From the Boston Globe

By Globe Staff, 4/24/2004


A covered bridge covers the driveway to a parking lot of the Bull Run restaurant next to Mulpus Brook.

The home at 8 Valley View Way. Price $199,900
Miles from Boston: 39
Population: 6,373
Median house price: $288,750 [January-February]
Tax rate: $11.87
Transportation: Commuter rail service to North Station. [71-79 minutes]
Best things: small town, modest home prices
Worst things: distance from major routes
MCAS: Shirley students attend either Ayer or Lunenburg High School. The majority of 10th grades at Ayer High scored advanced or proficient in English while the majority scored needs improvement or failed math. At Lunenburg, the majority of 10th graders scored advanced or proficient in English and math.
Census facts: Ten percent of the housing units have been built since 1995. Median income is $53,344, and 6.4 percent of resident hold a masters degree about half the state average.

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SHIRLEY Given the astronomical cost of land in Greater Boston, it's rare to find a new home for under $750,000. But buyers willing to commute a little further, should check out this rural village 39 miles northwest of Boston.

In a recent survey, Shirley ranked number one among the nation's historic small towns and boasts entry-level homes without the sticker shock. A new three-bedroom Colonial at The Meadows, a new subdivision within minutes of the commuter rail, starts at $379,900.

Home of the 1740 Bull Run Restaurant, Shirley was ranked No. 1 in the nation in the ePodunk Historic Small Towns Index. The survey rates the historic character of small counties and places in the United States based on the number of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The website prasied Shirley for the preservation of its 1700s era Shaker Village and 19th century textile mills.

During the first quarter of this year, 12 single-family homes have been sold in Shirley with an average price of $320,000, according to the MLS Property Information Network.

Shirley property values have been on the rise since 1997 after being hit hard by the housing bust of the late 1980s and the closure of the Fort Devens Army Base located in Ayer, Harvard, Lancaster, and Shirley.

"When Fort Devens closed, some people said Shirley and Ayer would crumble and disappear," said Kim McDonald, co-owner of McDonald Real Estate in nearby Leominster. "But both have come a long way, the new Devens community has seen new businesses, housing and a new ramp is under construction that will bring traffic into the site from Route 2."

Today, trade-up buyers from neighboring communities are purchasing new homes here along with first-time buyers priced out of the Boston area.

Still, there are trade offs. MBTA commuter rail riders say the trip to North Station can take 90 minutes, and there's a 20-minute drive from Route 2 to Shirley Center. The town is also home to the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum- security prison.

In addition, Shirley's elementary and middle school MCAS test scores could use improvement. Of 296 school districts, fourth graders ranked 259th in English and 266th in math based on the results of the 2003 scores.

Other MCAS results are of more concern: a majority of fourth graders scored in the 'needs improvement' or 'failed' categories in English and math; a majority of 6th graders scored 'needs improvement' or 'failed' in math, and a majority of 8th graders scored 'needs improvement' or 'failed' in math and science.

Shirley was originally settled in the early 1700s as a part of Groton. Shakers established a community in 1870s but their numbers dwindled dramatically by the turn of the century. Shirley's village green, with the First Parish Meeting House built in 1773, is designated as a Historic District. A paper mill was built around 1790 and other early products included nails, iron, textiles, rope and suspenders.

Perhaps the best known Shirley resident was Earl Tupper, who, in the 1940s, developed the plastic, unbreakable food containers known as Tupperware.

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