Ten Unique Things to See on Your Visit to North Central Massachusetts
- Visit North Central
You’re tired of staying at home, but travel options are limited. There must be something new to see and do, even during these challenging times.
Tear the kids away from the TV or computer. Grab a map of North Central Massachusetts. It’s time for a road trip!
This great New England region may not sport an Eiffel Tower, Grand Canyon, or Golden Gate Bridge — but there are lots of interesting spots to visit, outdoors and socially distanced — all of them worthy of selfies and guaranteed to boost your knowledge of this wonderful corner of the world.
Got that map? Let’s go! Every trip has to start somewhere … so let’s begin at the eastern edge of the region.
Did you know there are still a handful of covered bridges in Massachusetts? Only one is east of the Connecticut River, and it’s right here in Pepperell. Originally built in 1845 to replace a less-impressive span dating back to 1740, the covered bridge over the Nashua River has been replaced or rebuilt twice, and, unlike most of its Massachusetts relatives, is open to vehicular traffic today. There’s a great history lesson connected with this site, where a patriotic woman named Prudence Cummings Wright and a band of women bravely intercepted messages intended for British soldiers. The story can be found on the Town of Pepperell’s website, www.town.pepperell.ma.us. Let your imagination take you back to those Revolutionary days as your survey this majestic wooden bridge.
You probably know it as Route 2 — but the stretch of state highway running through the middle of North Central Massachusetts is also known as the Johnny Appleseed Trail. It bears that moniker because John Chapman, also known as Johnny Appleseed, was born right here in Leominster. Eventually, this agricultural giant headed west, leaving an impressive trail of orchards (and well-fed settlers of a growing nation) in his wake. A small cabin, located just off of Route 2, marks Johnny’s birthplace.
Of course, since you’re on Route 2, a stop at the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center in Lancaster is a must. You’ll be greeted there by a bronze statue portraying Johnny as a lad — and by another of the region’s very special attractions: the Big Apple. Who needs a world-renowned city, when you can see and touch a really big apple right here in North Central Massachusetts?
Time for a detour! Head south from Route 2, down Route 12 to Sterling. The kids will love this treasure-hunt destination, since they’ll surely be able to chant the story of Mary’s Little Lamb. You remember, it’s the cuddly critter that followed her to school one day, which was against the rules. The statue celebrating this nursery-school rhyme (and Mary Sawyer, the girl who was responsible for that famous classroom disturbance) is conveniently located in the center of town.
Continuing your Route 2 travels will bring you to Fitchburg, home of the Fitchburg Art Museum. It’s a fun stop for many reasons (including the Egyptian exhibition that includes a real mummy), but it’s included on this list of unique outdoor attractions because of the very large sculpture that stands over the museum entrance. He’s a one-of-a-kind “big man” on the museum campus.
Just around the corner from the museum, on Main Street, is the Rollstone Boulder. This ice-age rock has been Fitchburg’s trademark for generations. The 45-foot diameter hunk of granite was originally deposited by a glacier on Rollstone Hill, which became an active quarrying area in the 19th century. The Boulder was moved (in pieces) from the hill down to the city’s Upper Common area, and re-assembled like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle, in 1929.
Heading west again, a ride along Route 2A out of Fitchburg will bring you to a much more recent landmark: the large outdoor vat of the Wachusett Brewing Company, which became the area’s first craft brewery in 1994. Many of the brewery’s creations bear names with a distinctly New England theme: Wally IPA and Green Monsta IPA (you arefamiliar with Fenway Park, aren’t you?) and G.O.A.T —Greatest of All Time —Stout (thanks for the memories, Tom Brady!).
Follow Route 2 again, and you’ll find yourself in Gardner, the Chair City. The furniture factories that earned the city its name are silent now, but a towering chair still sits proudly on Elm Street, bearing testament to the city’s proud heritage. Need more proof that this manufacturing capital takes pride in its nickname? Two prominent city buildings — the Gardner Museum on Pearl Street, just a stone’s throw from the big wooden chair, and the newest municipal building, the Police Station on Main Street — feature chair-like structures as part of their architecture.
Here’s one more for the kids: Adjacent to Chair City is a community affectionately known as Toy Town, again drawing off of a manufacturing heritage. The Winchendon History and Cultural Center has an interesting collection of toys created here … but the biggest toy in town has a prominent outdoor location. Clyde, The Toy Town Rocking Horse, located right on Route 12, has intrigued generations of youngsters and been photographed by thousands of visitors over the years.
Okay, we admit it. The last item on this list isn’t a single unique stop on your jaunt along the Johnny Appleseed Trail … but if you’ve traveled here from outside New England, you just have to make a point to visit the town commons throughout this region. Treasured by local communities for centuries, these commons — often featuring tall, white-steepled churches (many of which once served as town meeting-houses); dome-topped gazebos where bands have performed for countless community audiences; fountains, statues and markers commemorating battles, heroes and events that shaped the towns, cities and nation — have been the heartbeat of New England life since Colonial days. Beautiful in any season, whether framed in blazing autumn colors, graced with green lawns and colorful gardens in summer, or blanketed in pristine white snow, these special places will provide you with picture-postcard memories of your travel through North Central Massachusetts.