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slides: Central MA Top Ten Best Communities

Friday, June 29, 2012


GoLocalWorcester has crunched the numbers and reviewed all the data that affects what makes for a great community.  We've looked at school performance, housing affordability, restaurants, museums and crime statistics, and weighed all the numbers, and we've found out which communities are the Best Communities in Central Mass and the Best Communities in Massachusetts.

Central Mass' Top Ten Best Communities list is led by Worcester.  With top scores for arts and culture, as well as for its numerous choices for restaurants, Worcester has earned its top spot.  But which Central Mass towns make the Top Ten?  

TopTen Towns are safe, with good schools, and have some cultural offerings as well as at least a few restaurants to choose from.  Most of them made the top ten in more than one of the individual metrics.  

Is your town here? If not, do you think it should have been?

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Worcester #1

Worcester, the heart of the Commonwealth, rightly deserves top billing.  

History in a nutshell 

Known as the "Heart of the Commonwealth," Worcester was settled in 1673 on Nipmunc land. The area was originally called Quinsigamond, which meant the "fishing place for pickerel." The early settlement was destroyed during the King Philip's War in 1675. The town was eventually resettled and incorporated in 1684. Worcester was again disrupted and abandoned in 1702 from another set of Native American attacks. The town was resettled 11 years later for the third and final time, and named after the city in England. It was incorporated in 1722 and chartered as a city in 1848. The city became known for its industry, particularly textiles. Worcester was home of the first envelope folding machine, invented by Russel Howes, and the first valentine cards, designed by Esther Howland. The town continued to thrive economically, especially from the growing immigrant population and railroad industry. 
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Worcester by the numbers
Established: 1722

Population: 181,045

Median household income: $45,036

Median housing price: $155,000

2012 Best Communities rankings

Overall ranking: 1

Affordability ranking: 68

Education ranking: 71

Economic condition ranking: 72

Safety ranking: 72

Arts & Culture ranking: 1

Restaurant ranking: 1
Photo courtesy of Arnold Reinhold
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Harvard #2

History in a nutshell

The town of Harvard was home to many various utopian and new-thought societies. Transcendentalist Amos Alcott, with young daughter Louisa May Alcott, and Charles Lane attempted to create a socialist farm called the Fruitlands, which only last seven months. In 1905 the town became home to the Harvard Shaker Village--a utopian society that advocated celibacy, self-denial and communal ownership of property. Another movement appeared in 1918 when Harvard resident Henry George attempted to create a single tax zone in the town which survived only 20 years.

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Harvard by the numbers

Established: 1732
Population: 6,520
Median household income: $141,274
Median housing price: $586,000
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 2
Affordability ranking: 70
Education ranking: 1
Economic condition ranking: 1
Safety ranking: 14
Arts & Culture ranking: 10

Photo courtesy of 


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Shrewsbury #3

History in a nutshell

After its settlement in 1722, Shrewsbury developed as an agricultural community, first focusing on apple orchards, and then, with the development of the leather industry, began geared towards cattle herding. As many town began industrially developing in the 19th century, Shrewsbury lacked sufficient waterpower and, instead, evolved as a suburb of Worcester. 

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Shrewsbury by the numbers

Established: 1727
Population: 35,608
Median household income: $85,697
Median housing price: $331,875
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 3
Affordability ranking: 61
Education ranking: 2
Economic condition ranking: 10
Safety ranking: 8

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Thomas 

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Hopkinton #4

History in a nutshell

Hopkinton is home to healing powers and the Boston Marathon. The town attracted people throughout the region because, at one time, it was believed that one of its lakes had magical healing powers. Buying into the belief, resorts were established and travelers would come to the town in order to take a dip in the magical mineral baths. The start-line of the famous Boston Marathon was moved to Hopkinton in 1924. Runners and fans have come to the town to watch the beginning the world-renowned race. 

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Hopkinton by the numbers

Established: 1715
Population: 14,925
Median household income: $120,240
Median housing price: $419,750
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 4
Affordability ranking: 56
Education ranking: 3
Economic condition ranking: 3
Safety ranking: 5
Arts & Culture ranking: 32

Photo courtesy of Christopher Goodband 

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Paxton #5

History in a nutshell

Paxton, an agricultural town, was settled in 1749 and incorporated in 1765. In its formation, the town took land from both Leicester and Rutland and was named after Charles Paxton, a customs commissioner. The town is home to a bell which is still in use and was made by Paul Revere. The bell was brought to Paxton by Supreme Court Justice, David Davis. 

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Paxton by the numbers

Established: 1765
Population: 4,086
Median household income: $100,333
Median housing price: $199,000
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 5
Affordability ranking: 7
Education ranking: 9
Economic condition ranking: 16
Safety ranking: 1
Photo courtesy of Jay Boucher 
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Northborough #6

History in a nutshell

Northborough was settled in 1672 and incorporated in 1766. The town's first Meeting House was built in 1746 where mandatory Congregational services were held and where the elected "tithing men" governed. At the time, there was no line between church and state. Northborough is home to the Old Town House which has the longest roof span of any known French Mansard style roof. The town became an Industrialized city, focusing on textiles, with the turn of the 19th Century, eventually fizzling out and reverted the town to farmland and suburbs. 

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Northborough by the numbers

Established: 1766
Population: 14,155
Median household income: $102,969
Median housing price: $373,500
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 6
Affordability ranking: 58
Education ranking: 5
Economic condition ranking: 8
Safety ranking: 7
Photo courtesy of Zachary Cava/USFWS 
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Holden #7

History in a nutshell

Holden has a special link with the President of the Continental Congress when the Declaration of Independence was signed—John Hancock. Hancock was the first person to sign the revolutionary document and, after the American Revolutionary War, he became the Governor of Massachusetts. While governor, Hancock donated the Town Square to Holden.  

Photo courtesy of Marc N. Belanger 

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Holden by the numbers

Established: 1741
Population: 17,346
Median household income: $88,405
Median housing price: $236,000
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 7
Affordability ranking: 33
Education ranking: 8
Economic condition ranking: 20
Safety ranking: 3
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Sutton #8

History in a nutshell

The first three families to settle the land in 1704 were faced by the "big snow." Survivors of the harsh winter were rescued by Native Americans, which allowed the settlement to continue. Sutton, incorporated in 1714, developed both agriculturally and industrially, benefiting from both farmland and orchards as well as three large mills. 

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Sutton by the numbers

Established: 1714
Population: 8,963
Median household income: $105,164
Median housing price: $243,535
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 8
Affordability ranking: 16
Education ranking: 23
Economic condition ranking: 6
Safety ranking: 24
Arts & Culture ranking: 8
Restaurant ranking: 47

Photo courtesy of Sean of Douglas, MA

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Westborough #9

History in a nutshell

As the Hundredth town of Massachusetts, Westborough's industry was spurred by the connection of the railroads, leading to the growth of shoe, hat, sleigh, bicycle and textile factories. Also, the town's orchards and dairies supplied the nearby cities. 


Photo courtesy of Kevin Johnson

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Westborough by the numbers

Established: 1717
Population: 18,272
Median household income: $96,069
Median housing price: $378,500
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 9
Affordability ranking: 69
Education ranking: 6
Economic condition ranking: 22
Safety ranking: 30
Arts & Culture ranking: 19

Photo courtesy of Doug Kerr

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Bolton #10

History in a nutshell

Bolton's history is filled with numerous Native American conflicts with King Philip, or Metacom. These including Native American uprisings and one massacre, resulting in most of the homes guarded by flankers to protect against further attacks. Since its incorporation in 1738, the town has relied on agriculture as its primary industry. 

Photo courtesy of John Phelan 
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Bolton by the numbers

Established: 1738
Population: 4,897
Median household income: $125,741
Median housing price: $454,525
2012 Best Communities rankings
Overall ranking: 10
Affordability ranking: 62
Education ranking: 7
Economic condition ranking: 4
Safety ranking: 20
Arts & Culture ranking: 4 
Restaurant ranking: 40

Photo courtesy of James West 


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