraction that should not be missed. It is also located close to the Jaffrey Airport where, every year on an evening in August, you can experience one of the best, chest-rattling fireworks shows that you can imagine. The 23rd Annual Jaffrey Festival of Fireworks will be held Saturday, August 18, 2012. Come early. It is an all-day party.
This is only a short list of some of the scenic attractions along this special stretch of New England road. I have been exploring this route for years, in all seasons and all kinds of weather and I always find something new and surprising. Don’t be afraid to venture off the main route onto the many side roads. When exploring New England the best thing to do is to have a definite plan, and then to stray from it as often as possible. Enjoy!
There’s so many fantastic scenic vistas to see along Route 124.
Click here to see what I mean in my companion posting on my personnal blog.
Jeffrey Newcomer Photography Blog
For more of my work, you can check out my album website at :
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For more pictures from Route 124, check out my Route 124 Flickr Set:
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Monadnock, The Mountain that Stands Alone: a feature-length documentary about our defining icon will be premiering next spring. Check out our trailer, with video from Route 124, at: