9 Industrial-strength drive turns relaxing.

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Byline: Frederick A. Smock COLUMN: HITTING THE ROAD Driving Route 9 across the heart of Worcester County from Southboro to Ware requires patience and persistence. But those who have both will be rewarded with visits to some quintessential New England villages, complete with white church spires and tree-lined town commons. The journey begins slowly, often at almost a crawling pace, through the urban areas on the east side of Worcester. This is industrial-strength driving, with heavy traffic, many traffic lights, and an almost continuous strip of commercial and industrial sites all the way to Worcester. On the other hand, this section of Route 9 is home to Spag's in Shrewsbury, the mecca of bargain hunters. And since the first question many visitors to Worcester County ask is how to get to Spag's, it qualifies as a tourist attraction as well as a local business. POST ROAD Much of the length of Route 9 across Central Massachusetts is known as the Boston Post Road or simply the Post Road. Benjamin Franklin, who laid out this route more than two centuries ago, would probably be amazed to see it today. In 1753, 22 years before he became a founding father of the new United States of America, Franklin was the British king's postmaster. To help assure that the mail would flow efficiently between New York and Boston, Franklin laid out three "post roads" for the riders hired to carry the mail. What is now Route 9 was Franklin's most popular route. It came north from New York City to the Springfield area and then followed the Bay Path, an old Indian trail, to the Palmer area. It then went north up the Quaboag River valley to Brookfield, turned east through what are now the communities of Brookfield, East Brookfield, Spencer, Leicester and Worcester, and continued on to Boston. Even with all the traffic and commercial activity in the Worcester area, there are some pleasant surprises along Route 9. Lake Quinsigamond, its blue waters dotted with sailboats, provides some scenic views in the midst of Worcester's urban sprawl. Route 9 travels within a few blocks of the center of the city, passing both the city's modern police headquarters and the courthouse. The highway also passes Elm Park in Worcester, with its expanse of green grass, water and trees, surrounded by shopping centers and three-deckers. And, not far from the park is the campus of WPI, one of Worcester's many colleges. There is a change in scenery after moving through the city and into the smaller towns and...

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