Walpole, Mass.: A Quintessential Small New England Town Close to
The Walpole town common features a stone bandstand built in 1903.
by Eric Hurwitz. Updated 12/28/17.
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One of the great aspects about Boston is that you don't have
to drive terribly far to find some classic, New England small towns.
Walpole, Mass., about 18 miles southwest of downtown Boston, is surely
one of those towns with its downtown seemingly stuck in another
time. With three town commons, churches with tall white steeples,
tree-lined side streets and predominantly locally-owned shops (in the
center), Walpole might not share the rampant commercial and industrial
growth of nearby towns, but it does have an appeal to those who like a
quiet, quaint historical town with plenty of community spirit and open
spaces. It's really an underrated, hidden gem of a town with
charm -- a nice
place to raise a family, take a nice evening walk and attend seasonal
community events (which seem to happen one after another).
Walpole Santa Parade on Common St. in late November.
Beautiful town common space on Common St.
One thing is for sure: the Cedar Junction prison, Route 1 and parts of
Route 1A are in no way representative of this beautiful small New
England town. When Walpole is at its best, the town conjures up images
of Norman Rockwell, Currier and Ives, "It's a Wonderful Life," an HGTV
visit and a Hallmark movie with a friendly, small town setting. Leafy
Common St., right off Main St. in downtown Walpole, is especially
stunning with its grand old homes with diverse architectural styles and
big front lawns.
Grand home on Common St. in downtown Walpole.
A walk along Common Street in Walpole.
Downtown Walpole is not overly quaint,
although just a few years ago the proverbial "sidewalk rolled up" look
was well intact. However, with a recently evolving commercial base that
doesn't encroach upon the innate classic New England feel, Walpole now
has several full-service restaurant. For starters, the Farmer
in the Dell, a tremendous farm-to-table restaurant. You'll come
across terrific Irish Pubs within a few hundred yards of each
other -- The
Raven's Nest, and Napper
Tandy's (which also features an amazing pool hall). There's also Jalapeno's
Grill (Mexican), Conrad's (5,000 sq. ft. old school American
cuisine restaurant with amazing steak tips), Ginjo (Asian), Sapore Vero (high end, fabulous Italian cuisine),
and the Raven's Wine and Tap (opening soon with wine, beer, tapas and
desserts). That's very impressive for a downtown that barely goes
beyond two blocks. Red Cherry has rebranded from a frozen yogurt place into a wonderful cafe with homemade soups, fresh salads, sandwiches, paninis, Richardson's ice cream and baked goods including cakes from the legendary Modern Pastry in the North End of Boston. You'll also see old standbys
that have been around for decades like Joe's Barber
Shop, First Sandwich Shop, Westbury Farms (friendly diner-like restaurant
serving breakfast and lunch) Mimi's Variety, Walpole Music, All About
Quilts, Dee's Nimble Needles (huge selection of hand knitting yarns
such as baby and sock yarns, fine luxury yarns, cashmeres, and handbag
yarns) and the 100-plus-year-old Gilmore's that sells coal, grain, hay
and cement. Secret Haven adds a nice element to the downtown with home furnishings and gifts.
Additionally, a beautifully built, "green" public library has
turned out to be incredibly popular -- noteworthy, given our
Kindle/Nook oriented society. It's amazing how many people use the
Walpole Public Library -- thus, going against the grain of the
naysayers who believe libraries are a thing of the past (nonsense, I
With all the impressive aspects of downtown Walpole, the central district could be even better -- along the likes of what Dedham, Melrose, Reading, Beverly, Ayer and Wakefield offer in their suburban Boston central districts. Local residents would like to see a better mix of shops and restaurants to bring in more foot traffic, as well a an increase in aesthetically pleasing storefronts. Too many empty storefronts, at this writing, impede the tremendous upside of this safe, clean and walkable downtown. Some business suggestions: an upscale women�s boutique for clothing and jewelry, a butcher shop, high end or specialty grocer, brewery, bread baker, bagel shop and Italian bakery. With two large residential complexes on the way and hundreds of locals communicating online about how to make the downtown better, perhaps this transition will happen sooner than later. Additionally, the future reuse of the Old Town Hall -- a historic landmark building dating back to the 1880s -- looks promising as a superb committee has proven capable, visionary and hard-working to find the best use for this beautiful structure.
With all that said, downtown Walpole is inherently a very nice place to be and much nicer than most suburban Boston downtowns. Some communities don't even have a downtown, or an attractive town common. That latter point segues into the next impressive part of Walpole...
The Walpole town common serves as the centerpiece of the downtown. It's
an impressive one! I traveled to 70 town commons in Massachusetts in
2015 to write Massachusetts
Town Greens, a book on significantly historic town commons in the
state. While the Walpole town common doesn't have the history of the
Boston Common, Lexington Battle Green and Concord's Monument Square,
the green space does possess its own charm -- that is, a parcel, to
this day, is wonderfully used for community events and is located next
to some great shops, and restaurants. Believe me, that doesn't happen
all the time in this state as some of the towns with the best town
commons are isolated and bereft of anything to do in the central
discticts. Walpole has the best of both worlds-- that is a nice town
green and a cozy, small downtown with things to do.
Here's an excerpt from Massachusetts
Town Greens about the Walpole town common
that gives you a sense of the past and present of this quintessential
New england town green...
town commons have resulted from, no doubt, parcels of land being broken
up for development purposes. Clearly straying from its original 1739
presence, the town commons, nevertheless, stand today as three distinct
properties that still lend a spaciousness to the downtown area -- a
rarity in suburban Boston towns. The common area reportedly served as a
gathering place for American soldiers, as in 1775, Walpole sent 157 men
to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. A long-time Walpole resident
also told me that he believes two National Guard units gathered at the
town green in preparation for World War II. The town common was once
also used as a place for animals grazing and horses drinking from the
fountain on Common Street. Most of the town common’s history, however,
has seen its land used as a community gathering place for social
first meeting house was first established in 1739 and located on what
is now the town common. That meeting house was torn down in 1783 for a
new one but eventually separation of church and state led to the house
being taken off the property.
sites include a memorial to Walpole soldiers during the French and
Indian War of 1754; a 1936 cross commemorating where Walpole’s first
“houses of God” stood at the the “Old Meetinghouse Common”; a soldiers
memorial to “those who made the supreme sacrifice in all wars during
the 20th century”; a flagpole and plaque dedicated to World War II
veteran Everett A. “Rocky Rockwood” (Nov. 21, 1924-Jan. 5, 2013); a
firefighter’s memorial; and benches memorializing World War II veterans.
As a true
testimony to the town’s respect for those that have served, the Common
Street town common features the 1903 C.S. Bird Fountain which was
restored, and then dedicated in 2008 to Army 1st Lt. Andrew Bacevich
who was killed on May 7, 2007, by an improvised explosive device while
deployed in Iraq. As a truly generous incentive, the
Veterans Development Corporation, of Norwell, Massachusetts,
volunteered all the necessary materials and labor to restore the former
historic C.S. Bird Fountain in Bacevich’s name.
stone gazebo dating back to 1901 stands out as a one-of-a-kind
structure on the town green. The gazebo looks virtually unchanged since
its inception with the exception of wrought-iron railings added in the
1970s for safety purposes. The gazebo has a rather fascinating history,
as so well stated in David Levine’s, “A Secret Jewel, History Stands
Still” blog (with information gathered by the late Elizabeth Cottrell,
of Walpole). Joseph Feely, a representative of Walpole's
Improvement Association, had the gazebo constructed -- with town
approval, of course -- and gave it as a gift to the town (his name is
affixed to the structure). Former U.S. president John F. Kennedy, and
his wife Jacqueline came to Walpole during his campaign for president
and spoke to locals from the gazebo. As a token of appreciation from
his legion of Walpole supporters, Kennedy reportedly received flowers
from Gallo Florists and candy from Watson's Candy (still in business!).
As an interesting side note and ode to “ye olde” celebrity sightings,
many famous historical figures most likely discovered the town common
as stage coaches passed through the town -- perhaps between 30 and 40
daily, including transporting French General Lafayette and General
George Washington. Also one of the Bonaparte family, a brother of the
first Napolean, is said to have ridden through. Why that occurred,
we’ll never know! Alexander Hamilton, John Quincy Adams, General Andrew
Jackson, Martin Van Buren and many other dignitaries also traveled
bandstand serves as a location for musicians to perform during the
Tuesday summer concert on the common series, and as a location
for dignitaries to speak at events -- most notably on Memorial and
Veterans Day. Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown, who once resided a few
towns over in Wrentham, Massachusetts, spoke from the bandstand
to Walpole residents during the 2010 Veterans Day Ceremony.
Street, the town commons all seem to blend together, almost creating a
park-like appearance. With beautiful landscaping, well-maintained open
green spaces, paved walkways, period lighting and the gazebo, the
chance to walk all three town commons evokes a true feeling of
quintessential New England. Churches, shops and restaurants, and
historic municipal and privately-owned buildings surround the town
commons and add a wonderful, almost modern day Mayberry RFD vibe to the
town. Plus, the chance to shop and eat right off the town green is a
huge plus, as many small Massachusetts communities with town greens
have very little to do other than walking the common.
Looking at downtown Walpole from the town common on Common St.
Besides downtown Walpole, the rest of the town has some great New
England charm and open spaces. Each section of town has its own
distinct personality with elements that almost look like a travel
destination but with no ambitions of being that. East Walpole has a
pleasant mill village feel and the scenic 89 acre Bird Park perfect for walking, picnicking and
communing with nature. Semi-rural North Walpole is home to the Norfolk
County Agricultural School, the 365 acre publicly accessible Adams
Farm, scenic Willett Pond and some beautiful farms and open land. West
Walpole still has remnants of rural Walpole on Lincoln St., and
features Turner Pond and Lodge for winter ice skating.
South Walpole has a small rural US Post Office, the Rodman Arena for
ice skating, a nice shop for beading called the Bead Addiction, and its
own village green surrounded by well-kept older homes.
Adams Farm, North Walpole.
Bird Park, East Walpole.
Community involvement in Walpole is off the charts, particularly at the
Memorial Day and Veterans Day observances, May's Walpole Town
Day, Epiphany Church of Walpole's June Village Fair and
December's tree lighting ceremony. The Christmas holiday season lends a
particularly nice look...
As far as non-vacation towns go, Walpole is a great community. The best
way to see the downtown is to get out of the car and walk. Let's
close this article with two more photos of this town that they call
"The Friendly Town"...
Downtown Walpole MA, heading south on Main Street.
October Pumpkin Patch at the Epiphany Parish of
Walpole on Front St.
Editor's note: the Walpole Historical Society offers a wealth of
information on its town. I strongly encourage you check out its web
site at http://www.walpolehistoricalsociety.org/!
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Massachusetts travel! Read
Town Greens book
-- Discover New England's first travel
town commons. Includes chapters on Walpole, Norwood, Norfolk and Franklin!
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