Annual events, outdoor recreation and historic village await at Sturbridge

A living history museum with an international reputation, Old Sturbridge Village attracts thousands of visitors from around the world every year. While OSV is the area’s most famous attraction, Sturbridge and the surrounding towns offer many other reasons to visit this pastoral area of Massachusetts.

Camping, fishing and water sports, golf, theater, shopping and dining draw daytrippers and weekenders alike to the area. Special events such as the Brimfield Antiques & Collectibles shows swell the number of people in town.

“Clearly, the Village is our big attraction but, secondarily and this is kind of under the radar, we have an awful lot of outdoor recreation outlets,” says Alexandra McNitt, executive director of the Chamber of Central Mass South ( “We have a lot of hiking trails and water trails, and our hiking aspects are family friendly. We don’t have big mountains here so [the hiking trails] are not really rigorous.”

McNitt, who enjoys kayaking, takes advantage of the area’s waterways, especially the Quaboag River, which she says has a “very slow, meandering ecosystem that is unique.” One of her favorite kayaking expeditions takes place at night. “I like to pick a night with a full moon,” she says. “It’s breathtaking and very safe because the river is so slow and there’s lots of light from the full moon.”

For a different kind of evening’s entertainment, the Stageloft Repertory Theater presents a spring through fall season of live performances ranging from Shakespeare to musicals. The theater “routinely gets rave reviews on their productions,” McNitt says. The Stageloft also partners with area inns to offer accommodations and ticket packages.

This summer will see the return of annual events in the area as well as some novel happenings. Pintastic New England 2015, the only pinball festival to take place in New England, McNitt says, will occupy about 20,000 square feet of space in the Sturbridge Host Hotel and Convention Center on July 10 and 11. More than 200 pinball machines will be available, and tournaments and charity raffles also will take place over the two days. “It’s the first time here,” McNitt says, “but apparently this is a really big thing in other parts of the country. Pinball enthusiasts are all fired up. It sounds like a great family activity since kids can play on these amazing pinball machines.”

The Chamber also is planning the C-Mass GeoFest, opening Aug. 19 for five days in Sturbridge. Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt using GPS devices to find geocache containers that contain a logbook and, often, items to trade. “This is a regional event that will draw people from all over New England,” says Bob Datz, chairman of the Chamber’s tourism committee.

Three times a year, in May, July and September, the area becomes a shopper’s paradise when about 6,000 antiques and collectibles vendors set up shop in Brimfield, McNitt says. “It is New England’s oldest and largest outdoor antique show,” she says of the event that began 55 years ago with 67 dealers in a field. “It’s a boon for the entire region.”

For shoppers who want to spend more than one day at the show, McNitt suggests planning ahead to secure hotel or inn accommodations and restaurant reservations. She also recommends comfortable shoes, a handcart or wagon to transport purchases and contacting the chamber’s tourist information center (800-628-8379) for updates on hotel availability and the show. For cellphone users, a free app called the Brimfield Fleafinder provides details about the show and vendors and allows the user to search for specific items and the sellers that carry them.

Antiques dealers maintain a year-round presence in the area, Datz says. More recently, some shops selling souvenirs have given way to multi-vendor businesses with dozens of antiques sellers in one space. The antiques aspect dovetails with the historical attractions in the area. “Old Sturbridge Village focuses on the 1830s in New England, and that was a seminal time for us,” he says.

A local attraction that complements the history presented at OSV – and offers an opportunity for some exercise – is a wooded area called Tantiusques. The area was the site of a mining operation used by Native Americans who unearthed graphite to make ceremonial paints. “We have a lot of Native American sites that are also nature sites because the Native American culture celebrated nature,” Datz says. “There are miles and miles of trails and things along the way that enhance the outdoor experience.”

A new museum in Southbridge traces a different part of the area’s history. The American optical industry was born in Southbridge in the early 1900s when a Connecticut native set up a business that became the American Optical Company. The Optical Heritage Museum displays artifacts relating to this industry. “American Optical was the big employer around here,” McNitt says, “and [the museum] is really pretty fascinating.”

Because of its proximity to major highways such as I-84 and I-90, Sturbridge also has become a special “meet-up spot” for family reunions, destination weddings and other gatherings of folks traveling from Boston, New York and Connecticut. “For old classmates or extended families, you don’t have to just sit around a table and reminisce,” Datz says. Like weekenders and daytrippers, these folks can take advantage of new experiences that the area has to offer.


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