This rural city of 12,500 is on the eastern edge of the Pioneer Valley, where the Quaboag and Ware rivers meet to form the Chicopee River.
In its past, Palmer was known as the Town of Seven Railroads, and although active lines run through the town, no train has stopped at the once busy Union Station since 1971.
This magnificent Richardsonian Romanesque structure from 1884 has become a train-themed family restaurant, with a stately interior, and wonderful railroad artifacts out in the yard.
Palmer has one of the best public libraries in Western Massachusetts, with an entire room dedicated to the city’s 19th-century railroad history.
1. Steaming Tender
If there’s one thing that brings people to Palmer from across the region, it’s this family restaurant housed in the beautiful Palmer Railroad Station (Union Station).
At a major junction, this iconic building was designed by H. H. Richardson in his signature Romanesque Revival style, consolidating two stations.
The station opened in 1884, and was originally set in grounds that were laid out by Richardson’s great collaborator, Frederick Law Olmsted, famous for New York’s Central Park.
Everything about Steaming Tender is steeped in railroad heritage, from the trains clattering past along the active lines, to the rolling stock on display at the restaurant’s outdoor museum, and an interior harking back to the golden days of rail travel.
The menu here is hearty New England fare, like a braised pot roast, Maine lobster roll, fried haddock, lobster mac & cheese, jumbo scallops, New York sirloin strip, and a comforting half-pound cheeseburger.
2. Palmer Public Library
For many, Palmer’s Public Library is up there with the best in Western Massachusetts. Located at 1455 N Main St, the library was originally in the historic Palmer Memorial Hall (1890), designed by New York architect R. H. Robertson in the Romanesque Revival style.
As well as providing a huge array of services, programs and collections for residents and visitors, Palmer Public Library has individual rooms concentrating on aspects of local history.
One is the Railroad Research Center, filled with books, photographs and memorabilia documenting Palmer’s rich railroad heritage.
On a broader level, the Quaboag Valley Historical Center on the third floor is loaded with books, photos, maps and many other documents telling the story of Palmer and its surrounding towns.
3. Yankee Flea Market
We’ll see that there’s a big concentration of antiques markets in Palmer and nearby communities.
The largest of all of these is the Yankee Flea Market, which is on an impressive scale, with more than 200 vendor booths, over more than 16,000 square feet.
Up to 35 of those vendors visit the market every day to update their stock, while check-out is convenient thanks to top-of-the-line computer registers.
For an idea of what you might find, think seasonal decorations, paintings, furniture, vintage signs, clocks, jewelry, vinyl, antique license plates, mirrors, lighting, dolls, figurines, and much more than we could list here.
4. Alvin Rondeau’s Dairy Bar
Like any self-respecting Massachusetts town, Palmer has a long-running ice cream stand, offering delicious homemade ice cream along with bites like hot dogs, fried clams, sandwiches and more.
Alvin Rondeau’s Dairy Bar also happens to be one of the oldest in the region, having been founded by the grandfather of the current owner in 1940. Greeting you in front is Alvina, a life size plastic model cow surrounded by a picket fence.
The ice cream is made fresh by Mike Rondeau, and a couple of must-tries are Monkeybutt (banana ice cream with brownies, walnuts and a chocolate swirl), and orange pineapple.
5. Midura Conservation Area
In a quiet part of eastern Palmer, near the bank of the Quaboag River, there’s a welcoming 222 acres of nature, open for hiking, dog walking, nature study, photography, hunting (with permits), and activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in winter.
There are lots of interesting things about this area of meadows and mixed woodlands. One is the Old McMaster Road, which cuts across the property for about 1 ½ miles.
This route was drawn up by the city as long ago as 1754, extending from Old Warren Street to Boston Road.
6. Burleigh Park
This attractive park is in a sparsely populated part of the city, and features a mix of recreational facilities and woods for hiking, biking and picnics.
Burleigh Park is on 160 acres, and is traced to the north by a trail, almost a mile long and connecting Center St in the west with Old Warren Rd in the east.
Sports amenities here include five baseball fields, two soccer fields and 12 horseshoe pits. You can explore the remainder of the property on five different trails, served by a trail kiosk with maps and other info.
7. Depot Park
This pocket park in the heart of Depot Village is inspired by Palmer’s captivating railroad history.
Bordered by lawns, the paths here converge at a small plaza, with flower beds and benches. This is a great place to bring a bite on a warm day, but is also the venue for outdoor events all year round.
Light Up Palmer, the city’s holiday lighting celebration, kicks off here. In the summer the city’s recreation department organizes a season of outdoor concerts at the depot themed gazebo here, taking place on Wednesday evenings through mid-August.
8. Palmer Antiques Co-Op
In Palmer and neighboring towns you could devote a whole day to nothing but antiques shopping.
A great starting point is the Palmer Antiques Co-Op at 1249 S Main St, where you’ll find more than 100 dealers in a clean, well-lit space.
Take your time here to browse for furniture, musical instruments, kitchenware, all kinds of ephemera, outdoor ornaments, toys, historic tools, jewelry, baseball cards, and a trove of newly crafted home decor.
The co-op’s inventory can change by the week, so it’s a good idea to make regular visits for fresh finds.
9. Endelson Playground
In a pretty location by the Swift River in Bondsville there’s a well-trafficked playground with a range of amenities.
The big one in the summer is the splash pad, giving kids the chance to cool off and burn some energy on hot summer days.
Next to these sprays, jets and tipping buckets are play structures for younger and older children, complete with several interactive stations.
Parents can rest up at one of the picnic tables surrounded by landscaping, while at the south end there’s a basketball court.
10. Palmer Historical and Cultural Center
There’s a vibrant cultural center in Palmer, housed in a fine old church building. The Palmer Historical and Cultural Center is in the old Union Evangelical Church, constructed in the Greek Revival style in the 1830s.
The main space inside is the 160-capacity Harmony Hall, which hosts an exciting schedule of live music performances, movie screenings, lectures, and a ton of other cultural events.
There’s also the Villages Room for more intimate events and gatherings. When we wrote this article there were plans to add a museum space shining a light on local history. The center can be rented for a range of private events, from weddings to meetings and showers.
11. Pulaski Park Picnic Shelter
The village of Three Rivers in the west of Palmer has the unofficial title of Polka Capital of New England. This has a lot to do with a wave of immigration in the late 19th century and early 20th century, giving the area a strong Polish character.
To this day, the picnic pavilion at Pulaski Park is a regional hub for traditional Polka music, with a whole season of “Polka Picnics” on Sunday afternoons.
With an admission charge, these events are soundtracked by some of the top Polka bands from the northeast, and include Polish bites like pierogi and kielbasa, and classic car cruises.
12. Silver Bell Farm
Moments away in Monson there’s a working farm in a bucolic landscape, opening to the public for seasonal events.
For instance, in October you’ve got Fall Festivities, with tractor-pulled wagon rides, barrel trail rides, friendly goats to feed, a bounce house, and a kids’ scavenger hunt.
These activities are complemented by the farm store and produce stand, selling a wide range of pumpkins, as well as homemade apple cider donuts, fresh roasted coffee, hot apple cider and much more.
Come in the holiday season for fresh-cut fraser fir and balsam fir trees, visits with Santa, handmade Christmas decorations, and cups of hot chocolate.
13. Crane Hill Disc Golf Course
Over the town line in Wilbraham there’s a disc golf course that attracts players from across New England.
Laid out in 2008, Crane Hill Disc Golf Course has a variety of challenges, in a mix of woodland, open fields and even a section of rocky gorge.
The course is maintained by the Town of Wilbraham, and is open to all, with no fee and no tee time required.
Depending on your level, there are A and B pin positions on every hole, and even though there’s gorgeous mature woodland scenery all around, it never interferes with your shot—as long as you’re accurate.
14. Keep Homestead Museum
Another compelling attraction nearby in Monson is an historic house museum, open to the public from April to the start of December.
The Keep Homestead dates back to the mid-18th century and was extended and remodeled over the next 100 years, gaining its current appearance with an update in 1863.
The Keep family first moved here in 1854, and remained until Myra Keep Lovell Moulton (d. 1988) passed away and deeded the house and its fantastic collections to the town.
Among that inventory is one of the largest single collections of antique and vintage buttons in the United States. Only a small portion of the collection can be shown at one time, so the display rotates frequently.
The homestead is on more than 70 acres, comprising farmland, a pond, and a small granite quarry, which has become an official vernal pool.
15. Palmer Motorsports Park
Posted in the densely forested hills in the very northeast of Palmer there’s a beautiful 2.3-mile road course, used by a slew of sports car and motorcycle clubs during a season that runs from April through October.
The winding track is set on Whiskey Hill Mountain, with an elevation differential of more than 500 feet. Palmer Motorsports Park is run by a private club, but members of the public wanting to experience the track have a few options.
One is an Arrive & Drive experience, in which you’ll take to the track in a racecar in the company of a qualified instructor.
There are also Open Track Lapping Days when you’ll get to learn the fundamentals of race car driving, and Ride-Alongs, in which you’ll be in the passenger seat while an experienced race car makes high speed laps.