Location, access, prices make Franklin the choice

The Town of Franklin is a suburban industrial community on the watershed between the Charles and the Blackstone Rivers, 22 miles southwest of Boston. It is one of the highest towns in Norfolk County.

Settlement came late, in 1676, after the ending of King Philip’s war. Its early years saw settlers involved in small scale farming and grazing but the town’s abundant water power ensured early industrial development. There were cotton mills, felt makers and boot and shoe manufacturers established in Franklin in the 18th and 19th century, but the dominant industry in the town from 1799 on was the making of straw bonnets, and Franklin became one of the centers of straw bonnet manufacturing.

Franklin renamed itself in 1778 to honor Benjamin Franklin. Although over 30 communities in the colonies eventually so honored Franklin, the Massachusetts Town of Franklin was the first to do so. Benjamin Franklin in turn showed his appreciation by sending the town a library of 116 volumes which formed the nucleus of a public library.

Sometimes being at the end of the line has its rewards. Particularly if that line is the commuter rail to Boston. Franklin, Mass. has prospered in recent years. Homes have been built by the hundreds. Businesses have opened, relocated, and expanded there. Off Route 495, Franklin borders Wrentham and Bellingham, Mass., and is just a five-minute drive from the northern Rhode Island communities of Woonsocket and Cumberland.

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In the world of real estate, the mantra has always been “location, location, location.” Franklin’s got all three. Hop on the train — at one of two commuter rail stops in Franklin — and within 50 minutes commuters are deposited in downtown Boston. Franklin to Providence is a 27-mile drive. Route 495 also makes for easy access to Framingham and Worcester, Mass.

Ruth Anderson is Franklin’s assistant town clerk. She has lived in town for more than 50 years.

“It was very much a country place when I was growing up,” Anderson said.

“It always felt like a nice, safe place — and it still does.”

Franklin, according to Anderson, has a little bit of everything. Barbara Evans, a Realtor with DeWolfe Real Estate in Franklin, said that several real estate studies have labeled Franklin among the fastest growing towns in New England. And she understands why.

“It’s affordable, relative to the other commuter-based towns,” Evans
said. “It has a quality school system and two exits off 495.”

The price of the available housing stock varies, according to Evans. New home construction, she said, can range from $225,000 to more than $500,000. There are also existing homes that can range in price from about $150,000 to $275,00, according to Evans. Many of the families moving into the area, said Evans, have both spouses working, some in the Boston area, others closer to Providence or Foxboro and Mansfield.

That only magnifies the importance of the town’s proximity to 495 and the commuter rail stations, Evans said.

“We have a lot of working families where the husband is heading in one direction and the wife in another,” said Evans.

Evans has several listings in Franklin currently on the market. One, a four-bedroom Colonial style home overlooking a pond on 10 acres of open space is going for $244,900. Another, described as a “double federal front” Colonial features four bedrooms and a three-car garage. It is on the market for $369,000.

The rush on housing in Franklin is slowing — as the town takes steps of its own to control growth. Franklin officials are working on growth control bylaws. Tactics being explored include limiting future water and sewer connections, and amending wetland and subdivision regulations. The town is also in the midst of an 18-month moratorium on new construction. More and more families moving into town have created a burden on the school system, creating a need for more classrooms. In recent years overrides have been turned down to fund new schools.

The town has a successful industrial park called Forge Hill Industrial Park, which includes the newly opened Dunkin Donuts distribution center. Bill Atamian, a telecommunications technician, and his wife Denise live in the southern part of Franklin, which is the oldest part of town. They have a daughter who attends the charter school in town. The Atamians moved to Franklin three years ago, but have family who are long-time residents. Atamian said families are attracted to Franklin for a number of reasons, including a low tax rate, quick access to Route 495 and a commuter rail to Boston.

“It’s a good town for young families, because it is affordable, has good schools and is convenient to get to work,” he said.

One problem is the stress on services the new families have created, particularly in education.

“Generally speaking there is a large number of people who do resent the population growth when it comes to issues related to their pocketbook,” he said.

Atamian said the town has done a good job in attracting business there to help offset the increasing demand on services by its new residents.

“The new businesses have helped the tax base. Furthermore, companies like EMC can bring hundreds of high tech jobs to this area,” he said.

EMC, a computer giant, is in the process of opening a facility in Franklin. Marc A. Cote, of Cote Land Sales in Woonsocket, said the continuing popularity of Boston is a help to the region’s housing market. He said that the northern section of Rhode Island, near 495, also gets a boost.

“This area is an ideal compromise for people working in Boston,” Cote said.

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