Looking out at the Pawtuckaways

The three peaks of the Pawtuckaway mountains to the west of us are viewed here from the Garrison Hill tower. Well, the middle one is obscured by the tree. Still, they’re prominent points in southeastern New Hampshire, midway between the Seacoast region and the Merrimack River, with good views of Boston from the forest fire lookout tower atop the 908-foot South Mountain (left).

Cheers! They’re officially opening today

We’ve been watching the renovation of a former bakery downtown, including the clues it was going to be a brewpub. Everyplace seems to have one, except Eastport, until now.

Only a month ago.

The work felt like it was taking forever, but then, to our surprise, the one storefront had some “soft openings,” 2 to 7 or so over the past couple of weeks, ironing any kinks out. It was announced only by a small chalkboard on the sidewalk. I’ll just say they’ve been lovely, low-key, and fun. The Horn Run’s brew’s excellent, too. From all signs, Lisa and Jeff know what they’re doing. They already have a loyal following.

The interior is cozy with an English pub feel, with a view that would be hard to beat. It’s become a place where it’s easy to make introductions.

The choice for the official opening matched many of the downtown stores and galleries, which already planned to reopen for the season today. We’ve definitely felt something building in the air.

But look now. And, yes, there’s an outdoor deck to our left.

Horn Run? Well, for baseball fans, it’s a kind of pun, with a moose as the runner. But it’s also an inside joke, based on the nearby Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge. Seems that when the pub’s owners were younger and wanted to go for a drive, they’d say, “Let’s take a run around the ‘Horn.” Which then introduces a second inside joke. Moose don’t have horns – they have antlers.

Overlooking the harbor, once the porches are finished.

Work on the apartment porches overlooking the harbor continues. I have seen some of the daring residents already having their morning coffee on the deck, enjoying the ocean air and the view.

The hope is that Horn Run will spark renewed vitality downtown as we come out of Covid. It definitely has appeal for summer visitors as well as younger residents looking for a suitable social center.

My favorite smaller cities and towns

Being a college town really makes a difference. My selections are definitely skewered by the stretch of the country I’ve lived in.

Here goes:

  1. Dover, New Hampshire (population 32,191): Yes, my provenance for two decades and the source for much of the material here at the Red Barn.
  2. Portsmouth, New Hampshire (21,927): Just a dozen or so miles down the road from us, the Port City is wealthier and more tourist oriented, especially around the photogenic harbor. With a strong Colonial flavor, thanks to its array of mansions, it’s a prime example of a New England seaport, a category that could easily lead to its own Tendrils entry.
  3. Portland, Maine (66,215/metro area of a half million): A hour up the Interstate from Dover, the Forest City is the center of a third of the state’s population, as counted in the metro area. The Old Port District is especially charming and pedestrian friendly.
  4. Brunswick, Maine (20,278): A bit further on is the home of Bowdoin College and a fun-to-explore downtown. I love its Vietnamese restaurant.
  5. Eastport, Maine (1,331): And much further up the coast is this much shrunken city that’s fighting for survival. No college, though. No Laundromat, either, or pizza parlor. Its saving grace is an spunky arts scene and the ocean, including a really deep-water port. As you’re seeing, it’s won our hearts … enough to lure us from Dover.
  6. Port Townsend, Washington (9,704): Jumping to the other side of the continent, this artsy community on the Olympic Peninsula relies on ferry service across Puget Sound for access to about everything other than the mountains and forests at its back. It’s also home to a state park dedicated to the arts.
  7. Ellensburg, Washington (21,111): Situated in the desert east of Seattle, this small college town blends Wild West atmosphere with outdoors opportunities, including the Yakima Canyon. You may have seen it in the TV series “Northern Exposure.”
  8. Yellow Springs, Ohio (3,487): Returning back across the heartland, I thought about adding Iowa City or Madison, Wisconsin, but don’t know enough about either to speak fluently. Yellow Springs, long the home of bohemian Antioch College, fills the bill for me with its small-town New England touches and the Glen Helen Nature Preserve.
  9. Bloomington, Indiana (85,000): Set in a wooded, rolling landscape, it’s the home of Big Ten Indiana University and its plethora of cultural opportunities. It also bears a passing resemblance to Daffodil in a few of my novels.
  10. Burlington, Vermont (42,417): Look, it’s the biggest city in the Green Mountain State and has Lake Champlain at its foot and great views of the Adirondacks beyond. It’s also about as hippie crunchy as you can get, though it helps if your grandparents set you up with a trust fund or two. You might consider Middlebury as an alternative.


I can think of some suburban Boston communities, but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?

Your turn to weigh in with worthy nominations!


Bewildered by the big real estate bubble

Admittedly, it’s a national problem, but one that’s especially acute here in New England. Home prices are soaring. Wannabe buyers far outnumber sellers.

For once, my wife and I hit this one right.

The place we just bought, as I’ve been saying, is in a remote location, and it needs some work. There are reasons potential buyers passed on it. As one I’ve met reacted, “It was more than my husband and I wanted to take on.” But thanks to our elder daughter, we have a vision, and, as we are finding, the place feels right. Besides, the bones are good. To our surprise, our bargain bid was accepted, so here I am.

And then, the city farm we just sold is in a very hot market. Readers of the Red Barn have been following some of the reasons – small-town pedestrian-friendly scale and New England character combined with proximity to Boston in one direction plus beaches and mountains in the other directions.

We watched as real-estate prices kept rising, buffeted by only one big downturn, and wondered how young couples and families could pay the mortgages. Well, rents were going out of sight, too, as are mobile homes. Around the neighborhood, the running joke was that none of us could afford to buy our own residences at the current prices. Only it wasn’t funny.

Covid, however, ramped all that up. Many people with professional jobs found that in working from home, they can live anywhere – and in working from home, they need a home office.

The real-estate collapse I had expected didn’t happen, thanks to the federal stimulus checks, extended unemployment compensation, and anti-eviction laws. Not to say there won’t be a delayed reaction.

Still, with Covid limiting a lot of ways to spend money – dining out, movies, travel, athletic events, concerts and theaters, for starters – there may be a lot of cash in reserve. Who knows if that’s a factor.

We had nine bids in five days, all above our asking price. Some were accompanied by love letters, even an excellent loaf of homemade bread, and selecting just one from that array was difficult. As was the disappointment of those who wondered what they’d done wrong.

Some of the push is coming from people from other parts of the country, who are buying sight-unseen, like the Texans with two Mercedes whose bid for a smaller property down the street was $65,000 more than the original asking price. That had a positive influence on our own property when it officially went on sale three days later.

So where are most of the hopeful buyers in Dover coming from now?

New York and California, we’re told.

Did anyone see that one coming? Or have a clue just where it might lead?