On the east bank of the Connecticut River, Chicopee is just upstream from Springfield and part of the metro area.
In the 19th century the banks of the Chicopee River were an industrial hotbed, lined with an unusual assortment of factories, from textile mills to paper mills and brass and iron foundries.
This led to Chicopee’s motto, “Industriae Variae”, meaning “Various Industries”, and you can see some of the repurposed old factories along the Chicopee Canal & Riverwalk, following an old industrial railroad.
Chicopee is noted for its Polish-American heritage, visible in landmarks like the Basilica of St. Stanislaus, prominent businesses making kielbasa and pierogi, and documented at the informative Polish Center of Discovery and Learning
1. Chicopee Memorial State Park
On more than 560 acres, this public recreation area surrounds the old Chicopee Reservoir in the northeast of the city by Westover Air Reserve Base.
The park has been around since the 1890s but was improved in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which laid out roads and trails, and planted trees.
In summer the park draws visitors from miles around to its lovely beach, swimming area and picnic amenities. There’s also a maze of trails for hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing.
You can fish from the shore, and brown trout, rainbow trout, brown bullhead, largemouth bass and pumpkinseed are a few of the species caught at the reservoir.
2. Szot Park
Chicopee’s community park is in a picturesque landscape next to Bemis Pond, which flows into the Chicopee River, a couple of hundred feet to the north.
People flock to Szot Park for big annual events, like the 4th of July fireworks, normally preceded by a parade downtown.
This is the place to go for active recreation, with amenities for a variety of sports including baseball/softball, bocce, football, soccer and tennis, while there’s also a walking track and extensive multi-use trails.
Szot Park is named for Frank Jacob Szot (Szolt), who was the first Chicopee man to die in WWI when he was killed in action at Bois Brule, France, on April 12, 1918.
The lighted fountain honoring veterans was dedicated the same day the park was inaugurated in 1939, and is accompanied by two tanks, one from WWI and the other from WWII.
3. Polish Center of Discovery and Learning
Part of Elms College, this museum has a sequence of galleries detailing the many contributions of immigrant Poles and their descendants to the United States.
The Coming to America Gallery traces the history of Polish immigration back to Jamestown in 1608, while At Home in America depicts the culture and way of life of generations of Polish families.
The Folk Art Gallery displays carvings, painted Easter eggs, paper cutouts going back to before the 20th century, and you can check out Polish regional dress and the interior of a Polish country cottage.
Finally the 20th Century History gallery has several absorbing artifacts like diaries of Poles exiled to Kazakhstan and Siberia in WWII, and Solidarity pins, posters and stamps.
The largest of all the cities on the Connecticut River, Springfield is directly south of Chicopee, putting you within minutes of several days’ worth of visitor attractions.
One is the Springfield Armory, the main factory for United States military firearms from 1777 until 1968, and housing the largest collection of historic American firearms in the world.
In Metro Center, the Quadrangle is a group of five exceptional museums, all set around the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden in honor of the author who was born in the city in 1904.
Sports fans will need to make time for the Basketball Hall of Fame, based here because the game was invented in Springfield in 1891.
Lastly, just ten miles to the south, by the state line, there’s Six Flags New England, which is the oldest amusement park in the chain, with a history reaching back to 1870.
5. Connecticut Riverwalk and Bikeway
When we compiled this list Chicopee was making it easier than ever for pedestrians and bicyclists to make the most of the city’s miles of waterfront on the Connecticut and Chicopee Rivers.
One recently completed project is a northern extension of the Connecticut Riverwalk and Bikeway.
Here you can walk or cycle along 2.5 miles of levee, from the Medina Street Boat Ramp in the south to Nash Field in the north.
This trail is one piece of a 21-mile system through neighboring communities, Springfield, Holyoke, West Springfield and Agawam.
6. Chicopee City Hall
Still filling its original purpose, Chicopee City Hall is a marvelous reference point downtown thanks to its 147-foot tower.
The building, designed by Charles Edward Parker (1826-1890), is in the Italianate style, with Romanesque Revival details such as a stunning rose window above a porch with round arches and capitals with foliate carvings.
The tower is modeled on the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, with a clock, decorative machicolations and arrow loops below a turret.
At the time of writing, City Hall was in the middle of a long-term renovation, both inside and out.
7. Chicopee Canal & Riverwalk
For about 1,000 feet on the route of a former industrial railroad there’s a leafy path tracing the slow-moving Chicopee Canal.
What makes the walk worthwhile is the amount of striking industrial architecture all around. Grandest of all is the 1847 complex for the Ames Manufacturing Company, which is remembered for making swords, artillery and ordnance for the Union Army in the Civil War.
The factory, like others by the canal, has since been converted into lofts and is still crested by its iconic Italianate tower opposite City Hall. When we wrote this list the trail was in the process of being extended east to Szot Park and the Chicopee Public Library.
8. The Cabotville Sycamores
Along the Chicopee Canal & Riverwalk you’ll happen upon a historical marker for a stately group of sycamores that were already mature in 1890 when Chicopee became a city.
These trees have stood strong in the face of hurricanes, floods, the nearby Ames Manufacturing Company and the dense urbanization that followed.
The marker talks you through the many changes that the sycamores have witnessed in their 200+ years, from the industrial railway that came before the Canal Walk, to Boston’s statue of Benjamin Franklin, cast at the Ames Sword Company’s bronze foundry in the mid-1850s.
9. Munich Haus
An anchor for Chicopee Center, this authentic Bavarian restaurant is a short walk from City Hall.
With an interior designed like a traditional weinstube tavern, and a large biergarten outside, Munich Haus has made a name for its schnitzel, which comes in an array of regional variations, from Vienna to Holstein or Berlin-style.
There’s also a range of homemade sausages like bratwurst, kielbasa, knockwurst and currywurst, all served with spätzle, sauerkraut and red cabbage.
As the perfect accompaniment you’ve got a wide choice of important German beers, on draft or by the bottle, along with Sekt, Riesling and Zinfandel.
10. Al’s Diner
On the National Register of Historic Places there’s an historic diner in the north of Chicopee, opened in 1958.
The prefab structure was manufactured by Master Diner of Pequannock, New Jersey, in business from the 1940s to the 1970s, and the restaurant has been known as Al’s Diner since it was purchased by one Al Rubin in 1962.
Today, this is a cash-only breakfast and lunch spot with a surprisingly large menu, running the gamut from omelets to grinders.
One specialty from the daily menu is the French-style meat pie, while Fridays are for New England-style seafood like fried clams, scallops and haddock.
A few steps from Al’s Diner is the beloved Roger’s Place ice cream shop, serving enormous cones, sundaes and fried dough.
11. Basilica of St. Stanislaus
Among Chicopee’s set of imposing buildings is this Roman Catholic church dedicated to Saint Stanislaus the Martyr (1030-1079), completed in 1908.
The church was declared a minor basilica in 1991, and continues to hold a Polish mass on Sunday mornings (9am).
If you get the chance to go inside, there’s much to admire from an art and architecture standpoint.
The basilica’s website has a detailed guide for its abundant and exquisite stained glass, produced by European artists, and the polychrome Stations of the Cross, set in rows of large niches either side of the nave.
12. Sarah Jane Sherman Park
There’s a state-run public outdoor pool at Sarah Jane Sherman Park, just in from the Connecticut River at 21 Vivian St. The pool is normally open daily throughout the school summer break.
Elsewhere the park has a newly installed splash pad, operating in summer, as well as a playground, skate park, bike trail, a picnic pavilion with grills, baseball/softball diamond, basketball court and soccer field.
Most of these amenities are well shaded, particularly the playground and splash pad.
13. AMF Chicopee Lanes
A part of the community for decades, this massive bowling alley in Chicopee has 40 lanes and offers discounts for almost every day of the week.
When we wrote this list there was unlimited bowling on Mondays and Wednesdays, as well as $3 for two games on Tuesdays.
AMF Chicopee Lanes also has an arcade with video games and redemption machines, a sports bar, pro shop and a lounge area, all with free Wi-Fi. While you bowl you can order craft beer, fancy cocktails, wings, burgers and much more from the laneside menu.
14. Ike Alpert Park
There’s an array of facilities packed into this relatively small neighborhood park in Chicopee Falls.
Around a large space for field sports you’ve got a playground, basketball court, skate park, splash pad and a large playground that was updated not long ago.
If you come by in winter there’s a little ice rink here, great for skating or a game of stick-and-puck hockey. A charming detail in summer is the book exchange, normally stocked with children’s books to borrow and return.
15. The Sword Game
Chicopee has an annual High School football tradition recognized for some 60 years now. The Sword Game takes place every fall between Chicopee High School (Pacers) and Chicopee Comprehensive High School (Colts), and first took place after the latter was founded in 1964.
There’s more than infracity bragging rights at stake, as the winning team is presented with the Mayor’s Sword, an intricately emblazoned steel blade, produced locally in the 1890s by the Ames Manufacturing Company.
This is without a doubt the biggest sports rivalry in Western Massachusetts, bringing in crowds of several thousand and shutting down city intersections.