10 Reasons to Love Petersham

By Annette Ermini, New England Classic Homes

Petersham is a picturesque community steeped in Norman Rockwell charm.  While conveniently located in central Massachusetts and just minutes from Route 2 and 122, this peaceful oasis feels worlds away.

When visiting or living in Petersham, it is akin to Mayberry with simpler times of yesteryear.  The community is well preserved with historic character, pristine landscapes, wholesome activities, and kind, caring people. 

A summer resort town at the turn of 1899, city folks took respite in Petersham for good times, clean air, and cool breezes.  The town still retains many traditions from this bygone era including summer band concerts, picnics on the town common, and strolls through the woods.  Below are 10 reasons to love Petersham today.

1. The Petersham Historic District.  The historic district is located in the town center and consists of more than 40 properties.  It is one of the first historic districts established in the state and the entire district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Here you’ll find stately homes dating from the 1700-1800s, many of which are stunning colonials, Greek revivals, and shingle-style properties.  In addition, the Petersham Memorial Library is a stone, castle-like structure that graces the town common as well as the Petersham Country Store, one of the oldest in the country.  The Historic District also includes the North Common Meadow with sweeping views of Wachusett Mountain.

2. Scenic Vistas.  Petersham is blessed with a generous conservation ethic.  Approximately 80% of the land is protected, lending incredible views and forests throughout the town.  Whether traveling past open fields or its many maple trees, you will be in awe of this natural setting.  Each season brings its own beauty, from winter wonderlands, to spring blossoms, verdant summer color, or spectacular fall foliage.  It will be difficult to choose a favorite time of year!

3. Quabbin Reservoir.  Petersham is home to the majestic Quabbin Reservoir, one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the United States.  It provides Boston and 40 additional municipalities with their primary water supply.  The Quabbin -- along with its surrounding watershed -- is nearly 100,000 acres of pure wilderness.  Visitors are welcome to hike the many trails here.  One will follow old stagecoach roads and see remnants of stone cellar holes from long ago as well as plenty of flora and fauna.

4. Harvard University’s Harvard Forest.  Yes, Harvard.  The University owns three forests with 3,000 acres in town, all of which are open to the public for outdoor exploration.  Harvard Forest’s main campus is located on Route 32 and features the Fisher Museum with award-winning dioramas of the New England landscape from the early settlers through the 1940s.  On Route 122, people may also hike around or skate on the Harvard Pond, a popular site for hockey during the winter season.

5. The Trustees of Reservations.  Known for saving special places, The Trustees own three properties throughout Petersham.  The North Common Meadow (as mentioned above) and adjacent Brooks Woodland Preserve provide 13 acres of continuous trails, great for hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and nature observation.  At the Swift River Reservation, one will find varied topography as well as steep ledges with dramatic vistas overlooking the reservation and Swift River valley -- a wonderful hike!

6. Wildlife.  There are ample opportunities to enjoy wildlife in Petersham.  “The best locations for birding are here and Guatemala,” said Jim Baird, long-time resident and former Vice President of the Massachusetts Audubon Society.  The North Common Meadow is a wildlife sanctuary for bobolinks in the spring and it is not uncommon to see and hear bluebirds, red-wing blackbirds, great blue herons, bald eagles, owls, and many other species throughout the town.  Also, be on the lookout for signs of moose, deer, bear, bobcat, coyote, fox, beaver, mink, and more. 

7. Arts and Culture.  Petersham is home to many artists, musicians, writers, photographers, and architects.  For more than 100 years, the Petersham Art Center has supported the artists of the region and today features frequent exhibits and classes.  Their gift shop is filled with beautiful pottery, jewelry, paintings, prints, paperworks, fiber arts, leather, and other fine, locally-made products.  The community also hosts many cultural events including concerts, art shows, lectures, and Village Lyceum programs.

8. Farms and Foodies.  Petersham has a long history of agriculture.  Fast forward to 2016 and the farm to table movement is alive and well with several organic farm stands, a community garden, and many people who enjoy growing their own food. In addition, residents and visitors enjoy the Petersham Country Store who specialize in delicious, wholesome, artisan food.  Everything is homemade and purveyed from local farmers, bakers, and other food vendors including local vegetables, eggs, cheese, maple syrup, and bread.

9. Town Common.  The town common is located in the center of Petersham and is a perfect place for picnics, relaxing, and drinking in the day.  Adjacent to the common is the beautiful Petersham Memorial Library, a stone building that looks like a storybook castle.  One will also find the Petersham Historical Society with its restored stagecoach and special exhibits.  Many events are held on the common including the annual plant sale, town band concerts, church fairs, Old Home Day and croquet tournament, and seasonal Friday market.

10. Peaceful, Friendly People.  My favorite part of the town, hands down.  Originally named "Voluntown," the community is a fabric of many friendly and talented people who enhance the quality of life with their support of town activities.  Petersham's unique culture is influenced by the sophistication of Eastern Massachusetts and the folksiness of Western Massachusetts -- a perfect blend of both!

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