Finding visual and food relief in a sad corner of Mass.


Photos and commentary by WILLIAM MORGAN

Top picture: Main Street, North Easton. Mass.  -- Ames Memorial Hall (1879-81) straight ahead; Bill's House of Pizza to the left.

Bottom: Oliver Ames Free Library, North Easton, 1877-79. The landscaping was by Frederick Law Olmsted, and interior decoration by Stanford White and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Not your typical small town public library.

With the exception of the Mass Pike and I-95 along the Connecticut shore, it is not easy to go east and west in New England. You don’t have to have taken geology to understand that it is simpler to go from Hartford to Brattleboro than to go from Hartford to Providence.

Glaciation may be the reason for the north-south arterial New England development patterns, but one result was the creation of certain pockets of terra incognita, places hard to traverse and thus somewhat ignored.

One such Dismal Swamp is an odd and unwelcoming chunk of eastern Massachusetts defined by Routes 24 and 128, and I-95. This stomping ground of King Philip and the Pilgrims must have once been attractive in a rural sort of way. But now, it is neither fish nor fowl, neither Concord nor Cohasset, Marblehead nor Marshfield.

This "Metro Brockton" has suffered the further indignity in having been mercilessly over-developed – how many more strip malls, box stores, and crummy spec houses can you jam into the obliterated farmland of Bristol and Plymouth counties?

The other day my wife and I endured the rat-maze at IKEA in Stoughton. Having traveled there by seemingly illogical north-south only highways, we decided to head home by striking out west across the landscape.

We were also hungry. Dunkin Donuts, Panera, McDonald's, Burger King, and their ilk are places to be patronized only in extreme distress, say, passing through Chamberlain, S.D.,  late at night. But where in the Mansfield-Brockton-Stoughton Bermuda Triangle could one find reasonable sustenance?

We thought the solution might be North Easton, a town famous for a collection of the buildings of the great American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. His patrons, the Ames family, at one time the world's largest shovel manufacturer, had richly endowed the town, so perhaps there was a good restaurant or two.

The Farmer's Daughter, an attractive healthy bistro, had just closed for the day. So, we were limited to a small, unprepossessing establishment, called Bill's House of Pizza.

Bill's was empty, not a good sign, but lunch time was over. Bill himself, despite the boy-next-door name, is a fascinating guy. An Egyptian of Greek ancestry, raised in Alexandria, and trained as a civil engineer, Bill came to Massachusetts to be near fellow Copts. He also turns out to be a great cook, as our simple mushroom and basil pizza proved. Lunch cost less than $14.