LEOMINSTER — Local officials and community leaders recently joined members of Visit North Central Massachusetts to celebrate renovations and upgrades to the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center.
More than 100 local dignitaries and community leaders were on hand at the event, including state Sen. John Cronin, state Reps. Meghan Kilcoyne, Natalie Higgins and Michael Kushmerek, Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale and others.
Exterior upgrades — handicapped accessible doors, a dog walking station, new security cameras, etc. — and interior improvements were made to modernize the facility and properly “showcase the region to the more than 165,000 annual visitors to the center,” VNCM said in a press release.
The “Big Apple of New England” sculpture was also repaired as part of the project.
“Today is a great day for the region as we recognize the many improvements to the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center,” said VNCM Chair Henry Tessman in a press release. “From the ‘Big Apple of New England’ to the many amenities these improvements now provide to visitors, North Central Massachusetts is now on display for all to see!”
The project was part of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce’s “One North Central” economic development plan, which recommended new ways to expand the existing center and showcase the history of the region while also adding amenities to modernize the facility.
“Through One North Central, we learned a lot about how to upgrade the center in an effort to provide a unique experience for visitors,” said NCMCC and VNCM President and CEO Roy Nascimento. “The upgrades and renovations to the visitor center will create an experience to link visitors to destinations in the region while providing a modern facility to rest and recharge before continuing on their journey through North Central and beyond.”
Renovations and upgrades totaled $162,455 and were partially funded through a matching Destination Development Grant from the state Office of Travel and Tourism. Matching funds came via a grant from the city as well as VNCM.
Considered the gateway to North Central Massachusetts by many, the Johnny Appleseed Visitors’ Center opened on June 14, 1997. Named after American pioneer and folk hero, John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed), the 2,000 square-foot center is operated by VNCM.
Aside from the “Big Apple of New England,” the center also houses a collection of historical and cultural items that showcase the region’s heritage, including a vintage Iver Johnson bicycle, pieces of equipment from the region’s agricultural past, vintage Wachusett Mountain Ski Area items and a large collection of Johnny Appleseed memorabilia.
The center is open seven days a week, 361 days a year from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It only closes on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Independence Day and early on Christmas Eve.