Last updated: 02:25 PM ET, Tue June 23 2015

Southbridge, Massachusetts – The Hidden Gem In The Middle Of It All

Destination & Tourism | Tom Bastek | June 19, 2015

Southbridge, Massachusetts – The Hidden Gem In The Middle Of It All

Photo courtesy of the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center.

If you are going to Massachusetts, you are probably headed to Boston or Cape Cod or maybe Martha's Vineyard. But there is a whole other side of the state to see. I know what you are thinking. “Where the heck is Southbridge, Massachusetts?”   

If you were to look at a map and look for the dead center of the Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island state area, you would be in Southbridge. The town is one hour from Boston, Massachusetts, Providence, Rhode Island and Hartford, Connecticut.

An old mill town, Southbridge is best known for being the optical center of the country for over 100 years. American Optical was born, raised and thrived there until the last quarter of the 20th century when it started being piecemealed out over the next twenty five years. But even with the loss of such industry, the town has survived.  So why come to Southbridge?

A Place to Stay

The original AO Factory, which at its peak employed over 6,000 people, was a sprawling campus of which many buildings still stand today. The main factory building, rebuilt in brick in the early 1900’s, along with the facade of the rest of the length of the street-facing factory, were painstakingly preserved in 2000-01 as the anchor of what would become the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center.

The Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center is a perfect base of operations for your next New England exploration trip. Not only are they right in the middle of Boston, Providence and Hartford, but they are less than a two hour drive to Portsmouth, New Hampshire; about an hour from Mystic Seaport; and less than three from Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. 

The hotel offers incredible amenities including an on-site restaurant, bar, and a full health club including racquetball courts and a half-court basketball/class gym. If you are interested in making day trips, this should be your starting point.

Things to Do

Sure, day trips around New England sound grand, but what about the local area? Old Sturbridge Village is a 15-minute drive from downtown Southbridge and is worth almost a whole day trip in itself. 

If you have not been, OSV is the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast. It is a living museum with a working farm and interpretive staff dressed in 1830 costumes and doing the actual jobs of an 1830s village.

The Optical Heritage Museum is a must-see as well. Here you'll see the history of eyewear and optics in this country and how Southbridge was the center of it all. You'll learn about how American Optical outfitted the entire military during WWI, how they were involved in the development of the atomic bomb and how the CIA worked with AO to develop fiber optic technology.

The Hyland Orchard and Rapscallion Brewery is a great way to really relax for the day. Live music under a covered pavilion, plenty of green space and a disc golf course are all located on the 131 acre property. 

During the fall you can pick apples and peaches from over 60 different varieties available. The best part is that located right onsite is Rapscallion Brewery. Their full microbrewery serves up great craft beer seven days a week and brewery tours are on Saturday and Sunday.

Eating Ever So Good

Loading up the hearth with Prime Rib.  Courtesy of Salem Cross Inn.

The farm to table movement has definitely made its way to the area, and locally sourced vegetables and meats can be found at almost every restaurant. If you are looking for a casual fine dining, try The Duck in Sturbridge or Fins and Tales in Southbridge. Voted the best barbecue in New England, check out B.T.’s Smokehouse and don’t shy away from anything on the menu; even the smoked tofu is out of this world. 

For a real treat and a great view with your meal, go about an hour north to the Salem Cross Inn in West Brookfield. The chefs here prepare meals on their open hearth of their fireplace and the food is sourced through their own farm, both vegetable and bovine. Looking for a great cup of coffee in the morning? Head over and see Elvis at Sturbridge Coffee Roasters. For the local bar, stop by The Corner Pocket, an institution that has been around for 24 years. Jen, the owner's daughter, will take great care of you behind the bar.

The Willimantic River. Photo courtesy of the Last Green Valley.

The area all around Southbridge falls into what they refer to as The Last Green Valley because 77 percent of the land that runs from the southern middle of Massachusetts to the quiet northeast corner of Connecticut is undeveloped. This means you have 35 quaint little New England towns to explore while cruising through beautiful countryside. 

Antiquing, arts and crafts, history, nature, shopping and culinary exploration are just some of the adventures that await you in this beautiful area. The next time you are thinking about getting away for a couple of days, put Southbridge on your map. You won’t regret it.


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