An attractive South Shore town, Holbrook has a lot of family-owned businesses, as well as easy access to nature at conservation lands, and a state park nearby.
Much of the commerce is along the east-west Union Street, including a diner that has fed generations of locals, and a small but lovable summer farmers’ market.
Although these lands were first settled by Europeans in the early 18th century, Holbrook is a relatively young town by South Shore standards.
Previously part of Braintree, it was incorporated in 1872 and named for benefactor Elisha N. Holbrook (d. 1872), who funded the Town Hall and library.
1. Holbrook Square Historic District
At the junction of Franklin Street and Plymouth Street, you can visit the civic heart of the town. What sets the Holbrook Square Historic District aside is that the main landmarks were raised within a few years of each other.
This is partly because the town was incorporated in 1872, but also because a fire in December 1877 took out the main church and the first town hall.
In close quarters you’ve got the Gothic Revival Town Hall (1879), the Panel Brick-style Central Fire Station (1881), and the Winthrop Congregational Church (1880), constructed in the Stick style.
The Town Hall is a solemn anchor for the district, built from brick, with granite and sandstone trim, and setting the scene for annual events like the Rockwell-esque Festival of Lights in the holidays.
2. Holbrook Town Forest
Holbrook is blessed with a large swath of woodland, established as a town forest on undeveloped land in the 1950s.
One of many things going for this property is how varied the landscape is, as you make your way over steep granite outcroppings and then down into unspoiled wooded wetlands.
The sharp climbs and rocky terrain provide some challenging singletracks for mountain bikers, and if you want to spend some more time in nature you can cross into Braintree’s Cranberry Pond on the north side.
Stone walls hark back to long forgotten farms, and the woods are dotted with vernal pools that provide an important habitat for amphibians.
3. Lake Holbrook
Possibly the most scenic location in the entire town is the shore of this 31-acre lake. Along N Shore Rd, Lake Holbrook is edged by a small but neatly landscaped park.
This is a fine place to bring a picnic on a sunny day, with a picture-perfect view across the water to houses partly concealed by hardwood trees.
There’s a choice of benches and picnic tables, some in the open, and some in a little grove, and the park serves as a car top boat launch.
Lake Holbrook has big numbers of largemouth bass, as well as some yellow perch, bluegill and black crappie, although you’re advised not to eat anything you catch here.
4. Ames Nowell State Park
The center of Holbrook is just a couple of miles from 700 acres of nature on the shores of the large Cleveland Pond.
With more than ten miles of trails in woods and wetlands and along the water’s edge, Ames Nowell State Park is a destination for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, and picnicking.
Non-motorized boating and fishing are permitted on the pond, which was impounded in the 1920s as part of a private project to create a bird sanctuary.
There’s always something interesting to see in the park, at the remnants of 17th and 18th-century quarries, historic wagon bridges, giant glacial erratics, or old stonewalls on farmland long reclaimed by the woods.
5. Fuller Craft Museum
In Holbrook you’re just a matter of minutes from the premier museum for contemporary crafts in New England.
The Fuller Craft Museum is beautifully situated, on one of a chain of ponds landscaped into a park in the 1920s.
Exhibitions here cover every facet of contemporary crafts, with artists representing a wide variety of disciplines, from ceramics to furniture, jewelry, woodwork, textiles, glass and more.
The grounds are stunning, and adorned with sculptures, while there’s a superb gift shop stocked with local and ethically sourced items.
6. Roberts School
Next door to the popular Stanney’s Ice Cream & Sandwich Shoppe on Union Street is a small but compelling piece of Holbrook history.
The Roberts School is a one-room schoolhouse, constructed in 1873 on 1 ½ stories. Something interesting about the facade is that it retains the separate entrances for boys and girls.
These lead to separate vestibules, but still feed into the same room. Also remarkable is the building was in use as a school until 1979 before the Holbrook Historical Society moved here the following year.
7. Nihtila Farm
Before it was a residential community, Holbrook did have some agriculture to go with its cottage industries, and this aspect of its history has been revived by a little farm.
Founded in 2001 by a local family who wanted to do something different with their land, Nihtila Farm is on ten acres, and opens to the public as a pumpkin patch in the fall.
You can pick your own pumpkins here, while kids will have a great time on the hayride, seeing the farm animals, and playing in the farm’s playground.
8. Union Street Lanes
Another reason to swing by Union Street is for this bowling alley that got a new lease of life under new ownership back in 2008.
At Union Street Lanes you can get acquainted with candlepin bowling. This regional game first took off in Worcester in the 1880s, and is mostly played in this corner of New England and Canada’s Maritimes.
You get three rolls instead of two, and you’ll need them because the pins are narrow and harder to knock down, and the ball is small enough to fit the palm of your hand.
There are 16 newly resurfaced lanes at the alley, along with TVs, a full bar and a menu of comforting bites like pizza and hot dogs.
9. Castle Canyon Playground
Near the intersection of Franklin Street and Plymouth Street there’s a fantastic playground, backing onto Sumner Field by the grounds of Holbrook Middle-High School.
Although it’s close to the street, Castle Canyon Playground is fully fenced, and has a range of swings, slides and climbing structures for children aged 1-12.
There are benches well-positioned around the playscapes, and a branch of Dunkin’ is right next door for a coffee and a bite. On the opposite side is a gazebo that hosts free concerts on Sunday evenings from late June to late August.
10. Holbrook Farmers’ Market
Usually held in the parking lot at Union Street Lanes, Holbrook has a seasonal farmers’ market.
On Saturday mornings, June through October, you can stop by to browse a changing assortment of vendors.
On a typical week there’s fresh fruit and vegetables, plants, flowers, honey, preserves, free range eggs, fresh breads, baked goods, and a range of crafts.
At the time of writing there was a faithful community of vendors, and more were being added with each new season.
11. Stanney’s Ice Cream & Sandwich Shoppe
At 300 Union St, this old-fashioned American diner has been in business for more than 60 years now.
Stanney’s Ice Cream & Sandwich Shoppe is a pared-down spot with a simple interior and generous servings of omelets, pancakes, waffles, French toast, breakfast sandwiches, and a big choice of egg combinations.
At lunch, you’ve got overstuffed sandwiches, burgers, salads, and plates like clam strips, fried chicken and steak tips. For dessert, Stanney’s is also still known for its sundaes, with a dozen different options from hot fudge to banana split.
12. High Voltage Paintball
On just over 20 acres, there’s a paintball center on the power line corridor in the east of Holbrook.
There’s a variety of terrain at High Voltage Paintball, allowing for different tactics, from the frantic action of the speedball field to the dense cover of the woodball fields.
Among the game options, you can defend or attack a bunker, defend a hilltop, or try to plant a bomb before your opponents can react.
This facility is open on weekends and does allow walk-ins, although it’s always a good idea to book your own session with as many people as possible.
13. Weymouth Great Pond
Running along Holbrook’s eastern boundary is a sizable pond, cloaked in woods and drained by Mill River, which eventually feeds the Weymouth Back River.
Weymouth Great Pond is a drinking water supply, so there’s a limit to recreation and dogs are not permitted here.
On the southeastern shore, Negus Park and the Richard E. Gifford Playground are linked by a mile-long walking trail, which meanders through the deciduous woods, with lovely vistas to the undeveloped west shore.
On the route are some imposing granite boulders, as well as sections of boardwalk over streams and damp ground, with several smaller side trails if you want a detour.
14. Cranberry Pond Conservation Land
From Holbrook Town Forest you can follow a trail north into this secluded conservation property over the line in Braintree.
Here, Cranberry Pond is in a hollow, walled by surprisingly rocky slopes. Heading from the south, the green blazed trail eventually connects with a blue trail, which winds along the high ground around the pond.
This is a moderate hike with some tricky sections as you traverse rugged outcrops for some impressive views, especially in the winter when the hardwood forest here is bare.
The red trail is also accessed from the south side via Holbrook Town Forest, and snakes along the steep eastern edge of the property, with opportunities to make a loop by cutting back along the orange, yellow, or white trails.
15. Festival of Lights
An integral part of the holiday season in Holbrook since the 1970s, the Festival of Lights is a non-religious event held on the first Saturday in December in the town’s historic center.
With the handsome Town Hall and a beautiful light display as a backdrop, there’s a schedule of performances by local school choirs, followed by the arrival of Santa Claus, with some help from the Holbrook Fire Department.
Attendees can enjoy light refreshments, and children can visit Santa at Winthrop Congregational Church next door.