15 Best Things to Do in Spencer (MA)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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This town a few miles west of Worcester in Central Massachusetts was permanently settled some 300 years ago, but rose to prominence as a mill town in the 19th century driven by the wire and boot-making industries.

Spencer’s rolling countryside is full of interesting fragments of large and small industry, with many man-made ponds that once powered mills, while Spencer State Forest is on the estate and birthplace of Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine.

Spencer’s greatest asset is its many acres of unspoiled woodlands, meadows, ponds, and wetlands, protected by town-owned conservation areas, the state forest and Mass Audubon’s Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.

Many of these spaces are connected by the Midstate Trail, weaving through the town on its 92-mile route through Worcester County.

1. Saint Joseph’s Abbey

Saint Joseph’s AbbeySource: BostonPhotoSphere / Flickr | CC BY-ND
Saint Joseph’s Abbey

Resting on a wooded hillside in the remote north of Spencer there’s a Trappist monastery established in 1950.

Saint Joseph’s Abbey can trace its roots back to a community of monks that arrived at Tracadie, Nova Scotia in 1825, moving to Rhode Island in 1900, and then to Spencer after a fire.

Several portions of the Cistercian-style abbey are open to the public, including the guest chapel where services and prayer take place for Lauds, Mass, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.

There’s also a gift shop selling a variety of artisanal goods made by the monks. Until recently the abbey produced Trappist beer, but the highlights today are fruit preserves, honey and high-quality liturgical vestments.

2. Spencer State Forest

Spencer State ForestSource: Belia Koziak / shutterstock
Spencer State Forest

This Massachusetts state forest is on three separate sections, spread across more than 900 acres in Spencer.

The largest and most noteworthy of these is a couple of minutes south of Spencer’s center, on the idyllic former estate of the inventor Elias Howe (1819-1867), remembered for designing the modern sewing machine.

There’s a fieldstone monument marking Spencer’s birthplace, and the original stone doorsteps have been preserved.

The park has a web of trails through woods and across streams, while Howe Pond is extremely pretty, and has a cascading spillway at the north end with a picnic grove close by.

3. Spencer Town Center Historic District

Richard Sugden Public LibrarySource: Daderot / Wikimedia | CC0
Richard Sugden Public Library

In Spencer’s historic core, along a winding stretch of Main Street, you can check out a variety of buildings raised during the town’s industrial peak in the late 19th century.

At that time Spencer’s main products were boots and wire, and the success of these industries sparked intense development in the center.

One impressive building from that time is the Sugden Block (c. 1890) at 117 Main Street, named for the English-born wire industrialist, Richard Sugden.

The same man was also responsible for the foundation of the town’s library, which still carries his name. The Richard Sugden Public Library was completed in the Romanesque Revival style in 1889.

As well as boasting dainty stained glass windows and carved oak fixtures, this building also contains the collections of Spencer’s historical society’s collections, so it demands a visit if you want to know more about the town’s past.

4. Depot Rail Trail

Depot Rail Trail, SpencerSource: John Phelan / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
Depot Rail Trail

In Spencer you can walk along the abandoned railbed of a railroad that was laid down in 1878.

The Spencer Railroad connected downtown Spencer with the Boston and Albany Railroad line, which still runs through South Spencer and is used by CSX for freight.

The trail was completed in phases in the 2010s and takes you from Chestnut Street, on the southwestern edge of the center, to S Spencer Rd, with a spur leading into Spencer State Forest.

Traveling southwards you’ll quickly leave the town behind as you pass through landscapes of woods, former farmland, ponds and wetlands. The trail has a stone dust surface, and there’s a parking lot and kiosk at the southern trailhead.

5. Midstate Trail

Hiking TrailsSource: Belinda M Gordon / shutterstock
Hiking Trails

Worcester County is crossed by a 92-mile scenic footpath, extending from the border with Rhode Island in the south to the MA/NH line in the north.

Spencer is one of 14 towns on the Midstate Trail, and it mostly runs along the east side of the town.

The path has yellow triangle markers, and passes through several parks and conservation properties, including Moore State Park, Spencer State Forest and Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.

Away from these spaces you’ll walk next to quiet backroads, without much traffic. There’s a shelter for the trail near the summit of Buck Hill, and you’ll find numerous spots around Spencer where you can park your car and hike a short section.

6. Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary

Wilson's WarblerSource: JamesChen / shutterstock
Wilson’s Warbler

This Massachusetts Audubon Society sanctuary, a short way east of Spencer center, is on the shore of a pond that offers a crucial habitat for resident and migratory wildlife.

There are two miles of trails at Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, in a landscape of fields, mixed hardwood and pine forest, wetlands and streams.

One path, Flat Rock Trail, leads you to Richard’s Overlook, a boulder commanding a magnificent northerly view of the pond.

There’s also an important stand of mountain laurel at the sanctuary, producing marvelous pink and white blooms in late spring.

7. Luther Hill Park

Disc GolfSource: Diego Trabucco / shutterstock
Disc Golf

Close to Spencer’s center, this attractive public park sits on the southern shore of Lake Whittemore, which is the only natural lake in the town, covering just over 50 acres.

The roots of Luther Hill Park go back to a donation in 1888 by the eponymous businessman, judge and civic leader.

The park is on 14 acres, comprising a beautiful pine grove, a disc golf course, a playground, a skate park and plenty of picnic tables.

Although the park is right on the lakeshore, swimming was not permitted when we wrote this article, although the car top boat launch was open to the public.

8. Sibley-Warner Farm

Horseback RidingSource: Phovoir / shutterstock
Horseback Riding

Something else to love about the Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary is how it connects with a large town-owned property to the north and west, allowing you to walk or ride on horseback for miles in nature without ever seeing the same landscapes twice.

On more than 300 acres, Sibley-Warner Farm was purchased by the town in 2011, and is now managed by the Greater Worcester Land Trust.

One of the trails winding through the property is the Midstate Trail, while in winter this rolling wooded space is traversed by the Spencer Snowbirds snowmobile trail.

9. Oakwood Farm Christmas Barn

Oakwood Farm Christmas BarnSource: Oakwood Farm Christmas Barn Page / Facebook
Oakwood Farm Christmas Barn

Not far from Spencer Center, a quaint 19th-century barn has been a go-to for handmade Christmas ornaments and gifts for half a century now.

The Oakwood Farm Christmas Barn is typically open from around mid-Summer to Christmas Eve and is full to bursting with everything you could possibly need to decorate your home at Christmas, from wreaths to bows and centerpieces.

The ideal time to come is in the holiday season when it’s impossible not to get into the Christmas spirit.

10. Bayberry Bowling Center

Candlepin BowlingSource: Cabeca de Marmore / shutterstock
Candlepin Bowling

In Spencer you’re close to the place where the game of candlepin bowling was born. This variation on tenpin bowling was first placed in Worcester in the 1880s, and the tradition continues in corners of New England and Canada’s maritimes.

Candlepin bowling is less forgiving, as the ball is smaller, while strikes are rare because of the tall and narrow pins. For a game you can head to Bayberry Bowling Center, which has been open in some form since 1966, and has 16 candlepin lanes and a pool room with eight tables.

11. Moore State Park

Moore State ParkSource: Monika Salvan / shutterstock
Moore State Park

Across the town line in Paxton, the picturesque Moore State Park is on the site of bustling cottage industry in the 18th and 19th century.

Here Turkey Hill Brook powered a sequence of gristmills and sawmills as it tumbled down a 400-foot millrace.

Visiting the park you’ll come across interesting remnants from the settlement that took shape here in the mid-18th century, including a tavern, schoolhouse, quarry, restored sawmill and triphammer.

The millrace descends more than 90 feet along its course, with a series of lovely man-made waterfalls. There’s also diverse flora to admire, including azaleas, rhododendrons and stands of mountain laurel.

12. Thompson Pond

FishingSource: Sergey Nivens / shutterstock

In the very northeast of Spencer, one of the sections of Spencer State Forest contains this 116-acre pond.

The dam impounding Thompson was built to power a sawmill, and is the last survivor of what used to be a string of dams erected along Turkey Hill Brook, mostly to power wire mills.

There’s a causeway along Thompson Pond Rd, separating the smaller lower portion of the pond from the upper area.

Here you’ll find an informal launch point for non-motorized boats, and a small area where you can cast a line for bass, perch, bluegill, bullhead, black crappie and the like.

13. Buck Hill Conservation Area

The trails for the Spencer State Park section around Thompson Pond also lead west into this conservation area managed by the town.

Buck Hill Conservation Area is contiguous with the state forest and is also crossed by the Midstate Trail.

This leads to the top of Buck Hill, standing at an elevation of almost 1,000 feet. Close to the summit is a shelter maintained as part of the trail.

Further north, the trail leads you down to the shore of the scenic 10-acre Buckhill Pond, with spurs leading to the eastern and southern shores.

At the very north end, close to Thompson Pond is Camp Marshall, open since 1952 and run by Worcester County’s 4-H organization.

14. Bemis Farms Nursery

Bemis Farms NurserySource: Bemis Farms Nursery / Facebook
Bemis Farms Nursery

A progressive family business, Bemis Farms Nursery goes back to 1947, and remains a local go-to for plants, plant-related products and volumes of friendly advice about all aspects of gardening.

The greenhouses are open spring through mid-December, and there’s a number of seasonal events, like an Easter egg hunt and build-a-scarecrow and pumpkin patch in fall.

In contrast to big farms, these celebrations are usually intimate and small-scale. Bemis Farms also has a high reputation for its workshops, with dozens taking place each year, for anything from container gardening to hanging baskets and Christmas decorations.

15. The Spencer Fair

FairSource: zzphoto.ru / shutterstock

The Spencer Fairgrounds are about a mile west of the town center and host a range of events throughout the year, from dog shows, to business conventions and concerts.

The big date on the calendar is The Spencer Fair on Labor Day weekend. This is an old-time, traditional agricultural event, centered on exhibits and demonstrations for livestock and time-honored rural skills.

The midway opens on the Thursday evening, with rides, classic fair games and a wide assortment of food. Also look out for tractor, ox and horse pulls, live music, and a schedule of demolition derbies.


15 Best Things to Do in Spencer (MA):

  • Saint Joseph’s Abbey
  • Spencer State Forest
  • Spencer Town Center Historic District
  • Depot Rail Trail
  • Midstate Trail
  • Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Luther Hill Park
  • Sibley-Warner Farm
  • Oakwood Farm Christmas Barn
  • Bayberry Bowling Center
  • Moore State Park
  • Thompson Pond
  • Buck Hill Conservation Area
  • Bemis Farms Nursery
  • The Spencer Fair