The New England village green is one of the region’s most memorable sights. We asked This Old House producer Bruce Irving to share his picks for the 5 best town greens in New England.
By Yankee Magazine
May 13 2014
Woodstock, VT, USA: This historical marker on the Woodstock Village Green in downtown Woodstock, Vermont, states that it was posted in 2010. by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation (Woodstock, VT, USA: This historical marker on the WoodstockPhoto Credit : Erika Mitchell/Istockphoto
Village greens — and just about every other part of New England’s built environment — have been grabbing Bruce Irving’s attention for a long time. He produced television’s This Old House for 17 years before launching a career in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, area as a real estate agent and home renovation consultant. His book New England Icons reveals the hidden histories of the region’s familiar sights. If he had a spare moment to spread out a picnic, here’s where he’d go …
In the center of a hotbed of modern innovation is a site with roots in the hotbed of the American Revolution. On July 3, 1775, General George Washington rode onto Cambridge Common and assumed command of the Continental Army. Hard by Harvard Yard, it’s a great place to stroll — especially after the $6 million renovation that wrapped up in 2016, marking Cambridge Common’s first major face-lift since the Bicentennial.
Standing in this lovely ellipse, a visitor can, in one rotation, take in a dozen examples of great American architecture. Exquisite Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival homes line the town green, the centerpiece of a streetscape declared one of the “Great Places in America” by the American Planning Association.
This is a village that keeps its heritage alive, with two museums and the largest historic district in the state: 120 buildings on 1,600 acres. In the middle of it all, Amherst’s beautiful oval green is as hardworking as ever: In a typical year it hosts a Christmas tree lighting, band concerts, an antiques show, farmers’ markets, an Easter egg hunt, and a big July Fourth celebration.
Perched on a hilltop, this two-acre rectangle has escaped the heavy-traffic necklace that so many greens suffer, thanks to the rerouting of a state highway back in the 1950s. Featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, the village green is ringed by a gleaming white three-rail fence, faithfully maintained since the early 1900s by Village Improvement Society volunteers. The second Saturday of every August finds townspeople at Old Home Day, complete with potato-sack races.
The Puritans measured the settlement’s green to hold 144,000 people. Why? Such was the number of souls prophesied to be saved in the Rapture, and the town fathers wanted a good spot for the airlift. When Hurricane Sandy descended in the fall of 2012, it toppled an old oak tree. Among its roots was a human skeleton, likely dating to colonial times, when the green was the town’s burying ground.
Though it’s easy to see the merits in Bruce Irving’s choices, it’s impossible for us to leave off two Connecticut gems — Guilford and Litchfield — while those who’ve visited Lexington, Massachusetts’s green will certainly want their votes tallied too.
What are your picks for the best town greens in New England? Let us know in the comments below.