All across America, roadsides are dotted with interesting attractions and oddities. Alabama is home to the world’s largest brick, Georgia has a 13-foot peanut statue, and in Vermont, you might drive past a giant gorilla holding up a Volkswagen Beetle.
Now the Bay State boasts its own roadside draw: the Big Apple -- literally.
Last month, Visit North Central Massachusetts, the marketing organization representing 27 communities in the area, unveiled a 10-foot apple structure off of Route 2 in Lancaster. Dubbed the Big Apple of New England, they are hoping the massive red fruit will become an icon of the region, one rich with history that's steeped in all-things-apple. It’s home to scenic orchards and the birthplace of American folk hero John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed.
The new big apple sits outside the Johnny Appleseed Visitors' Center, a local gem in itself. (We know what you’re thinking: a roadside visitors' center a regional gem? But hear us out). The center has your usual roadside fare like coffee and snacks, but it also features a collection of unique items from across the region such as local jams, jellies and maple syrup, and even pink plastic flamingos, which have their roots in nearby Leominster. There’s also a large collection of historical items, including a vintage Iver Johnson Bicycle, old Wachusett Mountain Ski Area items, and a bench made from a ski chair. Outside, in addition to the Big Apple, visitors will find a bronze sculpture of the young Johnny Appleseed and 91 apple trees, including three that are direct descendants of the last remaining tree known to be planted by Johnny Appleseed.
Though it might not be the first place that comes to mind for a day trip, the region is brimming with family-friendly fun and offerings both urban and country, historic and modern.
In Fitchburg, there’s a newly designated Arts & Cultural District, an area targeted to become a walkable, bikeable destination where arts and culture flourish. It will add to the already robust arts offerings at the Fitchburg Art Museum, which features over 20,000 square feet of exhibition space. The museum offers Family Days —featuring hands-on art activities, performers, and family-friendly tours— periodically throughout the year.
Then there’s the farmland. North Central Massachusetts is home to an array of farms and orchards, many with deep, historic roots. Some have been working farms for over a century and still offer the agricultural gems they were built upon, but have reinvented themselves into family fun destinations. Take Red Apple Farm in Phillipston, for example. There, you’ll find a farmhouse and barn that date back to the mid-1700s, farm-fresh produce and a quaint country store, but it’s also a place for weekend barbecues, country weddings and annual festivals.
This Labor Day weekend, Red Apple Farm will host the 8th annual Appleseed Country Fair, featuring over 40 vendors, local food and food trucks, human-tractor pulls, brew and wine barn, fiddle contest, live music and more. Tethered hot air balloon rides and a field of sunflowers will provide perfect family photo opps, and admission is just $10 per car load.
“It really showcases the agricultural heritage of the region, but it’s also just a lot of fun. Think hayrides, craft beer, kids games,” said Roy Nascimento, President and CEO of Visit North Central Massachusetts. “It’s a great kick off to the fall season.”
The region is touted as a four-season destination -- you hike to a hidden waterfall in the spring (there’s a few!), hit up Davis Farmland’s splash pad in the summer, and ski at Wachusett in the winter. But there is certainly something special about visiting in the fall... it is apple country, after all.
“No one does fall like we do,” said Nascimento.
Take a bite out of all the family fun that’s right in our backyard this autumn.