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Best Places to Live in Eastern Massachusetts >>> Franklin, MA

Franklin, MA: Is it one of the best places to live in the United States?


A review and analysis of a highly-regarded Boston, Massachusetts, suburb

Franklin, MA, Public Library photo

Article and photo by Eric H., VisitingNewEngland.com  

CNN/Money.com named Franklin, MA, in 2008, as the 10th best Place to "Live and Launch." In 2007, Family Circle called Franklin one of the top ten towns in the country to raise a family. Are these honors accurate?

For the most part, the accolades are right on target. Franklin, a town of approximately 30, 189 located 35 miles
southwest of Boston and 20 miles north of Providence, RI (on the commuter rail, thankfully), does indeed combine historic charm with a good modern day mix of mostly appealing residential neighborhoods and a healthy commercial and industrial base to help keep the town thriving. It is the home of Garelick Farms (dairy products), EMC, Putnam Investments and Draka USA.

We have all come to know that some "best of" city and town lists provide verbiage that will get you excited about your next "move" or visit.  When you get there, you wonder "What the heck were they talking about?" Quite frankly, we're still scatching our heads about Worcester, MA, and Manchester, NH, making the 2007 CNN/Money.com list, but we're quite confident that Franklin making the final grade is a good one. While Franklin isn't exactly Cooperstown, NY, or Camden, Maine (the ultimate beautiful northeast United States communities, in our opinion), we feel it is a wonderful Boston suburb and a place you would be proud to call home.

The best part of Franklin resides around its stunning, expansive four-acre downtown town common, surely of New England's finest village greens with its beautiful grounds, gazebo, brick bandstand and dedications. The town common still serves as a traditional New England community meeting place with concerts, festivals and a great Fourth of July celebration (lasting several days with concerts, a carnival, and a wonderful parade). The "look" of old Colonial and Victorian homes with their crisp white paint and draping flags around the common and the grand 1778 Franklin Public Library (the first free-standing public lending library in the country) creates a wonderful quintessential New England entrance from the west, minutes from Route 495.

It's fascinating to know that Franklin changed its name from Exeter to Franklin in 1778, in honor of Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin was so impressed that he lent some books to the Franklin Public Library -- those books are on display today at the library!

The beautiful 100-acre Dean College campus lends further charm to the downtown-- as well as community involvement --  with its spacious, tree-lined grounds that include cultural opportunities and a stunning, large brick building dating back to 1865. The Red Brick School House might be the oldest, coninuously operating one-room schollhouse in the country -- dating back to 1792 -- and St. Mary's Catholic church, has the largest Catholic parish in the Boston Archdiocese with some 15,000 members.

Dean College leads to the "first part of the downtown," which is very pleasant with a mix of restaurants (Alcapulco's Mexican resturant and the Italian Bellino's) and shops that provide good service like Pisini shoe store (a true trip back to yesteryear), banks and a variety shop. It all looks very pleasant, the type of downtown that you'd like to have in your own community. The second part of the downtown is rather bland, however, with a mix of shops and restaurants that don't quite blend together and lack character, at this point. It's a shame the old-fashioned Zeotrope movie theater was torn down and a few newer sterile-looking buildings with a mix of office, retail and residential space have sprung up with kind of a faceless look. The 2,200 sq. ft. Cafe Dolce just opened up there, providing an casual upscale personality and some good sandwiches  and baked goods -- and it is open into the evening for some semblance of nightlife. Perhaps when all the storefronts are filled and some aesthetics are considered (perhaps hanging flower baskets, competing signs, flags, etc.), maybe the promise of this area sparking more downtown appeal will make downtown Franklin even better. Right now, it's just a work in progress. Regardless, the current status is better than the myriad closed stores of a few years back that created suburban blight. The bridge over the commuter rail between the two downtown sections is perhaps a sign of better things to come as it has been transformed from an ugly area to a pleasant place with loads of colorful flowers gracing the bridge.

Horace Mann, often regarded as the father of public education, was born in Franklin, so it's no suprprise that the town has prided itself on public education. Franklin offers a great school system that gets consistently high marks at GreatSchools.net. People we have talked with absolutely love the school system, citing excellent teachers, a full curriculum, 14:1 student teacher ratio, plenty of extra curricular activities, and the chance for students to go on to great colleges. People often talk about "lots of money being thrown into the school system." Apperently, it's being put to good use. While not an all-inclusive indication of how a school system runs, we recommend you check out the stats for Franklin MCAS results (state standardized testing).

There's also hiking at Franklin State Forest, and swimming, a playground, an astro turf and recreational field at Beaver Pond. There's also a highly developed town recreation program that seems to cover all the bases with its so many activities.

For shoppers and diners who enjoy chains, you'll find Marshall's for clothing, Stop and Shop and Shaw's for grocery shopping, and Longhorn Steakhouse, Friday's and Chili's for dining, to name a few. For those who like interesting local shopping, here are a few highlights:  Spruce Pond Creamery for organic, flatbread pizzas and delicious natural homemade ice cream, Artbeat The Creativity Store for art supplies, gifts and toys Hillside Nurseries and for gardening and floral needs, and Rick's Cafe for home-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone seems to know each other. There's also Ficco's Bowladrome for candlepin bowling and the Franklin Skating Rink for... well... skating. Some of the abandoned Industrial Revolution buildings on Union St. have been put to good use, with conversion to condos and commercial space. The Shire Book Store is fascinating, with its endless, somewhat disorganized rows of used books, high ceilings and overall historical, factory building charm. It's a great place to sit down on one of the sofas, have a cup of tea and browse some of the fascinating collection of books, all for sale.The nearby Franklin Mill Store offers specialty and designer fabrics for clothing and quilting.

The people of Franklin seem really friendly, typical of towns in this region that also include Walpole, Norfolk and Wrentham. It's small town New England, yet close enough to work in Boston or Providence, RI. Other areas around Boston aren't quite as relaxed or friendly -- on the contrary, some towns have a rude, brusque, me-first feeling. Not that Franklin doesn't have those elements -- this is, after all, the Boston area -- but, overall, people love living in their town, and contribute to the community by prioritzing fostering good neighborhoods and community spirit. It is a family town with around 48 percent of the households having children.

We live a few towns over and are considering moving to  Franklin. While other towns continue to struggle and make excuses to why their communities are decaying, Franklin has a true sense of history, and a look and feel that makes one proud to call it "home." That's becoming harder and harder to find in this day of economic, political and social struggle that has hurt so many other communities. Franklin, for the most part, does just fine and is worth living in, we believe. It's also much less expensive than some of the tonier Boston suburbs, coming in at half the price for real estate than what you'd pay in a town with a fancy bowtie. It's possible to buy a decent home for around 300K, although $400K and above will increase the chances of purchasing more of a "move-in condition" larger home.

It's hard to call a community one of the best places to live in the United States.  There are so many great towns and cities in our country and beauty does lie in the eye of the beholder -- that is, people embrace or reject their community from a personal perspective. If however, we had to choose a few communities around Boston, living in Franklin would definitely be at the top of the list!

Related article: Best Places to Raise a Family in Eastern Massachusetts

The Historic Franklin Public Library



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