Part of a series highlighting summer destinations and activities along Massachusetts highways and byways.
CHARLTON — Cam Barre, 15, has spent most of the past week where few teenagers want to be in July: inside his home.
The Oxford High School sophomore is recovering from both meningitis and Lyme disease, and that means a lot of rest and not a lot of outings.
“I didn’t complain about it,” he said, of learning that his July would be low-key. “I’m not a complainer.”
Nor, however, did he complain when friend Zachary Tremblay, 17, texted him proposing an excursion to nearby Dresser Hill Farm Dairy in Charlton.
“I missed the ice cream,” Barre said Thursday night, grinning, as he sat with Tremblay and two other friends on Dresser Hill’s wooden patio with the sun setting behind them.
Perched atop a scenic ridge on Route 31, Dresser Hill seems to offer a similar summertime boost for many in the area.
Gone are the days when the stand churned its own ice cream and cows grazed just beyond the patio, but even so, it remains a popular summertime destination. On Thursday evening, parked cars crowded the edges of Route 31, and a moderate line at Dresser Hill’s ordering windows seemed to deter no one.
Nine wooden picnic tables on the deck overlook hills to the west, and six other tables by the road accommodate larger crowds. Around 8 p.m. Thursday, most of the tables were occupied, some by families, some by teens.
The scene reminded Ellen Griffin, who grew up in Worcester, of the days in the 1960s when her family used to make the half-hour trip to Dresser Hill.
“It hasn’t changed at all,” she said.
In many ways, she’s right. Originally a schoolhouse in the 1940s and 1950s, the building became an ice cream stand in 1957, owner Daniel Saad said.
When Saad, who now owns six other establishments, bought the stand in 2001, he knew the place well.
“That one was a no-brainer to me because I was brought up on Dresser Hill ice cream,” said Saad, who grew up in nearby Oxford and Dudley. “That was my backyard.”
One window down from the ice cream stand but under the same roof, a separate menu for Dresser Hill’s Clam Box offers a wide variety of seafood dinners.
Nancy Robert, who was born in Massachusetts and visiting from Phoenix, helped two family members with a combo platter of fried haddock, clams, scallops, and shrimp.
The platter earned positive reviews, particularly from her. The scallops, she said, were “sweet, sweet, sweet, like little candies.”
“Don’t plan on eating it by yourself,” advised Robert of the platter, which also comes with fries and cole slaw.
Tapping his belly, husband Mike Robert concurred.
“I have no trouble eating a lot of food,” he said. “And I couldn’t finish it off.”
Far from the center of Charlton, which has a population of about 13,000, the seafood and ice cream stand has small-town charm, said Sarah Banach, an assistant manager.
“It’s always been that kind of place where you feel like you’re welcomed,” said Banach, another longtime customer.
Diane and Andy Obrycki, of Oxford, agreed.
As the couple lingered over ice cream with their son Matthew, 4, Diane said a typical visit includes bumping into people she knows.
“I’m shocked that I don’t know anybody here,” she said.
For Chris Dutting, Dresser Hill brings up memories of the times he and his late grandfather would eat clam strips and ice cream together.
Now 17, Dutting stopped by Thursday with two friends from Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley.
“It was pretty cool as a little kid,” he recalled. “You could look at the cows as you ate your ice cream.”
While the cows are no longer there, the deck still offers a magnificent view of the sun setting behind the hills to the west of Charlton. The crowd slows down after sunset, leaving the chirp of crickets as the evening’s soundtrack.
The stretch of Route 31 by Dresser Hill has no streetlights, and as the westward vista slides into blackness, the lights of the ice cream stand shine bright against a dark summer sky.
Steve Gamelli, of Charlton, brought his daughters Grace, 9, and Hanna, 7, after Grace’s softball game. Grace had been struggling at the plate in recent games, and before Thursday’s, Gamelli proposed an ice cream outing if she played well.
In addition to a strong night at the plate, Grace threw out a runner at third base.
As Hanna focused on damage control from a dripping cone, Grace was asked if she thought about the ice cream during the game.
“A lot,” she said, smiling broadly.