The town was first settled by Europeans in the 1640s, and on Main Street there’s a superb example of First Period architecture at Peak House, which has recently become a heritage center for the town.
For well over a century from 1801, Medfield’s biggest employer was the second-largest straw hat manufacturer in the United States, and you can find out more at the local historical society in summer.
Another great thing going for the town is its boundless natural scenery. Thousands of acres are in the care of conservation organizations like the Trustees of Reservations, and you could hike up to lofty ledges on the Charles River, or survey a big swath of Greater Boston from Noon Hill.
1. Medfield State Hospital
The most emblematic place in Medfield is the sprawling, 300-acre campus of the old Medfield State Hospital.
This facility was established as the Medfield Insane Asylum in 1892, and the elegant campus, resembling a college, took shape over the next 20 years.
By the 21st century the hospital had become too expensive to run, and was purchased by the Town of Medfield in the early 2000s.
With most of its abandoned turn-of-the-century architecture still standing (though closed to the public), this is an enthralling place to explore on foot.
It’s easy to see why several Hollywood productions have chosen the property as a shooting location, among them Scorcese’s Shutter Island in 2008.
Today, Medfield has big plans for the campus, and the Bellforge Arts Center puts on a packed program of outdoor events on the main green in the summer.
2. Noon Hill
Medfield has a rare abundance of beautiful natural locations, and the standout is this 370-foot hill in a wooded 200-acre reservation next to the Charles River.
Noon Hill is one element in a patchwork of preserves and town-owned conservation areas, and you can reach the summit on a trail weaving through woods of pine, hemlock, birch and beech, with wildflowers on the forest floor in the spring and summer.
At the top you’ll be wowed by the views opening up to the south across, Walpole, Norfolk and Foxborough, with Gillette Stadium—home of the New England Patriots—rising over the treeline.
3. Medfield Center
Downtown Medfield is protected as an historic district, and has a few of the town’s listings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Beyond that, Medfield Center is a leafy and vibrant hub for the town, with a good choice of places to eat and drink, along with local institutions like the Medfield Historical Society and the Zullo Gallery – Center for the Arts.
Among the buildings to check out are the Town Hall from 1872, the First Baptist Church (1822), and the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, which dates to 1789 and is on the site of Medfield’s first meetinghouse, from 1660.
One curiosity close by is the studio where renowned landscape painter George Inness (1825-1894) worked in the 1860s, located at 406 Main Street and now a private residence.
4. Peak House
Since 2019 this historic First Period house at 347 Main St has been turned into a heritage center for Medfield.
The first Peak House was built in 1651 but burned during the King Philip’s War (1675-1676). The current building is in fact an ell that once adjoined the reconstructed house, and has been dated to 1711.
Among the remarkable details are an unusually steep roof, and panes of leaded glass that were manufactured in England more than 300 years ago.
Peak House is open on Saturdays in summer, hosting self-guided tours and interactive displays. When we compiled this article, there were plans to plant a Colonial-style vegetable garden on the grounds.
5. Medfield Historical Society
The town’s historical society, founded in 1891, is headquartered downtown in a little Georgian Revival building at 6 Pleasant St, behind the library. Dating back to 1922, this is a former bank building, and was purchased by the town in 1968.
If you want to know more about Medfield’s story you can drop in on the first and third Saturday of the month.
The Medfield Historical Society has extensive collections for various aspects of the town’s past, including the straw hat industry, which powered the local economy for more than 150 years.
There are medical artifacts relating to Medfield State Hospital, centuries of tools and gadgets, and an assortment of preserved 19th-century maps.
6. Zullo Gallery – Center for the Arts
A cultural mainstay for downtown Medfield, the Zullo Gallery is a non-profit, volunteer-led arts organization that has been around since 1988.
The center has hosted close to 200 art exhibitions in that time, featuring work by members of preeminent groups like The Boston Printmakers, The New England Watercolor Society, and The Copley Society of Boston.
This is also a place for educational programs, with classes for all ages and levels, as well as live performances. The exhibition season kicks off in September with an annual juried show, open to all artists.
7. Rocky Woods
The craggy granite hills in northeastern Medfield have been left undeveloped, and are protected by a couple of Trustees of Reservations preserves.
The larger of these is Rocky Woods, spread across almost 500 acres and containing rocky hilltops, knolls, ponds, impressive outcroppings, a former quarry site, boulder caves, and tight ravines.
A prominent summit here is Cedar Hill, which you can scale for vistas that stretch out for miles over the woods.
If you’re up for an adventure you can hike the Mine Hill Loop, which curls around the 420-foot Mine Hill Ridge. During weekends and holidays between Memorial Day weekend and Columbus Day there are 15 campsites available in Rocky Woods.
8. Vine Lake Cemetery
Medfield’s only public burying ground has a history that can be traced back to 1651. This makes Vine Lake Cemetery a kind of outdoor museum, comprising a stark Colonial burying ground, a sprawling rural cemetery in the style of the 1800s and a modern cemetery laid out in the 20th century.
The oldest marker with a legible date is from 1661, and if you’re curious you can track down the graves of some Medfield notables, including the artist, John Austin Sands Monks (1849-1917).
The Medfield Historical Society has published a free mobile app to help you get the most out of this intriguing place.
9. Rocky Narrows
When this parcel of land on the Charles River was deeded to the Trustees of Reservations by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. in 1897, it became the Trustees’ first reservation.
Rocky Narrows is a marvelous space, with walls of rock 50 feet high and dating back to the Cryogenian, 650 million years ago.
A long trail system on these 270+ acres brings you through coniferous and hardwood forest on sharp inclines.
You can hike to two majestic vantage points, at the Rocky Narrows Overlook, and further south in Sherborn Town Forest at King Philip’s Overlook, where you can look back over Medfield and Millis.
10. 7th Wave Brewing
Hiding in an industrial park in the west of Medfield there’s an unusual craft brewery, open Friday to Sunday.
A member of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston, 7th Wave Brewing stands out for being one of the few breweries in New England to use solar power.
The marquee beers here are IPAs like Adventures in Dankness, WHDEJA VU and Lunar Sunrise, but there were a variety of other brews on tap, including a Pilsner, Lager, Porter, Stout and Fruited Sour, when we put this list together.
The brewery also makes its own wood-fired pizza, in the traditional Neapolitan style, made with a two-day biga, for a soft, chewy crust.
11. Gazebo Players of Medfield
Established in 2001, this theater group started out when a keen actor stumbled upon a director working on a production plan for a Tennessee Williams play, in the unlikely setting of King Philip’s Overlook by the Charles River.
For more than 20 years since then, the Gazebo Players of Medfield have put on summer productions of Shakespeare plays, in Medfield and neighboring communities like Walpole.
The local venue in the last few years has been Medfield State Hospital, and recent productions include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, All’s Well that Ends Well, Hamlet and Julius Caesar.
12. Fork Factory Brook Reservation
This Trustees of Reservations property in northeastern Medfield takes its name from a prosperous pitchfork mill that was based here in the 19th century.
Fork Factory Brook Reservation is on just over 130 acres and has an interesting variety of landscapes, including upland woods, wetlands, and the hayfields of Long Acre Farm, which have an agricultural history going back more than three centuries.
Most compelling on these 1.5 miles of trails is the site of the old pitchfork factory, where the foundations are still clearly visible.
13. Shattuck Reservation
The Trustees of Reservations also manages this tract of woodland, on the Charles River and contiguous with the Noon Hill Reservation.
There’s a trail extension across Causeway St connecting the two properties. You would hardly know it today, but until the 20th century this riverside landscape was cleared for pasture, evidenced by the telltale crisscrossing stone walls, dating back at least 200 years.
The reservation is composed of upland mixed oak and pine woods, with lower portions comprising red maple swamp and wet meadow.
14. Medfield Rhododendron Reservation
A worthwhile detour near Noon Hill, this small Trustees of Reservations property on Woodridge Road conserves a rare stand of great laurel or rosebay rhododendrons.
Abundant in the southern Appalachian Mountains, this species—one of only three rhododendron species native to North America—is almost nonexistent in New England.
That scarcity is partly due to overcollection in the early 20th century, when the plant became fashionable in gardens. The rhododendrons are contained by a fence to keep deer out, and are normally in bloom from mid-July.
15. Summer Sounds Festival
The Bellforge Arts Center is responsible for a host of public arts events all year round, from concerts to live comedy, poetry readings, children’s entertainment, dance, drama, and seasonal festivals.
One to mark in the diary is the Summer Sounds Festival, held on the grounds of the Medfield State Hospital in late June.
This day-long event is a showcase for up-and-coming local talent in a diversity of genres. The festival is free, although registration is encouraged, while food trucks and drinks vendors will be on hand.