Back in 2006, Bobb and Laura Burgess came across a newspaper article that would change their lives, or at least their weekends. They read about a club in Vermont that wanted to visit every town in the state. “Why not try it in Massachusetts?” they thought, and Massachusetts 351 was born.
The mission was simple: they wanted to visit all 351 of Masschusetts’ cities and towns and take a picture next to a taxpayer-funded sign or a church sign with the town’s name. The rules: Both Laura and Bobb must be present when the photo is taken, and at least one of them must be in the photo. With 193 towns down and 158 to go, they’re roughly half way done, and still enjoying the open Massachusetts road.
When they started Massachusetts 351 over five years ago, apps were something you ordered before dinner and GPS was just three random letters. So Bobb and Laura began their project the old-fashioned way – they headed out with a giant roadmap folded across their laps. “We covered a lot of ground in those early years,” says Bobb, explaining that despite a lack of technology, their initial strategy entailed visiting towns right off major highway corridors during weekend trips, allowing them to quickly snap a picture and head back on the road.
To keep track of their journey, Bobb and Laura used the internet, setting up a blog and creating a Flickr account dedicated to their mission. It wasn’t always a foolproof method for tallying towns, though, laughs Bobb. Several years ago, the couple traveled out their way to photograph themselves in Byfield, only to come home and discover it was a village and not actually a town. That wouldn’t have been too bad, except on a different roadtrip, they went back to Byfield, not realizing they had already been there.
In 2009, just as smartphone technology and GPS became commonplace, eliminating issues like that, Bobb and Laura had their first son. They’ve since adopted smartphone apps, Twitter and Facebook, completely changing their tactics. “In the beginning, we were trying to rush and get it done as quickly as possible,” says Bobb of their pre-baby travels. Now, they take time to actually drive through communities, get a lay of the land and snap some really incredible photos. At two years old, Bobb says their son is aware of their project. “I’m not fully sure what level of understanding he has, but he likes to go on roadtrips!” Their seven-month-old is sure to learn to love them as well.
Despite the long journey, Bobb assures me all the driving around the Bay State is worth it. “One of the cool things about the project is that we’re making discoveries… finding out new things about our home state.” For example, there’s a town in the southwestern corner of the state called Mount Washington which is populated by just a few dozen people – and a giant waterfall. Bobb describes the area as beautiful, adding, “It was like a scene out of a novel or something.”
It’s moments like these that make Bobb and Laura love Massachusetts even more. “This place may be more expensive to live, but is it worth it? Laura and I do think it’s worth it,” says Bobb, pointing to the discoveries they’ve made of new towns. “It changes your perception on the state and what it is and what it’s made up of.”
Where does Bobb recommend for someone who hasn’t ventured out of the Boston-area?
- Northampton – Bobb describes this town as an “amazing community,” filled with counter-culture, alternative thinking and a town hall that looks like a castle.
- The Berkshires – “Just gorgeous. Great place to visit.”
- Cape Cod – “Get off the highway and find something interesting and beautiful to check out.”
“Some of the most interesting places aren’t even far,” says Bobb of the wisdom he’s garnered from this project. “It’s just a matter of trying something new that you haven’t been before.” Luckily, they still have at least 158 more new things to learn.
Check out this slideshow below of the 193 towns they’ve visited so far – in alphabetical order.
[flickrslideshow acct_name=”ma351″ id=”72157628308637957″]
Images courtesy of Bobb Burgess