It might sound strange to call an entire city a “hidden gem,” especially one as big as Peabody. After all, Peabody is home to the Northshore Mall, making the city one of the region’s largest and most popular shopping destinations. But be- yond the mall and the rush of Route 114 is a different Peabody, a city that celebrates its ethnic diversity and history while also revitalizing its Main Street district to bring new life—and new people—to its downtown.
“We do not want Peabody to be thought of as a pass-through town,” says Mayor Ted Bettencourt. “We want to make it a destination.” One of Bettencourt’s first orders of business when he took office two years ago was to bring new life to Main Street, which not only was “downtrodden aesthetically” but wasn’t safe for pedestrians because of the way cars sped through town in four lanes of traffic.
“It kind of became a raceway in many regards,” Bettencourt says. Through a MassWorks grant for a Main Street reconfiguration project, Peabody has expanded the area’s sidewalks; gotten new crosswalks; planted trees; reduced the number of lanes from four to two; added new, synchronized traffic lights; and installed lovely old-fashioned street lamps.
“It’s a complete facelift,” Bettencourt says, and it’s already paying off. “For the first time in decades, we’ve had major investments in some of our buildings downtown.” Among those investments are new residential apartments, new businesses coming in, and plans for a boutique hotel. “We think that we’re experiencing a revitalization of our downtown,” Bettencourt says.
The city’s businesses and residents appreciate the work that’s been done on Main Street, says Joan Morrissey, co-president of the Peabody Downtown Association, especially the way it has attracted more pedestrians and stoked interest in living closer to Main Street.
“We love the revitalization project,” Morrissey says. “It’s showing outsiders what a great community it is and how much better, potentially, it can be.”
Making changes to Main Street’s aesthetics and infrastructure isn’t the only way that the city is trying to attract more businesses to downtown. According to Deanne M. Healey, president and CEO of the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce, the city has a loan program for small businesses and also hired its first business liaison, who guides people through the process of opening a business in the city. Healey says she always follows up with new business owners to ask about how the start-up process went for them.
“We have received an overwhelming response about how easy it is to open a business in Peabody,” she says. “Businesses are an integral part of the city.” Of course, it’s perfectly fitting that businesses are finding such a critical foothold in a city that’s named for George Peabody, a giant of finance and the father of modern philanthropy, whose businesses and benefactions would eventually evolve into institutions like J. P. Morgan, London’s Peabody Trust, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the Peabody museums at Harvard and Yale.
While Peabody busies itself with changing its downtown for the better, there are things that the city doesn’t want to change. Among them is the pride it has in its ethnic and cultural diversity. “We were, at one point, the leather capital of the world,” Bettencourt says. “Many immigrants came from Europe because of the jobs in the leather industry. That’s how the city was built.”
Those immigrants put down roots in Peabody, and today their heritage is still strong. In fact, Peabody hosts an International Festival each year, and this year’s—which was relocated to be closer to Main Street—was the biggest one in its 31-year history, boasting more than 100 booths celebrating the city’s Greek, Portuguese, Jewish, Italian, Brazilian, Dominican, Polish, and other ethnic groups. That diversity is just one of the many aspects of Peabody that make it such a vibrant place to live. “It’s a suburban community with all the amenities of a big city,” says Healey.
“There’re just so many hidden treasures and gems in Peabody that peo- ple don’t know about,” says Deanne M. Healey, president and CEO of the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce. There’s the Peabody Institute Library, with its incredible art and historical holdings; the Elizabeth Cassidy Folk Art Museum; and the city’s vast array of authentic culturally diverse dining options.
But perhaps Peabody’s most significant hidden gem is Brooksby Farm, a more than 200-acre farm that’s been owned and managed by the city since the mid-1970s. It offers apple picking, a farm store, barnyard animals for kids to visit, woodland trails, and cross-country skiing. It also hosts special events and field trips.
“We usually refer to it as a treasure,” says farm manager JoAnne Roden. “We’re smack dab in the middle of the city. But you drive up the road, and it’s kind of an oasis. You can’t help but slow down, enjoy the simple things.”
Brooksby Farm is primarily an apple orchard but also offers other pick-your-own fruits throughout the season, including peaches and blueberries. They sell pumpkins, apple cider, and fruit pies at harvest time, and wreaths and holiday gifts at Christmas. After the holidays, cross-country skiing is popular throughout the farm’s wooded trails, and although many people bring their own equipment, the farm has rental equipment available, too. They also work closely with the city’s recreation department throughout the year to run outdoor activities. In addition, the Peabody Historical Society’s Smith Barn, on the Felton-Smith Historic Site adjacent to the farm, is a favorite spot for weddings and private parties.
“It’s really a tremendous asset,” says Bettencourt. “We take a lot of pride in operating it ourselves.”
In fact, it’s rather unusual for a city to own and operate a farm like Brooksby, says Roden, and it’s something that she is exceedingly proud of, adding that she of- ten fields calls from other cities and towns looking to follow Peabody’s example.
“I think it’s a great thing for the city to promote. It’s something for [us] to be proud of,” she says. “People are amazed that the city actually owns a farm. We’re kind of that model of a city-run farm that actually works.” brooksbyfarm.org
WHAT TO DO
The Elizabeth Cassidy Folk Art Museum features works from the Peabody Historical Society’s collection of folk art. 35 Washington St., 978-531-0805, peabodyhistorical.org
Brooksby Farm is Peabody’s pastoral gem. 54 Felton St., 978-531-7456, brooksbyfarm.org
Peabody Institute Library is home to treasures like rare Audubon volumes and a prized miniature portrait of Queen Victoria. 82 Main St., 978-531-0100, peabodylibrary.org
Grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the new hot spot Mike & Lill’s Black Sheep Pub & Grill. 5 Central St., 978-854-6780, mikeandlillsblacksheep.com
Enjoy breakfast, brunch, and lots of friendly faces at the Peabody Diner. 10 Margin St., 978-854-5800
Find top-notch Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine in the heart of downtown at Sugar Cane. 106 Main St., 978-532-7800, sugarcanepeabody.com
Petrillo’s Restaurant is a family-owned Peabody favorite serving Italian cuisine. 6 Foster St., 978-977-5330, petrillosrestaurant.com
The sushi at Maki Sushi Bar & Grill wins rave reviews. 43 Main St., 978-854-5426, makisushibar.net
RaÃces’ authentic Caribbean fare specializes in Puerto Rican food. 14 Lowell St., 978-977-2909
Find Burtons Grille, The Cheesecake Factory, Legal Sea Foods, and more all under one roof at the Northshore Mall. 210 Andover St., 978-531-3440, simon.com
Custom-made invitations and art glass are just a few of the treasures at A Small Creation & Boutique. 215 Newbury St., 978-532-7874, asmallcreation.com
Ride, run, or walk eight miles through Peabody’s streets and green space on the Independence Greenway rail trail. Northshore Mall trailhead near 1 Essex Center Dr
Ranked among the top golf courses in Massachusetts is the 18-hole, city-operated The Meadow at Peabody. 80 Granite St., 978-532-9390, peabodymeadowgolf.com
Subs and sandwiches are the specialty at Santoro’s of Peabody. 41 Main St., 978-532-2791, santoros.com
A throwback atmosphere and hearty food make The Little Depot Diner a Peabody institution. 1 Railroad Ave., 978-977-7775, thelittledepotdiner.com
Enjoy a traditional Brazilian steak house at Oliveira’s Restaurant. 150 Main St., 978-532-1530, oliveirasrestaurante.com
Handmade items, doll clothing, and children’s attire make Teresa’s Crafters Boutique a unique shopping spot. 71 Main St., 978-531-2624, teresascraftersboutique.com
The historic homes, buildings, and collections of the Peabody Historical Society & Museum provide a glimpse into the city’s history, including the Nathaniel Felton Senior and Junior Houses. 978-531- 0805, peabodyhistorical.org
Flame-roasted lamb and steak are just a few of the beloved menu offerings at the half-century-old Wardhurst Restaurant & Bar. 31 Lynnfield St., 978-531-9730, thewardhurst.com
Land ’n Sea Restaurant offers just what its name promises. 67 Lynnfield St., 978-548- 6177, landnsearestaurant.com
Find new and used luxury vehicles at Lyon-Waugh Auto Group. 221 Andover St., 877-530-0807, bmwpeabody.com, lyonwaugh.com
Pellana Prime Steakhouse is a classic fine dining experience. 9 Sylvan St., 978-531-4800, pellanasteakhouse.com
Enjoy a little just-for-men pampering at the idyllic Men’s Spa at the Mansion. Rt. 1 South at Lake St.,978-854-5992 mensspaatthemansion.com
Find authentic handmade German sausage, as well as imported grocery items, beer, and wine at Karl’s Sausage Kitchen and European Market. 1 Bourbon St., 978-854- 6650, karlssausage.com
Bishop Fenwick is a private Catholic high school. 99 Margin St., 978-587-8300, fenwick.org