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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 11/11/20.

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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, Thomas Kincaide, "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.

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 restaurants. 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), and Sapore Vero (high-end, delicious Italian cuisine). Tessie's Bar & Kitchen is a fabulous burger bar with mouthwatering grass-fed burgers and fresh salads as the specialties. The setting features a small, casual and intimate setting -- an ideal place for conversation. The newest addition to downtown Walpole: CRISP that specializes in South Shore-style bar pizza and an amazing bakery with baked goods brought in fresh from the legendary Montilio's in Quincy, Mass.

Ultimately, the dining scene is very impressive for a downtown that barely goes beyond two blocks. Recently, due to the pandemic, downtown Walpole has become a fabulous outdoor dining out destination during the warmer weather with most of the restaurants creating wonderful settings.

Outdoor dining at Tessie's Bar & Kitchen.Outdoor dining at Tessie's.

Firepit at CRISP restaurant in Walpole, Mass.
Firepit at CRISP.

You'll also see old standbys that have been around for decades like Joe's Barber Shop, First Sandwich Shop, Supreme Pizza, Mimi's Variety, All About Quilts, Flowers & More, Towne Crafters (just outside the center) for gifts and works from local crafters, Second Glance for clothing, accessory and household item consignments, 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. Chill, a juice bar and message center, at 5 West St., recently celebrated its first anniversary and has enjoyed excellent success as a wellness destination. The newest business: And That's the Tea Co. (15 West St.), specializing in small batch loose leaf teas, petals and spices, gourmet food and tea accessories.

Farmers Market in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Walpole Farmers Market.

Also, the Walpole Farmers Market serves as a valubale community asset during the warm weather season on Saturdays from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m., selling
fresh fruits, vegetables and other goods in a close-knit, frinedly setting. It's an important part of the fabric that makes downtown Walpole a welcoming place, as well as a nice place to stroll and take in the small town vibe.

A walk on Main St. in downtown Walpole.
A walk along Common Street in Walpole.

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 say!).

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 as 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. Seeking solutions and by taking action, Destination Downtown formed as a community-led organization to help steer the revitalization of downtown Walpole. The early prospects look good with a highly organized mission and a group of volunteers, as well as lots of buzz on social media. Additionally, the future reuse of the Old Town Hall -- a historic landmark building dating back to the 1880s -- looks promising as a potential cornerstone of the downtown. The building is absolutely stunning in appearance.

Walpole Town House in Walpole, Massachusetts.
The former Walpole Town Hall.
Purchase this picture of the Walpole Town House as an enlarged, unframed print at Etsy.

With all that said, downtown Walpole is inherently a very nice place to be and much nicer than most suburban Boston downtowns. It's not only a place to shop, eat and enjoy community activities but also find places to take in some peace and solitude in the most classic, traditional New England way...

Autumn in downtown Walpole, Massaqchusetts.
Gazebo at the Epiphany Parish in Walpole.
Purchase this picture of the fall at the gazebo as an enlarged, unframed print at Etsy.

Morning at the Walpole Town Common in Walpole, Massachusetts.
A quiet, snowy morning on Common St. Purchase this picture of Common St. as an enlarged, unframed print at Etsy.

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...

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.

C.S .Bird/Bacevich Memorial Fountain in downtown Walpole, Massachusetts.
C.S. Bird/Bacevich Memorial Fountain.

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. 

A wintry, peaceful morning at the Walpole Town Common in Walpole, Mass.
Morning at the Walpole Town Common.

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.

Bandstand on Main Street in Walpole, Mass.
Bandstand along Main St. in downtown Walpole.

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 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 at the Town Common lends a particularly nice look...

Walpole MA during the holiday season

Additionally, there's the Walpole Town Forest (parking lot off South St.) with several miles of beautiful hiking trails and some beautiful views of the Neponset River...

Town Forest in Walpole, Mass.
Town Forest in Walpole.

Walpole also features several scenic ponds that further add to its impressive natural, semi-rural presence...

Sunset at Willett Pond in Walpole, Mass.
Sunset at Willett Pond in North Walpole. Purchase this picture of Willett Pond as an enlarged, unframed print at Etsy.

And, of course, the great stretch of rural scenes on North St. in North Walpole lend such a unique and unusual flavor to a town so relatively close to Boston...

A drive along North Street in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Country scene on North St.
Purchase this picture of North St. as an enlarged, unframed print at Etsy.

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 accurately and appropriately 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 (pictured below) offers a wealth of information on its town. I strongly encourage you check out its web site at!

Walpole Historical Society in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Walpole Historical Society.

If you enjoyed this story on Walpole, please share the graphic below on Pinterest. Thanks!

Walpole, Massachusetts has plenty of small town charm, scenic open spaces, and locally-owned stores and restaurants just 18 miles southwest of Boston.

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Editor's note:
This page on Walpole will remain on VisitingNewEngland as long as it is sponsored for a nominal fee. If interested in sponsoring the Walpole page at VisitingNewEngland, please contact Eric at

Explore Massachusetts travel! Read the Massachusetts Town Greens book -- Discover New England's first travel attractions: town commons. Includes chapters on Walpole, Norwood, Norfolk and Franklin!

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