In the first half of the 19th century, this town in the Blackstone Valley was the overnight stopping point on the Blackstone Canal.
As a textile center, Uxbridge was at the vanguard of America’s Industrial Revolution, and a slew of manufacturing innovations were made in this town.
A section of the canal, and its towpath can be visited at the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park preserves, while Uxbridge’s silhouette is still marked by the chimney stacks of 19th-century textile mills.
1. Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park
As the stopping point on the old canal, Uxbridge is the logical place for a state park diving into the history of the inland waterways, and exploring how they allowed industry to flourish.
The Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park preserves 1,000 acres of riverbank and canal front, as well as the remains of locks and peaceful tracts of woodland on the rugged east side of the valley.
The park is steeped in history, with trails that follow the same paths that the Nipmuc Native American people once walked, leading to lookouts and industrial fragments.
On a migratory corridor, the valley is a birding haven, while fishing, horseback riding, mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking are just a few of the activities you can enjoy in the park.
2. Southwick’s Zoo
One of the premier zoos in Massachusetts is five minutes away in Mendon, with enough exhibits and attractions for a full day out.
Privately owned, and on a homestead dating back to 1803, Southwick’s Zoo has been a family operation since it opened more than 60 years ago.
You can see animals from more than 100 species here, and some of the standout exhibits include a walkthrough deer forest, a walkthrough aviary with tropical birds, four big cat exhibits, and a North American exhibit with elk roaming natural wetlands.
The zoo has the largest collection of primates in New England, and is the only one where you can see chimpanzees. There’s much more going on for kids, with a 15-minute sky ride, a long narrow gauge train, and a petting zoo, pony rides and a big play area.
3. Stanley Woolen Mill (Central Woolen Mills District)
Next to the trailhead for the Towpath Trail, at the southern end of the state park, there’s another striking piece of industrial heritage.
Built in 1852, the Stanley Woolen Mill is a fascinating transition point in industrial architecture, as it was the last major mechanized mill to be constructed from wood.
Cashmeres and satinet were produced here, as well as blended wool and cotton fabrics. Starting with the Civil War, the mill also had a long history in military uniform production that continued to the end of World War II.
Now the mill has a mix of studios, offices and stores, including the sprawling Stanley Mill Antiques.
4. Uxbridge Common District
The historic center of Uxbridge is set around a traditional New England common, with a great ensemble of preserved architecture on all sides.
Especially interesting here is the old Uxbridge Academy (1818), a preparatory school where a number of prominent 19th-century figures were educated. Many of these men were engaged in the local textile industry, like Moses Taft (1812-1893), who built the Stanley Woolen Mill.
The Federal-style structure has since become a masonic lodge, and is part of an historic district with some 60 contributing buildings.
Look out for the Renaissance Revival Free Public Library (1875), the First Congregational Church (1830s), the Deborah A. Wheelock House (1769), the Blacksmith Shop (1780s), and The Uxbridge Inn (1882).
Upstream in Northbridge, the Blackstone River flows through a pair of historic mill villages at Linwood and Whitinsville.
Both are commanded by huge factory complexes, but Whitinsville has been selected as a mill village of national historical significance to America’s earliest industrialization.
What you’ll find here is an intact planned community, centered on what was the largest manufacturer of textile machinery in the world between 1831 and the 1960s.
Founded by the Whitin family, Whitinsville’s worker housing, churches, former library (now Northbrisdge’s town hall) and the Whitin Community Center, are all still standing.
6. Purgatory Chasm State Reservation
Just ten minutes from Uxbridge’s common there’s an extraordinary natural fissure in the landscape, descending 70 feet and extending for ¼ mile.
At Purgatory Chasm you can take in this awe-inspiring granite formation, walking to precipices and discovering caves in the walls.
There are two miles of trails taking you to spots with evocative names like Lovers’ Leap, the Coffin, and the Corn Crib, while rock climbing is allowed here if you have a permit.
There’s a visitor center with a bookshop and exhibits documenting the history of the chasm, along with a playground for youngsters.
7. Pout Pond
East of the state park and ensconced in woods, this attractive pond is owned by the town, and has a beach area on its shore.
A lifeguard is on duty at Pout Pond every day when school is out, and on weekends until Labor Day. Walking trails weave through the woods on three sides and link with those in the Blackstone River and Canal Heritage State Park.
The beach has all you need for a relaxing summer’s day, with shaded picnic tables and playground equipment, and if you have a canoe or kayak you can launch it by the beach area.
In the past Pout Pond has been a location for public events, from outdoor concerts to movie screenings and regattas.
8. Lookout Rock
The most scenic spot in the state park is this majestic overlook, where you can take in the Blackstone Valley from the east side.
Try to time your visit to Lookout Rock later in the day, when you can watch the sun go down, which is a local tradition.
There are two ways to reach this vantage point: The longer hike is on King Phillip’s Trail starting from the parking lot on Hartford Avenue (by Rice City Pond), and heading north.
If time is limited there’s another parking lot along Wolf Hill Road, within a couple of minutes of the lookout.
9. River Bend Farm Visitor Center
The visitor center for the state park is on a dairy farm that was worked from around the Revolution to the 1970s, and is housed in a former bullpen.
An interesting detail about River Bend Farm is that it was one of the first in the country to pasteurize its milk.
You can stop here for volumes of practical information about activities like birding, fishing and hiking in the park.
Upstairs there’s an exhibit area, with neatly presented information panels and artifacts charting the long history of the Blackstone Valley, the evolution of the textile trade, and the impact of the canal and industry on its population.
10. Rice City Pond
If you’re starting your walk to Lookout Rock at Rice City Pond, take a moment to learn about the recent history of this place. Up to 1981 what is now idyllic parkland wrapping around a pond was an eyesore.
This was a five-acre junkyard, with hundreds of dismantled cars rusting away, until the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management stepped in, purchasing these 15.6 acres and cleaning it up.
The park has been purposely left undeveloped to serve as part of the Blackstone Valley’s greenway, and is a favored spot for canoeing and birdwatching.
The pond is natural but the water level was raised significantly by the construction of a dam for manufacturing in the 1800s. This was damaged by Hurricane Diane in 1955, and the water level remains five feet lower than before, even after repairs.
11. West Hill Dam
This flood defense on the east side of Uxbridge was built in the 1950s following the damaging flooding caused by Hurricane Diane in 1955.
The West Hill Dam is on the West River, one of the branches of the Blackstone River, and is unusual in that the water level is always low unless there’s a flood.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opens the surrounding parkland to the public, and you can walk or ride along seven miles of trails, winding through woods and grasslands with fabulous views of the West River.
This is a super place for angling, with trout in the river, and bass, bullhead and pickerel in the pools. For amenities you’ve got picnic shelters with tables and grills, an accessible playground, sand volleyball courts and horseshoe pits.
12. Blackstone River Greenway
Tracking the course of the Blackstone Canal, and occasionally using its old towpath, there’s a long-distance trail taking shape through the Blackstone Valley.
In Uxbridge you can ride or walk along a completed 3.5-mile section, taking you to the riverfront in the neighboring town of Blackstone.
The journey is memorable, as you’ll cross the river several times on bridges that were restored in the 2010s, and pass through a small tunnel under Church Street in Blackstone.
13. Bernat Mill Antiques
A quiet back road in Uxbridge will lead you down to the bank of Still Corner Brook, where you’ll be met by the Elmdale Mill, built in 1879.
One of the businesses inside is a labyrinthine antique store, with dozens of dealers on three floors.
As the name tells you, this store was initially based at Uxbridge’s iconic yarn factory, the Bernat Mill, dating back 200 years but mostly destroyed by fire in 2007.
Some of the joy of visiting Bernat Mill Antiques comes from the chance to explore this historic building, making your way along aisles loaded with furniture, collectibles, kitchenalia, handmade gifts, prints, vinyl, art, and much more.
14. Blissful Meadows Golf Club
Seasoned golfers in search of a challenge should look no further than this 18-hole championship course in Uxbridge.
Opened in the early 90s, Blissful Meadows was designed by the award-winning architect, Brian Silva, and is noted for its many fade and draw doglegs.
One small but satisfying touch is that the tees for the 1st and 10th holes can be found by the clubhouse, and the same applies to the 9th and 18th greens.
The clubhouse is a renovated Victorian barn, built around 1880, while the signature hole is the 13th, which is laid out on the site of an old silver mine.
15. Cormier Woods
The Trustees of Reservations takes care of this 186-acre open space reserve, on an old farmstead close to Southwick’s Zoo.
It’s exciting to think that this land has been worked since the 17th century, and clues of centuries of agriculture abound in restored woodlands’ stone walls and cellar holes.
You can hike along five miles of trails at Cormier Woods, traveling through evergreen and hardwood forest, over rambling pastures and across a boulder field. On the reservation’s northwest side you’ll come to imposing stands of white pine, rising to 100 feet or more.