First settled by Europeans in the 17th century, the town of Northborough in Central Massachusetts is crossed by the old Boston Post Road (Route 20), which forms Main Street.
There are several interesting markers along this historic artery, one pointing out the place where a young woman, Mary Goodnow was killed by Native Americans in 1707 during Queen Anne’s War.
Northborough’s historical society has an unusually grand headquarters, in a converted church from the mid–19th century, packed with artifacts illuminating 350+ years of local history.
Around the town are family-owned farms that go back decades, tempting you with home-baked pies and apple cider donuts, or inviting you to pick-your-own fruit.
1. Tougas Family Farm
For a cozy slice of rural New England pay a visit to this second-generation farm to pick your own fruit in summer and fall.
In chronological order, the Tougas Family Farm has PYO strawberries, cherries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, apples, and pumpkins.
And while fruit picking is the main activity, children will be thrilled with the playground and the farm’s barnyard animals.
The farm store and farm kitchen stay open until Thanksgiving, for pre-picked fruit, farm-made apple cider donuts, pies, scones, cookies, farm-fruit crisps, and a trove of homemade, local and regional gourmet delights.
2. Northborough Historical Society Museum
At 52 Main Street, the local historical society’s museum has a wonderful home, in the old Baptist Church, built in the Greek Revival style in 1860.
The society moved here in 1960, and maintains a museum in the upstairs hall. One holdover from the church days is a restored George Stevens pipe organ made in 1874.
The museum has extensive collections, encompassing many aspects of Northborough’s history, from industry to domestic life.
You can investigate artifacts from a one-room schoolhouse, sports memorabilia, a recreated general store, items of clothing from the 19th century, some of the oldest weights and measures in Massachusetts, and preserved items from an 18th-century kitchen.
The story of this cherished gift and yarn shop goes back more than four decades, when it started out as a craft cooperative in Northborough’s old Town Hall. Craftworks has relocated a couple of times since then, and now has a large store at the Northboro Shopping Center.
You can browse a huge stock of yarns in a wide range of brands, fibers, weights and colors, as well as all of the gear you could need for your knitting or crochet project.
The store is also a showcase for hundreds of talented crafters, selling unique fashion & accessories, woodwork, pottery, glass, and much more.
Added to all that, Craftworks is a real hub for handicrafts, hosting classes in everything from knitting to needle felting, as well as all kinds of other events throughout the year.
4. Davidian’s Farm Market
Close to Tougas Family Farm is another family-owned farm, working the land for more than a century.
Davidian’s Farm grows a wealth of fresh produce, from corn to peaches, watermelons, broccoli, cauliflower, and numerous varieties of peppers, tomatoes, greens, and apples. These seasonal fruits and vegetables are sold at the farm market, at 500 Church St.
In a rustic building designed like a barn, the market also sells ice cream, prepared foods, sandwiches made to order, locally made specialty foods, and pies, cider apple donuts and other delectable sweet treats at the bakery.
5. Edmund Hill Woods
A quick look at a map and you’ll notice that Northborough is littered with big sweeps of nature that have been opened up to the public by the town’s trails committee.
If you have to pick just one, Edmund Hill Woods crystallizes the town’s natural and human history on one property. You can walk a 2.5-mile interpretive trail here, stopping at 27 stations, each addressing a different feature of the land.
These might be interesting trees, a glacially-formed drumlin, boulders, fading evidence of agriculture, vernal pools, an historic aqueduct, old stone walls, or traces of the old Agricultural Branch Railroad from the mid-19th century.
6. Old Farm Trail
Part of Northborough’s fantastic network of trails through town-owned lands is the Old Farm Trail, on the boundary with Marlborough. This path is named for the old Stirrup Brook Farm, a dairy farm that was sold off more than six decades ago.
On what was once pasture there’s now deep forest, but as you walk the Old Farm Trail there are peculiar remnants of that previous life.
These are historic vehicles, dumped in what were then fields in the middle of the 20th century, and gradually disintegrating.
The most intact of these is a light blue 1953 Oldsmobile 88, wedged between two trees. Hugging the Assabet River and Stirrup Brook, the Old Farm Trail meanders past a couple of picnic areas, and connects with the Bird Song Trail near Main Street in the southeast.
7. Sawyer’s Bowladrome
Cozy local bowling alleys, like this one off Main Street, are a signature of many communities in this part of the state.
Dating back to 1953, Sawyer’s Bowladrome is for candlepin bowling, a regional variation of ten pin bowling that broke through in Worcester around 1880.
For newcomers, this style has a small ball that fits in the hand, while the pins are taller and narrower, and so a lot harder to knock down.
With low ceilings and just six lanes, Sawyer’s Bowladrome is a far cry from slick modern alleys, and all the better for it. You do have to keep score with a pencil and paper, but there are automated features like ball-return and pin clearing.
8. Assabet Park
Close to civic buildings like the Town Hall and the Northborough Free Library, this public park has been given a host of upgrades in the past few years.
Reopening in summer 2022, Assabet Park has an all new playground, with ADA-compliant equipment on a soft and safe rubberized surface.
Another wonderful asset for young families on hot days is the splash pad, with an assortment of misters, bubblers and geysers on a large space paved with asphalt. Parents can pack a picnic and beach chair, and make the most of an affordable couple of hours of summer fun.
9. Mary Goodnow Grave
Along the Boston Post Road you’ll come across a compelling trace from Northborough’s violent past at the place where one Mary Goodnow was killed in 1707.
This was in the midst of Queen Anne’s War (1702-1717), when French-allied Native Americans conducted raids into the Marlborough area. Mary was collecting herbs in a meadow when she saw a group of 20+ warriors approaching.
In an act of valor that allowed her two children and a pregnant female companion to reach the safety of the garrison, she is said to have given herself up to the attackers.
There’s a stone marker at the site, laid in 1899, and reached along a path through the woods from the Pheasant Hill parking lot.
10. Ski Ward Ski Area
Since the late 1930s, generations of budding skiers have learned the basics at this small mountain on the town line with Shrewsbury.
With 100% snowmaking coverage, Ski Ward has an extended skiing and snowboarding season. There are nine trails, equally weighted between beginner (3), intermediate (3) and expert (3), all served by four lifts.
This is an ideal place if you’re just starting out, and in the winter there are 100 instructors, for a wide range of private and group lesson programs.
For many families, the big draw is the set of eight tubing lanes, and these have two lifts, keeping lines to a minimum. The rest of the year, the mountain is still a recreation hotspot thanks to a summer tubing park.
11. PYOP Studio
For a hands-on art experience there’s a studio in Northborough that lets you create your own piece of decorative art. The PYOP Studio has more than 200 different unglazed bisque designs, from vases to mugs, all serving as a canvas for your masterpiece.
After selecting your piece you can get to work on a design, choosing from a palette of more than 90 colors.
At the end of your session you’ll leave your creation with the studio for glazing and firing. PYOP Studio hosts a busy calendar of special classes, events, and a camp, while walk-ins are always welcome.
12. Boundless Adventures Zipline and Aerial Park
Weaving through the woods in nearby Berlin there’s a zipline and high ropes park, attracting adventurous souls from across Greater Boston.
Designed for a wide spectrum of abilities, Boundless Adventures has nine different courses to tackle, ranging from yellow (beginner) to black (expert).
Each course has a sequence of challenging but rewarding elements, which you’ll overcome by balancing, climbing, swinging, or sometimes taking a leap of faith.
Boundless Adventures is on a big site, with a total 90 rope bridges and 16 ziplines, and the more difficult the course is, the higher it is suspended in the forest canopy.
13. Ellsworth McAfee Park
Widely praised for its excellent upkeep, Northborough’s community park is in the south of the town near the boundary with Westboro, and is loaded with active recreation amenities.
For a short summary, there’s a skatepark, basketball courts, pickleball courts, multi-use playing fields, and two playgrounds.
A long exercise trail winds around the park, leading to a secluded pond at the north end, while there’s a large pavilion that can be rented.
On Thursday evenings from late June to mid-August, Ellsworth McAfee Park is the stage for Northborough’s annual summer concert series.
14. Juniper Hill Golf Course
Less than a mile southeast of Northborough’s center there’s a public golf facility with 36 holes, and a newly modernized clubhouse with a grill, pro shop and golf teaching center.
The first of the two 18-hole tracks at Juniper Hills is the Riverside course, dating back to 1931. This course has been refined over the years, and is known for its idyllic views on the banks of the Assabet River.
Opened in 1991, the Lakeside course is the more difficult of the two. Blending with the majestic New England scenery, these 18 holes have a Carolina-style, with par-3 8th and 14th holes that require a brave tee shot over water.
15. Northborough Crossing
This outdoor shopping center is situated by the intersection of Route 9 and Route 20 in the very south of the town.
At Northborough Crossing you’ve got a mix of big box stores, smaller mall-style locations, chain restaurants, and a branch of the supermarket brand, Wegmans.
A few of the retailers found here are Kohl’s, Old Navy, Ulta Beauty, Claire’s, The Paper Store, T.J. Maxx, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michals, Homesense, and PetSmart.
Food-wise there’s a QDOBA and IHOP, with Burger King, Starbucks, and Anzio’s Brick Oven Pizza close by.