Just west of Worcester, Leicester is a town at the northern end of the Blackstone Valley, with a compelling industrial history. From the early days of the American Industrial Revolution, Leicester was a center for the production of cards, which were tools for disentangling cotton fibers before being spun into thread. At the turn of the 19th century Leicester was responsible for one-third of all the hand and machine cards produced in North America.
Today, Leicester is a rural suburb of Worcester, with several family farms, and a refined old center, home to a portion of Becker College. In the disc golf community Leicester is known for two excellent 18-hole courses on the same stretch of road along Maple Street.
1. Washburn Square–Leicester Common Historic District
Dating back to the early 18th century, Leicester’s old core is an archetypal New England town center, set around a rectangular common (Washburn Square).
This space is shaded by beautiful mature trees, and has a bandstand that has hosted a weekly summer concert series for more than three decades now.
On the north side is a line of public buildings like the Colonial Revival Town Hall (1939), the Leicester Unitarian Church (1834), and the First Congregational Church (1901), in a rare Gothic Revival style.
The south side is lined with elegant mansions going back to the 18th century. Many of these are owned by Becker College, including the home of Emory Washburn (1800-1877), the Governor of Massachusetts, abolitionist and Leicester native, for whom the district is named.
On the west side stands the stately Swan Tavern (1768), the oldest building on the common. This local icon opens to the public during special events, and there’s a long-term plan to turn it into a history museum for Leicester.
2. Breezy Gardens
With a cozy store and greenhouse, this family farm has been in business for some 50 years.
Breezy Gardens uses sustainable and responsible farming methods, such as Integrated Crop Management and no GMO, to produce a wide selection of plants, fruits and vegetables.
In that spirit, the farmstand’s selection is completely seasonal so there’s always something new if you come between spring and fall.
Pumpkin season is surely the highlight of the year for families, when as well as a pumpkin patch there are hayrides, friendly goats to feed, rustic playground rides, a pumpkin bounce house, a corn pit and much more.
3. Southwick Pond
Near the Cascades on the Leicester-Paxton line there’s a picturesque property also in the care of the Greater Worcester Land Trust (GWLT).
All told, Southwick Pond is 118 acres, with trails weaving through a diversity of landscapes on the northern and western shores.
As well as mixed woodland, there’s a beautiful meadow with wildflowers in spring and summer, and a large wetland area growing jack-in-the-pulpits and lush ferns.
Crossing the log bridges in the damper sections, look out for amphibians like red efts and salamanders. June is a wonderful time to come, when the mountain laurel is in bloom, while the fall foliage is always a treat.
In Leicester you’re moments away from the second most populous city in New England, noted for its greenery, youthful population and social progressivism.
Worcester has a big footprint, with scores of natural spaces and parks interspersed with nine college campuses and diffuse population centers.
Downtown Worcester has bounced back in a big way over the last few decades and is home to cultural and entertainment institutions like the world-class Worcester Art Museum, and the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.
The most happening place in the city has to be Shrewsbury Street on the Eastside, held among the best food districts in New England, complemented by live entertainment and a vibrant events calendar.
There’s nightlife aplenty in the Canal District, at the head of the Blackstone Canal, which spurred Worcester’s development in the 19th century.
5. The Cascades
Leicester is on the edge of an extensive green corridor, made up of a chain of reservations managed by the Greater Worcester Land Trust (GWLT).
There are five contiguous parcels of land at The Cascades, crossing portions of Paxton, Holden and Worcester. If you want you can start close by at Boynton Park and walk for miles through the woods, almost forgetting you’re in the suburbs.
There are streams and vernal pools rich with life, as well as a beautiful meadow. The best part is Cascading Waters at the eastern end, where Cascades Brook tumbles 60 feet down a steep, rocky slope. This waterfall is at its best after a spell of rain, but is worth seeing at any time of year.
6. Hot Dog Annie’s
At the time of writing, this hot dog stand at 244 Paxton Street was coming up for 70 years old.
The mark of a great fast food spot is simplicity in its menu, and that is exactly what you get at Hot Dog Annie’s, where the choice is simply hot dogs, burgers, old-time cream soda and root beer, and chocolate milk.
You have to order your dog with BBQ sauce, which is homemade with a secret recipe. Bordering the parking lot there’s a welcoming outdoor dining area, with picnic tables, flowers in barrel planters, and plentiful shade from the trees. Stop by on a Wednesday when you can get 4 hot dogs for a discount.
7. Disc Golf
Along Marshall Street in Leicester there’s a pair of highly-rated disc golf courses in close proximity.
Open all year, except when there’s snow, Maple Hill (132 Marshall St) is a technical championship course, laid out on a variety of habitats, including open fields, woods, and ponds.
This track dates back to 2002 and has four sets of baskets. A stone’s throw away you’ve Pyramid (103 Marshall St), which has 18 holes, mostly in the woods, although the fairways are relatively open.
With two sets of baskets, Pyramids dates back to 1988, and is renowned for its excellent store, also known as the Marshall Street Disc Golf Pro Shop.
8. Cooper’s Hilltop Farm
Going back to 1918 this fourth generation dairy farm rests atop a verdant hill in Leicester’s Rochdale section. In its first few decades Cooper’s Hilltop Farm was dedicated to wholesale and delivery, and eventually opened its store to the public in the 1950s.
This is in a gambrel-roofed barn, constructed in the 1930s as a facility for the farm to pasteurize its milk. Milk continues to be the staple here, and is still pasteurized and homogenized right behind the store.
You can get whole, low-fat and skim milk, as well as flavored milks and light and heavy cream. The farm also sells its own bread, eggs, and pasture-raised meats, including beef, pork and chicken, along with a slew of locally made artisanal products, from pastries to gourmet cheeses.
9. Leicester Country Club
Praised as one of the best public courses in the Worcester area, Leicester Country Club has made a lot of improvements in the last few years, including improving drainage to ensure better playing conditions.
There’s real variety to the challenges at this track, and you’ll need to use every club in the bag. One remarkable hole is the 8th, a short par 4, with a dogleg right, a creek, and a tricky uphill approach shot.
The signature is the par 3 17th, playing uphill along a tight, tree-lined fairway to a green guarded by bunkers. After your game you can recharge your batteries at Grille 19 serving sandwiches, wraps, burgers, salads and shareable appetizers like wings and chicken tenders.
10. Sargent Pond
Directly east of Leicester Country Club there’s a scenic pond that can be reached on foot down the slope from the center of town.
Something special about Sargent Pond is how little of the shoreline has been developed. The southern shore is edged by lakefront homes, but the northern half has nothing but unspoiled woodlands.
There are two places where you can launch a boat on the pond—at the northern tip of Lake Avenue, and behind the Castle Cantina on Main Street.
Close by, on the southern shore is the Rawson Broom Burial Ground, where you’ll find the final resting place of Colonel William Henshaw (1735-1820).
In a meeting of the Committee of Safety in 1774 he called for “…companies of the men ready to march upon a minute’s notice”, which is the origin of the term, Minutemen.
11. Rochdale Park
This lovely public park can be found in Leicester’s southern Rochdale section. What stands out about Rochdale Park is its location, on the shore of a pond, with pleasing views, and glimpses of wildlife including waterfowl, herons, turtles and muskrats.
The park is also a place for active recreation, with a fenced skate park, basketball court, a volleyball court, and a baseball diamond used by competitive leagues. Activities like swimming and fishing are not permitted at this pond.
12. Cotyledon Farm
On a mosaic of forest, meadows, wetlands, pasture and arable land, Cotyledon Farm is a small-scale, organic vegetable and herb farm.
This is a progressive, community-oriented place, offering work shares, work trades, internships, regular volunteer work days, and a variety of special project work days.
As well as providing a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, Cotyledon Farm maintains a roadside farm fridge.
Call ahead to find out what’s in stock, whether it’s the farm’s seasonal fruits and vegetables, local ice cream, local meat, eggs from the farm’s own chickens, or other delicious local products.
13. Tatnuck Driving Range
Close to those disc golf courses on Marshall Street there’s a golf attraction combining a lineup of practice facilities.
The centerpiece is a 250+ yard driving range, with a mix of grass and artificial hitting stations, as well as sand traps around the greens. There’s also a short range, with flags at 30 to 60 yards, perfect for working on your approach play.
Families will be thrilled with the 18-hole mini golf course, which is designed to test your putting skills, with holes up to 50 feet in length.
Finally, there’s an ice cream stand, serving more than 30 flavors of Gifford’s Ice Cream, along with jumbo Kayem hot dogs.
14. Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary
On the town line with Spencer is Burncoat Pond, which was once home to Leicester’s town beach. Now the western portion of the lake is part of a Massachusetts Audubon Society wildlife sanctuary.
This property is on almost 250 acres, but is one element in a cluster of conservation areas, so you can spend several hours exploring the landscape, or continue through Spencer on the Midstate Trail.
Around Burncoat Pond you’ll enter pine-oak woodlands, cross streams and travel along the edge of wildlife-rich wetlands. In late spring the scenery is magnificent, when the mountain laurel is in bloom.
There’s also a grand view of the pond from Richard’s Overlook, a giant boulder on the Flat Rock Trail.
15. Leicester Harvest Fair
Traditionally taking place on the 3rd Saturday in September, this heartwarming annual event is held on the Town Common.
Marking the start of Fall the Leicester Harvest Fair is a free event featuring a wide assortment of exhibitors and demonstrators, comprising live music and family-friendly games, as well as a walking tour of the town common.
There are booths for everything from baked goods to textiles, eggs, home brews, photography, flower arrangement, and homegrown vegetables. In previous editions there’s also been an open house at the Swan Tavern, with an art show inside.