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Walpole, Mass.: A Quintessential Small New England Town Close to Boston

Walpole town common, Walpole MA
The Walpole town common features a stone bandstand built in 1903.

by Eric Hurwitz. Updated 12/02/16.

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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).

Santa Parade in downtown Walpole MA
Walpole Santa Parade on Common St. in late November.

Common Street, Walpole MA
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 Walpole MA
Grand home on Common St. in downtown Walpole.

Homes with big front lawn on Common Street in Walpole MA
A walk along Common Street in Walpole.

The Raven's Nest, Walpole MADowntown 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 i a tremendous farm-to-table restaurant. You'll come across three terrific Irish Pubs within a few hundred yards of each other -- The Raven's Nest, Finnegan's wake 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 is a seasonal delight serving frozen yogurt in a bright and cheerful setting. You'll also see old standbys that have been around for decades like Betro Pharmacy, Joe's Barber Shop, First Sandwich Shop, Westbury Farms (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. Newcomers like Curbside Creations (refurbished furniture, gifts, vintage merchandise), and Secret Haven (home furnishings and gifts) add a nice mom and pop store layer to the downtown. Additionally, a new, 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 say!).

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...

The three 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 purposes.

Walpole’s 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.

Dedication 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.

A charming 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 through Walpole. 

Today, the 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.

From Front 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 Walpole MA from Common Street
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, Walpole MA
Adams Farm, North Walpole.

Bird Park, Walpole MA
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...

Walpole MA during the holiday season

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. L
et's close this article with two more photos of this town that they call "The Friendly Town"...

Downtown Walpole MA
Downtown Walpole MA, heading south on Main Street.


Pumpkin patch in downtown Walpole MA
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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