– By ELLEN S. GIBSON

Special to the Maine Sunday Telegram

My great-grandfather, Will Stearns, farmed in Oxford County all of his life. In the early 1900s, he raised apples and corn, milk, and hay for his stock. He yarded wood in the winter and made maple syrup in the spring.

Will always took Sundays off. He loved to fish, and rumor has it he shared some of his favorite fishing spots with L.L. Bean. He had a streak of adventure, which probably helped to counter the routines of farm life. Not long after cars became available, he bought a Hudson. These days, it’s difficult to imagine how isolated life was on a hilltop farm, and the car must have seemed like a miracle for its speed and access to family, friends, and the surrounding countryside.

We had relatives in Freeport, so Sunday trips were often made between the farm and the coast, a trip of around 80 miles. Very likely, Will drove on what is now Route 231, a short section of highway bisecting the township of New Gloucester. This is one of my favorite drives, and I like to think that if my great-grandfather could accompany me today, he wouldn’t find the landscape along this route has changed very much. Route 231, also known as Intervale Road, is around 12 miles long, and stretches between North Yarmouth, at the intersection of 115 (the Gray Road), and Route 202, between Gray and Auburn. The road likely follows the route carved out in 1739, when the first settlers came north from Gloucester, Mass.

The northern end of modern day 231 begins at the blinking light on Route 202, about three miles south of the turnpike exit in Auburn. The farms along Route 202 cannot compete with the commercial land grab, most of the fields that are left are posted with “for sale” signs. So turning onto 231 comes as a refreshing change of pace. Though mostly obscured by the highway, you have passed through the village of Upper Gloucester. The red brick Masonic building at the light is a glimpse of its history.

Once safely on 231 you can take a deep breath and slow down. You are in farm country now. Almost immediately on the left is a small farm stand, the Farmer’s Eight Daughters. It’s a self-service stand, where you weigh your produce, choose from the baked goods available daily, and put your money into the lockbox. Signs take you through the process, communicating the spirit of the place, and assuring you that yes, indeed, there are eight daughters.

Just beyond Memorial School, one of New Gloucester’s elementary schools, I was greeted by a group of lively, waving children holding a sign. A car wash! How could I resist? Beyond the group waving down cars was a gaggle of children armed with pails, sponges, rags, squeegees and a hose. On the last day of summer before school, the throngs of kids at Rise and Shine Day Care were having a blast raising money for their programs while learning about customer service.

A little more than a mile south, a long row of sturdy maples along a stone wall guides you into the Lower Village of New Gloucester. Heed the 30 mile per hour sign to admire the Colonial, Georgian, and Greek Revival homes lining both sides of the road. The Chandler House Bed and Breakfast at 377 Intervale Road, built in 1903, until recently was the newest house in town.

I’m sure many of the kids who washed my car came to the New Gloucester Library this summer to participate in the summer reading program, listen to stories in the gazebo, and take to the stage with the Library Players. Librarian Suzan Hawkins, a native of the town, has guided the library and its expansion for the past 25 years. The library is now housed in the old High School, built in 1903. It’s part of the municipal complex — all painted yellow — that includes the town office (1886) and the Meeting Hall. The library was housed here from 1897-1997. It’s now used for selectman’s meetings and the Historical Society archives.

Just below is the main intersection of town with Cobb’s Bridge Road heading east and Gloucester Hill Road heading west. A side trip in either direction will reward anyone who relishes history and architecture. For example, around the corner on Gloucester Hill Road is the First Congregational Church, and Blockhouse Park is a short hike up the road. Here you can learn about the trials of the first settlers in the area. Many of them are at peace today in the Lower Village Cemetery. Continue up the hill to sample donuts, cider, and many varieties of apples at Thompson Apple Orchard, a family business since 1906.

Returning to Intervale Road, take time to stop at the New Gloucester Village Store (926-4224). There’s been a commercial establishment at this location for 100 years. Inside, the Village Store is all modern vibes, cool colors, and great food to eat in or take out. Owner Sam Coggeshall, who grew up in New Gloucester, has worked hard to make the cafe into a community meeting place, comfortable and welcoming for old-timers and newcomers alike. “I love New Gloucester,” he says, and it shows.

The intervale of the Royal River Valley is a huge floodplain just south of Lower Village. The Royal River starts at Sabbathday Lake and flows into the ocean in Yarmouth. This river was the scene of log drives down to the ocean. Trails along the river, courtesy of a local landowner, are accessed from Woodman Road. Check at the Village Store for more information.

Follow the signs from Woodman Road to the studio of Christian Becksvoort, Furniture Maker. Becksvoort is an expert in Shaker furniture design. He restores and reproduces Shaker furniture, and has worked extensively at the Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake. His showroom is a visual feast of polished cherry pieces. He designed a candleholder called “Jack-in-the-Pulpit” that curls provocatively from the ceiling as though suspended in space. To be sure you’ll find him at home, call before arriving, 926-4608.

Continuing south on Intervale Road, you will pass Intervale Farm, a striking brick farmhouse and barn with fields falling away on both sides. Later in the fall, the farm will display an assortment of pumpkins, squashes, and gourds. You can stock up for the winter with these nutritious keepers, eat well, and feel good, knowing your investment in the local food economy will continue to circulate and benefit this community. For more information, see intervalefarm.com.

Past the Universalist Meeting House, the Penny Store and the Webber Cemetery, you come to Pineland Farms. This is a 5,000-acre complex houses a working farm, a therapeutic riding center, a botanical garden and a thriving business center. Opened in 1908 as an institution for the “feeble minded,” Pineland closed in 1996. The buildings were falling into disrepair and its future was uncertain when the Libra Foundation acquired it in 2000.

Today, this center for business, education, and recreation positively gleams. Looking very much like a college campus, the newly renovated brick buildings are filled with businesses and provide over 800 jobs.

The Dunn School, another of New Gloucester’s elementary schools, is here. There are tennis courts, and miles of trails for hiking in the summer and cross country-skiing in the winter. The farm hosts activities for children all year. And if you want to stay for more than just a few hours, there are guest houses that can accommodate the needs of small and large groups. For more information, go to PinelandFarms.org.

Just south of Pineland, beyond the new barn that houses the equestrian center, you cross the boundary into North Yarmouth. Route 231 ends a few miles later at the junction with Route 115. From here, Yarmouth, Freeport, and Portland are just a stone’s throw away.

Retracing my steps, I stopped on the way home at the Chandler House Bed and Breakfast and talked to innkeepers Al and Shannon Warren. The Chandler House was built in 1903 by C. P. Chandler as a present for his second wife. She must have been well-loved, because this house is a stunner, melding the best of craftsmanship and materials with design elements of a new century. The barn was originally the Baptist Church. It was built in 1839 and moved to the back of the lot in 1900. The Warrens share the work of this enterprise and enjoy exploring the area. They have an easy affability that makes you feel instantly at home. Guests come from the far reaches of the world and from across town. No one wants to leave.

That’s how I feel. But leave I must. There’s work to be done at home on the farm, and great-grandfather Will is with me all the way.

Ellen Gibson is a freelance writer who lives in West Paris.