The small village of Southbridge—once the optical capital of the world—is an excellent vantage point from which groups can explore authentic American history. A private group tour of the Optical Heritage Museum in town gives a fascinating overview of its heyday. It’s also worth a trip back in time to visit the world of rural New England 200 years ago, recreated in nearby Old Sturbridge Village. This living history museum has 40 historic buildings staffed by costumed historians and artisans and more than 200 bucolic acres of gardens and farmland.
Meeting attendees will experience a little-known piece of American history amidst cutting-edge meeting space at the 203-room Southbridge Hotel & Conference Center in central Massachusetts. Once the main manufacturing facility and headquarters for the American Optical Company, the property was transformed into modern hotel space in 2002. While the exterior retained the original 19th century architecture, the interior was purpose built for learning. There is 24,000 sf of conference space, including an auditorium that seats 250 and a dedicated distance learning center with global videoconferencing capabilities. Spacious guest rooms have generic style but five-star comfort and free wi-fi.
Located about an hour’s drive from airports in Boston and Providence, the hotel offers great value for small to medium-sized meetings, with property buyouts available. What also differentiates it is the personal attention from two seasoned hotel pros, General Manager Kimberly Cameron, and Director of Sales Karl Chase. “What makes this facility special is that it was purpose built to host meetings that require multiple breakout rooms and accommodate complex attendee movements within the structure of the meeting presentations,” says Chase. “Additionally,” he says, “there are multiple areas throughout the hotel where guests can mingle and create ad-hoc meetings, as well as a mix of green spaces for team-building exercises that’s not available at most facilities. We also offer all-inclusive packaging, so you won’t be ‘nickel and dimed’ when planning your meeting here.”
Trending at the hotel is a strong rebound in training and compliance meetings, which declined during the economic downtown, notes Chase. “We are also seeing a very strong desire on the part of our customers to create meeting environments that are conducive to the dissemination of detailed information, but within an environment of open communication and dialog amongst the participants. Crescent rounds have become a popular setup for meeting planners who want to encourage group interaction, as well as conference tables set up in pods that facilitate a free flow of conversation.”
There are also fun craft brewery tours in the Southbridge area, and tasty local cuisine from clam chowder to fresh seafood. A beautiful old-timey farmhouse restaurant that caters to groups is The Salem Cross Inn, a 200-seat family homestead in a bucolic country setting, originally built in the early 1700’s. The Salem family purchased it in 1957, carefully restored the interior and exterior architecture, decorated the rooms with vintage antiques, and opened the current restaurant in 1961. An extensive menu includes veggies and herbs from the on site garden and prime rib roasted on a 17th century roasting jack in a fieldstone hearth—the only known operating antique roasting jack in America. Vintage New England doesn’t get any more authentic than this.