East of Fitchburg in Worcester County, Lunenburg is a town of 12,000 with a distinct rural character and huge swaths of conservation land to discover.
The town was incorporated in 1728, and was largely untouched by the Industrial Revolution, depending on agrarian farming until well into the 20th century.
If you’re wondering about the name, Lunenburg comes from Brunswick-Lüneburg, a German dukedom of King George II (1683-1760), who was in power when the town was founded.
One of New England’s earliest trolley parks, Whalom Park was a popular day out in Lunenburg, from the late 19th century to 2000.
A beloved holdover from that time can be found at the Drawbridge Puppet Theater, which puts on shows every weekend.
1. Lunenburg Historic District
On the National Register of Historic Places since 1988, the old administrative center of Lunenburg dates back 300 years.
Sitting on high ground, and Including a small triangular common, the historic district is particularly interesting because three of its most significant buildings date from before 1850.
As well as the Methodist Church (1844) and Congregational Church (1835), you’ve got the Greek Revival Town Hall, which you may be able to tell was also a former church (Unitarian), constructed in 1841 and converted in 1867.
Several of Lunenburg’s oldest buildings are in the vicinity, like the Stillman-Stone House (1730), and the Cushing House (1724). There’s a dainty bandstand on the common, normally hosting weekly outdoor concerts in July.
2. Drawbridge Puppet Theater
This beloved local institution has its roots in Whalom Park (1893-2000), a defunct amusement park on the shores of Lunenburg’s Lake Whalom.
The entertainment director Paul L’Ecuyer (d. 2012) created his own puppets for shows at the park, and these were popular with children and grownups alike.
He founded Drawbridge Puppet Theater with musician Jeff Koslik in 1991, and the group moved to a whimsical permanent home on Massachusetts Avenue in 2005.
Every weekend there are live performances featuring handmade puppets, props and backdrops, with a production list that encompasses some two dozen shows.
The theater also performs traveling shows, organizes puppet workshops and caters to children’s birthday parties.
3. Lane Conservation Area and Town Forest
What’s special about Lunenburg is just how much of the town’s countryside is open to the public.
This is especially true in the north of the town, where there’s a set of contiguous conservation properties allowing you to walk for miles and see few signs of civilization.
The Lane Conservation Area and the Large and Small Town Forest lands sit to the west and northwest of Hickory Hills Lake touching the town line with Townsend.
Starting at the parking lot off Holman Street you can embark on a 4.2 mile loop leading through the woods and crossing the pristine Mulpus Brook on your way. If you’re feeling adventurous there will be plenty of unmarked side trails to explore during your hike.
4. Fitchburg Art Museum (FAM)
A few minutes away in Fitchburg there’s a regional art museum founded in 1925. The Fitchburg Art Museum’s initial benefactor was the artist and avid collector Eleanor Norcross (1854-1923), who was born and died in Fitchburg but spent much of her life in Paris.
The building was one of the first major projects for Massachusetts architect Mary Almy (1883-1967), and later additions have created a complex of four interconnected structures.
Highlights in the collection include African art, American photography and Ancient Egyptian art, while there’s an important annual survey show, presenting the recent work by artists from around New England.
5. Lanni Orchards
In the same family since 1963, this local farm in Lunenburg is unusual for having a farmstand that is open all year round.
When summer comes around, you can visit Lanni Orchards to pick your own fruits, among them strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, plums, nectarines, pears, blackberries, apples and pumpkins.
The farm also grows a host of vegetables, available fresh at the store, from cauliflower to kale.
There’s a bakery too, making apple cider donuts, turnovers, cakes, and a variety of pies to order. On weekends, you can bring children to burn off some energy at Playland, which has a hay pyramid, jumping pillow, and all sorts of other farm-style fun.
6. Lunenburg Historical Society
A good time to be in Lunenburg’s historic district is on a Wednesday morning (or a Sunday afternoon in summer), when you can dig deeper into the town’s past at the local historical society.
The collections are enormous, but a point of special interest is Whalom Park, the trolley park on Lake Whalom that brought visitors to Lunenburg for more than a century.
There’s a trove of historic photographs, and you can find out more about many topics, from 19th-century mills to the town’s natural history, local clubs and organizations, and the tumultuous days of King George’s War (1744-1748).
7. Cowdrey Nature Center
Southeast of Hickory Hills Lake there’s another inviting town-owned conservation property, with a web of trails on the banks of Mulpus Brook.
Starting from the parking lot along Massachusetts Avenue, you’ll venture into 300 acres of woods, wetlands and open fields.
The terrain is flat, so this is a good place for families with younger children, and you stand a good chance of seeing muskrats or beavers along the brook.
A wonderful time to visit the Cowdrey Nature Center is late in the day, with the sun glinting off the river and freshwater marshes. As always, it’s good to take precautions against biting insects.
8. Lakeview Driving Range
This golf center near Lunenburg’s Lake Whalom first opened in 1951, and has been owned and operated by the same family since 1971.
The main attraction is the 250-yard driving range, offering both astroturf and grass tees, numerous targets, a putting green and a sand trap.
For families and anyone who wants to work on their putting there’s also an 18-hole miniature golf course, in lovely gardens with more than 300 bushes, shrubs and trees, as well as streams, ponds and waterfalls.
Added more recently is a three-unit batting range, differing from a cage because you’ll hit the balls out into an open field, more than 300 yards in length.
9. Lunenburg Farmers’ Market
If you’re in Lunenburg’s historic center on a Sunday in summer, there’s a farmers’ market on the lawn of the Ritter Memorial Library building.
The market takes place on Sunday mornings June through October, and is well-attended by local farms selling freshly harvested fruit and vegetables, pasture-raised meats, breads, sweet treats, honey, syrups, jams, and tons more.
There’s also a big contingent of craft vendors, offering handmade candles, jewelry, pottery, crochet/knitted items, carved wood, and a range of home decorations.
10. Cherry Hill Ice Cream
An offshoot of Cherry Hill Farm, which dates back more than a 100 years, this treasured seasonal ice cream stand first opened in the 1990s.
Now part of a mini-chain with a second location in Townsend, Cherry Hill Ice Cream is often rated as some of the best in the Boston area.
Part of the joy of this place is its location, embedded into a green hillside on the quiet Leominster Road.
There’s an assortment of unique flavors on the menu, from Black Raspberry Oreo to Brownie Batter, Graham Cracker Crunch, S’mores, and Coconut Cheesecake Brownie.
You can also choose from a range of sorbets, sherberts, and frozen yogurt flavors, as well as sugar-free and new vegan flavors.
11. Dick’s Market Gardens
On the historic Northfield Road, close to Lanni Orchards is another farm growing a wealth of fruits and vegetables.
On more than 260 acres, Dick’s Market Gardens has been in business since 1944 and is a mainstay at more than a dozen farmers’ markets in the area.
In season, the farmstand sells a constantly changing variety of produce, from cucumbers to corn, along with greenhouse-grown plants and flowers.
Almost everything sold at the store comes directly from the farm, and even the honey is extracted from hives in the orchard.
12. Settlers Crossing Golf Course
Something interesting about this regulation 9-hole golf course in Lunenburg is that it is crossed by Northfield Road.
In the first half of the 18th century this was the route taken by worshippers making the six-mile trip from what is now Fitchburg to the meetinghouse in Lunenburg, before becoming its own town. That is where the name, Settlers Crossing comes from.
The course is a delight, with vistas southwest towards Mount Wachusett and northwest to the Monadnocks, together with tree-bordered fairways and stone walls harking back to when this was all farmland.
The clubhouse is also worthy of mention, in a First Period farmhouse constructed at the turn of the 18th century.
13. Jeffrey’s Antique Co-Op Mall
If your idea of fun is searching for one–of-a-kind antiques, there’s a large multi-dealer mall right here in Lunenburg.
In one spacious building and arranged in neat aisles, Jeffrey’s Antique Co-Op Mall has up to 150 vendors.
You can browse furniture, fine art, pottery, lighting, cookware, historic home appliances, jewelry, dolls, toys, old signs, primitives, collectibles, vintage clothing, tools, LPs, contemporary crafts, and much more besides.
The mall’s stock tends to change quickly, so there are always new discoveries to be made.
14. Pearl Hill State Park
To go with all that conservation land in the north of Lunenburg there’s a big expanse of publicly-owned parkland and forest, mostly in Townsend, but also overlapping into Ashby.
Counting Pearly Hill State Park and the adjacent Willard Brook State Forest, you’ll have more than 3,000 acres of woods to explore.
There’s striking natural beauty in the very north at Trap Falls, and three campgrounds to choose from. Pearl Hill alone has more than 50 sites, all beneath a spectacular pine canopy and with a five-acre pond and accompanying beach area.
15. Robbs Hill Conservation Area
Just in from the northeastern shore of Lake Shirley there’s another attractive place to go for a walk.
The town-owned Robbs Hill Conservation Area has parking areas along Robbs Hill Road in the south and Burrage Street in the north, giving access to a tangle of blazed woodland trails, with sections of boardwalk over the extensive wetland areas in the southern parts of the property.
Something to love about Robbs Hill is that the trails connect with adjoining conservation land to the east, extending across several hundred acres in the neighboring town of Shirley.