First settled by Europeans in the 1730s, Charlton is a small town near the transition between Central and Western Massachusetts.
This land was originally part of neighboring Oxford, and has a couple of wonderfully preserved historic districts at the town’s civic heart on Main Street, and the little Northside Village Center.
Since 2017 Charlton has come to prominence as the base for the Tree House Brewing Company, considered one of the top craft breweries in the world, with IPAs that rank among the best you can taste anywhere.
Charlton is also a few short miles from the famous living history museum, Old Sturbridge Village, and has a delightful town-owned farm of its own at Fay Mountain Farm, where you can wander the trails and buy seasonal fresh produce.
1. Tree House Brewing Company
Rated as one of best breweries in the country and famous for its IPAs, Tree House Brewing Company was founded close by in Brimfield in 2011, and now operates five facilities.
This is a non-distributing enterprise, which means you have to go to the source for cans or pours.
The main brewery, distillery and coffee roastery is set in Charlton’s countryside and is understandably a mecca for craft beer enthusiasts, attracting lines on busy days.
This 53,000-square foot facility opened in 2017 at a cost of $18.5 million, and has even triggered local debate about how best to manage the influx of visitors to the town.
For draft beer you can make for the Main Bar, which has more than 40 beers on tap at any time, while cans need to be ordered in advance.
2. Old Sturbridge Village
The largest museum in New England is a matter of minutes from Charlton in Sturbridge. On more than 200 acres, this living history attraction recreates life in rural New England at the turn of the 19th century.
Old Sturbridge Village has close to 60 historic buildings, relocated here from around the region, while a population of costumed reenactors help bring old customs, skills and trades to life.
In the village you can tour handsome old residences, and businesses like a law office, tin shop, tavern, bank and cider mill.
There are also working gristmills, carding mills and sawmills, and a lovely countryside area with a traditional farm and rural livelihoods.
You’ll never have to wait long for a seasonal event at Old Sturbridge Village, from the Fourth of July to Christmas by Candlelight.
3. Fay Mountain Farm
In Charlton’s historic Northside Village the 65-acre Fay Mountain Farm was acquired by the town in 2002.
Around half of this picturesque property is made up of apple orchards, accompanied by a pond, a 19th-century barn, raspberry and blueberry plantings, and tranquil woodlands.
You can stop at the farmstand for a range of seasonal fresh produce, including a wide variety of apples in late summer and fall. Also on sale are farm-raised meats, cheeses, and indulgent baked goods like pies, turnovers, apple dumplings and cider apple donuts.
Part of the joy of Fay Mountain Farm is soaking up the rural scenery on the trails, with a segment of the Midstate Trail.
4. Buffumville Lake
On Charlton’s eastern flank there’s a system of flood control projects built in the mid-20th century by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.
The USACE still manages the 200-acre Buffumville Lake and the nearby Hodges Village Dam, opening up a massive patch of Charlton and Oxford to the public for recreation.
One thing you can do here is hike the paved blue-blazed trail around the lakeshore, which is 7.2 miles long and has some impressive vantage points.
The day use area also has a 300-foot beach, and a picnic area with shelters and grills. You can launch a boat on both sides of the lake, and if you’re heading here for fishing, largemouth bass and chain pickerel are often biting.
5. Midstate Trail
A big patch of eastern and northern Charlton is crossed by a 92-mile hiking trail, making its way through Worcester County from the state line with Rhode Island in the south to the border with New Hampshire in the north.
Something that makes the Midstate Trail so accessible is that it uses already existing public lands and sidewalks on backcountry roads, so there’s no better way to discover the region’s signature rolling hills.
The trail enters Charlton just north of Buffumville Lake, winding past several ponds and through Fay Mountain Farm on the way to Spencer.
6. Northside Village Historic District
You could take a little time to investigate this historic village center in Charlton, which first sprang up at the intersection of Stafford, Northside and Cemetery Roads in the 1730s.
Protected as an historic district made up of just over a dozen buildings, Northside Village abounds with 18th and early 19th-century residential architecture.
A shining example is the Rider Tavern (c. 1797), a stop on the stagecoach road between Worcester and Hartford, CT, and known to have hosted the Marquis de Lafayette, among others.
This building belongs to the Charlton Historical Society, and is open for guided tours on select days in the summer.
The district’s oldest building is the Wheelock House (1735), while the Waters-Morton House (mid-18th century), was the boyhood home of William T. G. Morton, remembered for introducing ether as an anesthetic.
7. Capen Hill Nature Sanctuary
Next to the Tree House Brewing Company there’s an 86-acre nature sanctuary, managed by a non-profit organization and open to the public free of charge.
Capen Hill has a network of well-marked trails, through woods and meadows, past ponds and on boardwalks over wetland areas. The sanctuary is community-focussed, hosting numerous educational programs all year round.
The visitor center is also not to be missed, with nature exhibits, mineral displays, a library, gift shop and live animals. Look out for the annual Fall Festival in September, with food, arts and crafts in this beautiful setting.
8. Ronnie’s Seafood
Typically open from Good Friday to Columbus Day, Ronnie’s Seafood is a summer institution in Charton, reaching back more than half a century now.
This family business is all about New England-style seafood, be it grilled or fried. You’ve got clam strips, fried clams, scallops, clam cakes, clam chowder, haddock, and, lobster rolls, popcorn shrimp, the list goes on.
Ronnie’s Seafood also shines as an ice cream stand, serving more than 30 flavors of hard ice cream, with a big assortment of toppings if you want to invent your own sundae.
9. Charlton Center Historic District
The other historic district in Charlton is the municipal core of the town along Main Street.
Rather than a commercial district, this is a typically sedate New England town center, with municipal functions like the Town Hall and Public Library, and a fine collection of historic residences.
A prominent one is the John Spurr House (1798), built for one Maj. Gen. John Spurr (1759–1816), who had served in the Continental Army at the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill.
The Overlook Hotel, constructed in the Shingle style in the late 19th century, was the first architect-designed building in the center, and has been a retirement community for more than a century now.
The Town Hall (1905) is in the Colonial Revival style, and sits in front of the narrow common, with an endearing bandstand.
10. Buffumville Lake Disc Golf Course
Something that brings people from miles around to Buffumville Lake is the disc golf course on the eastern shore, considered one of the best in the region.
Starting off right on the dam, the course’s main 18 holes test your accuracy with a lot of water hazards, sharp changes in elevation and some dense woodland.
Everything is carefully maintained, from the concrete tees to the baskets, and the signs pointing out footage and the hazards you’ll need to avoid. There’s also an option of a nine-hole loop at the course, ideal for players with less experience.
11. Wells State Park
Slightly beyond Chalrton’s western boundary in Sturbridge is a 1,400-acre state park preserving rugged scenery on the shore of Walker Pond.
One of the best things to do at Wells State Park is take the trail up to the cliff tops at Carpenter Rocks, named for one John Carpenter, who owned and ran a sawmill close by. From here you can gaze east over the pond and valley.
Come summer, Walker Pond is a go-to for paddlesports, while chain pickerel, yellow perch, largemouth bass and bluegill are a few of the species regularly caught at the lake.
The campground at Wells State Park has 60 sites, and comes with access to a beach on the lakeshore.
12. Charlton Arts & Activities Center (CAAC)
In Charlton Center there’s a multifaceted community hub in a lovely renovated farmhouse and barn. The Charlton Arts & Activities Center has programs and classes for all ages, from drama to art, crafts, dance and music.
The CAAC is also known locally for its annual events. The most anticipated of these is the Blueberry Festival, taking place in late July, with more than 50 craft vendors and nonprofit booths, as well as children’s activities and blueberry treats like shortcake, ice cream and muffins.
13. Bay Path Cemetery
Visiting Charlton Center it’s worth setting some time aside to check out the Bay Path Cemetery, dating back to 1764.
Expanded in 1812, this is the burial place of many of Charlton’s most noteworthy old families, and you’ll see recurring names like McIntire, Weld, Towne, Ward and Harwood.
Some important burials include Boston Tea Party participant, John Spurr (1748-1822), and John “Grizzly” Adams (1812-1860), the legendary California mountain man known for training grizzly bears.
On the north side are the stone walls of the old Town Pound, going back to 1837 and where the sheep were kept.
14. Prindle Pond
Seen as one of the prettiest small lakes in Massachusetts, Prindle Pond is a manmade body of water covering 76 acres in the southwest of Charlton.
The lakefront is open to the public on the east shore, where there’s a park on the grassy slope, with a parking lot and a boat launch.
This space is relatively undeveloped, and has some beautiful mature trees for shade, while the vistas across the water are magical at sunset.
Sitting in more than 600 wooded acres on the western shore is the Prindle Pond Conference Center, with facilities designed to host a wide array of week and weeklong events centered on team building and encounters with nature.
15. Heritage Country Club
Resting in Charlton’s rolling countryside is one of the top public golf courses in Central Massachusetts.
Heritage Country Club was established in 1963 and takes pride in offering the amenities and conditions of a private club, but with the affordability of a daily fee course.
The holes on this track ramble through hardwood forest tallying with the natural topography for sweeping views and challenging elevation changes.
This variation requires every club in the bag, and the greens are praised for being fast and true, even in springtime.