Worcester County makes up the central part of Massachusetts. It is probably one of the more ignored parts of the state: People think of Boston and the Seacoast to the east, and the mountainous pleasures of the Berkshires to the west, and overlook this region entirely. Although it is crisscrossed by several interstate highways, and the suburbs are slowly encroaching on its edges, much of central Massachusetts is rural farmland, with many an 18th-century church and an occasional church bell cast by Paul Revere.
This was once the territory of the Nipmucks, whose name meant “people of the freshwater places.” They spoke Algonquian, so were linked to the tribes west of them. There are about 1,600 Nipmucks still living here, mostly in the southern areas, which are the Blackstone River valley and around Sturbridge. Some of them may have joined in the last major Indian-Colonist “war,” called King Philip’s War, of 1675-1678, a final attempt by the Native Americans to retain their lands here. King Philip, also known as Metacom or Pometacom, was the son of Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoag tribe, a tribe better known for its association with the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. The skirmishes began in the Plymouth region, on the coast, and Captain Benjamin Church pursued the rebellious band to Albany and to Rhode Island. The placement of the early colonial villages on hilltops probably reflected their anxiety about attacks from the former inhabitants of the land.
Today the Central Region is made up of four sections: the Johnny Appleseed Trail, the northern half of the region, where mountain preserves jostle against wide tracts of farmlands and orchards (more on Johnny Appleseed himself later); the Worcester Metro region, surrounding New England’s second largest city, Worcester (pronounced WOOS-ter or WUSStuh locally; pop. more than 170,000); the Blackstone Valley, a tenuously preserved rural fragment caught between the interstate highways and the Rhode Island border, with some good hiking still available; and the oddly quiet region of Sturbridge and the Brookfields, where Old Sturbridge Village offers a model 19th-century New England community, for a sample of time travel at its best.
The eastern border of the region is roughly Interstate 495, the outer beltway around Boston; the western border cuts through Quabbin Reservoir, an immense manmade lake, on state and county maps, but this guide includes the farther (western) edge of Quabbin also, to make touring more sensible. The north and south borders are the state lines, with New Hampshire to the north (many of the hiking trails go on into these mountains), and Rhode Island to the south (river paddling may take you in this direction). Slashing through the middle, north to south, is Interstate 190, the main route into and out of Worcester. Route 2 takes the traveler in east-west directions across the north of the region, and Interstate 90, the Massachusetts Turnpike (toll), across the south.
There is a small airport at Worcester, but air travel to the region is usually through Boston’s Logan Airport.
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