Leominster. January 18, 2023

Day/Date:  WEDNESDAY -1/18/23
Town visited: LEOMINSTER (city)
Had we ever been to this town before?  No
Drive to town:  38 miles    Time spent in town:   6 hours

What did we do in the town/area? 
LEOMINSTER:  
When we love our hairdressers, we sometimes have to make tough decisions about whether or not to follow them when they move locations or find someone else. My favorite hairdresser’s recent move to the JC Penney Salon in Leominster forced me into this dilemma. I am not ready to give up this gem of a guy and stylist, so, we decided to combine our town (well, city) visit with my need for a haircut. 

We rolled into the Mall at Whitney Field, where the JC Penney Salon is located. It was great to reconnect with Andy and get a great haircut. Jenny also had fun making the most of a sale in the store’s jewelry department!

Since we were only a mile or so away from the City Hall and center, we decided to head there next. We went into City Hall to learn more about some signs we had been seeing about a “Coffee Crawl” happening in the upcoming week. All the staff at City Hall were so welcoming. We got lucky in meeting Wendy, a woman who not only gave us the coffee crawl info but who also showed us around the City Hall and gave us the feel of this friendly city of Leominster. She was proud to show off the Mayor’s Wizard of Oz collection and the “Winter Wonderland” decorations in the auditorium. She boasted of the 40+ city-sponsored events that go on throughout the year as well!

She recommended lunch and coffee at the Main Street Gift and Cafe. We are a sucker for a good sandwich and a good cup of coffee, and this place had both! The sandwiches featured locally made bread, and they served up Dean’s Beans (one of Worcester County’s best coffee roasters).

After lunch, we stopped in the library, noting an exhibit about the actress Martha Sleeper. Martha was known for her “gadget jewelry,” and in her later career began designing and manufacturing these decorative pieces. Many of them were made here in Leominster. In fact, Leominster has a long history in plastics of many kinds, (including Tupperware). At one time, the city had 60 “plastics” factories! Leominster is also home to the original plastic pink flamingo! Don Featherstone designed these flamingos in 1957, and their popularity really took off!  

For our outdoor adventure, we hiked part of the Monoosnoc Trail. It was a beautiful 50-degree day in January, with some sun! We took a 2.2-mile loop hike that afforded us a lovely hilltop view of the city and surrounding areas. 

After our hike, we drove to Sholan Farms and orchard. This is a beautiful orchard owned and operated by the city. There are even public hiking trails through the orchard and beyond.

We couldn’t leave without stopping at the memorial birthplace site for Johnny Appleseed, a nomadic nurseryman who was hellbent on spreading apple seeds in his journeys, specifically in Pennsylvania and Ohio in, through the late 1700s and early 1800s.

We were pleasantly surprised by all that this city had to offer. We would love to come back here to participate in one of the many city-sponsored events or to pick apples next year at the orchard!

Indigenous/ Native land info for this region: Nipmuc, Agawam

Needham. January 15, 2023

Day/Date:  SUNDAY -1/15/23
Town visited: NEEDHAM
Had we ever been to this town before?  Yes
Drive to town:  8 miles    Time spent in town:  3 hours (plus many other visits)

What did we do in the town/area?  
NEEDHAM:  
We have a few friends living in Needham, so we’ve been there several times. Our friend Carie and her son, Matthew, live there, and we have had a few of Matthew’s birthday dinners at the Needham Bertucci’s and a couple of Carie’s birthday dinners at the restaurant- Blue on Highland. And, I must say, my meal at Blue just this past October (the Thai steak salad) was fantastic.

We’ve walked through neighborhoods, have been to the public pool, and even had a drive-by birthday party during Covid. 

Today, we went for a pastry from French Press Bakery & Cafe, which has homemade croissants, danishes, scones, and more. It was delicious!

We also walked around the neighborhood and the field at Memorial Park, just behind Needham High School. 

And we took a peek at the small but sweet Needham Bowlaway, where kids were having a small birthday party and bowling their little hearts out.

For our walk, we took a 2-mile stroll at Cutler Park, which is on the Needham- Dedham border. We walked along the power lines path, taking in occasional graffiti art along the way. 

Before leaving town, we stopped and grabbed a treat from Volante Farms- a local farm and store that has been in Needham for over 100 years. Our friend and local Needham resident, Molly, has worked at Volante Farms on and off for over 20 years. She says they are really good people who have made a lasting contribution to this town. And, we must say the place was stocked with so much yumminess; prepared foods, fresh breads, lots of fruits and vegetables and an array of locally made products.

Molly also knows a lot about flowers, and she told us that pansies were developed in Needham by a man named Denys Zirngiebel, dubbed the “Pansy King.” The flowers are a spinoff of a cute viola you may be familiar with, called Johnny-jump-ups. Zirngiebel developed a few pansy varieties, and one popular one was called the Giant Swiss pansy. We think it is interesting to note that this man who developed the pansies also happens to be the grandfather of the painter and illustrator NC Wyeth. (NC was the father of the painter Andrew Wyeth.)
Anyway, Needham celebrates Pansy Day every April with activities, exhibits, and, of course, flower sales.
Want some more fun facts?

There are 4 Commuter Rail Stops in the town of Needham and many buses that go through town.  

The astronaut, Sunita Williams, is from Needham, and the town named the beautiful (and very big) new elementary school after her. Our recently retired Governor, Charlie Baker, is also a Needham native.

While we didn’t get a chance to go there- word on the street is that Cafe Fresh Bagel is the place to go when in Needham.

We enjoyed our afternoon learning about Needham and seeing it in a different light than we usually do.

Indigenous/ Native land info for this region: Massachusett, Pawtucket

New Braintree and Hardwick. January 7, 2023

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?  
NEW BRAINTREE: 

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!  

HARDWICK

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