On the South Shore, this wealthy town is traced by the North River, which runs along the southeastern boundary.
That watercourse is considered one of the most beautiful in the region, recognized as a National Natural Landmark, and a Commonwealth of Massachusetts Scenic River.
In the 18th century the riverbanks in Norwell were a center for Colonial shipbuilding, although you would never know it today.
Now there’s a string of remote conservation lands and reservations along the river. One of these, the Norris Reservation, can be accessed from Norwell’s endearing old town center, first laid out almost 400 years ago.
1. Wompatuck State Park
Across Grove Street from Hornstra Farms there’s a new entrance and parking area for the immense Wompatuck State Park, which overlaps with three different towns and has a lot of adjoining conservation land.
On its own, the park is more than 3,500 acres on what used to be the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot Annex (1941-1962), with military activity ending here in the 1980s.
What remains are the ghostly bunkers and other buildings, gradually disappearing into the woods.
Long before the time of the base, there was some cottage industry on this land, and from the mid-19th century the Mount Blue Spring was commercially bottled here.
Today you can fill your own bottle at the spring, just over the line in Hingham. Overall, the park has 40 miles of forest trails, 12 miles of paved non-motorized roads, and a campground with more than 250 sites.
2. Norwell Center
If you wanted to define the archetypal New England village center, it might look a lot like Norwell.
Several arteries meet at the Town Common, which has had the same basic layout since 1640. This space and the historic buildings around it are preserved by the Norwell Village Area Historic District, with development heavily restricted to maintain the quaint character.
For architecture the First Parish Church (1830) is an early example of Greek Revival, while the Cushing Memorial Town Hall (1930) is in the Colonial Revival style.
Norwell Center is couched within thousands of acres of wooded conservation land, and every other summer, the common becomes the stage for Norwell’s cherished Summer Festival, which we’ll describe in more detail below.
3. The Company Theatre
Something else that puts Norwell on the map is an award-winning non-profit theater company.
Selling 35,000 tickets each year, The Company Theatre attracts audiences from across the South Shore and Southeastern Massachusetts, with professional-quality productions at a fraction of the cost of a typical big theater show.
There are five productions each season, and some recent examples include The Phantom of the Opera, The Secret Garden, and Misery.
Younger audiences are treated to four youth productions yearly, while the venue in Norwell hosts all kinds of other entertainment, from singalong movies to concerts, live comedy and children’s shows.
4. Norris Reservation
In Norwell Center you don’t even need to get in your car to visit this Trustees of Reservations property.
The Norris Reservation extends from Norwell Center to the North River, with old carriage roads curving through pine forest, past granite boulders, to the riverside.
The blue McMullan Trail is a joy, taking you to a charming boathouse by the water. To the south, the red-blazed River Loop leads to an overlook where the Second Herring Brook enters the North River.
The whole reservation teems with life, from the frogs in the wetlands to beavers building dams, wading birds in the wetlands and owls hooting in the forest.
5. Hornstra Farms
A local fixture for generations, Hornstra Farms was founded by a couple from the Netherlands, who arrived in America in 1912.
That first dairy farm was established in Hingham in 1915, but in 2009 the whole operation was relocated to Norwell, taking over the defunct Loring Farm.
The Farm Store and season Ice Cream Dairy Bar opened in 2014, selling a wealth of fresh dairy products including milk, flavored milk, farm-churned butter, cream, eggnog, tempting baked goods, and a bounty of locally sourced goodies, from farm-raised meats to specialty cheeses.
The best time to come is April through October, when you can treat yourself to a nostalgic scoop or three of rich, farm-made ice cream.
6. Jacobs Pond Conservation Area
This ecologically diverse conservation area is on the north and east shores of a manmade pond, dating back 1730.
Jacobs Pond was created when the Third Herring Brook was dammed to run grist and sawmills, while there was a brick factory here for 150 years from 1680.
There’s a diversity of habitats around the pond, with cedar swamp, stands of mountain laurel, and beech, hemlock, pine, maple and oak woodlands on higher ground.
You can visit to walk the blazed trails, do some birding, paddle in the pond, and come fishing for largemouth bass, chain pickerel, yellow perch and more.
Near the south side of the property stands the Jacobs Farmhouse (1726), maintained by the Norwell Historical Society and hosting events like the popular Strawberry Festival in June.
7. Stetson Meadows
The North River twists through this secluded 184-acre conservation property, purchased by the Town of Norwell more than 50 years ago to preserve it from development.
The Colonial history of this place can be traced back to a land grant for one Robert Stetson in 1634.
Later, in the 18th century this was a center for shipbuilding, with more than 1,000 vessels launched from these banks, including Columbia Rediviva, the first American vessel to circumnavigate the globe (1790).
There’s no sign of this history in the woods and wetlands today, with paths guiding you along the river, or into the white pine-oak forest on the Twin Pines Trail.
8. James Library & Center for the Arts
Known as The James for short, this cultural center incorporates a gallery, performance space and library, right on the village green in Norwell Center.
The James, is an elegant Victorian building, raised in 1874, and serving as the meeting place for a variety of organizations since that time.
For visitors to the town, the center shines as a place to enjoy a wide array of regional art, with a new exhibition every couple of months, including juried art shows.
The concert hall, featuring a Steinway B piano, has a lively performance schedule, with an emphasis on small classical ensembles.
9. South Shore Natural Science Center
On the east side of Jacob’s Pond, the YMCA owns this 30-acre parcel of meadows and woodland, offering educational experiences for all ages.
The center is home to the EcoZone museum, with interactive exhibits and an array of native wild animals. There’s also a gift shop, a greenhouse, an outdoor amphitheater and picnic area, and six interpretive color-coded trails.
One of these is the child-friendly Discovery Trail, equipped with stations for exercise and play, including balance beams, a log path, xylophone, and pull-up bars.
Thanks to the center’s location, you’ve also got access to more than 200 acres of conservation land here.
10. North River Wildlife Sanctuary
Directly upriver from Norwell there’s a Mass Audubon property in Marshfield. This land was gifted to the society in 1977 and is made up of almost 200 acres of grasslands, salt marsh, oak-pine woods and red maple swamps.
There are two miles of trails at the North River Wildlife Sanctuary, including half a mile of universally accessible trail.
The River Loop is a delight, on the grasslands in the valley, patterned with old stone walls, and with boardwalks leading to the river’s edge.
The Woodland Loop is the longest trail, taking you through oak-pine forest, while the sanctuary’s indoor Discovery Rooms offer an up-close look at the wildlife in these habitats.
11. Local Pottery Studio + Gallery
At the Village Gardens shopping center in Norwell there’s an independent pottery studio and gallery, home to experienced makers who are keen to share their know-how at a variety of classes and workshops.
You can come to learn the ins and outs of wheel throwing, make festive porcelain ornaments, find out about glazing techniques, and a whole lot more.
There are also classes for kids taking place once a week, and teaching wheel throwing, surface decoration and glazing. In addition to all this, the gallery showcases the work of more than 60 ceramicists, and is a great place to discover a one-of-a-kind piece of pottery.
12. Gaffield Park
Another public space close to Norwell Center is this swath of town-owned woodland with a playground in a glade.
As well as the ample shade in summer, one of the great things about this amenity is that there’s separate play equipment for children up to, and over, five years.
The playground is also paved with rubber, and there are benches and picnic tables all around, where parents can keep an eye on their kids.
This patch of land was donated to the town as long ago as 1896, on the proviso that it should always remain a public park.
13. Strawberry Fair Restaurant
A local favorite for some 50 years now, Strawberry Fair Restaurant is all about comforting breakfast/brunch food in a homey environment.
In that spirit, the building is a cozy farmhouse with a more-is-more interior. Although the business has recently changed hands, the new owner has done little to change a winning formula, except for adding some lighter options to the extensive menu.
One of the things you have to try is the homemade cornbread, which accompanies several menu items, and is also turned into French toast, buried under whipped cream and powdered sugar.
14. Norwell Summer Festival
On a Saturday every other June, Norwell Town Center becomes the canvas for a biennial open air festival, geared towards all ages and tastes.
The Norwell Summer Festival attracts close to 10,000 visitors each year, with a wide assortment of vendors, great local food, and live entertainment on three different stages.
Shopping is at the core of the festival experience, with a juried lineup of artisans from across the region. As is food, whether you’re in the mood for lobster rolls, tacos, Italian subs, pizza, waffles or cannoli.
15. Great River Race
Another fine way to experience the full beauty of the North River in summer is by taking part in this event organized by the North and South Rivers Watershed Association.
Starting at Norwell’s Bridge Street Canoe Launch, the Great River Race runs upriver for 7.5 miles to Indian Head Road in Hanover.
The race is normally held on a Sunday morning in late July, and is open to any type of non-motorized vessel, including paddleboards.
Now in its 4th decade, the event is open to fierce competitors as much as people who just want to have a relaxing time, and there’s even an award for Best Decorated Boat or Boater.