Two New England Small Communities I Have Fallen in Love With
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Take all the slick brochures, appealing
TV "You can have it all" advertisements and other aggressive tourist
marketing campaigns and they mean nothing if you can't truly connect to
a travel destination. While I have been blessed to come across several
New England towns and cities that I have felt a meaningful connection
with, these two communities stand out in my mind...
VILLAGE, RHODE ISLAND
Wickford Village, R.I.
Those who want an alternative to visiting the same old places and
avoiding stressful tourist traps in New England should consider
visiting Wickford Village, Rhode Island as a travel destination savior.
A historic, coastal tree-lined, white picket fence village in North
Kingstown dating back to 1709, Wickford Village impresses with its
scenic waterfront views, historic large clapboard houses and majestic
churches built right up against the brick sidewalks and a remarkable
concentration of interesting owner-operated shops. Forty-plus
storefronts on Main St. and Brown Sts. sell antiques, art, books,
clothing, children’s items, antiques, arts and crafts, home goods
and furnishings, health and beauty merchandise, jewelry, and outdoor
recreation. The layout of this hidden village is perfectly imperfect --
that is, narrow streets and
waterfront pathways leading to, and sometimes meandering towards the
main streets. It’s simply a great walking destination with its idyllic
main streets and a harbor to watch the boats, the park-like paths with
frequently colorful vibrant gardens, and kayaking for those who love
A walk along Main Street in Wickford Village.
Strolling the waterfront in Wickford Village.
Once a major port and shipbuilding center with a still active
waterfront today, tourism now stands primarily as the main attraction
-- but not in a marketing sense. There’s a hands-off, laid-back feel to
Wickford Village where many business owners seem to be as enthusiastic
about visitors getting to know the village as much as shopping at their
stores. Susan Smith, owner of Different Drummer at 7 West Main St. that
sells American handcrafts, jewelry, pottery, cards, stained glass and
“whimsy,” temporarily stopped her work day to take this writer on a
detailed walking tour of Main St., en route to the Old Narragansett
Church (more on that shortly) located down a path with memorial
messages on walkway stones. She told stories of town wide seasonal
events, people who have lived in the historic homes, and the old Avis
building block (the location of her shop) where wives of sailors in the
mid-1800s opened several stores on the first floor with that very
tradition of all businesses being all women-owned and operated still a
reality to this very day. Smith, who loves her job at Different
Drummer, was in no hurry to get back to work, as her equal love for the
town expressed itself through every step.
“It is such a nice place,” said Smith, “I just love it here. The
events, the people, the history. That’s what we want visitors to get to
The Wickford Village Association, Historic Wickford (HistWick) and
North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce all have different roles, but
collectively help keep the close-knit traditional coastal New England
feeling of the area from ever going out to sea by bringing locals
together to help preserve and humbly showcase the innate beauty, charm,
events and neighborly relations of this special place.
Those two main streets, Brown and Main, have the unusual distinction of
coming to dead ends, but this works to the Village’s advantage: the
central district cul-de-sacs coupled with homes and businesses located
right next to each other, make expansion virtually an impossibility. It
almost seems like the biggest “sell-out” in the village are a few
concrete sidewalks juxtaposed with the historic brick version.
Historic Main Street in Wickford Village.
“Not a lot has changed here,” said Melissa Fisher, who has owned The
Book Garden antique shop for 24 years. “It’s a community more than
anything else. We take the time to get to know the customers better and
everyone here in the Village knows each other.”
Smith also enjoys the neighborly feel of Wickford Village
“That Beauty and the Bath (bath and body goods for women and men) store
next door to us? We are cut throat with them,” said Smith, jokingly
about their retail neighbor -- and then pointing out that there is a
close camaraderie and friendship amongst local business owners and
residents in the village.
Many shops have been in business more than 20 years with the only chain
store in the village being Rite Aid. Even the look of this national
drug store chain fits into the Wickford Village historic template with
more of a Colonial-looking exterior instead of the familiar 21st
century chain store pharmacy appearance.
You are not likely to hear the words “must-see,” “quaint” and
”off-the-beaten path” pitched to visitors. Rather, the locals let
Wickford Village speak for itself with the pleasing harbor and one of
the highest concentrations of 18th century dwellings in the northeast
United States. More than 100 houses, churches, industrial and marine
buildings, and commercial stores are listed on the National Register of
Historic Places. A prominent example: the Old Narragansett Church,
dating back to early 1700s and the oldest Episcopal church building in
the northeastern United States. Services at St. Paul's Church are held
at the Old Narragansett Church during the summer and the Meeting House
is open and staffed by knowledgeable docents in July and August daily,
Thursday through Sunday, according to the St. Paul’s Church web site.
St. Paul’s Church, at 55 Main St., is also a historic gem in its own
right as an active place of worship going back three centuries and also
providing the “skyline” for Wickford Village with its majestic, tall
spire above the Romanesque Revival structure.
“I have lived in some of the houses on Main Street,” said Charlene
Davoren-Harvey, who also works at Different Drummer. “Those homes
haven’t changed and that’s a good thing. The history remains and we
like it that way.”
Brown Street in Wickford Village.
At the end of Main St. leading to the water, Gardner’s Wharf Seafood is
located right off Narragansett Bay where fishing and lobster boats
deliver locally caught seafood -- including fresh fish, Live lobsters,
clams (littlenecks, cherry stones, quahogs, and steamers), mussels and
oysters -- at the back door. During the warm weather season, Gardner’s
serves lobster rolls, clam cakes and New England, Rhode Island and
Manhattan chowders to the public with limited outdoor waterfront
Gardner's Wharf Seafood in Wickford Village.
Nice, small coastal park near Gardner's Wharf Seafood.
Unlike most tourist towns, Wickford Village does not have any lodging,
nor indications of being a “foodie” destination as its dining options
are limited. What restaurants and cafes reside in Wickford Village,
however, have wonderful appeal. Wickford on the Water (formerly The Beach Rose), at 85 Brown St., offers
casual, waterfront dining for breakfast and lunch with an accent on
making homemade foods from scratch. Whether from the sunny interior or
the outdoor deck, Wickford on the Water offers some nice views of Wickford
Outdoor dining at the former Beach Rose (now Wickford on the Water) in Wickford Village.
Tavern by the Sea, at 16 West Main St., also has scenic harbor views
from inside, as well as from the rustic, cozy outdoor deck. The Tavern
features steak, chicken, seafood, burgers, grilled pizza, pasta, salads
and soups for lunch and dinner, as well as a gluten free menu and wines
and cocktails at its granite bar. The seafood is fresh and phenomenal,
especially the fish and chips, baked sea scallops from New Bedford and
grilled Atlantic salmon. The Tavern by the Sea also makes a terrific
lobster roll and also specializes in Greek foods like chicken souvlaki
and grilled gyros. Tate’s Italian Kitchen is a relative newcomer,
taking over the former Wickford Diner spot at 64 Brown St., and
specializing in homemade Italian cuisine and desserts and selections of
Italian wine and beer. Shayna’s Place, at 45 Brown St., pleases all
ages with its breakfasts, sandwich selection, ice cream parlor and
juice bar. The Place, at 95 Brown St., hits the spot for those
who love pizza and subs.
Tate's Italian Kitchen in Wickford Village.
The retail stores have a one-of-a-kind presence. Shifting from a
service-oriented shopping district to more of a tourist one (without
being tacky), the local business spirit remains. Some standouts in
addition to the aforementioned Different Drummer, The Book Garden, and
Beauty and the Bath: The World Store, at 16 West Main St., sells Rhode
Island souvenirs, tees, bird feeders, bat houses, science kits and
fossils. The ImPressed Olive, at 4 Brown St., offers high quality
artisanal olive oils, balsamic vinegars and sauces. Spring
Pottery, at 14 Brown St., has many functional pottery items
including many styles of bowls, large and small vases,
pitchers, brie bakers, pie and baking dishes, wine coolers, lamps,
platters, and mugs.
Different Drummer in Wickford Village.
Spring Pottery in Wickford Village.
The Kayak Centre,
at 70 Brown St., stands as the largest business in Wickford Village and
a relevant one with instruction, tours, rentals and sales. Kayakers can
regularly be seen navigating the waters around Wickford Village as the
area is a haven for outdoor coastal recreation.
Kayaking in Wickford Village.
Visitors could spend an entire day getting to know each store and its
owner(s), but Smith recommends seasonal events as one of the best ways
to connect with the village. The 2018 Garden Tour’s “Wickford in Bloom”
takes place on June 24 from 10 a.m. -4 p.m. (Update will be posted on 2018 Garden Tour as soon as we get the word!) This self-guided garden
tour of private and public gardens begins in the center of “Wickford
Village at Updike Park and will enable participants to experience and
explore an exemplary selection of 12 enchanting gardens,” according to
the WickfordVillage.org web site. Check out http://historicwickford.org"
for more information.
The Wickford Art Association’s annual Wickford Art Festival
traditionally takes place the weekend after the 4th of July. The
Wickford Art Festival features over 200 artists from New England, the
rest of the United States and beyond. Admission is free for visitors.
The Providence Journal has called the Wickford Art Festival the ”Finest
collection of artists found anywhere on the east coast,” while USA
Today once hailed it as ”A must-see show in a charming village.” For
more information, log onto http://wickfordvillage.org/2015/07/50th-annual-wickford-art-festival.
Update coming soon on 2018 Festival of Lights - The 2017 32nd annual Festival of Lights takes place from Nov. 30 to
Dec. 3 and features a tree lighting ceremony, Santa Claus arriving by
boat, an Elf Parade “for elves of all ages,” hayrides by horse with St.
Nick, carolers and other music entertainment, a nativity scene at St.
Paul’s Church, and ice sculptures. More info on this special event can
be found at http://wickfordvillage.org/2016/12/27th-annual-festival-of-lights/.
No matter what time of the season, Wickford Village feels like the
quintessential New England village that nobody know about -- but loved
by locals and those who take the New England travel road less taken.
“People who visit here really seem to enjoy our little village,”
concluded Smith. “There is a lot to like.”
One of the best ways to experience the joys of a small Vermont town is
by staying right here in Massachusetts.
Taking a 90-minute drive from Boston to West Brookfield, Massachusetts
visitors many of the travel tenets that make many of Vermont’s small
towns so charming, quaint and full of rural, restful appeal. Tucked
away in the Quaboag Hills in Central Massachusetts halfway between
Worcester and Springfield, West Brookfield feels sheltered from the
world -- a place where you could hear that proverbial pin drop. Further
validating the quiet, somewhat isolated nature of the area: Bordering
East Brookfield has a section of town once named Podunk, which is
better known as a term traditionally symbolizing the “boonies.”
That’s not to say, however, that West Brookfield lacks anything
interesting to do. On the contrary, one could spend a day or more in
West Brookfield without ever worrying about discovering the travel cure
Driving Route 9 west for a few miles from Route 148 north makes one
wonder, however, if West Brookfield will just remain another town with
lots of trees and winding country roads, and no more. Upon entering the
West Brookfield Center Historic District, however, something incredible
starts to happen: Playing every bit the role of a small Vermont town, a
beautiful six-acre town green instantly creates a wonderful New England
scene with many old Federal and Greek-style homes surrounding the
common and locals either out for a walk or on their front porches
enjoying the precious moments and Norman Rockwell painting-like scenes.
“West Brookfield was where I was born and raised,” said Dee Dolan.
“Growing up I always felt safe, and looked forward to the bonfires on
the 4th of July. A tradition that has been going on for many years. The
sense of community and close-knit neighborhoods really make West
Brookfield a beautiful place to live. I always thought that I wanted
more, wanted to live in a city near civilization, but now in my adult
years I find small towns that resemble West Brookfield to be more like
home. Something about small towns builds certain character that large
town and city folk just don't understand.”
At first, it’s hard to decide whether to walk the sidewalks outside the
town green to gain broad-view sustenance from the historic common and
homes at every angle, or to enter the huge parcel of land to make
A classic New England look in West Brookfield.
Either way serves as a great introduction to West Brookfield before
visiting other parts of the community for food, drink, shopping and
many fun attractions. Starting within the town common, the 1886-built
Rice Memorial Fountain graces the center of the town common with its
stunning 23 ft. tall “Lady Atop the Fountain” statue and a bright
blue-green color. Former Massachusetts Senator George Rice gave the
fountain as a gift to the town in memory of his parents, Samuel and
The Helen Paige Shackley Bandstand, located on the east side of the
common, might date back only to 1972 but its old-style look fits in
well with the town green. The Bandstand is primarily used for the
Summer Concerts on the Commons held every Thursday in July and August.
From June to October, the West Brookfield Farmers' Market takes place
every Wednesday from 3 until 6:30 p.m. with some fabulous produce being
sold by local farms.
“I love how West Brookfield makes it so easy to become part of the
community with all the activities at the common... It's a quiet town
with tons of personality,” said Shannon MacPherson Carlson, a West
The War Memorial Plaza, on the west side of the common, reflects the
town’s steadfast dedication to locals who served and paid the ultimate
price for protecting our freedoms. Beautifully conceived and
maintained, the War Memorial Plaza is one of the best examples of a
town common dedication site in Massachusetts as it pays respect to
soldiers without over saturating the innate beauty and wide open spaces
of the town green.
West Brookfield -- settled in 1665 and officially incorporated in
1848 -- also has an interesting historical background. It’s part
of the original settlement known as "The Quaboag Plantation," the home
of Jedediah Foster (one of the forgers of the Massachusetts
Constitution, the model for the United States Constitution) and home
of Lucy Stone, champion of women's rights, according to Town of
West Brookfield web site at http://www.wbrookfield.com/. There’s
also a “Franklin Mile Marker” on the town common, originally used
as part of directive from Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin to
indicate the miles to Boston through stakes -- and eventually replaced
by stone markers. One of those stone markers resides next to the old
Boston Post Road sign just off Route 9.
The Town Common remains the pulse of the community with little league
games being played there in the warmer weather and seasonal events
bringing in people from all over New England. In addition to the West
Brookfield Concerts on the Common and Farmers Market, the Christmas
tree-lighting ceremony is held during “White Christmas in West
Brookfield,” which takes place on the first Saturday of December and
features open houses, horse-drawn carriage rides, an elf hunt for the
kids, caroling, and more. The traditional Asparagus and Flower Heritage
Festival is usually held the third Saturday in May and offers plants
for sale, garden items, pony rides, and raffles. Food dominates the
scene with many asparagus-inspired dishes, as well as burgers, hot
dogs, and baked goods.
“West Brookfield is a great town and has one of the most beautiful town
commons,” said Lenny Weake, president of the Quaboag Hills Chamber of
Commerce in Palmer, Massachusetts. “The town is like a fuzzy warm going
back in history type of place with some amazing people who live there.
It’s a very welcoming town and the people utilize the town common
beyond belief -- the Asparagus festival, White Christmas... War
Memorial. The town common is truly the center of activity in town.”
Outside the town common brings more small town appeal that belies West
Brookfield’s presence as a community with just under 4,000 residents. A
remarkable 200-plus houses, barns, outbuildings and stores are listed
on the National Register of Historic Places. Some examples of the
one-of-a-kind architecture include the Town Hall built in 1859; the
Merriam Gilbert Library dating back to 1880; the Ye Olde Tavern still
operating today for food (great burgers), drink, and functions from
1760; and Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church, built in 1889.
While the Ye Olde Tavern, at 7 East Main Street, serves as a nice,
informal lunch and dinner destination with fine New England ambiance,
Matt's Breakfast Nook, at 8 East Main Street, is also a worthy stop with
a small town diner-like ambiance for breakfast and lunch. Everyone here
seems to know each other here -- and with coffee and pancakes seemingly
Ye Olde Tavern in West Brookfield.
The downtown district also features craft and antique shops, including
the Purple Onion -- a renovated hay barn selling gifts, furniture and
home accessories. For book fans, the Book Bear, at 80 West Main
Street, is a fascinating stop as the warehouse look offers 90,000
used, rare and out-of-print books.
Just outside the town center resides two landmark dining spots with
distinctively different personalities from each other: the Salem Cross
Inn and Howard’s Drive-in. The Salem Cross Inn, at 260 West Main
Street, impresses as a beautifully restored 18th century farmhouse
listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield.
The restaurant and pub offers a classic traditional New England
dining experience set on 600 beautiful acres. With hardwood floors,
post-and-beam ceilings, roaring fireplaces, antique furnishings, serene
candlelight glow, and gracious, old-fashioned “New England” waitresses
dressed in Colonial apparel, the Salem Cross Inn overflows with cozy
charm. The locally-sourced New England fare is outstanding,
particularly the delicious prime rib -- slow roasted on open-hearth
Prime rib roasting on an open fire at the Salem Cross Inn.
The Salem Cross Inn creates its seasonal, traditional New England and
contemporary cuisine fresh on a daily basis and by incorporating
heirloom vegetables and herbs grown in its own gardens. Also, save room
for dessert, especially the phenomenal deep dish apple pie, pecan pie,
Indian pudding, pecan custard bread pudding, maple pumpkin cheesecake,
cinnamon and brown sugar pie crust with cream cheese fondue. Many of
the baked goods are created in a restored 1699 Bannister Tavern beehive
The Salem Cross Inn has also featured special dining events including
multi-course fireside feasts, apple pie contests, herb sampling,
fireplace pit roasts, a Murder Mystery Dinner Theater, and hayrides and
sleigh rides at various times of the splendid New England four seasons.
Call (508) 867-2345 for a schedule of events.
Howard’s Drive-in, at 121 East Main Street, is a seasonal roadside food
stand with picnic groves to enjoy the comfort foods. Recommended:
barbecue chicken, baby back ribs, hot dogs and burgers, onion rings,
fried seafood platters, New England clam chowder, lobster rolls, and
the tasty soft and hard serve ice cream flavors served in large
portions at low prices. Howard’s has been in business since 1947 and
almost seems like a rite of passage into a West Brookfield summer.
Howard's Drive-In in West Brookfield.
BBQ chicken from Howard's Drive-In in West Brookfield.
The town does not have any inns or bed and breakfasts, but Sturbridge
-- home of the famous Old Stubridge Village-- has many within 15 to 20
minutes of West Brookfield.
The 21-square miles that extend from the center of West Brookfield
create stunning rural New England scenes set to gentle rolling hills,
apple orchards and the beautiful 320-acre Lake Wickaboag.
Lake Wickaboag in West Brookfield.
“It's a small rural town with some stunning views and hidden areas that
are still untouched by any developers,” said Laurel T. Shaw Leslie, of
Lake Wickaboag features a Fourth of July boat parade and house
decorating contest, and winter ice fishing derbies, according to the
West Brookfield web site. Rock House Reservation, on Route 9 at the
western part of town, is a 196-acre site owned by the Trustees of
Reservations, offering more than three miles of trails and woods roads.
Rock House Reservation is best known for its 20- to 30-foot-high rock
enclosure with scenic views of man-made Carter Pond. For more
information, log onto
If you love farms, the West Brookfield area has plenty with Brookfield
Orchards, at 12 Lincoln Road, in North Brookfield being one of the best
for fall apple picking with its vast fields of apples, an annual Apple
Harvest Fair (this year on Sept. 9 and 10) and snack bar specializing
in hot apple dumplings with ice cream or cheese (available year-round)
and homemade chili and mac and cheese. A fifth-generation
operation, Brookfield Orchards is beautifully situated in the hills and
also features a wonderful country store that sells candles, antiques,
collectibles, candies, jams, maple products, books, crafts, maps, toys
and Vermont Cheddar Cheese.
Brookfield Orchards in North Brookfield.
West Brookfield seems bereft of the modern day tourist destination
culture of t-shirts, trinkets, bumper stickers, glaring hotel signs,
profit-making kiosks, and high-admission attractions, but locals and
visitors would have it no other way. For many, the chance to see a
Vermont-like small town without traveling the distance for fresh air,
friendly people, traditional New England joys and some marvelous
regional fare becomes a priceless entity that begs for many return
trips. It’s really a timeless, trip-back-in-time travel experience that
never gets old.
For more information on West Brookfield log onto the Town of West
Brookfield web site at http://www.wbrookfield.com/ and the Quaboag
Hills Chamber of Commerce site at http://qhma.com/.
Beautiful rural scene in West Brookfield.
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