Traffic whizzes by along Route 4 between Lewiston-Auburn and points north to Farmington and beyond. Passing through Turner on this busy thoroughfare, it’s tempting to believe the town is nothing more than small strip malls, used car dealerships, an air strip and a few restaurants — just another fly-by, a bedroom community for workers commuting to L-A or points south.

Like many similar communities on a road map, the real adventure begins when you get off the bisecting strip of blacktop.

Locals will tell you that Turner is actually comprised of three distinct sections:

— The southern communities of South Turner and West Turner, which include the section of town you see when you are speeding by on Route 4. This area has become the town’s major business district and consists of very few homes.

— Turner’s northern section, consisting of Bear Pond, North Turner, Howe’s Corner, North Turner Bridge and Pleasant Pond. This is also what the locals refer to as the “Twin Bridges” area of town and was once the town’s prime agricultural land, especially up along the ridge bordering North Parish Road.

— And Turner’s central section, made up of Turner Center and Turner Village, along with Chase’s Mills.

A monograph produced by the Maine Humanities Council in 1985, titled “Four Maine Farm Towns, 1940—1984,” clearly documents Turner’s march away from agriculture, along with that of three other communities (Gorham, Union and Houlton). The document offers a snapshot in time, looking back to 1940, then documenting the changes up until 30 years ago. In 1940, Turner had more than 1,400 farms, including 50 dairy farmers. By 1984, Turner had 34 full-time farms. Currently, there are fewer than 10.

Turner now offers rural living along with the benefit of being only 15 minutes from prime shopping in Auburn and just one hour away from Maine’s largest city and the varied cultural attractions of Portland. Then there is the town’s close proximity to Maine’s western mountains and a host of four-season recreational activities.

For those reasons and others, Turner’s population has been growing steadily, with a 15 percent increase over the past decade.

For Clint Boothby, an attorney practicing law, Turner offers many amenities that helped convince him to locate his practice there. Boothby’s office overlooks the Nezinscot River and the falls in historic Turner Village. After leasing space in the historic Hearth & Cricket building since 2007, he recently purchased it.

“Turner has a growing and vibrant population — it’s a very active community. It’s also centrally located for me, as I’m in court in Rumford, Augusta, Farmington, South Paris and Lewiston,” said Boothby. “Plus, I live in Livermore, so I’m close to home.”

What is readily apparent if you turn off hyper-busy Route 4 and head east into the heart of Turner on Turner Center Road (Route 117) is a sense that you are going back in time.

Route 117 is never too far away from the Nezinscot River, as it curves through woods and pasture land prior to emptying into the Androscoggin River. Once known as Twenty Mile River, the Nezinscot provided water power to run the saw mills and grist mills that once were major industries in this part of town.

Traveling east along Turner Center Road, you’ll arrive at Nezinscot Farm, Maine’s first organic dairy, which also features a popular store, bakery and cafe. You are in the heart of Turner’s Historic District. A bit further and you’ll arrive at the once-vibrant Turner Grange (established in 1876). This is also where Turner Centre Creamery — in the early 1900s Maine’s largest creamery and the third-largest in the U.S. — once turned local milk into cheese, butter and ice cream. A fire destroyed the building in 1995.

Nearby, Leavitt Institute houses The Turner Museum and Historical Society, which maintains artifacts and others materials related to the town’s history. Turner Public Library is also in the building, which was built in 1896 by local businessman and philanthropist James Madison Leavitt. It served as the town’s high school until 1968, when consolidation created MSAD 52 and Leavitt Area High School.

The grounds surrounding the Leavitt Institute serve as the village green, with a gazebo hosting a summer concert series called “Music for Mavis.” The gazebo and the concerts were a result of the Turner community coming together to honor the wishes of a local resident, Mavis Leavitt Varney, who had a passion for her community and for music. She longed for a gathering place and gazebo where music would be central and the town could gather and enjoy it. Shortly after she passed away in 2008, her wish became a reality when the gazebo was built by community members. These concerts run through the summer into early September.

Turner is much more than the section of town that you might see passing through on Route 4. Plan time in the near future to visit the town’s pretty village center and catch a concert every Tuesday evening. Stop at Nezinscot Farm for breakfast or lunch in its cafe, browse its store or take home some of its grass-fed beef. (There are also a number of other good restaurants in town to try out.) You could explore the grounds of Maine’s newest state park, Androscoggin Riverlands State Park, located off Center Bridge Road — a 2,588-acre nature refuge with 12 miles of riverfront and 23 miles of recreational trails. If you like apples, baked treats and eclectic gift shops, schedule a trip from April to December to Ricker Orchards, where the Rickers have been growing apples on the Buckfield side of Route 4 for more than nine generations.

Jim Baumer is a freelance writer. He blogs about Moxie, small towns, and other Maine-centric topics at his blog, http://jimbaumerexperience.com/blog. If you’d like him to profile your town, email him at [email protected]

Turner: The drive-by

Incorporated: July 7, 1776

Origin of the name: The original settlement was called Sylvester-Canada by survivors of the Battle of Quebec in 1690, honoring Captain Joseph Sylvester’s company. The town was renamed Turner prior to incorporation, for the Rev. Charles Turner, the town’s first minister.

Population: 5,734 (2010 census)

Significant historical fact: Turner has a rich agricultural past, producing mainly corn and apples, along with milk and dairy products. Because of its exceptional water power resources, the town once had five sawmills and three grist mills, prior to a fire that destroyed much of Turner Village in 1856.

Upcoming events: Music for Mavis concerts are every Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Turner Village green through Sept. 9.

Five good reasons to visit

“The Hearth and Cricket building on the Nezinscot (River) is quite picturesque. . . . On a hot day you will see teenagers jumping off the bridge! Brave souls!”

— Karen Youland, Turner resident

“I love to know the local history of a town. There’s some fantastic history here in Turner.”

— Kurt Schaub, Turner town manager

“I think the recreation is great along the (Nezinscot) river. There are lots of activities, like boating and swimming. My brother actually found some old bottles along the river dating back to the 1800s, too.”

— Mackenzie Varney, who works at Nezinscot Farm Store and Cafe

“Our historical district here (by Leavitt Institute) and the bigger farms up off North Parish Road.”

— Elvera Pardi, volunteer at Turner Historical Society

“Turner’s really a pretty town. There are so many great drives, especially some of the farms up off Upper Street. ”

— Cindy Hathorne, Turner resident


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