Monday, March 22, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 32: Taunton, Mass.

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund
Trip 32: Taunton, Mass.
March 18, 2010
Seemingly a hybrid between city life and small town charm, Taunton has something for everyone.  There are beautiful cathedral style churches, amazing monuments and mills, historical buildings, and quaint shops and eateries all intertwined into one truly great place to visit.  Located only a half hour from the Cape and forty minutes from Boston, Taunton blends the best of both areas perfectly.  It is the largest town in terms of square mileage in the state.
            Taunton was originally settled in 1637.  The name was taken from the town of Taunton in Somerset, England as that was where many of the first settlers came from.  These settlers took possession of the land from the native Wampanoags who had called the land Cohannet.  The land saw battles during the Revolutionary War and became an important town in the 19th Century due to silver and iron industries.  The Taunton River is the town’s only major waterway.  Though beautiful it can also be dangerous, it was flooded after a series of large rainstorms recently.
I chose to park and walk into the center of town first, it was a good choice.  A walk down Broadway is a great way to get a feel for Taunton.  I passed by the amazing St. Mary’s Church, located in a small section of town also called St. Mary’s Square.  It towers overhead with the feel of a structure built a thousand years ago.  On a sunny day like this was the church is a mass of color and intricate shadows ripe for photographers.
            Only steps from St. Mary’s church you will pass by a classic doughnut shop named Colonial Donut Shop.  It has a look and feel of a gathering place for locals untouched by progress, with a grandfather who once owned a few doughnut shops, in Hyannis as well as Brockton, this was something that I appreciated.
            Even before you get close to Taunton Green(left) in the heart of the town an incredible green dome becomes visible in the distance.  This belongs to the Bristol County Superior Courthouse(right).  Built in 1894 in a Roman-esque style, the courthouse contains a large law library located in the dome section of the building.  The green color of the dome comes from the oxidation of the copper, much the same as the Statue of Liberty.  This process takes between ten and fifteen years to occur.  There is so much more to see on the grounds of the courthouse including an incredible World War II memorial fountain to the right of the building.  Luckily at this time of year the fountains were not turned on; it allowed a great view of the granite earth located in the center of four pillars.  On the other side of the courthouse grounds is a moving Korean War memorial featuring two soldiers, one of whom has seemingly just passed away.  It is hard not to be touched by both of these memorials.
            The walk down Broadway eventually leads to historical Taunton Green.  This is a great place to sit and people watch, eat lunch on a sunny day.  It has also been a traditional meeting place for troops about to be deployed, thus the war memorials on the grounds.  What fascinated me was the way that all of the roads fed into this area, the town literally revolves around the Green.  In the center of the Green is a gigantic fountain dedicated to local citizen Walter Soper in 1959.  It has two fish sculpted into it that give the fountain a more magical look.  Again, at this time of year the water was not running which allowed for a better view of what lay underneath.  The Green is a perfect jumping off point for any walk through the downtown area and there is another place, one with a historic flavor, not far away.
            The Old Colony Historical Society sits little more than a block from the center on a road called Church Green.  Housed in a brick schoolhouse originally built in 1852, this spot contains a mass of information about the people and history of the town of Taunton.  Included are displays of fine silver, Wampanoag artifacts, military pieces, as well as toys and portraits.  There are guided tours for children which makes this place a great stop on a family outing.  
            For those who are not looking for history or beautiful architecture there is something for them as well.  Massasoit State Park is located both in East Taunton and neighboring Lakeville on Middleboro Avenue.  I was pleasantly surprised by the King Airfield Hanger historic site(left).  It is what the name says, an airplane hanger, built in 1919.  What was even more intriguing was the very small cemetery along the roadside with stones dating back to the Revolutionary War days.  On a desolate part of the road it made for a haunting scene that added to a very fun drive.
Named for the legendary Native American ‘sachem,’ or chief, Massasoit State Park has 126 campsites and four lakes.  Though the gates to the main road were closed on this day it was still populated by many people jogging and walking with their kids and dogs.  The Perry cranberry bogs, which are privately maintained, fit right in with the rest of the natural beauty.  Lake Rico(right) is the closest, and largest, body of water to the main gate if visitors do not wish to travel far into the park’s grounds.   This lake takes up nearly a quarter of the park’s grounds and has a separate parking area outside of the park as well.  It will give you a taste of the beauty of Massasoit even if you do not travel any further inside.
Taunton is very much a hybrid town, mixing small town charm with city advances.  It is something that cannot easily be explained but once you step foot on its streets you will understand what I mean.  I highly recommend taking a nice walk through the Taunton Green area if the weather permits, and definitely visiting Massasoit State Park even if only to see Lake Rico.  With something for everyone, Taunton is awaiting.  Have fun and happy traveling!
Directions: Taunton Green: From I-495 take Exit 6 for Harding Street/Rt. 44, follow it for 6 miles.  Continue straight onto Church Green, continue onto Main Street.  Turn left at Court St., take 1st left onto Taunton Green.  Parking is available on every street, there is also a lot located nearby on School St.
Massasoit State Park:  From I-495, take Exit 5 for Bedford St./Rt. 18, turn right onto Taunton St.  Continue onto Middleboro Avenue, turn left onto Massasoit Park Rd.
            Taunton, Mass. Official Site
            Massasoit State Park Information

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