A haven found to west.


Byline: Nancy Sheehan

An old, red Thunderbird convertible, its top down, sailed through the sunshine along Route 31 on a recent afternoon. The classic car, in gleaming good shape, looked to be of maybe 1964 vintage. The driver was smiling broadly, his cheeks bumping the lower edges of large sunglasses. His passenger had knotted a chiffon scarf under her chin, trying in vain to keep her blond hair from blowing wildly in the wind.

They followed the road south through a long, unbroken stretch of woods in Ashby, the northernmost Massachusetts town Route 31 passes through before the New Hampshire line.

Back when the car was new, the convertible couple would have found similar unspoiled scenery almost all the way to Connecticut, where the winding old road abruptly ends just over the Dudley-Thompson line. Even 10 years ago, it would have been a much more rural ride. But now, only short stretches of green remain amid swelling suburbs and graceless tracts of large, look-alike houses, boom developments popping up in what used to be the middle of nowhere.

Route 31 is really just an overgrown country lane that somehow landed a route number long ago. For decades, it seemed the builders would never find this winding, paved path, so small it merits only a faint gray line on most maps.


But the insatiable forces of development that first consumed the once verdant land between Boston and Framingham, and later Framingham and Worcester, have found a new frontier.

"It's changing the whole focus. We're rebuilding the landscape," said Vincent E. Powers, professor of Urban Studies at Worcester State College. "To the west of Worcester, it's still somewhat pristine. At one time that was true to the east. When you went through Framingham, Southboro, Northboro and so forth, there was a lot of very open land. Look at it now. As that land gets even more built up, the development pattern will switch to the west of Worcester, where the cheaper land is." And where Route 31 runs its meandering course.

Development aside, it remains a beautiful road. Except for annoying detour-marred stretches in Fitchburg, it winds through towns of still manageable size, where white churches watch over neatly mown town Commons lined with stately homes that have stood since Colonial times. The road ties the old towns together, a paved version of the weaving farm-to-market road it was back then.


To travel Route 31 is to take the high road, skimming the...

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