The biggest and brawniest place along otherwise rural US-2, Rumford (pop. 5,687) is a definite change from the leisure-time orientation of many other places in New England. A historic paper-pulp mill town with low brick buildings and a downscale downtown along Waldo Street, Rumford grew up around Androscoggin River, which provided the hydropower that led to the original settlement of the town. Now, enormous steam-puffing smokestacks loom large at New Page, New England’s largest paper mill, surrounded by huge piles of logs, chips, and wood residue.
The hard-working, perpetually underpaid realities of Rumford (and its next-door neighbor, Mexico, where the mill is located) are in many ways what makes it remarkable. Clearly this isn’t a town designed for tourists, but if you’re interested in how Americans live, work, and drink too much in places where heavy industry still rules the roost, Rumford is worth investigating. At the least, stop for a coffee at Dick’s Restaurant (54 Main St.) on US-2 in Mexico.
Away from the center of town, the Rumford area is suddenly semi-pastoral and pretty. US-2 winds around the valley as the Androscoggin makes an oxbow, and an even nicer route heads north following Route 17 and the Swift River toward the popular Rangeley Lakes resort area.
West of Farmington and just north of US-2, the town of Wilton was the longtime home of famous shoemaker G. H. Bass Company, makers of those leather “Weejuns” so loved by preppies. In 1998 the Bass Company abandoned Wilton for the lower-wage Dominican Republic, but its old mill is still standing. Next to the mill, an old boardinghouse holds the Wilton Farm and Home Museum (207/645-2091, by appointment or Sat. 1pm-4pm July-Aug., donation), a fascinating museum with exhibits on G. H. Bass, its shoe-making operations, and everything from old bottles to the life of the Wilton-born “Maine Giantess,” Sylvia Hardy, an 8-ft-tall (2.4-m), 400-lb (181-kg) woman who was a star of P. T. Barnum’s famous freak shows.
Wilton is also where you’ll find a large windmill marking the Dutch Treat (291 E. US-2) restaurant and ice cream stand, while one of the old G. H. Bass buildings in the historic core is now home to one of inland Maine’s better restaurants: Calzolaio Pasta Company (248 Main St., 207/645-9500), which serves Maine seafood and brick-oven pizzas in its cozy dining room or on the outdoor deck.