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For an alternative route, take the road less traveled

When you drive down Route 58, you think, this is what getting to the Cape used to be about: leaving the confines of the city as the country slowly rolled out before you, passing through towns like Hanson, Halifax, and Plympton, with their small greens and traditional town halls, their local restaurants and farm stands, their overhanging shade trees and handsome houses.

These days, most people head down Routes 24 or 3, on gray asphalt expanses that look like any other highway in the United States.

If you have even a little extra time, however, it is possible to follow a small-town road. Try taking Route 58 for the bulk of the journey, a fairly direct way that stretches from South Weymouth, through Carver, across Interstate 495, almost to Route 195.

It's just two lanes, but traffic generally moves without the backups encountered on many nearby roadways, like Route 3A. On them it can seem that every other car is trying to turn into a restaurant or shopping center parking lot.

One reason for 58's headway is that this is primarily a residential road. You can see signs of ''progress," like Shaw's supermarket complexes where 58 meets Route 14 in Hanson and Route 44 in Halifax. Still, there are long bucolic stretches where you'll see stately homes, fields, and woods instead of Burger King or Subway.

What has saved this route? For one, it's inconvenient.

''It hasn't been developed because of its distance from the major routes [3 and 24] that run north to south," says Christopher Cooney, president of the Metro South Chamber of Commerce, which includes many of the towns along Route 58.

Adds Bruce Hughes, economic development planner for the region's Old Colony Planning Council, ''The development is where the major intersections are, like 58 and 106 in Halifax, where they've got the Wal-Mart. That's kept pressure off much of the rest, which has retained its rural feel."

The abundant natural resources nearby also limit growth. Monponsett Pond in Hanson supplies water to Brockton. The southern end of the road, around Carver, is lined with cranberry bogs. Area farmers grow much of the country's cranberry crop, and on a fall drive you may see workers harvesting the year's yield.

The result is that the road still feels a lot like it did when Hughes was growing up in Abington.

''I love that road," he says. ''My father would say, 'Let's go for a ride,' and we'd go down 58. One of my favorite parts is the old divided highway in Carver. As a little boy, I remember that. It was the first divided road in the country. You'd drive down and there are trees in the middle, with shade."

The stretch he is referring to, known as Savery Avenue, was given to the town by local iron merchant William Savery in 1861, and paved in 1907. Savery requested that the trees in the middle and to the sides of the road stay intact ''for shade and ornament for man and beast."

One of the most charming stretches of 58 is around the Plympton town green, an area that has been declared eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The Congregational Church was built in 1830; several earlier versions predated it. Well-preserved examples of early Colonial stone carving are on headstones in the cemetery, at the north end of the green. Woods, open marsh, farm stands, and horse farms line the road. Of all the towns along this route, says Hughes, ''Plympton is probably the most what it was like 40, 50 years ago."

''The best thing about Plympton is that it's stayed country," says resident Lillian Gilpin. ''There's a lot of land that you can't build on here. There's not one morning you go by the cornfields that you don't see nine deer in the field." Gilpin's family owns Rocking Horse Farm, where she gives riding lessons and trains American saddlebreds, hackney ponies, and Morgan horses on four acres fronting Route 58.

''I do have a lot of people stopping in to look, or play with the miniature ponies," she says.

Route 58 is likely to change in the coming years, with the introduction of a commuter rail line that now runs through several of its towns.

''People are discovering that area now," says Cooney. ''With the rail going in, we're seeing more development. It's also more accessible to Boston."

McDonald's already has come to Route 58 in Hanson, though, according to local merchant Lynda Quigley, ''Our town was very fussy about what can be built along the street. When McDonald's went up, they didn't let them put the golden arches up."

For now, though, the more typical fare along this road is still the one-of-a-kind spot, like local favorites BR's Monponsett Inn, a restaurant overlooking Monponsett Pond, and the Olde Hitching Post Restaurant & Tavern.

Quigley's place, Heidi's Hollow Farm, is another regular stop for locals. Just north of the intersection of Routes 14 and 58, it's the kind of combination store you can have only when you own the business. Quigley sells Richardson's ice cream made in Middleton, crafts, and antiques, which she and her husband, Tony, find on regular jaunts when they're not working.

They've been in business since 1988, tracing the store's genesis to a failed vacation plan to canoe the Connecticut River.

''It was Class 4 rapids, very high," Quigley remembers. ''I said, 'I don't think we'd better do it.' We went antiquing instead. Tony said, 'I had the weirdest dream last night, that we owned an ice cream shop.' I said, 'We could do that.' "

Now, she says, ''Kids call us Ma and Pa. It's not, 'Let's go to Heidi's,' it's, 'Let's go to Ma's and Pa's.' People don't even know Tony's name! We have the same crowd every Saturday night. I can tell you who's coming and where they're sitting. We are their entertainment."

The Quigleys live at the back of the store. The only line of demarcation is a cord stretched across an open doorway, but there's no ''Private" sign, and Quigley says even first-time visitors have been known to make themselves at home.

''They smell the dinner, undo the ribbon and walk in," she says.

Contact Kathy Shorr, a freelance writer in Wellfleet, at kshorr@mail2.gis.net.

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