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Day-trippers

A day trip to the Cape along back roads south of Boston

South Shore Natural Science Center
| 
Norwell 
Diane DeNapoli and son Patrick, 5, take in the science center.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

South Shore Natural Science Center | Norwell Diane DeNapoli and son Patrick, 5, take in the science center.

Fun fact: The long-fabled stories of the boogie man were probably inspired by the real-life accounts of well-preserved bodies found centuries ago in oxygen-deprived bogs in northern Europe, much like Norwell’s Black Pond Bog.

For millennia, parents have been threatening misbehaving children with the “boggy man,” which through time evolved into the boogie man, according to John Galluzzo, director of education at the South Shore Natural Science Center, and a one-man historical trivia machine.

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This is the sort of thing a person can learn when hanging around at the Natural Science Center, nestled on 30 acres of woodland on Jacobs Lane in Norwell off Route 53. And while the boogie man is not part of the extensive nature exhibit, carnivorous plants that grow along Black Pond Bog, like sundews, certainly are.

But even though the center has been around for 50 years, travelers on their way to the Cape using nearby Route 3 may not know it exists.

In fact, people heading to Cape Cod along the familiar and oft-congested Route 3-to-Route 6 beaten path are driving past a treasure trove of New England history, not to mention amusements, shops, and eateries, along Route 53.

Making a day trip out of the commute to the Cape might not seem practical in the rushed, linear mentality prevalent in modern destination travel, but it is worth it, Galluzzo said.

“I’ve spent most of my life avoiding Route 3, trying to find other ways down there,” he said. “It’s definitely worth taking the side road if you have the opportunity and the time and if you need anything on the way down. There are so many places to stop today, convenience stores, grocery stores, everything else. If you need to do that, why blast down 3 when you can stop on 53 and see some of the local stuff and maybe divert to a place like this, or to one of our many historical societies?”

Route 53 runs from Kingston to Quincy and used to make up a section of the original Route 3 before present-day Route 3 was fully completed in 1963. It was the main road to the Cape at a time when people made stops along the way, particularly at Queen Anne’s Corner on the Hingham-Norwell line, known in the 1880s as the terminus of the Hingham Street Railway Co., and later as one of the last park-and-dine spots before reaching the Cape, Galluzzo said.

On the Friday that kicked off Memorial Day weekend this year, while congestion was the order of the day along Route 3, Route 53 provided a scenic, traffic-free ride southbound from Quincy.

Just a quick 3-mile detour from the South Shore Natural Science Center along Main Street in Norwell is Shields General Store, located in the same building that served as a State Police barracks in the late 1910s, and later as convenience stores, including Drum’s Emporium until 2010. Today, travelers can stop by there for everything from wine and snacks to Richardson’s Ice Cream and Richie’s Slush.

A good way to burn off the ice cream and slush sugar high is a visit to StarLand Sports and Fun Park in Hanover, just 6 miles from Shields on Route 53. The 60-year-old amusement park just reopened after shutting down in 2012 to undergo $1.6 million of upgrades that include a larger arcade, new laser tag, bumper cars, an 18-hole miniature golf course, and batting cages, said general manager Chris Horne. The park, currently open Friday to Sunday, is scheduled to open full time for the season on June 23, with a new go-kart track to open in mid-July.

“I grew up in this area. Everyone remembers StarLand. Anyone in this area doing anything has always stopped here, from Weymouth going to the Cape,” Horne said. “Hanover is a great place to stop for a quick dinner or anything like that as they’re going down. You could think of it as a midway stop; get an ice cream, play mini golf, take a break, and then back you go.”

Less than 2 miles from StarLand is the Cardinal Cushing Centers campus in Hanover, prominently featuring the Portiuncula Chapel , a replica of the Porziuncola in Italy and the final resting place of Cardinal Richard Cushing . Cushing made sure that frescos and materials that went into the chapel came from Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis and the location of the original chapel that inspired it.

Visitors are also encouraged to visit the marketplace on campus, which includes a café, a thrift store, and a gift shop.

One of the most recommended places along Route 53, and one that elicits excitement among locals, is Bongi’s Turkey Roost in Duxbury.

“It’s pretty cool,” Horne, of StarLand, said of Bongi’s. “Not many of those left.”

“I’m a huge Bongi’s fan,” said Donna Curtin, executive director of the Plymouth Antiquarian Society. “Growing up, our Thanksgiving turkeys were from Bongi’s. They make the best turkey pies in the world. I suggest you get the mixed meat pie, with both dark and white meat.”

Bongi’s was started as a chicken farm in 1938 by newlyweds Tony and Anna Bongiorno, who made the switch to turkeys after World War II when Route 53, home to seven turkey farms, was known as “Turkey Row,” said Tom Pierce, the third-generation owner.

“Forty years ago, it was very popular among commuters to the Cape,” Pierce said, adding that people would stop by on Fridays to pick up boxed lunches on their way down, and then back again on Mondays on their way back up to Boston. Ironically, Pierce said, the most popular offering at Bongi’s is the fried chicken, followed by turkey sandwiches and salads.

At this point in the back roads journey to the Cape, Route 53 connects with Route 3A in Kingston, where Paula Fisher, director of marketing for Plymouth County Convention and Visitors Bureau, recommends visiting the Major John Bradford House at 50 Landing Road. The house, now home to the Jones River Village Historical Society, was built in 1714 by Major John Bradford, grandson of Governor William Bradford, for his family. Breakfasts are hosted at the home in July and August.

Peter Forman, president and chief executive of the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, suggests a stop less than a mile away on 3A at Solstice Restaurant for a bit of history. The restaurant is located in a renovated 19th-century train station, complete with the original train depot facing the former Old Colony Railroad line, which was discontinued in 1959.

“It’s good food, too,” Forman said.

The last leg of Route 3A is a well-traveled one as it winds down the Plymouth shoreline, home to such popular attractions as Plimoth Plantation, Mayflower II, and Plymouth Rock. Across the street from Plymouth Rock is the Mayflower Society House, an 18th-century mansion built by Edward Winslow, a descendant of the Pilgrim of the same name.

The interior, with its mahogany-paneled rooms and Tudor ceilings, gives the house a “Downton Abbey” feel, making it a must-see destination for fans of the British period drama, said Walter Powell, executive director of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, which runs the museum. The group recently joined Backroads of the South Shore, a collaboration of 16 historical organizations created to encourage people to get off the highways and visit more than 20 historical sites.

Down the street on Route 3A is the Harlow Old Fort House, one of three historic homes owned and maintained by the Plymouth Antiquarian Society. Built in 1677, it was home to settler William Harlow.

“Those folks on their way to the Cape have their blinders on, and you’re zooming to sit in traffic. Change your timing a little bit,” said Curtin, the society’s executive director, and past president of the Backroads of the South Shore group. “It takes a little more effort, but meander, wonder, discover, get out there. You’re not going to get lost; you have your GPS in the car.”

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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