In the 19th century this city in North Central Massachusetts was an industrial center, mass-producing paper, tools, firearms and clothing.
The prosperity generated by those mills is apparent in Firchburg’s ornate Victorian residential architecture, its romantic public parks and institutions like the first-rate Fitchburg Art Museum. (FAM).
The FAM has thousands of years of art in its collections, pairing these with contemporary art exhibitions and innovative gallery events.
The landscape around Fitchburg is one of wooded granite hills, and there are a few peaks in the area where the views extend to the Boston skyline, some 45 miles to the southeast.
1. Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM)
Fitchburg has an art museum of high standing, serving as a regional institution for Central Massachusetts.
The museum was founded in 1925, following a bequest by the Fitchburg artist and collector, Eleanor Norcross (1854–1923).
Comprising more than 7,000 works, the collections are wide-ranging and deep, especially for American Art, African Art and American photography, while the museum puts on important temporary exhibitions for contemporary art.
Wandering the galleries, you’ll also come across enthralling pieces of pre-Columbian and Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan and Roman art, along with decorative arts from the 16th to the 20th century.
There’s also always something exciting going on at the museum, with a raft of seasonal events like spring’s Art in Bloom, combining fine art with matching arrangements by local florists, garden clubs and FAM staff.
2. Coggshall Park
Fitchburg’s premier public park was first landscaped in the 1890s as a gift to the city from Henry Coggshall, an executive of The Fitchburg Gas Company.
Coggshall and his wife gradually added to that donation, and the park now covers more than 250 acres on the wooded shores of Mirror Lake.
There’s a quant stone house overlooking the lake from the north shore, as well as a waterfront gazebo on the east side.
The lake is a haven for waterfowl and turtles, and there benches and picnic tables under the conifers that line the banks. In the woods there’s a children’s playground and a network of walking trails, as well as a highly-rated disc golf course.
3. The Rollstone Boulder
Rising steeply southwest of downtown is the 800-foot Rollstone Hill, which has been the site of granite quarries for much of Fitchburg’s history.
The hill was capped by a 110-ton porphyritic granite glacial erratic, known as the Rollstone Boulder. From the 19th century, this became a popular landmark with walkers and people taking picnics.
It might sound counterintuitive now, but to safeguard the boulder against quarrying activity, it was exploded in 1929, and over the following year was relocated in pieces to its current spot next to Fitchburg’s Upper Common.
This is the prettiest part of downtown Fitchburg, with historic buildings framing the common. Close by is a fountain with sculptures by Fitchburg-native Herbert Adam (1858-1945), as well as a gazebo staging weekly evening concerts in the summer.
4. Wachusett Mountain State Reservation
Ten miles from downtown Fitchburg, Mount Wachusett is the highest peak in Massachusetts east of the Connecticut River.
Spring through fall, you can reach the summit at 2,006 feet by car via an access road for distant views in all directions, including to Boston and Mount Monadnock.
The surrounding reservation is on more than 3,000 acres and has 17 miles of trails, including a section of the Midstate Trail, running north to south for 92 miles through Worcester County.
On the mountain’s northern slopes is a ski area, which runs a shuttle service to and from the MBTA station in Fitchburg.
This has 26 runs, the longest of which is 1.3 miles. Mount Wachusett is also noteworthy for the large stands of old growth hardwood forest on its slopes, with trees dating back 370 years or more.
5. Fitchburg Historical Society
Founded in 1892, the Fitchburg Historical Society is now based at the Phoenix Building (718 Main Street), built in 1912 and with dainty terra cotta moldings on its Georgian Revival facade.
This building was designed by H. M. Francis & Sons, responsible for much of the commercial, residential and institutional architecture in Fitchburg at the turn of the 20th century.
When we compiled this list the historical society was open on Mondays and Tuesdays, and presented compelling exhibitions on various aspects of local history in a series of rooms.
You can pore over rich collections for the railroads and Civil War, as well as fashion, industry, local newspapers and domestic life in Fitchburg.
6. Twin Cities Rail Trail
When we wrote this article the first section of this 4.5-mile rail trail, connecting Fitchburg with Leominster, had just been opened.
A fantastic commuter artery, the Twin Cities Rail Trail is along the corridor for the Fitchburg and Worcester Railroad, which was completed in 1850.
Twelve feet wide and paved for the entire route, the trail runs from 1st Street in Fitchburg, past the Fitchburg Municipal Airport to Carter Park in Leominster.
Plans are ongoing to create links with Fitchburg’s MART Intermodal Transportation Center, and downtown Leominster via the Monoosnoc Brook Greenway.
7. Jewell Hill
In the northwest of Fitchburg is a scenic sweep of rolling meadows on 300 acres, open to the public via a network of trails.
Jewell Hill is a former dairy farm, now managed by the Trustees of Reservations, and has a maximum elevation of 1,411 feet.
You can walk to the summit along the mountain laurel-lined Jewell Hill Trail, which leads to the Hudson Overlook for magnificent panormas that stretch out for miles over the wooded landscape to the east.
On a clear day you may even see the Boston skyline, 45 miles away. A little closer is Mount Wachusett, visible to the south along the 0.7-mile Willard Trail.
8. Great Wolf Lodge Water Park
The New England branch of Great Wolf Lodge resort chain is in the southwest of Fitchburg. You don’t need to stay at Great Wolf Lodge to make the most of its facilities, which include a gigantic indoor water park.
This has a choice of high-thrills water slides, like Wolf Trail, which has a freefall drop, and the signature Howlin’ Tornado, featuring a six-story funnel vortex.
Younger children can make a splash at the shallow Cub Paw Pool, the Whooping Hollow playground and Fort Mackenzie, witn four stories of interactive fun.
There’s also a roster of family-friendly tube rides, a long lazy river and the peaceful North Hot Springs hot tub area.
9. Boulder Art Gallery
By the boulder on the Upper Common there’s an independent art gallery presenting work by emerging and established artists.
This is in a diversity of styles and media, including oil painting, watercolors, acrylics, pastels, photography, printing and sculpture.
As well as providing a showcase for local artists, the Boulder Art Gallery sources a wide range of vintage art, and sells an assortment of antiques and collectibles, many with a connection to Fitchburg and North Central Massachusetts.
10. Lanni Orchards
On 90 acres, this local farm has offered its produce to the public for more than half a century and three generations now.
During the summer and fall you can head to Lanni Orchards for pick-your-own strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, pears, peaches, grapes, apples and pumpkins.
This fruit, along with a wide choice of other produce, is available at the farm stand, which also offers an extraordinary choice of locally sourced flowers, meats and grocery items.
There’s a bakery on site, with pies made to order within an hour, as well cakes, cookies and freshly baked apple cider donuts.
11. Coolidge Park
Fitchburg’s most trafficked public park is in the east of the city, by the Fitchburg State University campus.
Coolidge Park is mostly for active recreation, with a number of soccer fields, five baseball/softball fields, a beach volleyball court and two street hockey rinks, all surrounded by a mile-long perimeter walking path.
This is also the location for the J. Robert Cowley Swimming Complex, open during the school summer break.
One other amenity here is the one-acre Fitchburg Dog Park, built in 2018, with a water fountain and separate fenced areas for large and small dogs.
12. River Styx Brewing
There’s a family-run and family-friendly craft brewery in downtown Fitchburg, with board games, arcade machines and shuffleboard to keep everyone entertained.
River Styx Brewing is in the Putnam Place Business Center, a multi-tenant space in a converted 19th-century factory.
As for beer, all of River Styx’s offerings have classical allusions, like Atlantis (IPA), Dionysus (Sour), Hercules (IPA), Prometheus (Stout) and Thanatos God of Death (Stout).
Dogs are welcome, and there’s a packed schedule of events, especially on weekends, which bring live music and rotating food trucks.
13. Flat Rock Wildlife Sanctuary
Less than five minutes west of downtown Fitchburg you can reach a large stand of rugged woodlands managed by Mass Audubon.
The Flat Rock Wildlife Sanctuary is 326 acres of mixed hardwood and hemlock forest offering a habitat for singbirds, red foxes and coyotes, while bobcats and black bears are known to pass through.
There are six miles of trails through the sanctuary, and this system is augmented by trails onto neighboring properties managed by the North County Land Trust and Fitchburg Water Department, encompassing the scenic Overlook Reservoir.
14. Lakeview Driving Range
Strictly speaking, this golf facility is in Lunenburg but is less than ten minutes from downtown Fitchburg, and has been in business since 1951.
Lakeview Driving Range has been owned and operated by the same family since 1971, and has something to offer people of all ages and golfing abilities.
Up to 250 yards, the range has grass and synthetic tees, as well as a putting green and a sand trap for bunker shots.
There’s also an excellent mini golf course, set in gardens with ponds, streams, waterfalls and more than 300 bushes, shrubs and trees.
For something different, you’ve got a three-unit baseball batting range. Each stall has a different pitching speed, and all are open so you get to watch your hits fly.
15. Cherry Hill Ice Cream (Lunenburg)
Also within a ten-minute drive, this ice cream stand has a picture-perfect setting in green rolling hills.
Cherry Hill Ice Cream has more than 60 flavors, with plenty of unusual creations such as coconut cheesecake brownie and pumpkin oreo (available in fall).
There are more than 20 toppings to choose from, like strawberry pieces and peanut butter sauce, as well as sorbets, sherberts, no-sugar-added ice cream and a choice of frozen yogurts.
The stand is tucked in from Day St and has a few shaded picnic tables so you can enjoy your treat in this secluded spot.