A Daily Newspaper Editor Dishes Out the Virtues of Hallowell
When you live in a town that is both as picturesque and as historic as Hallowell, it’s not unusual to harbor strong opinions. But for one resident, Anthony Ronzio, those opinions are bound to be a bit more potent. The reason? He gets paid for them — Monday through Sunday — as the editorial page editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal.
Ronzio, his girlfriend, and her three daughters live a couple miles from the middle of town in a 1907-era farmhouse — downright modern for these parts — on a family homestead that they fell in love with and purchased a little more than a year ago. With half an acre, an in-ground pool, and the all the amenities of city living in a community of roughly 2,600, it’s not hard to see why; but it was the town itself with its central location, civic mindedness and dynamic personality that won them.
“It had a vibrant downtown with a strong sense of community and a strong school system, and we wanted someplace we knew we’d both enjoy living,” said Ronzio, who grew up in Providence and graduated from Syracuse University before moving to Maine in 2001.
“I packed up my car and headed to Rockland, a town I’d never heard of, to work as an assistant editor for Village Soup,” Ronzio said of the Knox County newspaper that combined its online publications with area weeklies this year.
Two years ago, he jumped at the chance to write for the Lewiston Sun Journal, the winner of this year’s Maine Press Association’s “newspaper of the year” for both the daily and weekend categories. Ronzio himself placed first for an editorial highlighting political problems in Rumford after a trio of would-be lumberjacks — including two local selectmen — undermined the town manager by axing two condemned maple trees in front of the town hall.
“It is nice to win,” Ronzio admitted. “But it’s a very friendly competition. You have to realize there are only five or six daily newspapers in the state.”
A bigger challenge was moving from a small community tabloid to one of the state’s biggest papers.
“You’re paid essentially to write an opinion every day, and you don’t realize how hard that is until you have to do it,” Ronzio said. “It is hard to make a new cogent argument every single day—especially this time of year. It’s a job that challenges you. What’s most gratifying is that sometimes your argument can effect change for good. And that is what keeps me going.”
Taking an afternoon to work at home and reflect on his life, Ronzio interrupted himself to check on one of his girlfriend’s daughters.
What is more difficult: keeping up with the busy demands of three young girls or penning opinions? Ronzio didn’t need to consider.
“Coming up with editorials,” he said quickly. “Parenting is a joint adventure. Usually you are on your own to come up with an editorial.”
Mercifully, Hallowell is out of the Sun Journal’s coverage area, which means that in his off hours, Ronzio is free to focus on maintaining his new home—that and exploring his new town, which hasn’t grown any since the early 1800s when it was central in shipbuilding, logging and the mining of granite that was used to build the capitol in Augusta several miles to the north. The town’s historic district looks much the way it did then, including its streets lined with captain’s mansions.
Asked to come up with a headline on why people should visit, Ronzio couldn’t limit himself to one.
“You won’t waste your day,” he said. “If you are an antique person or an artisan, you’ll find something. If you’re a foodie, you will find some tremendous offerings. If you are an oenophile — a wine person — there is a new wine bar that just opened up downtown. If you are a beer person, there is a microbrewery. If you are an outdoor person or a bike person, you will find one of the prettiest bike paths in Maine. If you are a history person, there’s no ‘George Washington Slept Here’ houses, but you will find a quiet history in Maine’s smallest city.”
For this award-winning writer and his family, that’s a prize unto itself.
Where to eat:
One of the most popular reasons to visit Hallowell, Ronzio said, is Slates Restaurant and Bakery, 167 Water St. (restaurant) and 161 Water St. (bakery), 207-622-9575, which had been serving handmade pasta, bread, baked goods and ice cream for nearly 30 years when the restaurant was destroyed by fire in February 2007. It re-opened late this past summer with eclectic menu items such as stuffed crepes, local organic burgers, vegetarian dishes and its famous “Slates Benedict” with tempting toppings. The bakery is open daily, while the restaurant serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday and brunch on Saturday and Sunday. On select Monday nights the restaurant is also the gathering spot to hear live music. Blues, pop, jazz, reggae and more are on the upcoming concert schedule, and dinner is served on those nights. For more information visit: www.slatesrestaurant.com.
Another favorite hangout is The Liberal Cup, 115 Water St., 207-623-2739, an old-world style brewery that claims, “the charm of an English pub without the hassle of going through customs.” On tap throughout the year you’ll find 21 different ales and lagers, from a Pilsner to an Oatmeal Stout, served and enjoyed only here. In addition the pub offers a full wine list and a menu that includes prime rib and heaping pates of fish and chips for lunch and dinner in addition to live music Sunday and Thursday nights and Tuesday night trivia.
What to do:
“Go downtown and go shopping,” Ronzio says.
Highly walkable and tightly compressed, Hallowell’s historic downtown consists of antique brick storefronts along the bank of the Kennebec River. Local merchants offer everything from used books and antiques to fine boutiques and Maine crafts.
For outdoor fun, Ronzio recommends a walk in Vaughan Woods, 145-acres of forest, field and trails running along picturesque Vaughn Brook with stone bridges and an old granite dam. You’ll find it on the Litchfield Road just before the intersection with Middle Street (look for a small kiosk beside the road). This privately owned parcel is managed by the Vaughan Woods Homestead Foundation and the Kennebec Land Trust. A property map can be found online at: www.tklt.org
An avid biker, Ronzio also highly praises the Kennebec River Rail Trail, a 6.5-mile bike and walking path along the Kennebec that connects Augusta, Hallowell, Farmingdale and Gardiner. His personal favorite ride is to the Blue Sky Bakery in Gardiner, 339 Water St., 207-582-5450, for a cup of coffee.
But the activities Ronzio and his family enjoy most are the community events—Old Hallowell Day, the preschooler’s annual Scarecrow Walk, fireworks over the river on Christmas and listening to live music in the restaurants downtown.
For a list of upcoming happ, check out www.hallowell.org.
Places to roam:
The Maine State Capitol, museum, and archives are all just a few minutes north in Augusta—as well as the big box retailers and service centers, “just about everything you could want,” Ronzio added. But, to take in the scenery, he usually heads west on Route 17 through Readfield and Kents Hill, past the apple orchards and lakes dotting the serene countryside. An hour will take you to Livermore Falls and the nearby Washburn Norlands Living History Center, an 18th century rural homestead and museum with interactive exhibits, found online at: www.norlands.org.
“It’s a very pretty drive west toward Jay and Livermore Falls,” Ronzio said. “One of my favorites.”