The Great Northern Route

The biggest and brawniest place along otherwise rural US-2, Rumford (pop. 4,218) 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.