This lively town northeast of Worcester was founded in the mid-19th century by two brothers in the carpet making industry.
Half a century later, Clinton’s landscape changed forever when the Nashua River was dammed to form the 7-square-mile Wachusett Reservoir, the largest of its kind in the world at the time.
You can walk along the dike here for a stunning view, while the panoramic walkway atop the dam is open to the public twice a year.
Since 2010, Clinton’s population has jumped 15%, and there’s a real feeling of vitality in the downtown area, which has exciting restaurants and stores, vibrant community events, as well as a top notch art destination at the Museum of Russian Icons.
1. Museum of Russian Icons
On the southwest corner of Clinton’s Central Park is a first-rate museum, dedicated to Russian Orthodox icons.
The museum’s collection was assembled by the Clinton-based plastics manufacturer Gordon B. Lankton (1932-2021), who built up an important collection of icons after purchasing his first at a market in Moscow in 1989.
This now runs to more than 1,000 pieces, dating from the mid-15th century to the present, and displayed in chronological and thematic order.
Possibly the most significant exhibit is the exquisite Royal Doors, crafted in the 17th-century as the entrance to the high altar in a church.
The Museum of Russian Icons presents temporary exhibits sourced from its rich collections, as well as visiting shows, and is home to the Center for Icon Studies.
2. Downtown Clinton
Clinton’s sudden population boom since the early 2010s has helped furnish the town with a buzzing central commercial district.
Mostly on High Street, this has also benefited from a multimillion-dollar revitalization project, renewing the sidewalks in 2021.
There are businesses like Sunrise Boutique that have been around for decades, alongside a fresh lineup of coffee shops and international eateries.
You’ve got The Vegan Nest Café, (54 High St), Coffeelands (50 High St), Taqueria El Amigo (1 High St), Clintons Bar & Grille (27 High St), Zaytoon (72 High St), Simple Man Saloon and Grill (119 High St), Thai Time (180 Church St), to name a handful.
Downton Clinton is also a U.S. Historic District, brimming with commercial architecture from the 19th century, mostly in the Italianate style.
3. Central Park
Knitting together downtown Clinton is a park created in the early 1850s when these four acres were donated by the town’s co-founder Horatio N. Bigelow.
The centerpiece is the elegant Foster Fountain, given to Clinton in 1890 by the wealthy resident John R. Foster, who owned a chain of clothing stores around New England.
The fountain here now is in fact a replica, cast using the original patterns in late 1990s after the original was destroyed in the 1938 New England hurricane.
Central Park has historic monuments to the Spanish-American War and the Civil War, and as well as being the perfect place to hang out on a sunny day, is the go-to setting for community events like Clinton’s Olde Home Day in September.
4. Wachusett Dam and Wachusett Reservoir
You can’t talk about Clinton without mentioning the immense reservoir that opens out to the southwest.
When completed in 1905 this was the world’s largest public water supply reservoir, at 7 square miles, and is still the second-largest body of water in Massachusetts.
The dam impounding the river was also the largest gravity dam in the world, and to this day is considered the largest hand-dug dam on the planet.
As the reservoir is still key to Boston’s water supply recreation is restricted, although the majority of the shoreline is open to angling, April through November.
In Clinton you can set off along the Dike Path, which runs along the top of the North Dike for some magnificent views, especially in the morning.
Also there’s a lovely space at the foot of the dam off River St, with a fountain and grassy spaces where you can look along the Nashua River.
Twice a year, on the Sunday of Mother’s Day weekend and the Sunday of Columbus Day, the DCR also opens the walkway along top of the Wachusett Dam to visitors, and it’s a sight worth seeing if you’re in town.
5. Clinton Historical Society
At the turn of the 20th century the textile industrialist, Francis T. Holder constructed this stately building downtown as a tribute to his parents.
The Holder Memorial building was intended as a home for the Clinton Historical Society, which officially moved here in 1905.
The society conducts guided tours of this grand building on Saturday mornings, or in conjunction with society events and programs.
There’s much to uncover inside, including samples and equipment from Clinton’s carpet industry, manual presses, and an extensive array of Civil War artifacts.
All around are reminders of the wealth generated by the textile industry in Clinton, with decorative arts including Meissen porcelain, portraits, and sculpture.
6. Clinton Train Tunnel
When the Wachusett Reservoir was constructed at the turn of the 20th century, it required the Central Massachusetts Railroad to be rerouted in Clinton.
This involved a couple of big projects including a bridge over the Nashua River downstream from the dam, and a 1,110-foot tunnel posted high on the east bank.
The line was abandoned in 1958, and while the bridge was dismantled a couple of decades later, the tunnel is still here, and is expected to become one of the 104-mile Mass Central Rail Trail in a few years.
Damp and forbidding, the tunnel has been a local curiosity for decades, popular with ghost seekers in particular. At the time of writing, the structure was temporarily closed in order to be made safe for the rail trail.
7. Strand Theatre
When we compiled this list, the Strand Theatre had been permanently closed for a year or so on the back of the Covid epidemic.
This historic venue opened in 1924 as a combined vaudeville and movie house, and shone as a downtown entertainment spot until closing in the 1970s.
After a dormant period, the cinema reopened in the 90s as a combined movie house and grille, with small tables attached to the seats and a menu of American comfort food and a variety of beers and wines.
The Strand Theatre has been such a pillar of local life in Clinton that it’s hard to imagine that it won’t open again with the pandemic under control.
8. New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill
Draped over a glacial hill on the eastern shore of the Wachusett Reservoir, this premier botanical garden is the headquarters of the Worcester County Horticultural Society (1840), the third-oldest society of its kind in the United States.
The New England Botanic Garden at Tower Hill is just ten minutes from downtown Clinton and has an assortment of themed gardens, structures and plant collections.
Forming an ensemble with the Stoddard Education and Visitors Center, there’s the Orangerie greenhouse, the Limonaia, and the 14,000-square-foot Winter Garden.
Elsewhere you’ll encounter beautiful spaces and plantings like the Cottage Garden, Secret Garden, Pliny’s Allée, the Vegetable Garden, the Wildlife Garden, and the Italian Renaissance-style Systematic Garden, to name just a few.
The Harrington Apple Orchard is extraordinary, with 238 trees growing 119 heritage apple varieties from before the 20th century.
9. Davis Farmland
Going back seven generations and some 180 years, the Davis Farm in nearby Sterling has blossomed as a family day out since the early 1990s.
Aimed at children up to the age of 7, Davis Farmland is famed for a large collection of endangered and heritage domestic breeds, from Poitou donkeys to Highland cattle.
There’s a ton of attractions just for kids, from giant slides to a dinosaur dig, modern play structures, and a large splash pad comparable to a whole water park.
Classic seasonal farm activities are also available on the property, like apple picking in fall, when you can also try and solve the fabled Davis Mega Maze.
10. Bolton Orchards
A stone’s throw away in Bolton you’ve got a working farm producing a huge selection of fruits and vegetables, including 25 varieties of apples.
There has been a farmstand at Bolton Orchards since 1945, and like the farm this has expanded a lot over time.
You can shop here for the exceptional fresh produce as it comes into season, and there’s a harvest schedule to let you know what’s ready before you visit.
The farmstand also has a deli for tempting prepared foods like homemade soups and pizza, along with a bakery making treats like apple cider donuts, an ice cream window, locally roasted coffee at the Red Barn Coffee Cafe, as well as shelves full of premium and locally sourced specialty items.
11. Rauscher Farm
In 2008, the town acquired this diverse 60-acre parcel of nature on the north shore of Clamshell Pond.
The documented history of this space can be traced back to the mid-17th century, and there had been a working farm here for many generations before it was purchased by the town.
Something special about the property is the variation in habitats, from the open water of Clamshell Pond to wetlands, woods, fenced pasture, shrublands and grasslands.
In the summer, the grasslands are crucial for ground-nesting birds, as well as butterflies and bees, and there’s a spectacular variety of wildflowers throughout the season.
12. Fuller Field
Organized baseball has been played at this site, near the Nashua River at 560 High Street, since at least 1878. This makes Fuller Field the world’s oldest ballpark in continuous use according to the Guiness Book of World Records.
One star in the early days was future hall of fame pitcher Tim Keefe (1857-1933), who played for the minor league Clinton Base Ball Club early in his career.
The true age of the ballpark was discovered by local historian A. J. Bastarache after he came across an old oilcloth survey map. As well as that venerable diamond, there’s a little league baseball field and a football field with bleachers.
13. Dexter Drumlin Reservation
This small reservation, five minutes from Clinton, encompasses an unusual landform created by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age.
At 311 feet above sea level, the spoonlike Dexter Drumlin is a perfect example of its kind, commanding scenic views of Lancaster to the east and northeast.
The property is owned by the Trustees of Reservations and contains a tributary of the Nashua River, forming wet meadows on the western side.
You can reach the top along a one-mile mowed footpath, and when winter comes the slopes are perfect for sledding.
14. Clinton’s Olde Home Day
Held in Central Park, Olde Home Day is an annual celebration that was launched in 1995 to celebrate Clinton’s 150th anniversary.
The event usually takes place on the second weekend in September, and has activities, games and entertainment for all comers.
One of the crazier spectacles is the bed race, which involves teams pushing beds on wheels down the street, with a passenger on board wearing a helmet.
Also on the schedule there’s live music, an outdoor movie screening, a raffle, street entertainers, local food vendors, and artisans from across New England.
15. Summer Sidewalk Fest
In August, Clinton celebrates its flourishing downtown with an afternoon of entertainment, commerce and food.
Reaching back more than 50 years, the event has a different theme each year, and is rooted in the Sidewalk Sales Days that once took over the entire downtown area.
The Summer Sidewalk Fest is a more modest event, but is still a fantastic showcase for the many independent businesses thriving downtown.
High Street is closed to road traffic, and you’ll find discounts at many stores, along with food trucks, live music, entertainment for wee ones, and craft beer courtesy of Clinton’s Sterling Street Brewery,