Situated seven miles west of Boston, the city of Newton was established by European settlers in 1630 and now represents one of the oldest suburbs in Massachusetts. In the 19th century, manufacturing mills and a soon-to-be-famous sweet sealed the town’s place in history books. Newton commerce bloomed with the arrival of the Boston & Worcester train stations, and as trivia buffs and cookie lovers may recall, Nabisco named the chewy Fig Newton after the town in 1886.
Today, Newton is home to a population of more than 80,000, many drawn to the suburban atmosphere, good public schools and proximity to Boston. The Charles River, a favorite spot for kayaking and canoeing during warmer weather, bounds the community to the west, north and south.
Thirteen villages comprise “The Garden City”—an 18-square-mile, verdant patchwork of quiet, family-focused neighborhoods, each with its own architectural character. The City Planning Department hosts Newton city tours and guided walks past many village landmarks, such as the 19th-century Georgian Revival mansions of Chestnut Hill, to the east, and the Charles River waterfront structures of Auburndale, to the west.
Boston commuters drive westward to Newton on the Massachusetts Turnpike or opt for the scenic route via Beacon Street or Commonwealth Avenue—the latter a grand mansion-lined boulevard on the Boston Marathon route, known as “Comm Ave” to locals. Just east of Newton City Hall on Commonwealth Avenue lies Heartbreak Hill, the final steep slope of the marathon’s terrain and site of a landscaped mall designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, renowned architect of New York’s Central Park.
One of the tops things to do in Newton is to visit Boston College, a private liberal-arts institution in Chestnut Hill. Gothic architecture—designed by Maginnis & Walsh—peppers the 175-acre campus, set on a hilltop overlooking Chestnut Hill Reservoir, another park created by Olmsted. Outdoor aficionados hike the 1.5-mile trail skirting the water's edge. Campus tours led by students last 75 minutes, and advance registration is available on the Boston College website.
Other fun things to do in Newton include shopping in the village of Newton Centre. At Beacon and Centre Streets, visitors peruse high-end boutiques, ice-cream shops and restaurants. In the meantime, history buffs search for the home of Katharine Lee Bates, who penned “America the Beautiful.” A plaque marks the property on Centre Street.
Newton Centre Park, the city’s largest public park, abuts Centre Street and creates a good picnic spot after Newton city tours or shopping. A 10-minute stroll south, Crystal Lake is encircled with historic mansions and a walking path.
Right off the Massachusetts Turnpike, on the north side of town, lies Newton History Museum at the Jackson Homestead. Built in 1809, the Federal-style farmhouse displays rotating exhibits, such as paintings and photographs of the town’s Civil War soldiers and residents. Along with big business and fruit-filled cookies, Newton’s courageous inhabitants earned the town more than a nod in history books: In the 19th century, the Jackson Homestead served as an Underground Railroad hideaway for escaped slaves.