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What Makes Plymouth, Mass., America's Hometown?

Downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts
 Approaching historic downtown Plymouth.

by Eric Hurwitz. Page updated on 11/16/16.
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I remember my dad driving our family in his phony wood-paneled Ford LTD station wagon down Main St., in Plymouth, Mass., in the 1970s, en route to a local sporting goods store for my baseball needs. While listening to the golden throat announcer playing big band favorites on WPLM-FM Plymouth and being amused that we saw two separate restaurants named Bert's and Ernie's, the look of Main St. suddenly took center stage by creating an instantly welcoming effect as if Plymouth was actually our hometown.

Inviting older homes with diverse architectural styles in tree-lined neighborhoods, historial preservation from every perspective, a remarkable number of mom and pop stores, enough seafood restaurants to fill a ship, and people walking the sidewalks to stop and talk made me think, "I could live here someday." It was like Mayberry RFD by the sea, and I was as excited as Barney Fife about being there.

That community spirit and visitor appeal still thrives in Plymouth today. Best known as a vacation spot and the where the Pilgrims landed in 1620, Plymouth is so much more than those two elements. There's a real town going on here. Much like Cooperstown N.Y., Concord, Mass., Portsmouth, N.H., Hanover, N.H., and a few other small towns and cities of the northeast United States, Plymouth definitely has that "I could live here someday" factor that, more than often, trumps its vacation destination presence. Yes, the "America's Hometown" moniker refers to the Pilgrims landing here, but also can be applied to the town's innate instant likeability. Even if you haven't been here before, everything looks wonderfully familiar from every direction and, when living for the moment, instantly becomes the center of your universe.

The downtown offers many of the requisite elements that make a Main Street so "Americana": book stores, ice cream and coffee shops, a diner, candy store, restaurants, and a few general stores with gift shop appeal. No, you won't find any downtown department store or old-fashioned movie theater like many downtowns showcased many years ago. Greenfield, Mass., is the only town in New England with those two traditional Main Street staples from yesteryear but, as a destination, isn't quite there yet like Plymouth.
Downtown Plymouth MA
Thriving downtown Plymouth with plenty of locally-owned stores and restaurants.

While large modern day shopping centers and chain stores have saturated the perimeters of town and surrounding areas, Plymouth has remained remarkably true to traditional form, and with a wonderful added bonus that runs parallel with Main St.:  a thriving waterfront on Water St. with some amazing coastal scenic views.
Water Street in Plymouth MA
Along the downtown Plymouth waterfront.

Here, you can take a long stroll alongside the sea, grab a seafood dinner at a restaurant with water views (we recommend Wood's), frequent several old-time shops that peacefully co-exist with the galleries and boutiques. In the mix is the 11-acre Pilgrim State Park, the smallest state park in the state but perhaps one of the most appealing with its water views and world-famous attractions like Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower II.  It's especially appealing on a summer night where the light and breezy salt sea air combines with the harbor filled with boats, the big sky illuminating the sea and the welcoming lights of businesses open in the evening.

Like most hometowns, though, Plymouth is, by no means, perfect. The north side has some rough elements and shuttered stores, and some neighborhoods around town look run down. That's the post Industrial Revolution, fisherman's town reality of New England, though, as virtually all communities have an unappealing backside of town -- even perceived idyllic destinations like Stowe, Vt., and Newport, R.I.

That's OK, though. So many New England vacation towns try to impress with their air-brushed, idyllic marketing concepts that would look better in a corporate business portfolio or on a resume than in a working class person's vacation memories scrapbook.

When leaving a New England town or city, I would rather be connected to that place than be impressed. Plymouth, as a prime example, doesn't need to show off, come up with contrived vacation gimmicks, or abandon its hometown roots in lieu of a superstore world. It's easy to connect with Plymouth as the hometown appeal is timeless and heartwarming without ever becoming boring.

Plymouth is perhaps best known as the home to Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum. Along with destinations like Pilgrim Hall Museum, the Jenney Museum, andf the aforementioned Plymouth Rock and Mayflower II you could spend an entire Plymouth vacation based on just visiting attractions but that would be a mistake. Get to know the whole town by walking around a bit, and your chances of falling in love with the community and returning year after year rise exponentially.

And don't forget the beach: Plymouth has several good ones like Long Beach just a few miles south of the downtown.

The mom and pop sporting goods store is long gone and the phony wood-paneled Ford LTD station wagon is a faded retro novelty, but the ongoing presence of America's hometown remains strong, proud and traditional with the best of both worlds: Main Street USA, a close knit neighborhood feel, and a wonderful waterfront all combined into one amazing downtown. May your next pilgrimage take you to Plymouth!

Walking the Plymouth MA waterfront
The Plymouth waterfront affords great walking opportunities. That's the Mayflower 11 -- in the distance.

Editor's note: the "I could live here" thought as a child never materialized but we clearly enjoy going to Plymouth at every opportunity!)

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