The Berkshires (Massachusetts)
The Berkshires is a beautiful area of the country that I had never really thought of visiting until my fiance invited me along to visit her childhood summer camp. The region combines beautiful scenery with a string of historic towns in varying states of economic well-being, from the post-industrial towns of North Adams and Pittsfield to the fancier old Massachusetts blueblood towns of Lenox and Stockbridge.
We used Lenox, MA as a base. This small town retains a distinguished character and has a number of stately homes dating back to the 19th century. Lenox can be grouped into the same category with older cities such as Bar Harbor, ME and Newport, RI–places that were hugely popular as resort towns in the Gilded Ageut. The sawmills and glassworks factories might be closed now, but Lenox has weathered the decline better than other towns up the road by because of its reputation as an art colony and summer resort town.
The compact downtown area is full of restaurants and little shops great for browsing. We also did some sightseeing starting out at the Lenox Library, a Greek Revival building from the 1820s, and went a little bit down the road where Main Street runs into Rt. 183. I loved the old building on the corner here, I don’t know what it used to be but it now houses a pharmacy according to Google Maps!
We also visited Belvoir Terrace, a gorgeous 19th century mansion built by for an American financier at the turn of the century. The mansion is the site of a performing arts camp for girls. I snapped a few pictures of the grounds:
Emily had to fly back to DC earlier than we had expected, so I had the day to explore the rest of the Berkshires. After an excellent breakfast at The Kitchen on the Commons, a little bit north of Lenox, I drove north towards Pittsfield. Pittsfield is a much larger town that Lenox and its growth was due to the factories spitting out textiles and stuff that we Americans don’t make anymore. The broad main street of Pittsfield is lined with a nice set of 19th century buildings in various states of upkeep. The town has excellent potential as cities around America continue to get revitalized, but it was still a little run-down.
There was still hardly anyone out on the streets, but it was Sunday morning and people get up late on Sunday mornings. Off a side street there were a bunch of municipal buildings that retain the grandeur that their designers no doubt intended.
A little bit north of the city I visited Wahconah Park, home of the Pittsfield Suns, and one of the oldest baseball fields in the United States, dating back to 1919. They don’t make stadiums with wooden grandstand anymore.
Mt. Greylock State Reservation
My next stop was Mt. Greylock State Reservation, site of Mt. Greylock, the state’s highest point at 3,491 feet. I couldn’t have chosen a more beautiful day to visit this reservation. After stopping at the visitors center and picking up a map, I chose a hiking trail off the main road and walked about 30 minutes one way into the woods towards an amazing vantage point overlooking a sea of green extending 20 miles or so.
I drove up to the summit of Mt. Greylock next. After paying a small parking fee, I took a look at the 93-foot tall Massachusetts War Memorial and noticed a big group of people watching parachute jumpers–I don’t know what they’re called–readying their parachutes for jumps off Mt. Greylock down into the valley below. I joined the crowed of people watching the jumpers unfurl their parachutes before their running starts off the side of the mountain. Among the crowd were some Appalachian trail hikers on their way up or down the Trail. By the smell of some of these guys, I would guess that they were on the tail end of their treks.
I grabbed a surprisingly good lunch at Bascom Lodge, on the summit of Greylock. This grey stone lodge was built during the Great Depression and looks as it it could be in Wyoming or something. It has a little cafeteria inside with excellent food and views of the surrounding area.
North Adams, MA
My final stop on my route northward was North Adams, an old industrial town with a great main street lined with 19th century buildings–do you see a pattern here? North Adams is the site of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, which is housed in a former factory. I didn’t spend that much time in the town but I would have liked to stroll around it a little more and also visit the museum, which I heard is superb.
So glad I decided to visit the Berkshires. Although I was only there for two days, I got a good sense of the place and its natural beauty and small town America feel.
- Renting a car is really the only option here
- Providence, RI or Albany, NY are the closest airports to this area where you can get halfway decent flight prices
Lenox: The Kitchen on the Commons: Located in a nice new strip mall right outside of the city center, this restaurant served up an awesome omelet the first time I went but swung and missed with slow and inattentive service the next day I went there. I still recommend it for a nice small town diner atmosphere and good food.
Mount Greylock: Bascom Lodge: An old stone ski-lodge-type place on the summit of the mountain. Serves great burgers and fries for a cheap price, given that it is a tourist draw and could be charging more.
Pittsfield: The Marketplace Cafe: Even though I only visited once to grab a coffee on my way through the city, this cafe met all the criteria for a great coffee shop: good coffee and pastries; the smell of coffee in the air; a cozy interior; a post-industrial space downtown; comfortable seating and low lighting, and a place for local bands to play.