More than just a shopping destination, Burlington is bustling. By Debbie Strong
While you might find yourself en route to Burlington for a day of shopping—after all, in addition to myriad other retailers both large and small, it’s home to the booming, upmarket Burlington Mall—the town actually boasts so much more. Here, you’ll also uncover a top-tier dining scene (see sidebar) that seems more on par with a major cosmopolitan city than a suburban town, as well as a tight-knit residential community with great pride. In short, Burlington is an idyllic place to live and a pleasurable, accessible place to visit; a North Shore town that, says town administrator John Petrin, is “the economic capital of Route 128.”
Just 12 miles from Boston and nestled amidst Bedford, Billerica, Wilmington, Woburn, and Lexington, Burlington’s history reaches back to 1640 when, as a northwest corner of the town of Woburn, it was known as Charlestown Village. Because the town wasn’t officially incorporated until 1799, much of Burlington’s early history has also been written into the history of Woburn. Although it remains unclear where the name Burlington comes from, according to Burlington Historical Society president Mary Nohelty, one popular theory holds that it’s after the English town of Bridlington, Yorkshire, located on the east coast of England, which later became known as Burlington as well.
From Colonial times until the late 19th century, farming remained the major business in Burlington; at one time, there were several large dairy farms, a number of piggeries and shoe factories, and a well-known ham-curing plant. In fact, the town’s only surviving 19th-century connected-farm complex, Marion Tavern at Grand View Farm, is one of Burlington’s principal architectural landmarks. (After extensive renovations, the farm will reopen and be available for use as an event facility.)
The Francis Wyman House
The Francis Wyman House, another celebrated Burlington landmark, is generally held to be one of the three oldest surviving houses in Massachusetts. Built in 1666 to serve as a garrison house to which farmers in the vicinity could flee in case of Indian attacks, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975 and is available for tours.
While the sense of pride in history is evident here, pride in modern-day Burlington is just as great. In this town of 25,000 residents, the daytime population swells to nearly 150,000 (in addition to the Burlington Mall, the town is home to the well-regarded Lahey Clinic and hundreds of commercial offices), so hometown pride is not only passionate, but pervasive. “Burlington is a community first,” says Petrin. “Many people here are longtime residents, and they care deeply about their community.”
Whether it’s for the holiday tree-lighting, kids’ movie nights, or the summer concert series, residents come by the hundreds to Burlington’s Town Common for community events and gatherings outside of Town Hall. Burlington Player’s Park Playhouse puts on impressive theatrical productions, as does Burlington High School.
Sonia Rollins, former town selectman and current real estate agent and chairman of the board for the Burlington Area Chamber of Commerce, says, “People would be surprised by how the community not only has a vibrant commercial and retail district, but many great neighborhoods that are set apart from the commercial sector.” They’re just one of the many surprises Burlington has to offer.
Dates of Settlement: 1640. Date of Incorporation: 1799. Area: 11.88 square miles. Population: 25,052 residential; approx. 150,000 daytime population (2012). Zip Code: 01803. Median Household Income: $104,522 (in 2010). Schools: Burlington Early Childhood Center, Fox Hill Elementary School, Francis Wyman Elementary School, Memorial Elementary School, Pine Glen Elementary School, Marshall Simonds Middle School, Burlington High School, Mount Hope Christian School. Notable residents: Amy Poehler, comedian and actress; Steven Wright, comedian and actor; James Walker, president of Harvard University from 1853 to 1860; James MacGregor Burns, historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author; Roderick MacKinnon, winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize for chemistry; Pete Smith, former Major League Baseball pitcher; and multiple U.S. Olympians (for which a street, Olympian Way, is named), including: Kitty and Peter Caruthers, 1984 pairs figure skating; Mark Fusco and Scott Fusco, 1984 men’s ice hockey team; and Gary Piantedosi, 1976 men’s rowing.
On The Town: Burlington
Cafe Escadrille Opened in 1973, this popular restaurant and wedding venue is reminiscent of a grand country estate. Devour the famous Chateaubriand for two in the gourmet dining room, then retire to the mahogany bar for a nightcap. 26 Cambridge Street, 781-273-1916.
Schoolhouse Ice Cream & Yogurt Pop in any time of year and pick from 30-plus flavors of homemade ice cream, fro-yo, slushes, and sherbets at this beloved ice cream parlor owned by husband and wife Robert and Betty Stanley. If the Red Sox, Bruins, Pats, or Celtics are playing, the game will be on; for birthday parties, kids can make their own sundaes or cotton candy. 216 Cambridge Street, 781-221-0338.
Summer Winter The 2010 James Beard Award Winners for “Best Chefs in the Northeast,” Clark Frasier and Mark Graier are the talent behind this “garden-to-table” eatery, which features modern American cuisine infused with ingredients fresh from the on-site greenhouse. Inside the Burlington Marriott at 1 Mall Road, 781-221-6643.
L’Andana Celebrating a special occasion? Book a table at L’Andana Grill, where you’ll feast on the flavors of Tuscany—think tortellini with pumpkin farcito, pappardelle with marsala-glazed veal meatballs, and wood-grilled rib-eye with parmesan and truffle oil. 86 Cambridge Street, 781-270-0100.
Tavern in the Square Burlington’s nightlife got a boost with the opening of this bustling sports bar, which offers a rotating menu of draft beers, creative cocktails, and yummy pub fare. Head here on weekends to catch the game and indulge in the award-winning brunch buffet. 1 New England Executive Park, 781-272-9000.
LaCascia’s Bakery and Deli Ask any local where to get the best steak tips in town, and you’ll end up at LaCascia’s, a deli and baked good emporium that’s been loved by locals for more than 30 years. Munch on a tasty arancini (rice ball) while shopping for freshly sliced coldcuts, warm Scali bread, and delectable Italian pastries to take home to your family. 326 Cambridge Street, 781-272-5203.
Cycle Loft Since 1976, cycling enthusiasts from all over the area have headed to this pro shop, where they can stock up on apparel, accessories, and advice. Experienced staff can guide your purchase of a state-of-the-art racing bike, repair your 60-year-old English three-speed, and everything in between. 28 Cambridge Street, 781-272-0870.
Pyara Salon and Spa This tranquil day spa and Aveda salon feels like a sleek oasis you’d find in a major metropolis. Choose from a vast menu of revitalizing skin, hair, and body therapies, such as the Stress Fix, a deep-tissue massage that combines the serene scents of organic French lavender, lavandin, and clary sage. 101 Middlesex Turnpike, 781-270-9200.