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 historic hotbed of Revolutionary America. 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, and this spring is slated to witness the workings of a major renovation, its first 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 green, the centerpiece of a streetscape declared one of the “Great Places in America” by the American Planning Association. After rotating, tuck into Richardson’s Tavern at the Woodstock Inn, fronting on the green.
Amherst, New Hampshire
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, hosting a Christmas-tree lighting, band concerts, an antiques show, farmers’ markets, an Easter-egg hunt, and a big July 4th celebration.
Craftsbury Common, Vermont
Perched on a hilltop, this two-acre rectangle has escaped the heavy-traffic necklace so many greens suffer, thanks to the rerouting of a state highway back in the 1950s. Featured in Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, the common is ringed by a bright-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.
New Haven, Connecticut
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. Pondering this, visit nearby Sally’s, Frank Pepe’s, and Modern to decide who makes the best pizza in New England.
Editors’ Alternative Favorites
Though it’s easy to see the merits in Bruce Irving’s choices, it’s impossible to for us to leave off two of Connecticut’s gems—Guilford and Litchfield—while those who’ve visited Longfellow, Massachusett’s green will certainly want their votes tallied, too.
View photos of some of our favorite town greens and join in the conversation.
What are your picks for the best town greens in New England?