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.
- 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 — See Old Sturbridge Village, a living history village.
- 4 Worcester — The second largest city in Massachusetts.
- The Brookfields - Large forested region dotted with apple orchards, small farms, and tiny hamlets.
- Worcester Hills a semi-rural area in the hills above Worcester filled with farms and a number of state parks.
- 1 Quabbin villages around the reservoir
Central Massachusetts is easily accessible by car. I-84, I-395, and MA 146 all provide access from the south. I-90, MA 2, and MA 9 all provide access from the east and west.
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.
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
For hiking and camping, Upton State Forest and Mt Watatic, at 1,831 ft, is the second highest mountain in Massachusetts east of the Berkshires. Trailhead is off of MA 119 in Ashburnham, north of Gardner
No, it's not Vermont or Maine for Skiing, but Central Massachusetts is much closer to the major cities of New England.
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. Central Massachusetts has several malls, but they contain the same stores you can find in any mall, anywhere in the United States.
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.