Early fall is the best time of the year and the best time to drive your favorite roads, to gaze upon your favorite hills and streams, barns and houses.

The Height of Land on the road to Rangeley arguably offers the most dramatic vista in our area and who does not love the winding South Rumford Road?

But Route 232 has had my interest since those distant times when, driving from the big city, shedding stress with every mile, finally we turn off Route 26 onto 232, the last stretch of the road to our place.

Over time, driving that same road, you begin to feel a kind of ownership of the sites and sights. Still, for all those rides, we’d seen the inside and the occupants of very few of our “landmark” houses.

Until last week.

During a dooryard visit with Grace and Dave McKivergan, the subject of old farmhouses came up. Their Abbott Mills farm was built about 1858. They told me about old newspapers they’d found during renovation and the likelihood that some major alteration had been done — after a fire? — because the front stair wasn’t where you’d expect it to be.

Same day, in front of Lyle Martin’s old house, an out-of-state car was parked. We’d noticed someone was putting on a new roof. That was the new owner, Peter Irving. He’s just the right man to put the place to rights: he teaches carpentry in a Massachusetts high school.

He was very glad to show me around. Some of the Indian shutters are still in place and all three beautiful fireplaces on the central chimney work. Peter believes the house was built around 1838, not earlier because, he explained, the nails in the old beams were manufactured, not hand wrought. Restoring the house “is going to take years,” he said.

Another ride over 232 was on the next day’s agenda. Emboldened by Mr. Irving’s welcome, yours truly looked for life at Albert “Red” Paul’s house in Rumford Corner. His elegant small house is now owned by Matthew Burnham of Rumford Corner. He lives a few doors away so he surely knows he’s bought a haunted house!

“Yep,” Sheridan Thornton said, “that chicken is a landmark now.”

That big chicken painted on one wall of a Thornton barn is dear to all who ride that road. The Thornton brothers, Sheridan and Charles, have 26,000 chicks in the big metal barn. Day-old chicks grow to be 20 weeks old in there, then shipped to Pete & Gerry’s Organic Eggs in Monroe, N.H. Who knew? Not me — too busy ogling the 1931 Model A and Jeanine Thornton’s horse Cary.

If you know your Rumford history, you know that the first settler, Jonathan Keyes, and his sons built a tiny dwelling on today’s Route 232, between the Hammonds’ place and Lyle Martin’s — oops, Peter Irving’s — house. Decades of neglect made its destruction a sad necessity.

In light of that and other losses, seeing favorite old houses in the care of devoted, knowledgeable — and young — families is just plain wonderful.

Over in Milton, the little house that was once the home of the formidable Miss Jackson, English teacher and dairy farmer, is now home to Jason and Mandy Rand, who are from around here, and their 2-month-old son, along with Nigerian goats, many guinea hens and chickens. Mandy and Jason found a coin dated 1839 in one of the house walls, so it was likely built that same year.

It’s been a long time since a Moody occupied the old Moody place (1834) in Rumford Corner. After the Moodys came the Besseys (Harold Bessey lives next door), Ladds, Gallants, and 13 years ago Laurie and Peter Koch and their five daughters. Another work in progress, the old house is being painstakingly and authentically restored.

Like Peter Irving and the Rands, the Kochs will be working on their walls — and roofs, sills, beams — for a long while yet. “We can do this just once,” Laurie Koch said. But, as the saying goes, if you do it right, once will be enough.

Linda Farr Macgregor is a freelance writer; contact her: [email protected]


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