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Is Franklin, Massachusetts One of the Best Places to Live in the United States?

Franklin, Massachusetts Town Common
The beautiful town common in Franklin, Massachusetts.

by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 10/15/17. All photos by Eric unless otherwise noted.

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CNN/ 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?

Quite frankly, who knows? These lists are so subjective.
  While many of us enjoy "best of" city and town lists, personal experiences sometimes gives us a different impression. When you get to some of these towns and cities, you wonder "What the heck were they talking about?" We genuinely feel, however, that Franklin is a wonderful Boston suburb and a place you would be proud to call home. For starters, Franklin looks very nice with its welcoming "hometown USA look" and impressive historical preservation -- plus so many people love living here. That is based on what I have seen as opposed to a bunch of stats just thrown into a computer.

Franklin, a city of approximately 31,000 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)!

The best part of Franklin resides around its stunning, expansive four-acre downtown town common (pictured above), surely of New England's finest village greens with its beautiful grounds, 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.

Franklin, MA, Public Library photo
The Franklin Public Library in Franklin.

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! Editor's note: The Franklin Public Library recently completed its renovations and reopened on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017!

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, continuously operating one-room schoolhouse 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 in Franklin, Massachusetts
Dean College in Franklin.

St. Mary's Church in Franklin, Massachusetts
St. Mary's Church, just off the town common, in Franklin.

Dean College leads to the downtown with a mix of restaurants and shops that provide good service.  It all looks very pleasant, the type of downtown that you'd like to have in your own community.  The bridge over the commuter rail has been transformed from an ugly area to a pleasant place with loads of colorful flowers gracing the bridge.

Downtown Franklin, Massachusetts
That hometown feeling: downtown Franklin.

Horace Mann, often regarded as the father of public education, was born in Franklin, so it's no surprise that the town has prided itself on public education. Franklin offers a great school system that gets consistently high marks at 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." Apparently, 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. One of the town's jewels is the 136-acre Delcarte Recreation and Conservation Area, just off Pleasant St., with its hiking trails around the pond, canoe launch, playground and picnic areas. It is a nature's paradise.

Delcarte Park in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Delcarte Recreation and Conservation Area.

Delcarte Park hiking trail in Franklin, Massachusetts
Delcarte Recreation and Conservation Area hiking trail.

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 chain restaurant dining, to name a few. For those who like interesting local businesses, here are a few highlights:  Spruce Pond Creamery (370 King St.) for organic, flatbread pizzas and delicious natural homemade ice cream, the old-school Rome Italian Restaurant (4 East Central St.) that has been around seemingly forever; Pisini Shoe Store (22 Main St.), one of the last old-fashioned shoe stores in the Boston area; The Cake Bar bakery (17 East Central St.) with a great mix of dessert cakes, cookies, cupcakes and other baked goods; and The Shire Book Store (305 Union St.) with its endless, somewhat disorganized rows of used books, high ceilings and overall historical, factory building charm. The Shire 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 (305 Main St.) 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 solid home for around 400K, although $500K 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 articles:
Best small towns to raise a family in the Boston area
Discovering beautiful, historic town commons in Massachusetts

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Franklin, Mass., is an underrated, historic Massachusetts small city definitely worth visiting and one of the best places to live in the Boston area. It is home to the first public library in the United States and Dean College.

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