Now that the sun's out and summer vacation's in, it's the perfect time to pack up the car and get away from the city for a day of sightseeing. Here are some unusual sites to check out.
Start in Salem, N.H., home of America's Stonehenge (105 Haverhill Road, 603-893-8300, www.stonehengeusa.com).
It's not quite as famous as its British counterpart, but this ancient site is riddled with mysteries too. A collection of man-made chambers probably constructed by indigenous peoples — or, as some contend, the work of pre-Columbian Europeans? You'll have to decide for yourself. From Salem, continue to Yarmouth, Maine, to see Eartha, the world's largest revolving and rotating globe. Located in the atrium of the DeLorme Map Store (2 DeLorme Drive, 207-846-7100, www.delorme.com/mapstore) , this three-story model of the planet took two years to build and was unveiled in 1998.
On the way back from Yarmouth, the
International Cryptozoology Museum
(11 Avon St., Portland, www.cryptozoo
logymuseum.com) is a worthy stop. The museum, which says it's the only one of its kind in the world, is an odd place dedicated to animals and monsters that have found a home in folklore. Among the most well-known collection items are alleged yeti hair samples gathered by Sir Edmund Hillary, Bigfoot footprint casts, and the FeeJee Mermaid prop from the 1999 film, "P. T. Barnum." The top attraction is an 8-foot, 500-pound Bigfoot replica that makes for great pictures. Fifteen minutes down the road, Len Libby Candies (419 US Route 1, Scarborough 207-883-4897, www.len
libby.com) boasts "Lenny," a 1,700-pound, life-size chocolate moose. Try not to eat him.
Head to Concord, N.H., home of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center
(2 Institute Drive, 603-271-7827, www
This planetarium boasts a massive replica of the Mercury-Redstone Rocket that Granite State native Alan Shepard piloted when he became the first American in space, as well as other year-round exhibits and a planetarium theater. Note that if you want to see a real Redstone Rocket, you'll have to head to Warren, N.H., which has one sitting on the town green. From Concord, head west until you hit Hillsborough, home of the Franklin Pierce Homestead State Historic Site
(301 2nd NH Turnpike, 603-478-3165, www.nhstateparks.org/explore
/state-parks/franklin-pierce-homestead-state-historic-site.aspx#legend). The childhood home of the only New Hampshire native elected president is a reminder of the lavish lifestyle of early 1800s New England aristocrats and contains some unique mementos from Pierce's life. Guided tours are offered Friday-Tuesday through the summer.
From Hillsborough, head west 43 miles on Route 9 to West Chesterfield and the Madame Sherri Forest Reservation (entrance on Gulf Road, 603-224-9945, www.forestsoci
ety.org). That may seem like a long drive for a nature trail, but this isn't your average walk in the woods. Madame Antoinette Sherri, an early-20th-century costume designer with ties to Hollywood, built an extravagant French chateau-style retreat in the forest in 1931, and the mansion remained there until it was destoyed in a fire in 1962, leaving just its stone foundation and curving arch staircase behind. The stairs, which seem to lead up to the treetops, are quite a sight.
If you're looking for a photo op on your way back, it's hard to beat Gardner, Mass. Nicknamed "Chair City," Gardner was once one of the world's foremost producers of furniture, and has celebrated the industry with some gigantic models, the biggest of which sits in front of the Helen Mae Sauter Elementary School (130 Elm St.). The behemoth stands 20 feet 6 inches and held the title of world's largest chair from 1976-79.
As you head south, stop at Fairbanks House in Dedham (511 East St., 781-326-1170, www.fairbankshouse.org). Built between 1637 and 1641, the house is the oldest remaining timber-frame home in the country, having been completed just two decades after the Mayflower arrived in Plymouth. The grounds are open to the public, and guided tours are offered over the summer, allowing visitors to explore the interior of the house, which contains countless artifacts from its early days.
From Dedham, continue south to Newport, R.I., home to the mysterious Old Stone Mill (Touro Park, Mill Street at Bellevue Avenue). For many years, it was argued that Vikings or the Knights Templar built the tower hundreds of years before Columbus arrived, which would make it the first European structure in the New World, but popular belief is that the 28-foot tower served as a windmill and was built by Governor Benedict Arnold (great-grandfather of the Revolutionary War traitor) in the 17th century.
From the tower, drive 72 miles to East Haddam, Conn., where you'll find Gillette Castle (67 River Road, 860-526-2336). William Gillette, a famous actor who portrayed Sherlock Holmes, began building the 24-room mansion in 1914, modeling it after medieval castles in Europe, with tremendous results. The castle is straight out of a Disney movie, simultaneously whimsical and imposing. The interior is open throughout the summer. Gillette's property is now a state park with hiking trails.
Jon Mael can be reached at email@example.com.