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 consisting of Westborough, Northborough, and Southborough.
- Fitchburg-Mill city home to a state university and a nice art museum.
- Leominster-Former factory town and now affordable bedroom community for Greater Boston.
- Sturbridge - See Old Sturbridge Village, a living history village.
- 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.
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 travelers. 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. Sadly, too 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.
- Old Stone Church. Abandoned church located beside Wachusett Reservoir at the intersection of MA 12 and 140 in West Boylston. Its open to the public, just park on the side of the road. Pretty spot for photography, especially in autumn or foggy conditions.
- Redemption Rock, Route 140 Princeton, MA 01541. Large boulder that marks the spot of a hostage exchange during King Philip's War in the 17th Century. The plot of the affair is inscribed upon the rock.
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, 203 Union St, Clinton, MA 01510, ☏ . This is the largest collection of Russian Icons in North America
- Fruitlands Museum, 102 Prospect Hill Rd, Harvard, MA 01451, ☏ . Art and culture museum set on the site of an unsuccessful utopian farming community. There is an on-site cafe for lunch.
- Willard House and Clock Museum, 11 Willard St, North Grafton, MA 01536, ☏ . Nearly 300 year old farm house containing a collection of clocks made by the family who owned it.
- Valliancourt Folk Art, 9 Main Street #1H, Sutton, MA 01590, ☏ . Producer of chalkware, mostly Christmas themed.
- Asa Waters Mansion, 123 Elm St, Millbury, MA 01527, ☏ . Grand 1826 estate built by an early 1800's gunsmithing and banking tycoon. Primarily a wedding venue now, but they do hold guided tours and afternoon tea which are open to the public. Call for availability.
- General Artemas Ward House., 786 Main Street, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, ☏ . Tour the large house, originally built in 1727, that later became home to famous Revolutionary War general Artemas Ward. The house is now a museum and research center for the Ward family and colonial Massachusetts owned by Harvard University. Call for tour availability.
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, 2 Southwick St, Mendon, MA 01756, ☏ . Southwick's Zoo is a 300-acre, privately owned and operated, zoological park located in Mendon, Massachusetts, USA. 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
- Upton State Forest, 205 Westboro Road, Upton, MA 01568. 200 acre forest dotted with ruins of old structures. Trails are fairly developed so its an easy hike.
- Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, 345 Mountain Rd, Princeton, MA 01541, ☏ . 3,000 acre reservation surrounding 2,006 ft Mt Wachusett. Lots of hiking trails and great views from the top of the mountain Free.
- Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, 198 Purgatory Rd. Sutton MA 01590, ☏ . Hike through and around an eery chasm gouged into the otherwise peaceful countryside. Massparks states that there is a $2 parking fee, although it might not be collected outside of summer. $2.
- Mt Watatic. 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
- Cormier Woods, 217 Chapin St. Uxbridge, MA 01569, ☏ . Explore a more than 300 year old farmstead in the Blackstone Valley using the three mile trail network.
No, it's not Vermont or Maine, but Central Massachusetts is much closer to the major cities of New England.
- Wachusett Mountain Ski Aria, 499 Mountain Rd, Princeton, MA 0541, ☏ . 9AM-10PM Weekdays 8AM-10PM Holidays/Weekends. Go Skiing at the largest mountain in Massachusetts east of the Berkshires.
- Ski Ward, 1000 Main St, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, ☏ . Serious skiers will probably laugh at this place, but it is easy to get to for millions of residents in southern New England and offers a popular tubing center.
Farms & Stuff
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.
- Red Apple Farm, 455 Highland Ave, Phillipston, MA 01331, ☏ . Enjoy apple picking, cider, donuts, and local products at this orchard in the fall. Red Apple Farm is a big operation and gets very busy in the peak fall tourist season. So busy that they need parking attendants to direct the traffic. You can pick apples, take a hay ride, or feed some farm animals. The farm store sells a dizzying array of locally made products, most made right at the farm (Jams, baked goods, syrup, cider, popcorn......). They provide lots of free samples to entice you to buy. A cider doughnut is an essential fall experience. Outside, they have a grill and fire pit where you can order burgers, hot dogs, and a few BBQ options which you can eat in the covered picnic area.
- Bolton Orchards, 125 Still River Rd, Bolton, MA 01740, ☏ . Orchard with on-site giftshop and cafe
- Davis Farmland, 145 Redstone Hill Rd, Sterling, MA 01564, ☏ . Family destination for petting zoo with farm animals,landscaped maze & apple & pumpkin picking
- Carlson Orchards, 115 Oak Hill Rd Harvard, MA 01451, toll-free: . Pick your own apples and grab a jug of cider.
- Lanni Orchards, 294 Chase Road Lunenburg, Massachusetts 01462, ☏ . Pick your own apples and buy some farm products at the store.
- Berlin Orchards, 310 Sawyer Hill Rd, Berlin, MA 01503, ☏ . Pick-your-own of a dozen varieties of apples or take a hay ride in the rolling hills around Berlin.
- Clearview Farm, 4 Kendall Hill Rd, Sterling, MA 01564, ☏ . 200 year old farm/orchard with 20 varieties of apples, peaches, blueberries, pumpkins, raspberries and a do-it-yourself cider press.
- Stillman Dairy Farm, 991 Lancaster Ave, Lunenburg, MA 01462, ☏ . Fresh milk and baked goods at the farm store.
- Crystal Brook Farm, 192 Tuttle Rd, Sterling, MA 01564, ☏ . Farm store and well known producer of goat cheeses. You may even get to pet the goats.
- Robinson Farm, 42 Jackson Rd, Hardwick, MA 01037, ☏ . Organic vegetables, grass-fed beef, and raw milk are all produced on this farm. As are thousands of pounds of rustic cheeses.
- Smith's Country Cheese, 20 Otter River Rd, Winchendon, MA 01475, ☏ . Award winning Gouda, Cheddar, and Havarti.
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 recently renovated Hanover Theater, grand Mechanics Hall and Tuckerman Hall, and the Palladium, a large rock venue famous for metal shows.
- Cultural Center at Eagle Hill, 242 Old Petersham Road, PO Box 116, Hardwick, MA, 01037, ☏ . Fairly new $15 million performing arts center in rural Hardwick. 460 seat main theater, 80 seat studio theater, and a 500 seat function hall alongside gallery and studio spaces.
- Indian Ranch, 200 Gore Rd, Webster, MA, 01570, ☏ . Large concert venue and campground located on a lake.
- QVCAH-The Arts Center, 111 Main Street, Southbridge, MA, 01550, ☏ . The Quinebaug Valley Council for the Arts and Humanities is located in a stately old mansion in the heart of Southbridge. Gallery exhibits, lectures, workshops, classes, art classes, puppet shows, fashion, music and vibrant seasonal and annual events are offered to the public and the center hosts the Gateway Players Theater.
- Elm Draught House Cinema, 35 Elm Court, Millbury, MA 01527, ☏ . Takes a different spin on the "movie theater with alcohol concept." $5 tickets and cheap beer in a small town one screen theater.
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.
- Grafton Country Store, 2 Grafton Common, Grafton, MA 01563, ☏ . Small country store selling a wide variety of gifts (pottery, jewelry, art, etc). There is also a small coffee shop inside brewing Red Barn Coffee Roasters.
- Harvard General Store, 1 Still River Rd, Harvard, MA 01451, ☏ . Small general store that carries a variety of food stuffs, gifts, clothing, and contains a small cafe.
- Hebert Candy Mansion, 574 Hartford Turnpike, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, ☏ . Handcrafted family candy and chocolate company.
- Eaton Farm Confectioners, 30 Burbank Rd, Sutton, MA 01590, ☏ . Small farmstead candy shop that's been around since 1892.
- Priscilla Candy Shop, 4 Main St, Gardner, MA 01440, ☏ . Third generation candymaker founded in 1936. Known for their "French Roll."
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 as well as a number of 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.
- Sonoma, 206 Worcester Rd Princeton, MA 01541, ☏ . Possibly the most high-end restaurant in Central Massachusetts. Prides itself on using local ingredients. $$$$.
- J's Restaurant, 100 Wattaquadoc Hill Rd, Bolton, MA 01740, ☏ . Fine new American and French food at this vineyard restaurant $$$.
- Rota Spring Farm, 117 Chace Hill Rd, Sterling, MA 01564, ☏ . Farm stand with hugely popular ice cream business. Tons of flavors. Pet the goats while you eat. $.
- Rose32 Bread, 412 Main St, Gilbertville, MA 01031, ☏ . Popular bakery and deli
- Blue Moon Diner, 102 Main St, Gardner, MA 01440, ☏ . Worcester Lunch Car Company diner #815, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Classic diner food.
- Vienna Restaurant & Inn, 14 South St, Southbridge, MA 01550, ☏ . Elegant Austrian/German restaurant attached to a historic inn.
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.
- Blueprint American Bar & Grill, 9 Village Sq, Westminster, MA 01473, ☏ . A bit off the beaten path, this bar located in a strip mall has one of the best beer selection is the region.
- Draught House Bar & Grill, 42 W Boylston St, West Boylston, MA 01583, ☏ . Popular bar located in a Worcester suburb with more than 30 beers on tap.
- Post Office Pub, 1 Ray St, North Grafton, MA 01536, ☏ . The main (possibly only) draw to the Post Office Pub is its selection of 28 draft beers. This is not actually a beer bar, since a lot of the options are things like Blue Moon or Sam Adams, but with so many options, you can easily find something good. Local breweries Wormtown and Wachusett are well represented.
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.
- Gardner Ale House, 74 Parker St, Gardner, MA 01440, ☏ . Bustling brewpub with eclectic comfort fare, microbrews & live music in a rustic, all-brick room.
- Wachusett Brewing Company, 175 State Road East, Westminster, MA 01473, ☏ . The region's largest brewery. Samples are offered in the tasting room and they give free tours on Saturday.
- Bolton Beer Works, 100 Wattaquadock Hill Rd, Bolton, MA 01740, ☏ . Small brewery located on a vineyard in rural Bolton.
- Rapscallion Brewery, 195 Arnold Rd, Fiskdale, MA 01518, ☏ . Brewery located on an old apple orchard. They give impromptu tours on weekends and have a taproom that hosts live music.
- Bentley Brewing Company, 12 Crane Street Southbridge, MA 01550. Saturday 2-6PM. Small brewery with free tastings, affordable growler fills, and a few bottles for purchase. Located in an old mill building.
- KBC Brewery & Beer Garden, 9 Frederick Street, Webster, MA 01570, ☏ . Small brewery and taproom located on the banks of the French River in downtown Webster.
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.
- Deja Brew, 510 Boston Turnpike, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, ☏ . Learn how to brew your own beer from the helpful staff while you sample the ware's of others.
Central Massachusetts will never be confused with Napa Valley, but there are still some vineyards worth exploring.
- Nashoba Valley Winery, 100 Wattaquadock Hill Rd, Bolton, MA 01740, ☏ . Hilltop vineyard making wines from local and imported grapes. There's also a brewery and restaurant on site.
- Hardwick Winery, 3305 Greenwich Rd, Hardwick, MA 01082, ☏ . Small vineyard and winery located in the hills near Quabbin Reservoir.
- Zoll Cellars, 110 Old Mill Rd, Shrewsbury, MA 01545, ☏ . Located in the winemakers house. You can actually visit if you call ahead.
- Charlton Orchards Farm & Winery, 44 Old Worcester Rd, Charlton, MA 01507, ☏ . Pick your own fruit and a small winery.
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 liqour store in New England and has beer that's hard to find anywhere else.
Central Massachusetts is packed with Dunkin Donuts and Honey Dew Donuts, but there are also some local roasters and coffee shops worth checking out.