Northbridge and Grafton. September 3, 2022

Day/Date:  SATURDAY – 9/3/22
Towns visited:  Northbridge and Grafton
Had we ever been to any of these towns before? No 
Drive to 1st town:   37 miles   Time spent in town(s):   4 1/2 hours

What did we do in the town(s)/area?  
Trying to stay away from Labor Day Weekend traffic, we headed West and South to the town of Northbridge. This town and many around it are known for its significance in the Industrial Revolution. With many old mill buildings situated on the Blackstone River, it is part of the Blackstone River Valley National Historic Corridor. Northbridge is comprised of a few villages, many of which are “mill villages.” Whitinsville (pronounced White-ins-ville, after the Whitin family) was the first village we visited. There was an old textile mill building that used to be home to Whitin Machine Company, now restored and rented out to local businesses. There is even a large deck overlooking the river that hosts summer concerts.

Then, we visited Town Hall, located in the Whitinsville village, and looked at a row of shops in the downtown area, many of which were closed for Labor Day weekend. We did pick up a bit of “town visit food” and grabbed some bagels for tomorrow’s breakfast from Stephanie’s Daily Grind. Speaking of food, we were sad not to be able to grab something from Whitinsville’s The Green Plate: a woman owned, gluten-free restaurant with lots of vegetarian and vegan options too. They were closed for the entire holiday weekend. Ah well, there’s always next time.

The other mill villages were Rockdale and Riverdale. The old mill at Riverdale now manufactures wire mesh products for construction, security, and agricultural purposes. They also invented Aquamesh, an industry-standard product used in building lobster traps. It was great to see such a large manufacturing plant in the US and to repurpose an old mill building.

After our in-town adventures, we headed to the woods and explored a few hiking spots along the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park. Our stops included: Plummer’s Landing, Lookout Rock (the highest point in Northbridge), and the Stone Arch Bridge at the canal. The rocks at Lookout Point were fully decorated with graffiti and they featured a lovely view of the Blackstone River Valley. We saw people fishing, walking their dogs, kayaking, and hiking in Plummer’s Landing and Stone Arch Bridge. Since we are in a severe drought, the river level was very low and thus a little grimy.  (We need rain!)

Next, we headed north to Grafton and found some unexpected treasures.

Our first stop was for Ice cream at Swirls & Scoops. Jo ordered the orange/pineapple “Dole Whip,” a non-dairy soft-serve treat that she said was delicious! Jenny had some vanilla soft serve with sprinkles. We sat in the parking lot and chatted with a friendly man named Louie, a local who works in an auto body shop. He called himself a “body worker” which is funny because Jo does too (massage therapist)! He loves to ride his motorcycle and told us about some of his favorite spots in the region including some food trucks in West Boylston. 

We had not done much research on Grafton, so when we saw a sign that said “Clock Museum this way,” we decided to follow it. And we are so glad we did. The road in a quiet, more rural part of Grafton was windy, with many beautiful homes and small farms. We were blown away by the preserved Willard House, the birthplace of Benjamin Willard, a well-known clockmaker from the 1700s. He was the first of three generations of clockmakers in his family. Next to the Willard House is the Clock Museum. It was sadly closed for Labor Day weekend, but a spot that we would love to come back to. 

We realized that we were pretty close to the Old Grafton State Hospital, which, for some family history reasons, we had wanted to see, so we headed up the road. To our surprise, we saw many cattle and sheep grazing in open pastures. (Baby cows too!)  Then, we realized that we had happened upon the Tuft’s University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. The Grafton State Hospital was in operation from 1901 to the early 1970s and was a home for the “chronically insane.” Much like Medfield State Hospital, which we visited in 2021, farming and gardening were used as therapeutic tools to help the patients. Those were some of the positives of this type of facility, but there were many negatives in how the patients were treated. There is some pretty gruesome history about Grafton State Hospital and places like it.

A few years after the hospital’s closure, Tuft’s University opened the veterinary school here, using the rolling hills and cleared pastures to study domesticated animals. There are a few animal hospitals here as well as research facilities. We also saw a few students playing tennis, so there must also be dormitories on campus. After taking a few photos and videos to capture the beauty of this place, we headed to Grafton Common for our final stop of our town visit.

The Grafton Common is a quintessential New England town center, with a gazebo (currently under construction), the Grafton Inn, beautiful churches, and an old town mercantile building. After a quick but fun exploration of this sweet area, we headed home.

Indigenous/ Native land info for this region: 

Northbridge: Nipmuc
Grafton: Nipmuc & Agawam – There is a 3.5 acre reservation in Grafton, called Hassanamisco.  This small land is what remains of a much larger reservation.  This is another area where Puritan leader, John Eliot worked to convert many Native American Indians to Christianity.

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