Worcester, Massachusetts, 48 miles (77 km) west of Boston (map), has spacious parks and gardens, several academic institutions of note—Clark University, College of the Holy Cross, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute—and many attractive buildings, the evidence of Worcester's industrial prosperity during the mid-1800s.
Worcester was the birthplace of ingenious machines that were the first to weave carpets, fold envelopes, and turn irregular shapes on a lathe.
You can still see many of the old 19th-century mill buildings in the city. Some have been converted to office or retail centers, others lie abandoned, and many are still turning out products: men's and boys' clothing, raincoats, sportswear, winter coats, shoes, and dozens of other items, all of which are for sale in factory outlets at good prices.
Worcester kept its spirit of Yankee ingenuity right into the 20th century. Dr Robert Goddard, the "father of modern rocketry," was a Worcester native.
If you're searching for documents dating from America's early years, Edward Hicks's famous painting The Peaceable Kingdom, one of the four finest concert halls in North America, or rare suits of medieval armor, you'll find them in Worcester.
What to See & Do
Spend a day or half day seeing Worcester's fine museums, do some shopping, then continue to Sturbridge, Boston, Springfield, the Berkshires, or Hartford CT.
Take a turn through the city center, stopping at the fine Town Common and impressive City Hall (map), and perhaps at the modern shopping, dining, and entertainment complexes.
Then admire the harmonious auditorium named Mechanics Hall, 321 Main Street, as you make your way to the Worcester Art Museum. Spend the morning at the museum and the nearby Worcester Historical Society, and the American Antiquarian Society, perhaps have a bite of lunch in the museum's café, then head for Sturbridge (18 miles/29 km) to spend the night.
Don't plan this tour for a Monday, when all of Worcester's museums are closed.
The renowned Worcester Art Museum, 55 Salisbury Street, just off Interstate 290 (map), will surprise you. A smaller museum with a comprehensive collection, many visitors go straight to Edward Hicks' famous "Peaceable Kingdom," but the museum has lots more.
The collection ranges from ancient Chinese, Egyptian, and Sumerian objects through Roman statuary and mosaics, pre-Columbian artifacts, Japanese ukiyo-e prints, Korean art, Islamic art, and European paintings by the great masters, to American primitives and works by the great American painters including George Bellows, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, John Singleton Copley, Thomas Eakins, Ralph Earl, Childe Hassam, Winslow Homer, Charles Wilson Peale, John Singer Sargent, Charles Sheeler, Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, James Abbitt McNeill Whistler.
The photography collection boasts images by Matthew B Brady, Eadweard Muybridge, Charles Sheeler, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston and others.
Besides Edward Hicks's famous Peaceable Kingdom, you'll see Gauguin's Brooding Woman, Rembrandt's Saint Bartholomew, and Mary Cassatt's Woman Bathing.
Higgins Armory Museum
The Worcester Art Museum also holds the former Higgins Armory Museum's outstanding collection of arms and armor.
John Woodman Higgins wanted to know how medieval armorers made such excellent steel, so he collected their work. Now numbering over 100 magnificent suits of armor, true works of art, the collection even includes armor made for children and for dogs.
With the closing of the Higgins' own building in 2013, the collection is on view through exhibits here at the art museum.
The Worcester Art Museum has a pleasant café serving soups, salads and sandwiches, wine and beer.
The way to the museum is marked with signs from the city center.
Around the corner from the Worcester Art Museum at 30 Elm Street (at Chestnut Street)(map) is the Worcester Historical Museum, with a library and galleries dedicated to the town's history and lore .
Here's where you can learn about Worcester's vivid history as a 19th-century industrial and commercial boom town.
The museum's collections include early woodenware and ceramics, weaponry from the colonial era through World War II, Civil War-era letters and diaries, records and documents of the Blackstone Canal Company, paintings and sculptures, and a significant costume and textile collection.
The museum also owns and operates Salisbury Mansion, Worcester's only historic house museum. Built in 1772, it has been restored to its 1830s appearance, and is one of the best documented historic houses in New England.
The American Antiquarian Society research library, a few blocks from the Worcester Art Museum at 185 Salisbury Street (map), has American printed materials dating from 1640 through 1876, the largest single collection of printed source materials relating to the history, literature, and culture of the first 250 years of United States history.
Mostly, it's used by scholars and researchers, but anyone with an interest in history can be thrilled by seeing the many documents that played a part in American history.
Contact the Society to plan your visit, and to obtain permission to access the documents you want to see.
Said to be the finest pre-Civil War concert hall in the USA, and one of the four finest in North America, Mechanics Hall in the center of Worcester at 321 Main Street (map) ranks with Boston's renowned Symphony Hall in stateliness and acoustic excellence.
The hall, designed by Elbridge Boyden, was opened in 1857. State-of-the-art at the time, it was extensively restored and brought up to date in 1977.
For more than a century it has been used for concerts, political and community meetings, even for wrestling matches, basketball games and other sporting events. Its use now is primarily for concerts and musical recordings, as the hall contains a complete recording studio.
A special feature is the 52-stop, 3,504-pipe Hook Organ, the oldest unaltered four-keyboard organ in the Western Hemisphere, installed by E & GG Hook Brothers of Boston in 1864.
Why "Mechanics"? In the mid-1800s, when Worcester was a booming industrial center, the Worcester County Mechanics Association, a group dedicated to educating and bettering the lives of the city's thousands of artisans, tradesmen and industrial workers ("mechanics" in the parlance of the day)—the backbone of the city's prosperity.
In the beginning, the Mechanics Association owned the hall. Nowadays, the hall pretty much owns the association, as the WCMA's prime purpose these days is to preserve and maintain the historic building.
Use this handy Hotel Map with Prices to find your place to stay.
Worcester MA, 48 miles (77 km) due west of Boston, 51 miles (82 km) east of Springfield MA, 63 miles (101 km) northeast of Hartford CT (map), is well served by Interstate highways, bus and train routes.
The Massachusetts Turnpike (Mass. Pike, I-90) passes just to the south, connecting with I-190 and I-290 which meet in Worcester. I-84 comes north from Hartford to the Mass. Pike a short distance to the west.
Peter Pan Bus Lines (Tel 800-343-9999) operates nearly a dozen buses daily between Boston and Worcester, five buses daily to/from Springfield MA, nine buses daily to/from Hartford CT, and 10 buses daily to/from New York City.
Buses operate from the Peter Pan Terminal at Union Station, 2 Washington Square, Worcester MA (map).
Worcester's stately Union Station, right off I-190 (map), is served by 16 MBTA Commuter Rail trains daily to Boston, and the same number from Boston, on the Fitchburg/Worcester line with more frequent service (20 trains daily) to come.
Trains are timed partly for commuters, more frequent eastbound ("Inbound") early in the morning to Boston, and more frequent westbound ("Outbound") to Worcester in the evening, with fewer—but sufficient—mid-day trains. Check the schedules here.
Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited comes through Worcester daily from and to Boston on its route via Springfield MA, Pittsfield MA, Albany NY, Buffalo NY and Cleveland OH, but it does not sell tickets to passengers traveling just between Boston and Worcester. The closest stations to Worcester for Amtrak trains are Springfield MA and Boston MA.
Worcester Regional Airport serves some charter flights and general aviation. Bradley International Airport south of Springfield MA and north of Hartford CT has more flights, and Boston-Logan International Airport has the most.
The best way to get to Worcester by air would be to fly to Boston, then take a bus, train or rental car to Worcester.