Day/Date: SATURDAY -1/7/23
Towns visited: New Braintree & Hardwick
Had we ever been to these towns before? No
Drive to town: 58 miles Time spent in towns: 6 +hours
What did we do in the towns/area?
This rural town of New Braintree, located in central MA, was known initially as “Braintree Farms,”. Yes, there is a connection to the city of Braintree, which is 65 miles to the east, near Boston. Residents of Braintree were “granted” equal interest in the purchased farmland to the west, way back in 1669, and began their journeys there. The town officially settled as New Braintree in 1709.
As we drove west from our home in Newton, the terrain started changing, and we began to see snow sticking to the trees and an inch or two covering the ground. It was such a pretty change of scenery.
After driving along some windy 30 MPH roads, we arrived at a small cluster of buildings, including the town hall, the library, and a grade school building. In the background was a small Christmas tree farm nestled on the hill in the snow. We went into the library for helpful information about what to do or see here. We were lucky to meet three women inside, one librarian and two women from the historical society. They were all very friendly and told us where the historical markers in the town were and made a few suggestions of places to visit. We learned from these women that there are 927 residents in the town and that the grade school right next store now served as a multi-use building as there would need to be more kids here to utilize that building as a school.
We also learned about “horse rests” from these women, so we drove along Hardwick Road to see the markers for these rests. These leveling-off points gave the horses a much-needed rest to continue up the hill as they would be carrying heavy loads. We got a first-hand feel for the steep road that leveled off a few times between the steep sections.
After a little more driving past farmland, and an ostrich (or maybe Emu?) siting on West Brookfield Road, we headed to the site of the old railroad station, now a part of the Mass Central Rail Trail. We walked along the trail located just beyond another picturesque farm. This section of the MCRT is managed by the East Quabbin Land Trust. Eventually, this trail will span 104 miles from Boston to Northampton!
Our next excursion in New Braintree took us to June’s Bakeshop, a shop located at the end of a dead-end road next to the home of the owner, June Glidden. This magical place, which produces unique, wonderful cookies (and more), was closed, but as we got out to take a quick photo, June came out of her house to greet us. Even though she was closed, she offered to show us around. She didn’t have any treats as she was still recovering from the Christmas season, but she was decorating for Valentine’s day, so we got to see the inside her shop and learn a little about her and her process. Her adorable dog and kind husband came to greet us as well. We would love to come back to see this place in action and were touched by how gracious she was in welcoming us.
On our way out of town, we drove by a sign that said “Farmer Matt’s Farm Store,” and it looked open so we quickly turned in. A very kind young man showed us around this small farm store and we walked away with some fresh sausage and some homemade bacon kale soup that we had for dinner upon arriving home. We enjoyed it immensely. Farmer Matt operates a 400 acre farm, producing many types of meat. He also operates a restaurant next to the store, which hosts many events in the warmer months. We were excited to hear about the BBQ and Brews events that were very successful last summer!
By the time we got to Hardwick, we were ready for lunch. We had read about a place in town that people raved about called Rose 32 bread, but sadly, they are closed until sometime in February. Hence, we decided to go to the very quaint “Mimi’s Coffeehouse,” where we could get some sandwiches and a decent cup of coffee. But on our way there, we happened upon Clover Hill Farm and noticed a flag waving in the wind that said: “Open.” We couldn’t pass it up, so we turned in and parked. The cute little farm store was a self-serve operation with various prepared foods, frozen meats, eggs, local honey, and t-shirts. They make it easy to pay with Venmo, so we got some “town visit food” to take home and enjoy later. It was a fun excursion.
We finally made it to Mimi’s, and it was great. Everything hit the spot and helped to renew our energy for our continued exploration.
Hardwick comprises several villages: Hardwick, Gilbertville, Old Furnace, and Wheelwright.
We found it funny that we were walking around Hardwick: a village in Hardwick. The town green is where the famous annual Hardwick Fair is held each year. Apparently, the fair is the longest-running summer fair in the U. S., with games, races, agricultural and livestock exhibits, and more. We walked down the street a bit to the Paige Memorial Library. It was closed, but we thought the building was fantastic, and they had a cute fairy mailbox outside, which was kind of awesome.
Our next stop was the village of Gilbertville, which is home to the 19th-century Ware-Hardwick covered bridge which was definitely a draw for us. The village of Gilbertville seemed more populated than the village of Hardwick, and not too far from the bridge, we noticed an old abandoned mill building along the Ware River. We tried to get closer to the building but couldn’t navigate our way there. The trusty internet tells us that it was an old Wool Textiles mill that was abandoned in the early 1900s after a flood.
One thing that was prevalent during our exploration of Hardwick is that there was great debate over a proposed one-mile thoroughbred race track at the Great Meadowbrook Farm. There were many signs both opposing and supporting the move and we learned that just 2 days before our visit here, the town rejected the proposal. We aren’t terribly surprised by that as we saw many more “No” signs than “Yes” ones.
The highlight of our time in Hardwick was when we stopped at Mandel Hill (also part of the East Quabbin Land Trust) and took a 1.5-mile hike. The initial part of the loop trail is on an open pasture with views of the farmlands to the south and of Mt. Wachusett to the Northeast. There is even a small wooden observation tower you can climb, designed for bird watching. The sky was cloudy, with bits of light breaking through, which amplified the beauty of the snowy landscape.
Blue markers led the way along the path as the trail entered the woods. The 38-degree weather made it a comfortable walk. As we turned out of the woods and looped back to the pasture, we spotted 5-6 bluebirds moving from ground to tree and back as we tried, unsuccessfully, to take their picture. It reminded us of another walk we took with great views on an open hilltop when we visited Leyden, MA. We came upon bluebirds there, too, doing the same thing!
This was a great visit in Worcester County! Oh, and the food from Clover Hill Farm was delish!
Indigenous/ Native land info for this region: Nipmuc and Agawam