Roadside attractions are one of the true joys of any driving trip, and the New England states offer up a seemingly endless variety of reasons to stop and gawk. For the purposes of this article, we’ve excluded anything that serves as an advertisement for a current business. We’ve also bypassed indoor attractions or anything that requires paid admission. With those restrictions in mind, here are some of the strangest roadside attractions in New England.
New England’s Strangest Roadside Attractions
In 2010, an experimental-hot-air-balloon enthusiast named Brian Boland assembled some volunteers near the Post Mills Airport in Thetford to help him build a dinosaur out of scrap wood that was left over from his balloon-building. The result was a 25-foot-tall, 122-foot-long beast that came to be known as the Vermontasaurus. Some found it amazing; others, an eyesore. There was even some discussion about whether a wooden structure of that size should be categorized as a building. The local zoning board held a special meeting to debate the resulting issues, but in the end, the Vermontasaurus stood tall. A portion of the massive artwork collapsed in 2012 but was rebuilt. If you pay it a visit, make time to stop in at the large building across from the airstrip, where Boland has assembled a fun museum of junk and random stuff.
Venture down Old Sudbury Road in Lincoln, and you’ll happen upon a vision in a field that will either delight you or haunt your nightmares. Although the arrangement changes from time to time, and new horses occasionally appear (or, less often, old ones disappear), this collection of “retired” rocking horses has persisted for years. The first horses congregated here in 2010 — just a mysterious loner at first, then a second, and it just snowballed from there. “There was something lovely about it being anonymous, and now every time we go away, another one appears,” the owner of the Ponyhenge property told the Boston Globe in 2015. No one ever accepts responsibility for the arrivals or the arrangements — but surely the horses aren’t arranging themselves, right? Right?!
Since the 1880s, local artists made sure that a certain boulder in Eastford is painted to look like a giant frog. The big rock sits at the edge of a roadside rest area on Route 44, where you’ll also find a small antiques shop, picnic tables, a playground, and even, if you catch it on a lucky weekend, live music. As a result of a vandalism incident, there are now security cameras in place (the locals take their frog very seriously). You’ll find the frog on its roadside pad roughly midway between Route 44’s intersections with Highway 198 and Highway 97. And since Connecticut loves its painted rocks, once you’ve experienced Frog Rock you can check out Hebron’s Eagle Rock, Marlborough’s Snake Rock, Montville’s Sparky the Firehouse Dog Rock, and the two-fer in Preston: Snoopy Rock and Spotty the Rock Dog.
Spanning more than 40 miles, this might be the world’s largest roadside attraction. Built in the late 1990s by the University of Maine at Presque Isle and a cadre of brainy volunteers, and officially dedicated in 2003, the Maine Solar System Model re-creates our celestial heavy hitters at roughly a 1:93,000,000 scale. Starting at the Northern Maine Museum of Science with a giant yellow ring that represents the sun, it continues on to a model of Mercury perched high on a pole above a garden. A bit farther down the road, Venus floats next door to a motor inn, and so on, with additional planets located in Mars Hill, Littleton, and Danforth. In the model’s original incarnation, Pluto, located inside an Interstate 95 information center in Houlton, represented the farthest reach of the project. Then a dwarf-planet addition stretched it all the way to Topsfield. The model now includes three dwarf planets, seven moons, nine planets (with Pluto represented in both its original planet status and its more recent dwarf-planet status) and the sun. All except Pluto are visible from the road. You can see Uranus pictured in the photo above.
REDSTONE ROCKET, New Hampshire
Since 1971, Warren has prided itself on being the only town in America with its very own Redstone Rocket, just like the one that propelled New Hampshire native Alan Shepard into space in 1961. This claim has inspired debate, however, because other Redstones are available for viewing at space-themed attractions and also because technically the Redstone is a ballistic missile, not a rocket. Regardless, the 66-foot-tall giant in the Warren town square is a genuine, unused Redstone, and it’s well worth going out of your way to lay eyes on. While you’re at it, you may also want to visit the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, which includes a replica of Shepard’s space capsule and the 92-foot-tall Redstone that launched it.
In southernmost Rhode Island, not far from the Point Judith lighthouse, there sits a fenced-off oddity that was never intended to be an attraction. Operated by aluminum conglomerate Alcoa, the Judith Point Corrosion Test Site is exactly what it sounds like: a place where, for the past 80 years, metals, plastics, ceramics, and building materials of all sorts have been placed on mounts and exposed to the elements to see what happens over time. It’s a functional facility, but some of the materials being tested eventually transform into something almost like art. While the site is not open to the public, visitors may walk around the fenced perimeter of the one-acre lot.
In New England, there are oddities around every corner. What are some of your favorite strange roadside attractions?
This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated.