This town of just over 11,300 is nestled in the Merrimack Valley, on the banks of the Nashua River, which is a haven for activities like canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding in summer.
Groton was first settled by Europeans in 1655, not long after a trading post had been set up by one John Tinker doing business with Nashaway Native Americans along the Nashua River.
The town has a handsome old center, preserving 18th-century residences and public buildings, along with the home of the prominent politician, George Boutwell (1818-1905), which has belonged to the local historical society since the 1930s.
Groton is also on the map thanks to two prestigious prep schools, Groton School, founded in 1884, and the Lawrence Academy at Groton, which goes all the way back to 1792.
1. Groton Center Historic District
At the junction of state routes 119 and 40, the old center of Groton is preserved as an historic district, with aspects of its layout reaching back to the 17th century.
The First Parish Church for instance was constructed in 1755 when it became the town’s fourth meetinghouse on the same site. In 1775 Groton’s minutemen assembled on the common in front before fighting in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Paul Revere, famed for his Midnight Ride before the battles, had a connection to Groton.
He was Grand Master at the Masonic Lodge at the neighboring Groton Inn—destroyed by fire in 2011 and rebuilt as a boutique hotel—while in 1819 his foundry cast the bell that is still installed in the tower of the First Parish Church.
2. Groton History Center
Opposite the Town Hall, a magnificent residence in Groton Center is Boutwell House, built in 1851 for the 20th Governor of Massachusetts, George Boutwell.
A staunch Abolitionist, he later became the first Commissioner of Internal Revenue under Abraham Lincoln, and was a leader in the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.
Boutwell and his family were the only residents at this house before it was left to the Groton Historical Society by his daughter Georgianna.
The society maintains the Boutwell House as the Groton History Center. Inside, you can visit the room where Ulysses S. Grant stayed in 1869, see Boutwell’s personal desk and book collection, view historical maps of Groton, and admire the period implements and fittings in the kitchen.
3. Nashoba Paddler
The beautiful Nashua River, with its gentle currents and unspoiled banks, could have been made for paddling.
Where Main Street crosses the river in Groton there’s a rental business. At Nashoba Paddler you can rent a wide range of canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards and launch them right here for a voyage upriver or downriver.
One picture-perfect spot a short way upriver is an oxbow at Groton Town Forest, known as the Dead River. The company also arranges a number of tours from spring to fall.
You can check out specific wildlife like beavers, turtles, birds and wildflowers, marvel at the foliage in fall, or paddle after nightfall in summer in the light of the full moon.
4. Groton Town Forest
On the Nashua River, Groton has a generous expanse of woodland with 14 miles of trails. Established in 1922 to honor Groton residents who gave their lives in WWI, Groton Town Forest was just the second property of its kind to be designated in Massachusetts.
This space has grown from an initial 180 acres to more than 500 acres, with three marked loops for hiking, running, mountain biking, as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter.
The terrain on these old cart roads tends to be light, but if you want something more strenuous you can head off onto the side trails, which are a dream for mountain bikers on the hunt for challenging singletrack.
The 6.4-mile Town Forest Loop trail shows off the diversity of the landscape, passing several glacial kettle holes and kettle ponds.
5. Gibbet Hill
Rising sharply over the east side of Groton Center are the pastoral slopes of Gibbet Hill. It’s easy to see why the hill, with its cinematic views of the Merrimack Valley and Nashua River Valley, is a popular filming location for period dramas.
One recent movie shot here was Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2018), during an important scene between Jo and Laurie.
You can hike to the top, where the scenery is breathtaking at sunset and there’s a ruined castle-like house, which we’ll talk about later.
On the slopes is Gibbet Hill Farm, raising award-winning Black Angus cattle for more than 60 years. The farm-to-table Gibbet Hill Grill restaurant is on this property, and the barn, dating back to 1906, serves as a venue for private events.
6. Autumn Hills Orchard
This fruit farm in Groton is perched on a chain of three undulating drumlins, with distant views from the ridge towards mountains like Wachusett in the west and Monadnock to the north.
Autumn Hills Orchard has a busy pick-your-own schedule, beginning in July with raspberries and blueberries.
As the season progresses you can visit for peaches, nectarines, pears and grapes. Apples are the main crop here, with more than 30 varieties, and the harvest begins in August and continues deep into October.
If you visit in fall you’ll also be wowed by the foliage, visible for miles from the ridge.
7. Bancroft’s Castle
Atop Gibbet Hill you’ll find the spectral ruins of a house constructed by the politician William Bancroft (1855-1922) as a gift for his wife, Mary.
With fieldstone cladding and an imposing tower, this was designed like a fairytale castle, and was supposed to be one element of a much larger house, until William ran out of funding.
Later the building served as a sanitarium and then a lodge for the Groton Hunt Club before burning down in 1932 during July 4 fireworks, leaving only the outer walls.
Today Bancroft’s Castle adds a touch of mystery and drama to go with the majestic panoramas from the summit of Gibbet’s Hill.
8. Nashua River Rail Trail
This 12.5-mile multi-use trail passes unbroken through Groton on its route from Ayer in the south to Nashua, NH, in the north.
Groton is an important stop on the trail, as it passes close by Main Street and Groton Center for walkers or cyclists who want to stop for something to eat or drink.
Not far south, the trail runs along the eastern side of the grounds of Groton School, where you can pause for an exquisite view over the pond.
The Nashua River Rail Trail is on the abandoned railbed of the Hollis Branch of the Boston and Maine Road. This was laid down in 1848, but long before that time the route had been a trail for the Nashaway Native Americans.
9. J. Harry Rich State Forest
In the north of Groton, the J. Harry Rich State Forest protects about 500 acres of woodland on a meandering stretch of the Nashua River. One way to get there is via the Nashua River Rail Trail which runs along the eastern side of the property.
From here you can get onto trails that follow the meandering course of the river and the wetlands on the banks, or cut through the woods.
You’ll see plenty of waterfowl by the river in the summer, and because the terrain is mostly flat this is a good place to come with kids.
10. Groton Farmers’ Market
It’s hard to think of a more delightful venue for a farmers’ market than this bucolic old farm with a barn that was raised in 1840.
The Groton Farmers’ Market takes place at the Williams Barn on Friday mornings July through October, with an additional Thanksgiving Market in November.
This is an opportunity to support a roster of small businesses from Groton and neighboring communities.
Think seasonal fresh produce, honey, eggs, jam, sauces, syrups, meal kits, and baked goods, as well as handcrafted beauty products, candles, pottery, jewelry and more. There’s often a petting zoo at the market for little ones, as well as weekly live music.
11. Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary
These 441 acres in the southeast of Groton are in the care of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and set in a state-designated Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
The Rocky Hill Wildlife Sanctuary is on a rough-hewn landscape of tall granite ledges and boulders, cloaked in vast woods.
Part of the sanctuary’s ecological importance comes from its vernal pools, which teem with life in springtime. Exploring the trails, one of the highlights is a rocky outcropping with a clear view of a beaver pond and the treetop Great Blue Heron nests.
12. Luina Greine Farm
In the rolling countryside close to Groton Center, Luina Greine Farm specializes in alpaca wool. The farm opens up to the public on fall weekends when you’ll be given a free tour.
The best part for adults and children alike is the chance to spend time with the farm’s cute animals, including the friendly alpacas, goats, sheep, ponies and donkeys.
Housed in an adorable shed, the farm store is open during these days, selling alpaca fiber scarves, socks, hats, and coats, as well as plush toys.
13. Groton Country Club
Despite the name, this municipal facility is open to the public regardless of where you live. The centerpiece at Groton Country Club is a 9-hole golf course with a links-style layout and a choice of tees to suit players of all levels.
If you’re playing from the tips this is a testing par 35, with some splendid scenery from the tees.
The complex is also home to Groton’s public outdoor pool, which has lanes for competitive swimming and exercise, and adjoining shallow areas for younger children to paddle in.
Then there are tennis and pickleball courts, and a welcoming bar and eatery at the Groton Publick House.
14. Kalliroscope Gallery
Groton is home to Paul Matisse (b. 1933), who is the grandson of Henri Matisse and a respected artist in his own right, known for his kinetic and interactive installations.
In 1982 he purchased the Old Baptist Church in Groton as a studio and living space, with a gallery in the sanctuary. Many of Matisse’s works are sound-oriented and the church’s superb acoustics attracted him to the building.
Over the years this has also been the venue for a chamber concert series for Groton Hill Music (previously Indian Hill Music), featuring artists and performers of national and international renown.
The series has since moved to the Groton Hill Music Center, but when we wrote this article the Kalliroscope Gallery was expected to continue to host shows and performances after temporarily closing during the pandemic.
Groton’s biggest annual event takes place on the last Saturday in September, when scores of booths spring up on Legion Common by Groton Center.
At Grotonfest you can discover the full breadth of local businesses, services, clubs and other organizations in and around this town.
As well as a slew of artisans selling their wares, there’s a large contingent of food trucks, for anything from tacos to cannoli.
All day long, Gronfest has a packed schedule of performances and demonstrations, with Irish dancing, a community theater show, a karate exhibition, and a lot of live music.