Central Massachusetts, also referred to as Central Mass. is a region in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in the United States of America. It encompasses part of the Blackstone Valley National Corridor in the southern part of the region.
Central Massachusetts is a region of contrasts. Urban grit can be found in the declining industrial areas of the regions cities. At the same time, proximity to Boston and numerous colleges have given the parts of the area a cosmopolitan flavor, with art galleries, history museums, and ethnic food from all over the globe. The area east of Worcester is being swallowed up by the suburbs of Boston while the areas west of Worcester are heavily forested. Some of the poorest communities in Massachusetts are located here as are a few of the wealthiest.
- The Boroughs consist of Westborough, Northborough and Southborough. This affluent suburban area has several expensive restaurants and golf courses as well as many lodging options.
- 1 Fitchburg — Mill city, home to a state university and a nice art museum.
- 2 Leominster — Former factory town and now affordable bedroom community for Greater Boston.
- 3 Sturbridge — This small town is a popular stop at the intersection of I-84 and the Massachusetts Turnpike and has a number of dining options and antique shops. Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum, is located here.
- 4 Worcester — The second largest city in Massachusetts is home to 8 colleges and universities, the Worcester Red Sox, museums, and a variety of cuisine from all over the world.
- Gardner- Former furniture manufacturing powerhouse known as Chair City. Has a popular brewpub, a small state park with a beach, and a quaint history museum
- The Brookfields - Large forested region dotted with apple orchards, small farms, and tiny hamlets.
- 1 Worcester Hills a semi-rural area in the hills above Worcester filled with farms and a number of state parks.
- 2 Quabbin very rural area with scattered villages surrounding the reservoir that provides Boston with most of its drinking water. This area is visited primarily for outdoor recreation, primarily hiking and cycling.
Central Massachusetts is easily accessible by car. I-84 connects the region to Hartford, Connecticut and other points southwest. I-395 connects to both Norwich and New London, Connecticut. Route 146 connects Worcester and the Blackstone Valley to Providence, RI and other points in Rhode Island or Southeastern Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90/Mass Pike/the Pike) connects Worcester to both Springfield and Boston. This toll road has limited exits, other communities served directly by it are Sturbridge, Millbury, and Westborough. Route 2 is the primary method of access to the northern half of Central Massachusetts, connecting the major cities and towns to points east such as Boston and the northern half of both the Pioneer Valley and Berkshires to the west. Route 9 can also be used to access the region from east or west, east of Worcester it is busy route for both commuters and the shopping areas and office parks the line the highway while west of Worcester it is a winding country road. Traffic can be very congested along the Mass Pike any day of the week. During summer weekends the section west of Worcester to I-84 is particularly busy while morning rush hour traffic on weekdays tends to be worse east of Worcester as most people are traveling to or from Greater Boston. Route 2 is generally much less congested.
There is an Amtrak station in Worcester, although service is infrequent, and there are MBTA Commuter Rail stations in Westborough, Grafton, Worcester, Leominster, and Fitchburg.
Worcester Regional Airport in Worcester is the only commercial airport in the region. JetBlue provides daily flights to JFK International Airport in New York as well as limited service to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Most people arriving by air would use airports in Boston or Providence that have flights to many more cities.
You will need a car to get around outside Worcester, and even there a car is probably necessary since public transit is poor and attractions are spread out. North-south travel is facilitated by I-190/290/395 while east-west travel is facilitated either by I-90 in the southern Central Massachusetts and MA 2 in the north.
Central Massachusetts is a semi-mountainous region in the middle of the state. The two highest mountains outside of the Berkshires (Mt Wachusett & Mt Watatic) are located here. Foliage in the fall is quite pretty and there are plenty of rural landscapes in the sparsely populated western part of the region.
Another scenic attraction is the region's many historic town commons and villages. Westborough today is primarily a bedroom community and commercial center which is of little interest to most travellers. However, the historic village center remains. Further down MA 135 you will find Grafton and its pretty town common. Other towns with scenic commons include Harvard, Clinton, and Barre.
The Industrial Revolution in the U.S. began in the Blackstone Valley south of Worcester. Much of the region's industrial heritage has been lost to fires, old age, and demolition. The town of Millville no longer has any mills, in use or otherwise. Still, Central Massachusetts is dotted with mill villages containing historic structures. Good examples can be found in Uxbridge and Northbridge.
Museums and galleries
Central Massachusetts isn't one of the Commonwealth's better known destinations for cultural activities, but it should be. The region is full of museums, theaters, and art galleries. Worcester, as the largest city in the region, is home to the greatest concentration. The Worcester Art Museum is the second largest art museum in New England after Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Also to be found in Worcester are the Ecotarium, a science and nature museum, and the Worcester History Museum, which proudly showcases the city's history. Fitchburg is home to the sensibly named Fitchburg Art Museum.
Other museums in the region include:
- Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge - Travel to the past and see a farming community from centuries ago. Great trip for grade school children to get a hands-on experience with America's history.
- Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton ,the largest collection of Russian icons in North America.
- Willard House and Clock Museum North Grafton near Upton
Plant and animal attractions
In Central Massachusetts, you will find Hadwen Arboretum in Worcester, an incredible botanical garden, and a small zoo.
- Tower Hill Botanical Gardens in Boylston - Beautiful gardens, from trails you can see the Wachusett Reservoir and Wachusett Mountain. Indoor and outdoor attractions, restaurant and gift shop.
- Southwick's Zoo a 300-acre, privately owned and operated, zoological park located in Mendon. It was opened in 1963, and remains family operated to date.
Central Massachusetts is full of opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and skiing. Antiquing opportunities abound in Sturbridge
Central Massachusetts is home to a wide variety of hiking opportunities. Mt Wachusett and Mt Watatic, the two tallest mountains in the state outside of the Berkshires are both located in Central Massachusetts. Visitors can also explore the terrain around the Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs, including the ruins of a few of the communities that were flooded to create them. There are numerous opportunities to explore wooded uplands in the hills west of Worcester. The Blackstone Valley has picturesque canal-side walks, scenic overlooks, and even some unique wetlands such as the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp in Douglas State Forest, a rarity so far inland. For long distance hikers, the Midstate Trail runs 92 miles from the Rhode Island border to New Hampshire, passing over the peaks of both Mt. Wachusett and Mt Watatic.
No, it's not Vermont or Maine for Skiing, but Central Massachusetts is much closer to the major cities of New England. Wachusett Mountain is the busiest ski resort in Southern New England with 25 trails and lifts that bring you to the top of the highest mountain in the region. Ski Ward in Shrewsbury is a much smaller ski hill better suited for small children and tubing.
Central Massachusetts is a major agricultural region. There are orchards and farms to be found in every corner of the region. Apple orchards are particularly common, this is Johnny Appleseed Country after all.
The performing arts are quite strong in Central Massachusetts. The DCU Center in Worcester is the region's largest concert and event venue. Also in Worcester are the Hanover Theater, grand Mechanics Hall and Tuckerman Hall, and the Palladium, a large rock venue famous for metal shows.
Central Massachusetts is prime antiquing country. Sturbridge and surrounding communities are filled with antique dealers. Worcester is home to a decent collection of funky, off-the-beaten-path stores selling everything from vintage furniture to comic books as well as a Public Market. Central Massachusetts has several malls, the largest of which is the Shoppes at Blackstone Valley in Millbury which has a range of national big box stores, several restaurants, and an L.L. Bean. Malls in Central Massachusetts primarily serve residents and offer little of interest to travelers. Agriculture is till quite common outside of the cities and many farms and orchards operate their own country stores which sell local produce and other products.
Central Massachusetts isn't as seafood oriented as the coastal parts of the state. Nor is it as farm-to-table oriented as the Pioneer Valley and Berkshires. Historically this has been a blue collar area rooted in manufacturing and the industrial revolution (which began in the Blackstone Valley). Central Massachusetts is home to more diners than you can count, especially Worcester (home of the Worcester Lunch Car Company). Worcester contains every type of cuisine imaginable and both dirt cheap college oriented joints up to and including fine dining. Armsby Abbey is the city's flagship farm-to-table restaurant and frequently wins local awards. George's Coney Island, a hot dog spot located a few blocks away, is a local legend. Outside the city, quality food is in abundance, you just need to look for it. Sturbridge is home to the incredibly popular BT's Smokehouse and other restaurants. If you come to Central Massachusetts in the fall, be sure to pick up some cider donuts and apples from a local orchard.
There is much to drink in Central Massachusetts, from award winning beers and local wines to fresh apple cider and locally roasted coffee.
Bars are few and far between outside of Worcester, but there are still a few spots worth checking out, maybe to cool off after a hike.
Central Massachusetts is not as brewery dense as much of the rest of New England, but there are still some very good brews to be found here spaced more or less evenly about the region. Worcester is home to 3Cross and the award winning Wormtown Brewery.
Depending upon who you ask, Framingham can be considered to be in Central Massachusetts. There, you will find a John Harvard's, Framingham Beerworks, and Jack's Abbey.
Worcester, while not exactly a traditional college town, is home to 33,000 students so there are plenty of bars.
Central Massachusetts will never be confused with Napa Valley, but there are still some vineyards worth exploring.
Liqour stores, generally not thought of as a tourist attraction, but there are a few in the region that are worth a visit if nearby for unique finds. Yankee Spirits in Sturbridge is the largest liquor store in New England and has beer that's hard to find anywhere else.
For coffee Central Massachusetts is packed with Dunkin Donuts and Honey Dew Donuts, but there are also some local roasters and coffee shops worth checking out.