Fryeburg’s attractions are Maine and more

By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / August 1, 2010

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FRYEBURG, Maine — The land spreads out before you, a quilt of mountains, farms, fields, town, forest, country roads, and waterways unfolding from the ledges of a small hill named Jockey Cap.

A short in-town hike off US Route 302 leads to this place and a bronze plaque based on sketches made by Arctic explorer Robert E. Peary — a onetime Fryeburg resident — that identifies mountains in neighboring New Hampshire’s rugged Presidential Range, western Maine’s sparkling Lovewell Pond, and the rippling Saddleback Hills.

Rural Fryeburg, settled in 1763 by General Joseph Frye, often is bypassed by travelers headed for the outlets of North Conway, N.H., or Bridgton’s lakes, unless they’re launching a canoe into the Saco River or stopping in fall at the Fryeburg Fair.

Take time and you’ll find that the town has a network of bucolic back roads for exploring potato fields, sleepy cemeteries, farm stands, and weathered churches. For cycling routes, stop into the depot-styled Maine Visitors Center on 302 near the Conway border.

Route 113 wiggles through an agrarian slice of Maine and New Hampshire before leading into the mountains. Linking Route 113 and Route 5 with country roads like Fish Street and Cornshop Road can make a couple of loops under 20 miles.

Hopalong Cassidy creator Clarence Mulfurd lived here for 30 years and the Fryeburg Public Library dedicated a room to him. Peary was once the town surveyor and the Elm Street home he lived in is a bed-and-breakfast, the Admiral Peary House.

Statesman and lawyer Daniel Webster worked at red-bricked Fryeburg Academy as headmaster and teacher some 200 years ago. Now more entertaining faces grace the academy with the creation of the 400-seat Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center.

Regional comic favorites Tim Sample and Bob Marley, Roomful of Blues founder Duke Robillard, academy graduate and jazz singer Heather Masse of the Wailin’ Jennys, and guitar virtuoso John Jorgenson all have entertained audiences here.

“Our goal is to keep ticket prices under $25,’’ says Sarah MacGillivray, who manages the box office.

There’s music, too, albeit with a more local timbre, at The Route 302 West Smokehouse and Tavern with its varied live entertainment from Thursday open mic sessions to weekend karaoke.

Owner Bob Wentworth moves through the narrow, funky restaurant greeting patrons. “We like to be highly social and active,’’ he says. “People come here and know something is always going on.’’

The ribs, brisket, and pulled pork are smoked on the premises with hickory wood; the chicken gets the milder applewood.

The 1913-built Oxford House Inn is all about upscale country comfort. Owned by Jonathan and Natalie Spak, the casual four-room inn has a couple of friendly dogs and a secluded hammock out back.

The pair worked at a Connecticut restaurant before purchasing the inn three years ago. The charming 50-seat main dining room is augmented by Jonathan’s, the intimate downstairs pub.

Jonathan, a Culinary Institute of America grad, creates seasonal dishes with global influences from a sweet hoisin-braised duck on scallion pancakes to grilled salmon topped with a nori-like grilled kale.

Much of the produce they use is grown nearby by the Weston family. The Westons have been a Fryeburg landmark since 1799 when Ephriam Weston traveled from Massachusetts and bought 46 acres along the Saco. Travel some of those back roads and it’s easy to see why they stayed.

Marty Basch can be reached through

If You Go

Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center
745 Main St., Fryeburg
Gallery Mon-Fri 9 a.m.-1 p.m. or by appointment.
Oxford House Inn
548 Main St.
Double occupancy, includes breakfast, $119-$199.
Route 302 West Smokehouse and Tavern
636 Main St.
Entrees $9-$17.