Massachusetts is home to an impressive array of charming towns whose history is as old and rich as the United States. For example, Concord witnessed the first battle of the American Revolutionary War and is thus often referred to as "the birthplace of the nation." To an extent, Provincetown— and dozens more — boasts just as rich a history. Unfortunately, many of the Bay State's most loved towns are also among its most touristy. If you are looking for unique Massachusetts towns that are not overly touristy, the following are the 11 towns that often captivate first-time visitors.
Whether you want to burn your legs while scaling Monument Mountain — and in the process — drink the heart-ravishing scenery that inspired such celebrated American poets as Nathaniel Hawthorne, sample the high-quality art pieces at Main Street's Bernay Fine Art, enjoy some great skiing, snowboarding, or tubing at the Butternut Ski Area and Tubing Center — or savor a stroll along the scenic Housatonic River Walk, a visit to Great Barrington will be quite a revelation. Then again, hosting a population of just about 2,000, Great Barrington is a historical goldmine. The town's Railroad Street, for instance, is reputed to be among the oldest in the United States. If this will not pique your interest, the fact that its Main Street was arguably the first to have electric lights in the United States should earn it a spot on your bucket list.
If you are looking for a less touristy alternative to Concord yet a place that shares almost the same historical significance, Acton is the next best thing. For starters, Acton was incorporated in 1735 and was once part of Concord. Because of this, it hosts several historic sites associated with America's Revolutionary War and will tickle the fancy of budding historians. Once named by Money Magazine among the best small towns to live in the United States, Acton is today an upscale, elegant, and classy community that offers enough elbow room for those who want to experience the outdoors. Adventure options in and around Acton include Nagog Lake, the 20-acre Acton Arboretum, Nashoba Ski Area, and the Acton Discovery Museum.
Though approximately less than 500 people call Deerfield Village home, it is an underrated gem — and among Masschusettes' best-kept secrets. Deerfield Village exudes the distinctive New England look and appeal — one of whose elements is the well-preserved Colonial architecture. Besides, Deerfield Village plays host to a litany of museum houses, most of which form part of the heart-warming Historic Deerfield, a one-of-a-kind museum that lies along the town's Old Main Street — and which features beautiful historic homes, many of which date back more than 200 years. Yet, there is more to Historic Deerfield than its gorgeous architecture. For instance, these museum houses display some of the finest public collections of art and antiques in America.
Sturbridge sits along the Quinebaug River, a slow-moving river that spans about 69 miles and whose waters flow across the two states of Connecticut and Massachusettes. Incorporated in 1738, this under-the-radar stunner boasts a rich history first-time visitors will love sampling. Today, this town technically includes the villages of Fiskdale and Sturbridge. If you want to explore the historical side of this New England gem, your first port of call should be at the Old Sturbridge Village, an interesting and well-thought-out reconstruction of a 19th-century New England village that comes complete with transplanted shops, dated water-powered mills, a blacksmith shop, era-specific houses, and a meetinghouse. To live up to its "living history" billing, the Old Sturbridge Village even includes a horse-drawn wagon and a covered bridge that visitors can walk over.
Once called "Nashaway" after the local Nashaway Native American tribe, this Massachusetts gem would be renamed "Lancaster" around 1653, and for its England namesake, the hometown of a man called John Prescott. John Prescott was Lancaster's principal founder and has been described as "a very strong, athletic man of stern countenance." Part of what marks Lancaster a gem is the fact it is the mother town to nearly all of Eastern-central Massachusetts. In 1839, an article in Hayward's New England Gazetteer heaped praises on Lancaster, mentioning that "there is no inland town in New England that possesses more natural beauties, or that strikes the eye of the traveler more agreeably." Today, Lancaster is reputed to be the oldest town in Worcester County.
Littleton sits about a convenient 25 miles from The Hub, as Boston is called, and boasts a Colonial history that goes back nearly 400 years. While today Littleton is perhaps best known — until recently — as home to the largest software lab in North America, thanks to the IBM Campus, in its early days, it was a Praying Town, one of a few established by English colonist and Puritan minister John Eliot whose objective was the conversion of Native Americans to Christianity. Attractions around Littleton include such outdoor marvels as Long Pond, the Nashoba Valley Ski Area, and Prouty Woods, a shady stretch of mature woods on the western periphery of Long Pond. For moviegoers, O'Neil Cinemas, located at 1208 Constitution Avenue, is hands-down among the most amazing theatres you will come across.
If you are looking for a hidden gem in Massachusetts, Groton should be it — or close to it. This Massachusetts treasure is best known as home to Lawrence Academy and Groton School, some of the most famous preparatory schools in the United States. Groton School, for instance, would emerge as a breeding ground for several New Deal enthusiasts such as Franklin Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States. But it is not just the schools. Groton boasts an impressive culinary landscape complete with local eateries — such as Blackbird Cafe — that showcase innovative flavors from across the region and around the globe. For outdoor enthusiasts, the surreal geology of the Nashoba Valley is beautiful and chockful of heart-stirring adventure options.
Home to about 15,000 residents, Hudson is a vivacious Massachusettes charmer that boasts attractions galore — yet is not as touristy as some of its peers in the state. Once called Feltonville, Hudson previously served as a notable mill town and would soon witness a period of appreciable economic growth anchored on its many shoe-making factories. Because of this, Hudson would soon be nicknamed "Shoe Town." To a large extent, the story of Hudson, particularly its shoe-making heritage, is the story of George Houghton, a leading industrialist of the time, who, at the peak of his career, employed more than 300 workers and produced more than 3,000 shoes per day. Today, George Houghton's memory lives on in two of Hudson's streets. Then again, while Hudson's gentrified architectural landscape is awe-inspiring — and features buildings that date back more than 200 years, its natural scene, including the views of the Assabet River, is just as exciting.
Maynard is another off-the-beaten-path Massachusetts town that is rich in history — as well as charm and character. Named for a mill owner who played a significant role in the town's growth and development, Maynard's industrial past is among its most cherished features. Even today, its remnants survive in the many old mill buildings that dot the town — several of which have since been repurposed into beautiful art studios and residential lofts. Maynard is a heart-ravishing eye candy that is easy on the eyes, partly because of its scenic setting and the fact the scenic Assabet River meanders right through its downtown area. If you want to explore the town's picturesque backyard, the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge should be on your to-do list. Just peel your eyes for the bunkers built by the U.S. Army to store live ammunition in World War II — before shipping them across the Atlantic to be employed against Hitler's forces.
Situated about 140 miles west of The Hub, North Adams sits along the scenic Hoosic River at the western periphery of the Hoosac Tunnel, the first major rock tunnel built in America. Once part of Adams, North Adams would eventually chart its own course in 1878 — the year of its incorporation. Home to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, North Adams plays host to several spots where the young at heart will find gratifying fulfillment. A tad more hip than your average Berkshire town, North Adams is huge on art — partly because it hosts the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, or MASS MoCA, an awe-inspiring marvel considered to be the largest contemporary art museum in the United States. Another one-of-a-kind North Adams attraction is Natural Bridge State Park, which hosts the only naturally formed white marble arch in North America.
Here is the truth. For the number of small towns that are both stunning and rich in history, few states can hold a candle to Massachusetts. The history of The Bay State, to a large extent, is closely intertwined with that of the United States. However, The downside of this is that several of Massachusetts' small towns have become touristy and often swarmed with crowds. That is why you may opt for off-the-beaten-path towns such as Maynard, Sturbridge, Great Barrington, and North Adams.