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Local travel: The view from Fitchburg

Published: 2/7/2020 9:29:37 AM

Modified: 2/7/2020 9:29:26 AM

My friend Lainey and I are in the middle of a “photo safari” visiting every city and town in Massachusetts, taking photos along the way. This column talks about some of our favorites. This month: Fitchburg.

An undisclosed amount of time ago I attended FSC, Fitchburg State College. Old timers that were alumni who seemed to think they were cooler and tougher would brag that when they attended, it was called FU, Fitchburg University. Old news but I found out it is a University again — FSU, Fitchburg State University. Heaven help them, I also found out that after I turn 60, I can enroll tuition-free.

Fitchburg is in North central-ish Worcester County. A railroad MBTA and the Nashua River run through downtown. To give you a sense — just in size and population — it feels similar to Amherst. Its vibe and beauty is more similar to Holyoke. At its peak, Fitchburg sold everything, made everything and made the machines that made everything. The Fitchburg Railroad built the railroad across northern Massachusetts and through the Hoosac Tunnel. This is the railroad that Thoreau was talking about in Walden. The Burleigh rock drill that drilled the Hoosac Tunnel was manufactured in Fitchburg as was the Iver Johnson Revolver that killed President William McKinley. When I recently asked random locals what they are proud of, most responded with the view from Rollstone Hill. At one time there were six quarries on this mountain. I haven’t learned enough about quarrying to understand why after they close, cut rock is just laying around in slabs like they quit midday and didn’t clean up their mess. But in Fitchburg’s case, the local high school students went up and painted the area nicely, so you get artwork and a view. You know how beautiful it is to look at Holyoke from Route 91? That view, higher and three times the width is the view from Rollstone Hill and you see Wachusett Mountain.

For the boulder enthusiast, according to Atlas Obscura, at one time there was a boulder at the summit of Rollstone Hill. Interestingly, it isn’t made of any granite of that area. Some smart people think a glacier brought it down from central New Hampshire. The townspeople liked it enough to include it on their city seal and name a bunch of stuff in its honor. To preserve it, they blew it up, moved it to the intersection of Rollstone Drive and Main St, put just the outsides back together and filled the inside with cement. Don’t get too excited — it is only 10 feet tall and 110 tons.

I love Laurel Hill Cemetery at 166 Boulder Drive. It is a little rough exploring being on a hill, but it beautifully overlooks the town and is filled with interesting monuments. The grave of Amasa Norcross who shares a birthday with my mother. He was the first Mayor of Fitchburg and went on to become a U.S. Congressman. He died in Paris, France, in 1898 and apparently they brought him all the way back to Fitchburg to bury him. Amasa had a daughter Eleanor who never married, she was an artist and led an intriguing life. The short story is her father paid her to never sell her paintings. After her death 1923, she left money and artwork on the terms that Fitchburg establish a museum. The museum was originally a stable which sat across the street form her cousins house where she died. A group of all women architects from Boston designed it and it opened in 1929. Today the Art Museum is four buildings with an entire wing dedicated to her life and paintings. The museum holds classes and workshops in drawing, painting and even yoga. Right now there is an Egypt exhibit. The next exhibit starting February 8 – June 7 is After Spiritualism: Loss and Transcendence in Contemporary Art. On March 14 they are having a Night At The Museum: Steampunk Masquerade.

Fitchburg also is home to a Great Wolf Lodge which is an indoor waterpark chain with every activity you can think of for kids. There are restaurants, a fitness center and hot springs for the adults to enjoy, too. The word “lodge” indicates that visitors stay over night in their hotel, but they do sell a limited number of day passes. Their website is greatwolf.com.

According to the Fitchburg Historical Society, some really famous people have visited Fitchburg. Eleanor Roosevelt visited and was gifted a desk for her husband Franklin Delano. The desk is still kept in his “little white house” in Warm Springs, Georgia. Theodore Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge both had speaking engagements and Babe Ruth once visited Crocker Field. I feel proud that Calvin Coolidge, our local president, was the only one of them to get a plaque to memorialize their visit.

Michelle Pontbriant works in the Gazette’s circulation department. Follow along with her photo safari at facebook.com/laineyandmichelle.

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