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5 Things to Do When Visiting Topsfield

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Journey

Discover Topsfield’s trails, festivals and fair.

A Ferris wheel at the Topsfield Fair. John Tumacki / The Boston Globe

Topsfield is a small, rural town with a big presence when it comes to natural beauty, said Erin Merrill, deputy city clerk and resident for nearly 20 years.

“I love living here,” Merrill said of the Essex County destination located about 25 miles north of Boston.

The town, founded in 1680, has a population of about 6,500 and is perhaps best known for the Topsfield Fair, America’s oldest agricultural fair. But Topsfield has great events and programs throughout the year, Merrill said.

“There’s the farms, there’s the fair, it’s pretty, it’s close to the ocean, we have a lot of open space,” Merrill said.

Merrill shares her picks for what to see and do in Topsfield.

The Topsfield Fair, America’s oldest agricultural fair, is currently in full swing. The annual fair began on September 29 and will end on October 9.

The fair, which has been running for more than 200 years, brings together vendors, animals, rides, food, contests and shows at the Topsfield Fairgrounds each fall.

“It’s very country,” Merrill said. “There’s a lot of agricultural stuff.”

The Topsfield Fair’s Beekeeping and Honey Show is the largest in North America. There is a rodeo, horse and oxen pulling competition, Budweiser Clydesdale driving demonstration, goat, sheep and poultry shows, fruit and vegetable awards, baked goods, livestock , the popular giant pumpkin weigh-off, and much more. The fair also hosts New England’s Premier Flower Show.

Hungry visitors have plenty of dining options, like the “Gobbler,” a Topsfield Fair favorite described as Thanksgiving dinner in a sandwich, apple crisp, fried Oreos, German fries, bacon-wrapped bacon chocolate, and more.

Merrill said her children have always loved the rides at the fair, which range from carousels to roller coasters. A new ride, The Vertigo, welcomes three riders on a chair swing high in the sky.

“My favorite thing is when it’s cool and you walk around and have a hot cider and enjoy the smells and the views,” Merrill said.

Parson Capen House 65202cb9a5348

Do yourself a favor and visit the Parson Capen House, Merrill said.

The Topsfield Historical Society, which owns and maintains the house, calls it “one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture in America.”

“It’s pretty neat,” Merrill said of the house.

It is the former home of Rev. Parson Capen, the town’s minister from 1684 to 1725. He built the house, now a National Historic Landmark, in 1683.

Capen was a minister during the Salem witch trials of 1692, and members of his congregation were hanged for witchcraft, according to the Salem Witch Museum.

“Capen, who led his congregation for forty years until his death in 1725, appears to have been a calm and reasonable voice during dramatic and tragic events,” according to the museum’s website.

The 1710 Gould Barn, also located on the property, hosts weddings and special events. It was built by the Goulds, one of the founding families of Topsfield.

“They hold events there and lead historical discussions,” she said.

3. Attend a festival

Topsfield hosts several festivals throughout the year, and Merrill’s favorite is the annual Holiday on the Green, which takes place in December.

The free event includes lighting of the Town Common, a craft village, food trucks, musical performances, live animals, Santa’s workshop, a dog competition, decorated wooden snowmen, a bonfire and the arrival of Santa Claus in a fire truck. There is also a holiday walk involving town businesses.

“Neighborhood businesses open up on Main Street and offer snacks, and you can come in and say hello to everyone,” Merrill said.

Another popular festival is the annual Topsfield Strawberry Festival on the Town Common. The June event brings together more than 60 fine artisans selling everything from art to jewelry to clothing. There’s also food and music, children’s games, tours of the Parson Capen House and lots of strawberry shortcake.

“People come from all over for this,” she said.

Topsfield also hosts a Tomato Festival on the Proctor School grounds in September, with games, a farmers’ market, live music, a downtown scavenger hunt, art stations, a competition home-grown tomatoes, a tomato tasting contest, a tomato recipe tasting contest, and more.

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Bikers at Bradley Palmer State Park in Topsfield. – Jim Davis/Globe team

4. Lace up your shoes and hit the trails

For exercise and fresh air, there are many options in Topsfield, including the Topsfield Linear Common/Rail Trail, Merrill said.

“It goes through downtown,” Merrill said. “You can safely ride your bike downtown and grab a slice of pizza or go to Gil’s, our little country store.”

The four-mile trail is part of the larger Border to Boston Trail that will stretch from Boston to the Salisbury, N.H., border when completed, she said.

Another great outdoor spot is Bradley Palmer State Park, Merrill said, an old estate spanning 721 acres with plenty of trails, a pavilion, picnic areas, a patio with outdoor jets water and much more. It is located along the Ipswich River, in the towns of Topsfield and Hamilton.

At Mass Audobon’s Ispwich River Wildlife Sanctuary, people can explore 12 miles of trails that wind through forests, meadows and wetlands and include features such as a vernal pool, observation tower, walks and a popular rock cave built in 1905. Visitors can also explore the Ispwich River by canoe or kayak.

“There are a lot of nature-based programs,” Merrill said.

During the spring and summer, Merrill enjoys spending time at HomeGrown Market.

The market, which takes place every third Thursday of the month between June and September, offers fruits, vegetables, artisan products and much more.

“It supports local farmers and businesses,” Merrill said.

The market, hosted by Topsfield Recreation, supports Topsfield and North Shore businesses and also features food trucks, beer and wine tastings, performances by local musicians, informational booths from nonprofit organizations and other activities.

“We consider the North Shore our backyard and there are so many wonderful small businesses and talented people who deserve to showcase those talents and thrive! » wrote the organizers on the event website.

What readers recommend:

“All great activities for families,” wrote @erica.dexter4

Ipswich River Wildlife Reserve — @jessie.sigler

The Topsfield Fair — @vee.nick, @jeanabeling, @mish_amato, @kristenmulkerin

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