Visiting Massachusetts grants the perfect opportunity to experience the rich, historic culture of the state’s riverside cities. Along with the picturesque sights and distinct early American New England style architecture, many of the river towns in New England have their own unique story, which adds to their charm. There are many rivers that run through the state and nestled along their waters are some exceptionally charming destinations with robust local history that is waiting for you to explore.
Located about 10 miles away from Boston on the Charles River, Waltham is a community of around 64,000 people (2021) which is best known for watch-making spanning back to the 1850s. Today, you can visit "The Watch City" and enjoy its scenic natural beauty with abundant wildlife and picturesque access to the Charles River via the DCR Bike Path. There are also tons of walking trails, restaurants, and attractions to visit that make it a favorite alternative to Boston for those looking for a relaxed local that still has some qualities of city life.
A gorgeous portion of the Charles river flows through the town, and visitors can enjoy the plentiful museums and estates in the area. The surroundings are rich in New England-era country houses which are now public attractions for visitors to explore. Some examples of notable estates are Gore Place, Lyman Estate, Stonehurst, and the Robert Treat Paine Estate. Much of the architecture and historical relics will take you back in time to the era of the New World.
Situated in Essex County, is the town of Ipswich, along the river of the same name. It is also a coastal town, and the river flows into the neighboring Atlantic Ocean. The population is modest, at about 13,700 (2021). It is one of the oldest communities in the region, first home to the Native American Agawam before settlers arrived as early as 1634. Much of its Colonial Style architecture is still standing, with an array of well-kempt 17th and 18th-century homes on display around town. In fact, Ipswich holds the title of "America’s best-preserved Puritan Town".
A visit to this quaint river town on the North Shore is like stepping back in time to Puritan New England. There are plenty of preserved historical sites that are now museums in which you can learn about the history of the people there. The area is rich in natural beauty as well, complete with a wildlife sanctuary and twelve miles of trails to explore. The terrain is diverse, including forests, wetlands, and meadows, providing you the option to explore the attractions by water or on foot.
Northampton is a river town in western Massachusetts, along the banks of the Connecticut River. It is part of the Springfield metropolitan area, in Hampshire County. As of 2021, the population sits at approximately 29,300. Despite its quaint size, Northampton is quite a progressive and artistically-inclined community, with a lively music scene, notable student population, active nightlife, as well as other points of interest such as shops, art museums, and cafes.
Northampton is the "Most Liberal City in the US" as well as the country’s "Lesbian Capital" and "Best Small Arts Town". "Happy Valley" and "Paradise City" are its other monickers. The town has always held cultural significance, with many notable Americans having ties to the town. The famous novelist Sylvia Plath lived in Northampton while studying at Smith College. Kurt Vonnegut also lived in the town for a brief time. Amelia Earhart, the first female pilot to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, learned about engine mechanics while in Northampton. Her sister studied at Smith College at the time. The area also has rich local amenities such as breweries, farmers' markets, a winery, and water sports.
Lowell is a city in between two rivers, 27 miles northwest of Boston. With a population of about 113,994 (2021), it is the fifth-largest city in Massachusetts. Lowell has a lush natural habitat of wildlife and historic parks, as well as two rivers that flow around the city, the Merrimack River and the Concord River. The famous American novelist Jack Kerouac was born and buried in Lowell, and there are tons of cultural activities to participate in year-round in the area. Farmers' markets, global cuisine due to the diverse demographic of residents, and nature walks along the river all make Lowell a worthy contender among the best river towns in Massachusetts.
Uxbridge is a town in Worcester County, with an estimated population of 14,270 (2021). You can find it within the Blackstone River Valley, which is a hidden gem of old mill towns bordering the state of Rhode Island. The plentiful mills and historic sites in the surrounding area point to the beginning of professional American clothing manufacturing, a major part of the Industrial Revolution. The industrialization of woolen cashmere textiles began here in the Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor.
This is where America first began to create manufactured clothing, particularly military uniforms. The first Air force Dress Uniform was woven in Uxbridge. There are dozens of national historic houses, museums, and sites to explore in the region, a characteristic of many small towns in the state. The Blackstone River is also accessible through the plentiful parks and botanical gardens in the area.
Located near North River, the town of Salem is world-renowned for the witch trials held there in the 1690s. There are informative historical relics that remain, including The Witch House, which was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, a key participant in the Salem Witch Trials. These trials turned out to be the most famous witch hunt in American history.
The house is now a museum where guests can learn about colonial American heritage and its stories. Salem also has a Pioneer Village which commemorates this part of American history and allows a glimpse into what life was like in Puritan America. The house from the cult movie Hocus Pocus starring Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker is also in Salem and is a popular attraction.
A road trip around Massachusetts might be the perfect low-key getaway for history and nature lovers. The state has tons of historic sights, homes from the New England era that you can visit, flowing rivers that you can walk along, and museums where you can get a glimpse of the lifestyle of the Puritans. Many of the towns are nearby immaculate wildlife reserves, so outdoor sports are readily available. You can go hiking, boating, camping, and participate in other activities like visiting the local food markets, breweries, wineries, and more.