Less than 7 miles from South Natick, you can explore an adult-, kid- and dog-friendly park that offers a mix of easily navigable woodland trails along the Charles River and an historic maze of old buildings once home to Medfield State Hospital staff and patients.
The current Medfield State Hospital grounds are open to public to roam, though could be in for a major redevelopment depending on the proposals that the town of Medfield receives and how residents vote, likely in the fall. Affordable housing, a cultural center, and historic uses could be in store for the 128-acre property and dozens of buildings (all of which are currently off-limits to the public).
We dropped by last fall and again on a warm May Saturday, and enjoyed our visits both times.
This time around we found the woodland trails and paths among the buildings to be peopled (and dogged) but not at all crowded.
Plenty of parking is available, and we recommend driving a little further than you think you should once you enter the grounds off of Hospital Road. You can get up close to a river and meadow overlook, the trail entrance, and the buildings.
We took in the sounds to start. Gunshots from a nearby (but far enough away) gun club. The buzz of model airplanes from a bordering model airplane club site. Closer still was birdsong, which eventually drowns out the other noise.
We busied ourselves for an hour-plus on the trails, of which there are about 4 miles’ worth, and later for a sit-down picnic among the boarded up brick buildings. The psychiatric hospital operated for more than 100 years, closing in 2003.
The trails start off wide and flat, suitable for a stroller, but after a spell get narrower and steeper. Ferns, blueberry bushes, wildflowers, and more surround the trails. A mix of trees, from tall pines and oaks to scented apple trees, shade the trails, while glacial erratics and outcroppings overlooking the Charles add variety.
We took the Charles River Trail and looped back, eventually hitting the Steering Wheel spur that ended uphill and dumped us back near the parking lot. We came across a doggie playdate in a clearing, too.
We then ventured to the old state hospital site, which has an eerie but cool feel with its fenced off and boarded up buildings, warning signs affixed liberally. The site has served as a movie set for films such as Shutter Island, New Mutants, and Knives Out, and also is the site of pop-up drive-in movies. During the day, families stroll and bike, and people walk their dogs (must be leashed).
We shot a few hoops on a rusty old and shaky rim, which hovered over a handful of community basketballs. We had our lunch perched on the steps of one of those buildings you’re not allowed to enter.
— Natick Report (@NatickReport) May 15, 2021
The future use of part of these grounds for a cultural center is foreshadowed by a mural in progress, a poetry project, a Little Free Library that specializes in diversity books, and a crowded garden.
Across the road from the old medical facility are sports fields, and on Wednesdays-Saturdays, a pop-up BBQ joint called Pollard’s Texas Que, in case you prefer to grab something to eat there rather than bring your own.
Any redevelopment of the old Medfield State Hospital grounds is still a ways off, but we suggest paying a visit soon so that you’ll be able to compare the before and after.
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