Move over New York — Massachusetts has its own ‘Big Apple’

  • Johnny Appleseed (portrayed by Larry Hill) stands before “The Big Apple in New England” unveiled Wednesday morning at the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center off Route 2 in Lancaster. Greg Vine

  • Al Rose, owner of Phillipston’s Red Apple Farm and chair of the board of Visit North Central Massachusetts, discusses the addition of “The Big Apple of New England” to the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center in Lancaster. —Greg Vine

  • A crowd of dignitaries unveils “The Big Apple in New England” Wednesday morning in Lancaster. Greg Vine

  • A crowd of dignitaries unveils “The Big Apple in New England.”   —Greg Vine

  • State Highway Commissioner Jonathan Gulliver discusses the partnership between his department and the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.   —Greg Vine

  • Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke speaks to the crowd at the unveiling of a new sculptor at the Johnny Appleseed Visitor Center in Lancaster.  —Greg Vine

  • Among those seated in the front row for Wednesday’s unveiling of “The Big Apple of New England” were (left-right) state representatives Natalie Higgins of Leominster, Jon Zlotnik of Gardner, and Harold Naughton of Clinton, state Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg, and state Highway Commissioner Jonathan Gulliver.  —Greg Vine

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 7/10/2019 9:55:15 PM
Modified: 7/10/2019 9:55:07 PM

LANCASTER – Al Rose, third generation owner of Phillipston’s Red Apple Farm, was one of the featured speakers at a ceremony held Wednesday morning at the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center off Route 2 in Lancaster. A portion of the state highway has been designated the Johnny Appleseed Trail. The event marked the official unveiling of “The Big Apple of New England,” a giant red apple standing 10 feet tall and billed as the largest apple sculpture of its kind in the six-state region.

Rose, who also serves as chair of the board of Visit North Central Massachusetts, was credited by North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce President Roy Nascimento with obtaining the giant apple. For his part, Rose credited another local business with making the event possible.

“It’s a testament to Jake Lyman and everyone at Lyman Signs who made it look like that,” said Rose. “It’s amazing work.”

“New York state spends ten times what Massachusetts does on tourism,” Rose continued, “ten times. But they can no longer claim the Big Apple; we now have it. What that apple represents is a beacon for travelers on Route 2 coming to our area. It also represents the area where we’re all blessed to live and work. It speaks to our heritage, history, culture, civic institutions – too many to name. And I personally love the great outdoors that we have.”

“It also represents two other things,” said Rose. “It represents having a chamber that believes in tourism. They don’t just talk the talk — they walk the walk. Roy understands that tourism is economic development. It’s a way to get people and money from outside into our area.

“The last thing it represents, and it goes without saying, I do believe we have the best visitors center in Massachusetts. It is a shining example and it’s because of Diane and the whole team here. They do such a great job at welcoming people and introducing them to this wonderful area.”

Diane Burnette is manager of the visitor center. She has been with the organization for 20 years.

Jonathan Gulliver, Highway Administrator for the state Department of Transportation, also addressed attendees. The Highway Department owns the property occupied by the center, is a partner in operating the facility, and maintains the grounds.

“This is a partnership that we’ve had with the chamber for many, many years,” said Gulliver. “Our staff and their staff are really dedicated to working together to make this a really, really nice visitor center and rest area. It’s one that we point to across the state when we talk about the success stories of how we can make visitor centers and rest areas work. It’s something as a division that, frankly, we struggle with. It’s not something that’s our specialty, so we rely on strong partnerships to help us make sure that they work well to attract the public.”

On hand for Wednesday’s event were the mayors of Fitchburg, Gardner, and Leominster, members of the Lancaster selectboard, area state lawmakers, business people and residents. In all, about 100 people were on hand for the unveiling.

“All across America the roadsides are dotted with interesting attractions, oddities and draws. As the home of the Big Chair, I am excited that our area will also be home to the Big Apple,” said Gardner Mayor Mark Hawke, “This adds another reason to stop in and see all the wonderful offerings of North Central Massachusetts showcased at the Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center.”

The Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center, considered by many the gateway to North Central Massachusetts, opened in 1997 as a way to welcome people traveling through the region and give them a place to stop, stretch their legs, and learn more about the 27 communities in North Central Massachusetts and what they have to offer for visitors and families. More than 165,000 people walk through the visitor center doors every year.

The Johnny Appleseed Visitors Center is located at 1000 Route 2 Westbound, between exit 34 and 35, in Lancaster. It is open 361 days a year. Normal business hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 978.353.7604 ext. 225 or visit

About Visit North Central Massachusetts

Visit North Central Massachusetts (VNCM) is the official designated Regional Tourism Council serving the 27 cities and towns of North Central Massachusetts. One of the sixteen Massachusetts Regional Tourism Councils, the organization’s primary mission is to educate the traveling public, tourists, and residents of North Central Massachusetts about the many historical, cultural, and hospitality related sites within this scenic New England Region. Through this mission VNCM works collectively with local attractions, hospitality businesses and local communities to market the North Central region as a destination and provide information and services to the traveling public.

The North Central Massachusetts region is comprised of the communities of Ashburnham, Ashby, Athol, Ayer, Barre, Bolton, Clinton, Devens, Fitchburg, Gardner, Groton, Harvard, Hubbardston, Lancaster, Leominster, Lunenburg, Pepperell, Petersham, Phillipston, Princeton, Royalston, Shirley, Sterling, Templeton, Townsend, Westminster, and Winchendon.

For more information about Visit North Central Massachusetts visit or call 978.353.7604.

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