Just past the halfway point between Boston and Providence, Mansfield is an affluent town of 24,000 people in Bristol County.
For a community of modest size, Mansfield has a lively downtown area, with restaurants and locally-owned stores tracing a long strip of North Main Street.
For many people, the name “Mansfield” is a byword for the giant live music amphitheater, Xfinity Center, which welcomes top artists playing stadium-size shows in the summer months.
Mansfield’s conservation commission takes care of some remote parcels of land around the town for hiking and mountain biking trips without wandering too far from civilization.
1. Mansfield Center
Bookended by north and south commons, Mansfield’s commercial district sits along N Main Street which is lined for several hundred feet by local small businesses.
If you come with an appetite you’ll have to choose from a whole spectrum of eateries, for pub fare, Chinese, Italian, Breakfast food, bagels, and pizza, with three different spots for the latter.
In between you’ll happen upon boutiques, a florist, a gift shop, a sports merchandise store, homewares stores, and a roster of thriving service businesses, from a barber to a dog grooming salon.
By the south end, Fulton Pond is a local beauty spot, hosting the annual Fall Festival, which we’ll talk about later.
2. Xfinity Center (Great Woods)
One of America’s top-grossing amphitheaters can be found in Mansfield, with a capacity of almost 20,000. Originally known as the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts, the Xfinity Center opened in 1986 with a concert by Yo-Yo Ma.
The venue was expanded in 1994 and was renovated in 2002, with 5,900 general admission seats, 7,000 reserved seats and 7,000 indoor seats.
We could write a whole article with a list of famous past performers, but a few of the big ones are The Who, Aerosmith, Depeche Mode, The Eagles, Pearl Jam, James Taylor, Rush, and finally Jimmy Buffet, who has played Great Woods more than 60 times.
3. World War II Veterans Memorial Trail
You can cut across a big slice of Mansfield on foot or by bike via this arrow-straight rail trail.
On the former right-of-way of the Old Colony Railroad (1883), the World War II Veterans Memorial Trail opened in 2004 and runs for 1.6 miles between Mansfield Municipal Airport in the south and Mansfield Center in the north.
Of course this is a useful way to travel between the airport and downtown area, but the trail shines because it passes through deep woods in remote corners of the town.
For almost the entirety of your walk you’ll never hear the sound of a car, much less see one. About halfway along the trail you can take a detour along the World War II Memorial Nature Trail, which follows a mile-long loop through a wooded property.
4. Flint Farm
From early to late fall, this working farm opens up to the public, selling an abundance of fresh produce and homemade goods. Flint Farm dates back to 1868 and is run by the fifth and sixth generations of Flints.
Above all, this is a fruit and vegetable farm, with a bounty of produce (20+ different varieties) available at the farm stand during the summer and fall.
There’s also a range of homemade or locally produced goods, like maple syrup and raw honey.
The other specialty is ice cream, with more than 50 flavors from Richardson’s Ice Cream in Middleton, MA. Fall is a great time to visit the farm with your family as there’s a giant corn maze, normally open mid-September through October.
5. Great Woods Conservation Area
For a walk in the woods, Mansfield’s Conservation Commission maintains several spaces around the town, and the largest of these is the Great Woods Conservation Area.
This is a sprawling patchwork of individual parcels, running from near Mansfield Crossing in the north to the boundary with Norton and TPC Boston in the south.
To prepare for your trip you can download a trail map from the town website. Unsurprising given the size of this property, there’s a fantastic assortment of natural features to discover at Great Woods, from reclaimed pasture to ponds, streams and swamp crossed by boardwalks.
Hidden in the woods are interesting pieces of history, like an old cemetery and stone walls left over from centuries-old farms.
6. Fisher-Richardson House
The town’s oldest house was built in the 1740s and has served as a history museum for almost a century.
Standing 1+1⁄2-stories tall, with a gambrel roof and six bays, the Fisher-Richardson House was enlarged at the turn of the 19th century, and then gained a few of its details in a Colonial Revival restoration after it was purchased by the town in 1930.
You can come to look around on Sundays during the summer, to admire interesting original features and workmanship like feather-edged paneling, early gun-stock posts and intricately decorated ceilings. Artifacts from the Mansfield Historical Society’s collections are also on show.
7. Mansfield Crossing
South of Mansfield Center off I-495 there’s an outdoor mall set on the shores of Woodside Pond, and looking a bit like a quaint New England town.
On the west side is a walkable area, with the likes of LOFT, L.L. Bean, American Eagle, The Paper Store and Yankee Candle, while east of the pond is more of a power center, home to Best Buy, Kohl’s, Petco, Dick’s Warehouse Sale and more.
Mansfield Crossing has plenty of dining options, among them Bertucci’s, TGI Friday’s, QDOBA, Sake and Omaha Steaks.
8. Fulton Pond (Rumford Ave Park)
A block west of Main Street in Mansfield Center there’s an attractive little park on the shores of Fulton Pond.
This body of water dates back to the 1830s when the Rumford River was dammed to power a cotton mill that stood on the eastern corner, where the entrance to the park is now.
Up to the middle of the 20th century there were also knife-making, laundry and ice-making operations at Fulton Pond.
The parking lot here is right on the water, and has pretty views over the pond at sunset. A trail traces the south side, and is fringed by a grassy space, scattered with mature trees.
9. Fall Festival
On the first Saturday in October, Fulton Pond and its beautiful foliage provide the ideal setting for Mansfield’s annual Fall Festival.
All afternoon there will be plenty for people of all ages to get excited about. You’ve got the Big Stage with a program of live performances, a beer garden, food court, paddle boat rides on the lake, a ferris wheel, yarn bombing and autumn landscape painting sessions.
Kids will be able to take pony rides, pet an alpaca, ride a “unicorn”, and take part in a host of activities at the craft booth.
10. Mansfield Common (South Common)
By the northern trailhead for the World War II Veterans Memorial Trail, the town’s old civic heart is towards the south end of Mansfield Center.
At this neat green space, framed by the Congregational Church (1866), the town hall (which was originally the high school) and the Old Town Cemetery, which has many burials predating the town’s incorporation in 1775.
On the east side of the common are a couple of cafes, and on a sunny day you could pick up something to enjoy in the greenery here. Look out for the signpost, pointing out the direction of the many other Mansfields in the United States and around the world.
On Wednesday evenings in July and August the bandstand is the venue for Mansfield’s summer concert series.
11. Mansfield Public Library
Accessible and smartly organized, the town’s public library is praised for the helpfulness of its staff, and for the breadth and diversity of its collections.
These are enhanced by being part of the SAILS Library Network, with 70 members in southeastern Massachusetts. Colorful and engaging, the children’s section is well sequestered from other areas, which is good news if you’re here for work or research.
The library also organizes a slew of events, clubs and classes for all ages and interests. People without a library card are free to come by to use many of the services, including computer workstations and Wi-Fi, with a guest pass.
12. Borderland State Park
Arriving more than 200 years ago, the Ames Family, historically one of the wealthiest in Massachusetts, has made a lasting impact on the neighboring town of Easton.
Mansfield Center is under ten minutes from the estate founded at the turn of the 20th century by Oakes Ames (1874-1950) and Blanche Ames Ames (1878-1969).
They were a fascinating couple, as Blanche was an accomplished artist, inventor and vociferous suffragist, while Oakes was a leading botanist at Harvard. Borderland State Park encompasses more than 1,800 acres, with 20 miles of trails in the woods for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
The disc golf course is regarded as one of the best in the region, and hosted the World Masters Flying Disc Championships in 1996.
13. Ames Mansion
Blanche Ames Ames had a hand in the design of the mansion at Borderland, which is a medley of Gothic Revival and Georgian Revival and was built in 1910.
The interior of Ames Mansion has been used as a shooting location for several Hollywood films, including Ghostbusters (2016) and Knives Out (2019).
Touring the mansion, you’ll get a clearer picture of the multitalented Blanche, who developed patents for farming, lumber-cutting and air warfare. Tours are provided by the DCR (first floor), and the Friends of Borderland, which offers an in-depth three-floor tour on select Sundays.
14. F. Gilbert Hills State Forest
Little more than five minutes from Mansfield Center there’s a state forest composed of more than 1,000 acres of pine-oak woods.
This rocky environment, with some imposing boulders and formations, is a hit with mountain bikers for its 23 miles of trails.
According to the New England Mountain Bike Association (NEMBA), these trails are evenly weighted between Easy, Moderate and Difficult, generally suiting people who want speed over technicality.
Part of the trail network in F. Gilbert Hills is a section of the Warner Trail, which runs for 30 miles from Diamond Hill in Cumberland, RI, to Canton.
15. Flannel Cow Creamery
This independent ice cream shop in Mansfield Center stands out for being the only spot in town to serve its own homemade ice cream.
Flannel Cow Creamery has developed its techniques and recipes after taking courses at the Frozen Dessert Institute in Wisconsin and the Penn State Creamery.
There are more than two dozen hard ice cream varieties to choose from, but you could start with one of the six Signature Flavors.
Among these are The Flannel (strawberry with Oreo), Triple Threat (chocolate with brownie pieces and chocolate chips), and the indulgent Dirty Dough, which is chocolate ice cream laced with peanut butter swirls, cookie dough and chocolate chips.
There’s also a range of sundaes and other frozen treats, and in summer you can enjoy your ice cream at one of the shaded picnic tables outside.