Around ten miles northwest of Boston, Stoneham is a commuter town with a large swath of the Middlesex Fells Reservation in its boundaries.
This means you’ve got a world of outdoor recreation on your doorstep, whether you’re kayaking on Spot Pond, or hiking in the hills to be met by amazing views of Greater Boston.
The first European to set foot in what is now Stoneham was Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts (1587-1649), who passed through in 1632.
Stoneham was incorporated in 1725 after breaking away from Charlestown, and decided to relocate its entire center in the early 19th century to align it with the newly built Medford-Andover Turnpike.
This downtown area is a joy, with preserved architecture, lots of independent shops, flourishing events on the town common, and an award-winning professional theater company.
1. Middlesex Fells Reservation
Stoneham’s southern third is occupied by a massive public recreation area that spreads across four adjacent towns.
Over 2,200 acres, the Middlesex Fells Reservation is on a range of wooded granite hills, trapping large bodies of water, several of which are active reservoirs for Winchester and Boston’s waterworks.
With more than 100 miles of well-marked intersecting trails, you could spend days hiking or mountain biking in the Fells without seeing the same scenery twice.
For some inspiration there’s the Skyline Trail, the Reservoir Trail, the Cross Fells Trail and the Rock Circuit Trail, all with something new to experience, from vistas of downtown Boston, to rocky scrambles and remote lakefronts.
2. Spot Pond
This 298-acre lake in the Middlesex Fells Reservation sits entirely within Stoneham’s town limits. At South Street there’s an unbroken view over the water to the southern shore.
Spot Pond is a haven for outdoor recreation, particularly in summer when you can rent a kayak, rowboat or sailboat, or take a class at the Spot Pond Boathouse along Woodland Drive, down the eastern shore.
Close by, Botume House (1849) is a handsome Italianate residence, and the last survivor of several that lined the shore in the 19th century.
This is now a visitor center for the reservation and is at the head of a waterside trail that snakes through the woods along the eastern shore.
3. Stoneham Central Square
An interesting detail about Central Square, Stoneham’s historic town center, is that this is not its original location.
The entire center was actually shifted west after the completion of the Medford-Andover Turnpike (Route 28/Main Street) in the early 19th century.
Central Square has a wonderful level of preservation, with stately civic buildings and a rare concentration of 19th and early 20th century civic buildings.
A defining example is the Dow Block (395 Main St), built in the French Second Empire style in 1864.
As well as being pretty, Central Square teems with local businesses, with cosmopolitan dining, as well as a florist, butcher, jewelry store, watch shop, bridal shop, fabric shop and more, all dotted close together.
4. Greater Boston Stage Company
There’s also a feast of culture in Central Square, partly thanks to this regional professional theater company based at the historic Stoneham Theatre.
That venue was built in 1917 as a movie theater and vaudeville stage, and after closing in the 1970s remained vacant for almost three decades before the Greater Boston Stage Company took over in the late 1990s and turned it into a 350-seat performing arts venue.
Since 2000 this has been a creative powerhouse, recently garnering Elliot Norton Awards in 2022 for All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1916, and Swan Lake in Blue in 2020.
There’s at least one world or U.S. premiere in each season. When we made this list, some standout shows were The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Clue: On Stage, and Little Women: The Broadway Musical.
5. Stone Zoo
The compact zoo next to Spot Pond has been around since 1905, but was given a total overhaul in 1992.
Covering 26 acres, Stone Zoo is laid out on winding walkways that are turned into a winter wonderland during ZooLights in the holiday season (more later).
There are ten different exhibits/areas to discover, like Himalayan Highlands, which has snow leopards, yaks and markhors, or the recently opened Caribbean Coast, with a walk through aviary with a dazzling variety of tropical birds including macaws, ibises and Caribbean flamingos.
Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, you can also watch live flight demonstrations at the Birds of Prey exhibit.
6. Stoneham Town Common
Central Square has an archetypal town green, bordered by august buildings like the Town Hall (1939), First Congregational Church (1840) and the Central Fire Station (1916), which we’ll cover in more detail below.
More than just open space, the common is an abiding part of community life. For one thing, Pop-Up Stoneham presents an almost endless variety of free events on the common, engaging residents and visitors of all ages.
The Stoneham Farmers’ Market meets here, every Thursday afternoon, June through September.
Later on Thursday evenings, the summer-long Concerts on the Common series has entertained the town for two decades now, while the Stoneham Town Day marks the start of fall with scores of vendors and family activities.
7. Tri-Community Bike/Greenway
At Pomeworth Field, not far from Stoneham Square, you can get onto a seven-mile rail trail that was officially opened in 2019.
The Tri-Community Bike/Greenway is partly on the right-of-way of the Stoneham Branch of the Boston and Lowell railroad, completed in 1862.
The trail loops around Stoneham Square and heads southwest to Wedgemere Station Winchester, with a spur that cuts west to Horn Pond in Woburn.
Linking two bustling commercial districts, the Tri-Community Bike/Greenway is both a safe artery for car-free commuting, and a beloved recreation amenity, with a 45-foot-wide band of green space along the old Stoneham Branch.
8. Whip Hill Park
Adjoining the Middlesex Fells Reservation in the very east of Stoneham is a stunning but often overlooked piece of town-owned land for passive recreation.
This is an old estate, established in the 1930s by James and Angie Crockett, who both made their fortunes in the rubber industry.
They gifted these 30 acres to the town in 1968, and you can come for a stroll in this pristine little oasis, with mature stands of pine, oak and hickory, and historic plantings of azalea, mountain laurel and rhododendron, which are a delight in spring and early summer.
The Crocketts’ half-timbered Tudor Revival house can be appreciated from the outside, and until recently would be open to the public in the holiday season.
9. Stoneham Historical Society & Museum
The local historical society celebrated its centennial in 2022 and has a mini campus with two significant buildings at 36 William Street in Stoneham.
The larger of these is the Spanish War Hall, built in 1911 for the United Spanish War Veterans organization.
This also housed a small manufacturing facility, producing papers and boxes. Behind is the humble Doucette family “Ten Footer” (1725), harking back to Stoneham’s small-scale shoe-making operations before industrialization.
The museum is open on the third Sunday of the month, showing off the society’s inventory of artifacts, newspapers, documents, and photographs, with absorbing details about the shoe industry in the 18th and 19th century.
10. Hall Memorial Pool
Run in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Stoneham, Hall Memorial Pool is a reasonably priced and convenient attraction for families during the school summer break.
Daily admission is absurdly cheap, at just $3 a person, and season membership is free for military families.
What you get is a large and well-maintained lap pool, next to a splash pad with whimsical designed sprinklers and fountains. Group swim lessons are on offer in two blocks in July and August, and you can book private lessons throughout the season.
11. Stoneham Oaks Golf Course
If you want to polish your iron play and putting skills there’s a likable 9-hole par 3 course in Stoneham, now under new management.
Of course, Stoneham Oaks is an ideal place for younger and beginner golfers to get into the swing of things.
That’s not to say that the course is easy, as you’ll need to pay attention to the tall woods lining the tight fairways, as well as the sudden changes in elevation.
Lessons are available from the course’s experienced instructor, who specializes in coaching beginners and younger golfers.
The holiday season wouldn’t be the same in Stoneham without the magical light display at Stone Zoo.
From mid-November the tree-lined paths throughout the zoo are turned into magnificent illuminated walkways with many thousands of twinkling lights.
You’ll also get to see animals in their enclosures at wintry Yukon Creek, with its Arctic foxes, black bears, reindeer, Canada lynxes and bald eagle.
There are firepits to help you warm up and toast marshmallows for s’mores, and Santa is on hand to meet children through December 24.
13. Nine O’Clock Horn
One of the grandest buildings in Stoneham’s Central Square is the Central Fire Station (1916), which has an elegant Renaissance Revival tower with arched openings at the top, above an ornate cornice.
The fire station is the source of a local custom, fondly recalled by anyone who has lived in the town.
Every day at 9 am and 9 pm there’s a blast from the station’s horn. In the past the horn was used to alert the town to emergencies, from fires to missing children, but now this low-pitched signal is preserved purely as a tradition.
14. Bear Hill Trail
Off I-93 in the west of Stoneham there’s a parking lot for a short trail leading into the northern portion of the Middlesex Fells Reservation.
This takes to the summit of Bear Hill, which is historically significant as the place where Governor Winthrop and his party had lunch when they came through the area in 1632.
Bear Hill has been capped with an observation tower since the 1890s, and this was replaced in 1910 with the concrete structure that stands here today.
When we wrote this article the tower had long been in a state of disrepair, but is still an icon for Stoneham.
For many, this is one of the best vantage points in the whole of Greater Boston, so with any luck there’s a renovation project in the works.
15. Stoneham Town Day
Bringing as many as 10,000 people to Stoneham Square, this annual event normally takes place on the third Saturday in September.
Spreading across the Town Common, Stoneham Town Day is a giant showcase for Stoneham’s businesses, artistic talent, recreation opportunities and non-profit organizations. This is the chamber of commerce’s signature event, with upwards of 130 booths.
Children certainly won’t get bored either, as among the attractions and activities are amusements and rides, balloon art, face painting, a 70-foot giant slide and a lot more besides.