A Weekend In and Around Hudson, Massachusetts
Hudson, Mass. is a serene, verdant Boston suburb tucked away just West of the historic Boston Post Road in an area of the state known for its Revolutionary War-era battlefields, family farms, and grist mills—some of which are older than the country itself. But over the past half decade, Hudson (population: 19,063) has begun to transform itself into a passionate small business community who've brought its downtown back from the brink of ghost town in just a few short years of hard work and camaraderie over competition.
The thing that makes Hudson most unique? The city’s rare level of dedication to a “Local First” mindset—uniquely embraced both by residents committed to supporting small businesses and a local town government committed to not getting in their way—has enabled the growth of a fledgling weekly farmer’s market, a thriving local brewery, an award-winning farm-to-table restaurant, a microcreamery, and a speakeasy, with more new hyper-local, farm-sourced restaurant concepts on the way. The former Underground Railroad stop also boasts a cheesemonger, an herbalist, and a growing number of boutiques stocking locally made goods. We hear there might even be a holistic wellness center on the way.
But just as importantly, Hudson is showing its surrounding communities and farming towns how to follow their lead by returning to a way of All-American economic life that isn’t new at all but rather somewhat ancient—the way life always was in small towns and cities the world over, before we started outsourcing manufacturing and allowing globalist retail to infiltrate our formerly community-centric and seasonally driven economies. In Hudson, what was once a bustling suburban manufacturing hub with an historic grist mill and 17 shoe factories—all powered by the Assabet River winding through downtown—nearly came to a tragic end, but this is a happy story about how it was not just resuscitated but returned to near-Utopian glory.
Here’s how to thoroughly enjoy and get inspired by all that proud agricultural history—while simultaneously tapping into the electricity and hopeful vibes of its current successes, literally enjoying the fruits of its collaborations—with a weekend trip to Hudson and surrounding areas:
Local business owners and town officials credit the three co-founders of this innovative farm-to-table restaurant with both spearheading downtown Hudson’s revival and continuing to serve as its anchor. We had the pleasure of dining here for lunch earlier this summer, and were jaw-droppingly surprised to find a wood-fired flatbread restaurant with some of the best gluten-free and vegan options northeast of Brooklyn, including an absolutely addictive roasted buffalo cauliflower appetizer with house-made, dairy-free “blue cheez” and house-made pickled celery, plus a wood-fired flatbread pizza with house-made vegan mozzarella, roasted figs, and arugula—all using only local farm ingredients. In addition to its delicious fare, Rail Trail also serves a dominant selection of local craft brews on its 20 taps, plus a seriously impressive list of cocktails and “mocktails”. They also recently opened an ice cream shop called New City Microcreamery across the street—complete with an adults-only speakeasy called Less Than Greater Than in the back room.
Cheesemonger and Whole Foods-trained Certified Cheese Professional Katie Quinn is not just a bona fide local cheese expert, she’s also a Hudson native who remembers the original downtown firsthand and loves that the “vibrant old town feel” has returned to her hometown. Quinn relishes being able to sample cheeses for her customers and thrives on helping them with pairings, from entire cheese plate assortments to picnic supplies, including specialties like raw wildflower honey from the nearby apiaries at Hudson Hives Honey Bee Apothecary, baked goods from Crust Artisan Bakeshop in Worcester, and Massachusetts grown-and-cooked jams from Doves & Figs in Arlington. Just one of a current majority of women-owned businesses in Hudson, Quinn lends her vivacious personality and collaborative culinary leadership to a number of specialty dinner events like the regularly hosted Lettuce Be Local dinners at Medusa Brewing in Hudson and the local beer dinners at BirchTree Bread in Worcester (also a Hudson Farmers Market regular).
After scouring the entire New England area for the perfect pasteurized-on-site dairy farm, the three Rail Trail owners found their Goldilocks when they partnered with Mapleline Farm in Hadley—whose “Big Guy in Charge”, John Kokoski, delivers the high-quality, humanely raised Jersey milk to Hudson each week himself. Avoiding the gimmicks usually associated with liquid nitrogen in the culinary world these days (save one), the New City chefs spin all of the all-natural ice creams by hand right on site—just fresh cream, fresh milk, maybe a little buttermilk, all-natural stabilizers, and fresh ingredients. The all-day cafe—complete with a Main Street-facing patio and a fun side yard with string lights, picnic tables, and bag toss games—also serves up coffee, espresso, house-made pastries, and sandwiches.
This new modern Mexican restaurant, named for an heirloom variety of Oaxacan corn, is set to open in the fall of 2018 and will occupy two storefronts on Main Street in the historic Odd Fellows building. With 100 seats and a full liquor license, it’s the third restaurant from the award-winning owners of nearby Worcester city favorites The Dive Bar and Armsby Abbey, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Owner Alec Lopez is credited with bringing a craft beer and farm-to-table dining focus to Central Mass, and according to Lynn Cheney at Lettuce Be Local—who has helped owner Alec Lopez to source heavily from local farms for a decade—the menu will most likely feature meats, cheeses, and produce from hyper-local family farms like Applefield Farms in Stow and Berberian’s Farm and Tougas Family Farm in Northboro. As well as beer taps from their Hudson neighbors at Medusa Brewing, of course. Keeps your eyes on their Twitter feed for opening day details.
The second business to open in Hudson’s new wave in 2015, this Main Street taproom and brewery crafts about 75 to 100 different brews of ales and lagers annually—using Massachusetts-grown hops from Four Star Farms in Northfield and grains from Valley Malt in Hadley, including the hyper-local 2018 release of Friendly Territory. While rumor has it the owners are currently looking into expanding with a canning facility, visitors can currently grab a seat in the sustainability-minded taproom and brewery: the taproom features a 50-foot-long white oak and steel bar made of materials reclaimed from one of Newport, Rhode Island’s historic mansions (seen in the photo); the brewery offers full dinner and lunch service (plus big, occasional farm-to-table beer dinners with Lettuce Be Local) at hand-built red mahogany tables made of recycled bleacher seats from a Worcester high school. Hudson visitors will also notice Medusa’s beers collaboratively featured in everything from ice cream flavors at New City Microcreamery to porter soaps from Elzire’s Acres Goats Milk sold at the Hudson Farmers Market. Medusa’s spent grains also go right back to local farms, which they’ll pick back up in the fall in the form of the pumpkins used for their Oktoberfest—a beer that actually tastes like pumpkin and none of the “pie spices” that people now associate with the gourd.
Hidden inside the back room of New City Microcreamery, this is a cool and unique—even by big-city standards—50-seat speakeasy cocktail and tapas bar where you’ll never find anyone under 21, anyone reaching over your shoulder at the bar, anyone hitting on you without your invitation. The three co-founders of Rail Trail knew what their suburban clientele wanted, and that was a great place to grab a drink with a great dinner menu—cheese plates, bits of steak, vegan options—but where there was no standing room, a fun vibe but not too “scene-y”. Borrowing from the liquid nitrogen tanks on-site for the ice cream shop, there’s a literal cool factor with Spirits and Cream—cocktails turned into ice creams on the spot that would wow David Lebovitz—plus a year-round Tiki Tuesday celebration to bring a little sunshine to even unpredictable New England weather.
Featuring small-batch gifts, clothing, cards, and organic beauty products made up and down the Eastern seaboard, this Main Street boutique just celebrated its first anniversary but is already woven deeply into the fabric of downtown Hudson. Owned by Amy Lynn Chase, the doyenne of Worcester’s small business community as founder of Crompton Collective and the Canal District Farmer’s Market, Haberdash has a decidedly bohemian aesthetic yet stocks some seriously practical items: “Farmers Are Heroes” tote bags, handmade in Worcester, and a mix of vintage baskets and French market bags to haul home all your fresh-picked goodies from the nearby farmers market. Massachusetts makers always in stock also include 100% locally sourced and packaged organic teas from Julia’s Teas in Worcester, hand-poured soy candles using only phthalate-free botanical and essential oils from Vessel Candle Co. in Newton, mother-daughter-made and one of a kind crystal and chakra jewelry and body oils from The Cyprus Cabinet in Central Mass, and “Nauti by Nature” upcycled sail fabric pennants and pillows from Fresh & Salty in Boston.
If you want to take home a vintage slice of Americana in true New England style, pop into Barry Barton’s Main Street Hudson antique shop any Tuesday through Sunday. His cozy, well-curated boutique features antique photography, travel posters and signage, furniture, home decor, and a select array of newly repurposed or handcrafted goods styled into attractive and aspirational vignettes—like desk lamps made from copper heaters, new Art Deco bookends made from antique 1920s molds, bars built into steamer trunks, vintage horse bits, and hand-poured candles from Paddywax in Nashville, Tennessee, all artfully intertwined with antique leather Chesterfields and 19th century medical ephemera.
Texas and Tucson native Kinsey Rosene used her experiences from travel, being an artisan, and studying herbalism to create Crose Nest as a “Botanical Pharmacopoeia”—a research library, botanical boutique, custom-blended tea shop, DIY beauty bar, and teaching space for holistic health. This second location of her popular Lowell shop just opened on Hudson’s Main Street in July, and Crose Nest’s sustainably sourced, organic, and non-GMO goods are already finding their way onto the local menus of its neighbors—like this housemade tea and herb liqueur using Crose Nest blends now behind the bar at Less Than Greater Than. Crose Nest also sells live medicinal plants, sourced locally from Lancaster Gardens in Bolton—with plans to also stock varieties from Muddy River Herbals in Canton and Sawmill Farms in Western Mass soon. Workshops in “medicine making’ are held around the New Moon and Full Moon at both the Lowell and Hudson boutiques, focused on plants and their actions: making tinctures, face masks, herbal chais, immune boosters, oxymels, “different interesting preparations so attendees can really build their knowledge about different vehicles for their beneficial herbs,” Rosene says.
LOCAL FARMS + FARMERS MARKETS
Hudson Farmers Market
In just two years, thanks to a grant to increase healthy eating and active living in Hudson, this fledgling farmers market (held each Tuesday from June through October) has already amassed a list of more than two dozen vendors, including Captain Marden’s Seafood in Wellesley, BirchTree Bread in Worcester, Balance Rock Farm in Berlin, Lanni Orchards in Lunenberg, Agronomy Farm Vineyard in Oakham, Ponyshack Cider in Boxborough, Elzire’s Acre Goat’s Milk Soap from Princeton, Auntie Dalie’s Pasta from Hopedale, Harvard Alpaca Ranch, Solstice Candles in Worcester, and more locally grown and made Massachusetts favorites. Smartly, co-founder and director of public health Kelli Calo moved the market this year from its previously hidden location in the parking lot behind town hall to the Main Street lawn directly in front of the iconic building, and moved the hours from 3 to 6 p.m. to 4 to 7 p.m. so more people could attend after work, creating a hugely supportive and engaged community—including the area’s large WIC, senior, and SNAP voucher population, benefits accepted by all applicable vendors.
The only local farm still situated within the town proper, this fourth-generation family farm on Lower Main Street in downtown Hudson just celebrated its 52nd anniversary and offers seasonal and greenhouse-grown produce and flowers seven days a week. Around the holidays, Ferjulian’s also offers freshly cut Fraser Fir trees, wreaths, and home-grown poinsettias for local families and downtown Hudson businesses in time for the annual Holiday Stroll.
Especially if you’re visiting the area with kids in tow, a visit to Drumlin Farm in neighboring Lincoln is a must—a cherished field trip and rite of passage for at least four generations of Greater Boston families. Run by the Mass Audubon Society since 1955, Drumlin Farm was donated by the Hathaway family so that everyone could experience life on a working farm and explore a wildlife sanctuary at the same time. As urban and suburban children, the chance to watch and pet the farm animals was enough to make one stick to their chores and manners for months in advance of Drumlin outing—as adults, there’s gratitude for the sustainability lessons and outdoor exploration memories, empathy gained by observing wildlife in their natural wetland and woodland habitats. Just don’t plan to go on a Monday: it’s closed!
A female-owned, 25-acre farm run by Kirsten Mong and her family since 1985, Applefield is just one town over from Hudson in neighboring Stow and is known for their eight greenhouses and organic practices, allowing them to grow a large variety of interesting and new plants. Visit their farm stand seasonally (April through October) for organic produce and flowers, or find them at local farmer’s markets and on dozens of local restaurant menus, like the upcoming Cónico.
From humble beginnings in an urban basement in Somerville, this beloved local winery and pick-your-own fruit orchard now also features a brewery and a distillery—making it even more of a self-contained fair-weather day trip when you’re in the area. Take a tour and see firsthand how your libations and spirits are made, learn about how more than 52% of Nashoba’s ingredients come from Massachusetts vineyards and farms—and how all of their wines are certified gluten-free. There’s a restaurant on-site featuring full meal service and to-go lunches, plus a “Snack Shack” selling locally made picnic supplies. From May through October, start your weekend visit with Food Truck Fridays, live music, sangrias and trendy “wine slushies.”
Sitting along a 150-yard stretch on the historic Boston Post Road in neighboring Sudbury, this authentically New England and village-like bed and breakfast opened in 1716 and is America’s oldest continuously operating inn. The original 18th century rooms above the kitchen book up quickly, but as a non-profit landmark its rates are a reasonable $170 to $190 per night year round. A stay here means an immersive and experiential adventure in Revolutionary America, preserved for posterity thanks to one-time owner Henry Ford—who built and opened the Grist Mill on the property in 1929, which to this day still grinds the corn and wheat flours used by the on-site restaurant and bakery, as well as popular gifts purchased by guests to take home.
The sprawling grounds offer endless opportunities for picnics, and if you time your trip right you may additionally catch one of the inn’s own seasonal events, including the upcoming Colonial CiderFest (September 21st, 2018) or Oktoberfest (September 28th, 2018), or local Craft Beer Tastings and Strawberry Concerts held in summer. But guests to the inn are serenaded almost every Wednesday evening by the transcendental sights and sounds of the Sudbury Ancients Fife and Drum Corp informally practicing on the grounds, beginning about 7 p.m.
A little closer to the city in Concord (of Battle of Lexington and Concord fame), there’s this treasure of local literary history: the 40-year-old boutique hotel was built in an 1860s home; sits on grounds once owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Amos Bronson Alcott—father to Louisa May Alcott, who wrote Little Women and other beloved American classics; and has seven luxury rooms each named after a renown local author, tome, or literary location. Take a tour of Alcott’s Orchard House museum down the street, take a dip at Thoreau’s Walden Pond, or simply rusticate on the Hawthorne Inn grounds and enjoy the spoils of all your Hudson area shopping experiences. Rates average between $189 to $299 per night, depending on the season.