Yankee magazine has been celebrating New England for three-quarters of a century, but even after all these years, there's still room for surprise.
In its 75th anniversary issue, on newsstands Tuesday, the magazine named Kent, Conn., population 3,000, the best town in New England for fall foliage.
Kent trumped better-known destinations on Yankee's list such as Stowe, Vt., Camden, Maine, and Amherst, Mass., for the honor.
"It was really cool, frankly, to be able to say that the best place to go for the foliage experience might be a place you never thought to go," said Yankee magazine editor Mel Allen. "It's not what we expected."
The leaf-peeping destinations, showcased in Yankee's September-October issue, were judged in 14 categories — fall color, scenery, visas, water, drives, hikes, culture, farmers markets and farmstands, orchards, parks, covered bridges, whether they are "uncrowded," shopping, and a final combined category for food and lodging.
Kent scored 58 points out of a possible total of 70 (zero to five points per category, as determined by Yankee staff).
"Kent came out higher than any other town," said Allen in an interview. "It has one of the nicest scenic drives, Route 7; the Appalachian Trail cuts right through town; it has the Housatonic River and some of the best antiquing in New England, plus a famous inn," the Inn at Kent Falls.
He said Yankee, which is based in Dublin, N.H., devised the point system to include a variety of attractions and amenities because "the foliage experience is not just getting in your car and driving for 30 miles for pretty roads and stopping and taking photographs. The experience has to do with having picnics and going to farmstands. Yes, the scenery, but also the culture. Maybe there is an orchard, a restaurant, a covered bridge, a beautiful museum. You're not just using your eyes."
The town of Kent had no advance warning of the honor, but first selectman Bruce Adams said the area is known for its autumn beauty.
"We do get a lot of people coming through here during what's known as leaf-peeping time," he said in a phone interview. He said the season is something all the locals "look forward to, though we sometimes take it for granted. When my son moved to Seattle, he missed the changing of the leaves. He asked me to send him photographs."
Adams said Kent is about a two-hour drive from New York City and closer to three from Boston. "But there's no direct route to here from anywhere, which is why we live here," he said.
Following Kent on Yankee's list of the best 25 towns in New England for fall foliage are Bethel, Maine; Manchester, Vt.; Williamstown, Mass.; Middlebury, Vt.; Camden, Maine; Waitsfield, Vt.; Conway/North Conway, N.H.; Sandwich, N.H.; Rangeley, Maine; Blue Hill, Maine; Woodstock, Vt.; Waterville Valley, N.H.; Amherst, Mass.; Grafton, Vt.; East Haddam, Conn.; Walpole, N.H.; The Cornwalls, Conn.; Litchfield, Conn.; Jackson, N.H.; Jeffersonville, Vt.; Shelburne Falls, Mass.; Montgomery, Vt.; Stowe, Vt.; and Hanover, N.H.
Other features in Yankee's 75th anniversary issue include classic recipes like chowder, baked beans and Indian pudding; "75 Things Every New Englander Should Do," (No. 1: Actually climb the 224 steps of Bunker Hill Monument in Boston); "The Ultimate Yankee Quiz" (one point if you take your strawberry shortcake with biscuits, not cake); and a look at the origin of organized fall foliage tours. Yankee credits Arthur Tauck Sr. with taking the first paying passengers to see autumn colors in 1925. Tauck Tours remains a leading company in the leaf-peeping tour business.
Allen said 58 percent of the magazine's readers live in the six New England states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont — with the rest made up of "people with New England ties or yearnings. Massachusetts is our No. 1 state, but California and Florida are right up there," Allen said.
Circulation is down to about 350,000 from a high of about a million in the early '80s, Allen said, but he noted that keeping that many readers was expensive, propped up by promotions, giveaways and endless solicitations.
The magazine has undergone many changes since its first issue in September 1935. It started out as a standard-sized magazine, but went to a digest size during World War II because of paper shortages. It returned to full size in 2007, despite 500 complaints from readers, including a group of women in a beauty salon who phoned Allen to say that the larger size did not fit in their purses.
"New Englanders are famous for not liking change," Allen said. That same issue, the magazine went from monthly to bimonthly.
Other changes over the years include getting rid of fiction, poetry and history features; putting photos on the cover rather than paintings; and giving every article a service-oriented component. "Where might I vacation? What could I cook for my family? Is this magazine going to tell me tips for home or garden?" Allen said.
The magazine also puts all its stories and photos, plus some original content, online, at YankeeMagazine.com, with fall travel information at YankeeFoliage.com. In honor of the 75th anniversary, the website is featuring classic Yankee stories daily, from best recipes to best adventure tales.
But much of the magazine's emphasis has remained the same. "One reason people get Yankee is the seasonality of New England," he said. "Our readers want to see loveliness."