The Berkshires. The very words conjure up images of New England to anyone west of the Hudson River, of Tanglewood to the music lover, of quaint villages and country inns to generations of travelers, of sylvan retreats that have inspired artists and authors who have called the Berkshires home.
The arts are centered in Lenox and Stockbridge, which attracted literati of such name and number in the mid-1800s that the area became known as "America's Lake Country." Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Adams, Edith Wharton and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow all lived here. Today, the Berkshires are unrivaled as America's summer cultural center with the foremost in music, dance and theater festivals.
This section of western Massachusetts stretches along the New York State border from Connecticut to Vermont.
>> New Marlboro Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Old Inn on the Green and Gedney Farm, Route 57, New Marlboro. (413) 229-3131 or (800) 286-3139.
Colonel John Ashley House, Cooper Hill Road, west off Route 7A, Ashley Falls.
The oldest house in the Berkshires (1735), this restored beauty off by itself in a meadow looks up to Mount Everett. Because Ashley was a wealthy merchant, judge and legislator; his house a fine example of Colonial architecture was rather elaborate for the period. Original paneling graces the handsome second-floor meeting room, where the Sheffield Declaration of Independence was signed three years before the country's. Early furnishings, a pottery collection and the Colonial herb gardens are of interest.
(413) 298-3239. Open Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Guided tours, Saturday, Sunday and Monday holidays 1 to 5. Adults $5, children $3.
Bartholomew's Cobble, Weatogue Road, west off Route 7A, Ashley Falls.
A cobble is an old Yankee word for a limestone outcropping above a meadow and this one, a National Natural Landmark, is beside the Housatonic River. The nature preserve offers trails through 277 acres of rock gardens, where more than 500 species of wildflowers, 100 species of trees, shrubs and vines, and 40 species of ferns have been catalogued. The small Bailey Museum of Natural History displays local flora and fauna, plus a few Indian artifacts.
(413) 229-8600. Museum open daily, 9 to 4:30. Grounds open year-round, sunrise to sunset. Adults $4, children $1.
>> South Egremont Dining Suggestions
John Andrew's, Route 23, South Egremont. (413) 528-3469.
The Old Mill, Route 23, South Egremont. (413) 528-1421.
This busy town, less manicured and less visibly historic than its neighbors to the north, is becoming the Southern Berkshires' downtown. Shops, restaurants and theaters have made its hip Main Street and Railroad Street the current hot spots.
>> Great Barrington Dining Suggestions
Verdura, 44 Railroad St., Great Barrington. (413) 528-8969.
Castle Street Café, 10 Castle St., Great Barrington. (413) 528-5244.
Pearl's, 47 Railroad St., Great Barrington. (413) 528-7767.
Bizen, 17 Railroad St., Great Barrington. (413) 528-4343.
The storybook village of Stockbridge is America's Main Street, as depicted by illustrator Norman Rockwell. The famed Red Lion Inn, built in 1773 as a small tavern, is its star. To its west is the Mission House, the town's first house. Built in 1739 by the Rev. John Sergeant, the first missionary to the Stockbridge Indians, it is full of American furnishings prior to 1740. Across the street and also open to the public is the Merwin House ("Tranquility"), built about 1825 and reflecting the elegant life of its wealthy Victorian-era residents. Near the end of Main Street is First Congregational Church, a striking, deep-red brick edifice built in 1824 and once the pulpit for Calvinist Jonathan Edwards. It is fronted by the stone Children's Chimes Tower, erected by town father David Dudley Field for his grandchildren and still rung from 5:30 to 6 every afternoon, per his directions, "from apple blossom time until frost." Just beyond are the Village Cemetery, where the epitaphs tell the story of early Stockbridge, and the Ancient Indian Burial Ground.
Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Route 183, Stockbridge.
The world's largest collection of original art by America's favorite illustrator is on display here. The museum moved from the Old Corner House in town to a new $5 million building on the 36-acre Linwood estate along the Housatonic River in the Glendale section. Nine galleries display more than 570 original paintings and drawings by the artist, who lived his last 25 years in town and made its scenes and people his subjects. Both guided and unguided tours are scheduled. The artist's studio was moved to the site from the center of Stockbridge and was re-created as he left it. The museum also includes changing exhibits of Stockbridge memorabilia and a gift shop that does a land-office business, including the sale of some 30,000 reproductions annually of Rockwell's painting of Stockbridge's Main Street at Christmas.
(413) 298-4100. www.nrm.org. Open daily 10 to 5, May-October; Monday-Friday 10 to 4 and weekends 10 to 5, rest of year. Adults, $10.
Chesterwood Estate & Museum, 4 Williamsville Road, Stockbridge.
The secluded estate of sculptor Daniel Chester French, famed for the Minute Man in Concord and the Seated Lincoln in Washington, has been open to the public since his daughter donated it in 1969 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Visitors start at a gallery in the old cow barn, where many of French's sculptures are shown. But the house and studio are the gems of Chesterwood. The 30-room Colonial revival built in 1900 is where French spent six months a year until he died there in 1931. Gracious rooms flank the wonderfully wide, full-length hall in which a summer breeze cools the visitor. One interesting item among many is a rose from Lincoln's casket. In the 22-foot-high studio you can see French's plaster-cast models of the Seated Lincoln and a graceful Andromeda, which he was working on at his death. It's placed on a flatcar on a 40-foot-long railroad track and wheeled outdoors occasionally so schoolchildren can see, as French did, how a sculpture looks in natural light. The front of the studio with a corner fireplace, couch and piano is where he entertained frequent guests; in back is a piazza with wisteria vines and concord grapes framing a view of Monument Mountain. Chesterwood's gift shop is worth a visit. You also may stroll along easy trails in a hemlock forest carpeted with needles.
(413) 298-3579. www.chesterwood.org. Open May-October, daily 10 to 5. Adults $8.50, children $3.
Naumkeag, 5 Prospect Hill Road, Stockbridge.
Many admire the interior of this 26-room, Norman-style gabled mansion built in 1886 by McKim, Mead and White for Joseph H. Choate, lawyer for the Rockefeller family and ambassador to the Court of St. James. Chinese export porcelain, rare Persian rugs, Murano glass and family portraits by John Singer Sargent are part of the Choate family collection found throughout the house. We like it best for the lavish hillside landscaping and gardens inspired by Choate's daughter Mabel, who devoted her life to philanthropy, collecting art and nurturing Naumkeag. She combined her talents with Fletcher Steele, the preeminent landscape architect, to produce a private world of terraces, walkways, sculpted topiary, fountains and even a Chinese pagoda in twelve distinct garden areas. In a cool Venetian garden, water trickles from a tiny fountain; a stream cascades beside the steps in a grove of birch trees. The sculpture in the gardens befits Mabel Choate's interest in the arts.
(413) 298-3239. Open Memorial Day to Columbus Day, daily 10 to 5. Adults $8, children $2.50. Gardens only, $6.
Berkshire Botanical Garden, Junction of Routes 102 and 183, Stockbridge.
Wonderful aromas fill the herb garden at this fifteen-acre, mostly outdoor botanical showplace with a pond, shrubs, trees, perennial borders, wildflowers, annuals, experimental plantings and more. The solar greenhouse attracts special attention, as do the maple syrup house, the magnificent rose garden and the prolific vegetable garden with its own weather station. Inside are a small library and gift shop, both with an emphasis on things botanical.
(413) 298-3926. Open May-October, daily 10 to 5. Adults $5.
>> Stockbridge / Lee Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Red Lion Inn, Main Street, Stockbridge. (413) 298-5545.
>> Stockbridge / Lee Lodging Suggestions
The Inn at Stockbridge, Route 7, Box 618, Stockbridge. (413) 298-3337.
The Taggart House, 18 Main St., Stockbridge. (413) 298-4303.
Applegate Bed & Breakfast, 279 West Park St., Lee. (413) 243-4451 or (800) 691-9012.
Historic Merrell Inn, 1565 Pleasant St. (Route 102), South Lee. (413) 243-1794 or (800) 243-1794. Fax (413) 243-2669.
Best Western Black Swan Inn, route 20, Lee.(413) 243-2700 or (800) 876-7926.
Stockbridge / Lee Dining Suggestions
From Ketchup to Caviar, 150 Main St., Lee. (413) 243-6397.
Lenox, the center of Berkshires culture and an architectural showplace, retains vestiges of its days as "the inland Newport." For some of America's 400 who built palatial villas here around the turn of the century, the Berkshires were the summer equal of sand and surf or an autumnal transition between shore and city. "The well-regulated society person," according to an 1893 magazine, "can no more neglect a visit to Lenox during some part of the season than he can to observe Lent or to speak French at dinner."
Tanglewood, West Street, Lenox.
The name is synonymous with music and Lenox. The summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1936, the 210-acre estate is an idyllic spot for concerts and socializing at picnics. The 6,000 seats in the open-air Shed are reserved far in advance for Friday and Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon concerts. Up to 10,000 fans can be accommodated at $14 each on the lawn (bring your own chairs, blankets, picnics and wine, or pick something up from the cafeteria). Free open rehearsals for the Sunday concert are scheduled Saturday mornings at 10:30. The acoustically spectacular Seiji Ozawa Hall seats 1,200 inside and another 200 on sloping lawns so situated that you can see right onto the stage. It's used for chamber music concerts and student recitals most weeknights in summer and for community events in spring and fall.
(413) 637-1940 or (800) 274-8499. www.bso.org. Concerts, Friday and Saturday at 8:30, Sunday at 2:30, last weekend of June through August. Tickets, $14 to $76.
Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio, 92 Hawthorne St., Lenox.
Set back down a ten-minute walk on 46 acres next to Tanglewood is Lenox's newest cultural prize. It was the summer home of opera singer Suzy Frelinghuysen and painter George L.K. Morris, both key members of the American Abstract Artists Group, who championed Cubism long after it went out of style. Morris designed the striking, Bauhaus-inspired structure. Preserved as it was in the early 1940s, the tiered white house harbors paintings, murals and sculptures by Picasso, Braque, Léger and Gris as well as the late owners' own works and those of American Cubist friends. Guides lead hourly tours to help bring the visitor into the artists' pre World War II world, when championing abstract art was highly controversial. Walking trails in the woodlands surrounding the house museum lead past a monumental sculpture, "The Mountain," a reclining woman on a raised platform that Morris commissioned from his friend Gaston Lachaise.
(413) 637-0166. www.frelinghuysen.org. Tours Thursday-Sunday 10 to 3, July to Labor Day, Tuesday-Saturday through Columbus Day. Adults, $7.50.
The Mount, 2 Plunkett St., Lenox.
The neo-Georgian mansion of novelist Edith Wharton, an ongoing restoration project, has several floors open for guided tours. The first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, the famed novelist and her niece, landscape architect Beatrice Farrand, designed the 50-acre estate above Laurel Lake. Through the 2001 season, it served as the headquarters for Shakespeare & Co., one of America's largest Shakespeare festivals, whose main stage was a natural amphitheater on the south side of the house. The acclaimed company also staged productions in the renovated Wharton Stables and the outdoor Oxford Court Theatre, tucked in a quiet glen that was once a grass tennis court. Many Wharton and Henry James adaptations premiered in the Salon Theater in the drawing room of the Mount. In 2002, Shakespeare & Co. moved into its new 63-acre Kemble Street headquarters, the former campus of the Lenox School for Boys. The National Historic Landmark house and grounds were undergoing major restoration to mark the Mount's centennial in 2002.
(413) 637-1899 or (888) 637-1902. www.edithwharton.org. Open Memorial Day through October, daily 9 to 5. Adults $7.50, children $3.
>> Lenox Lodging and Dining Suggestions
Blantyre, 16 Blantyre Road, Lenox. (413) 637-3556.
Wheatleigh, Hawthorne Road, Lenox. Lodging: (413) 637-0610. Dining: (413) 637-0610.
Gateways Inn and Restaurant, 71 Walker St., Lenox. (413) 637-2532 or (888) 492-9466.
>> Lenox Lodging Suggestions
Cliffwood Inn, 25 Cliffwood St., Lenox. (413) 637-3330 or (800) 789-3331.
The Gables Inn, 103 Walker St., Lenox. (413) 637-3416 or (800) 382-9401.
Garden Gables Inn, 135 Main St., Box 52, Lenox. (413) 637-0193.
The Birchwood Inn, 7 Hubbard St., Lenox. (413) 637-2600 or (800) 524-1646.
Yankee Inn, 461 Pittsfield Road, Lenox. (413) 499-3700 or (800) 835-2364.
>> Lenox Dining Suggestions
Church Street Cafe, 65 Church St., Lenox. (413) 637-2745.
Bistro Zinc, 56 Church St., Lenox. (413) 637-8800.
Spigalina, 80 Main St., Lenox. (413) 637-4455.
>> Richmond Lodging Suggestions
The Inn at Richmond, 802 State Road (Route 41), Richmond.(413) 698-2566.
Hancock Shaker Village, Route 20 at Route 41, Pittsfield.
The Shaker way of life is well depicted at this 1,200-acre site, the third of eighteen Shaker communities established in the United States. The Shakers called this "The City of Peace" and lived here from 1790 to 1960. Twenty-one restored buildings, including a round stone barn and the remarkable five-story communal brick dwelling house, are furnished with Shaker-made furniture and local artifacts. From the early water-powered laundry and machine shop to the heated 1916 automobile garage, Shaker design, inventiveness and workmanship are evident. Village craftspeople make furniture, brooms, tinware, baskets and other 19th-century Shaker products. Shaker foods are available in the Village Cafe.
(413) 443-0188 or (800) 817-1137. www.hancockshakervillage.org. Open daily 9:30 to 5, Memorial Day to mid October; daily 10 to 3, rest of year. Adults $13.50, children $5.50.
Arrowhead, 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield.
This 18th-century farmhouse became the home in 1850 of Herman Melville, who moved his family from New York to the Berkshires for a reprieve from city life and a quiet place to write. Here, far from the sea, the author completed his epic work Moby Dick. He named it Arrowhead for all the Indian artifacts he found on the property. He lived, farmed and wrote here for thirteen years, developing friendships with other Berkshire authors, including Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne, with whom he spent hours in the hayloft of the barn, smoking pipes and talking. Guided tours show the fireplace that formed the central character of Melville's short story, "I and My Chimney" (the original inscriptions are on the mantelpiece). The 44 acres contain a wildflower garden and nature trail, and the north meadow retains the view of Mount Greylock that was a major inspiration to Melville. He returned to New York in 1863, but Arrowhead remained in the Melville family until the 1920s.
(413) 442-1793. Open Memorial Day-October, daily 10 to 4. Adults $5, children $1.
>>New Ashford Dining Suggestions
The Mill on the Floss, Route 7, New Ashford. (413) 458-9123.
Blessed with an uncommonly scenic setting at the foot of Mount Greylock in the northern Berkshires, this small college town is an arts center of national significance. Connoisseur magazine said its three leading museums make it "an unlikely but powerful little art capital," and Newsweek hailed the annual Williamstown Theatre Festival as "the best of all American summer theaters."
Williams College not only sparked the town's arts reputation but also holds other treasures, including the Hopkins Observatory, the nation's oldest working observatory (1836), and the experimental Hopkins Memorial Forest.
The Mount Greylock State Reservation, the area's dominant feature, is a series of seven peaks with a 3,491-foot summit, the highest in Massachusetts. You can drive, bike or hike to the summit for a five-state view.
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown.
The most widely known of the town's museums chanced upon its Williamstown location through an old family connection with Williams College and the fact that eccentric collector Sterling Clark, heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, wanted his treasures housed far from a potential site of nuclear attack. Clark's neoclassical white marble temple opened in 1955 (he and his wife are buried under its front steps) and was expanded in 1973 by a red granite addition housing more galleries and one of the nation's outstanding art research libraries. A 1996 addition provided still more galleries. Lately mounting major exhibitions that draw more than 100,000 visitors a summer, the Clark has particularly strong holdings of French 19th-century paintings (more than 30 Renoirs), English silver, prints and drawings (the Clark was the single largest source for the Renoir exhibition at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts). Shown mostly in small galleries the size of the rooms in which they once hung, the highly personalized collection of Monets, Turners and Winslow Homers quietly vies for attention with sculptures, porcelain and three centuries worth of silver (Sterling Clark liked good food and the silverware to go with it). All this is amid an austere yet intimate setting of potted plants and vases of dried flowers, furniture and benches for relaxation.
(413) 458-2303. www.clarkart.edu. Open daily July to Labor Day, 10 to 5, Tuesday to 8; rest of year, Tuesday-Sunday, 10 to 5. Adults $5, July-October; free, rest of year.
Williams College Museum of Art, Main Street, Williamstown.
A $4.5 million extension to its original octagonal building in Lawrence Hall makes this museum a sleeper in art circles. Itself a work of art, it contains an 1846 neoclassical rotunda with "ironic" columns that are decorative rather than functional. The eight sides of the rotunda are repeated in soaring newer galleries with skylights, some of their walls hung with spectacular wall art. Once headed by Guggenheim director Thomas Krens, the museum houses fourteen galleries and a staggering 11,000 works, from 3,000-year-old Assyrian stone reliefs to the last self-portrait by Andy Warhol. In an effort to complement the better-known Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute's strengths in the 19th century, this museum stresses contemporary art, l7th- and 18th-century American art and rare Asian art. It features traveling and special exhibitions rivaling those of many a metropolitan museum.
(413) 597-2429. www.williams.edu/WCMA. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 to 5, Sunday 1 to 5. Free.
Chapin Library, Stetson Hall, Williams College, Williamstown.
Nowhere else are the founding documents of the country original printings of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Bill of Rights and drafts of the Constitution displayed together in a simple glass case on the second floor of a college hall. This remarkable library contains more than 30,000 rare books, first editions and manuscripts. You might ask to see James Madison's copy of Thomas Paine's Common Sense. One floor below is the Williamsiana Collection of town and gown, while the lowest level of Stetson contains the archives of band leader Paul Whiteman, with 3,500 original scores and a complete library of music of the 1920s.
(413) 597-2462. Open Monday-Friday, 9 to noon and 1 to 5. Free.
>> Williamstown Lodging and Dining Suggestions
The Orchards, 222 Adams Road (Route 2), Williamstown. (413) 458-9611 or (800) 225-1517.
>> Williamstown Lodging Suggestions
Field Farm Guest House, 554 Sloan Road, Williamstown. (413) 458-3135.
The Williamstown Bed and Breakfast, 30 Cold Spring Road, Williamstown. (413) 458-9202.
>> Williamstown Dining Suggestions
101 North, 101 North St. (Route 7), Williamstown. (413) 458-4000.
Main Street Café, 16 Water St., Williamstown. (413) 458-3210.
This once-gritty mill town has become an up-and-coming cultural and entertainment hub with the opening of MASS MoCA in an abandoned factory complex.
MASS MoCA, 87 Marshall St., North Adams.
The country's largest contemporary art center features an ambitious array of exhibitions and performances. Short for Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, this is the remarkable result of a dozen years of ups and downs for a host of players from the director of the Williams College Museum of Art and visionary architects to three different governors and the state. Spearheaded by museum director Joseph C. Thompson, an art historian trained at nearby Williams College, they transformed the thirteen-acre site into a 21st-century facility for art and technology while preserving the fabric of the old textile mills. The 27 red-brick buildings, listed on the National Historic Register and abandoned following the 1985 closing of the once-mighty Sprague Electric Co., are linked by an elaborate system of interlocking courtyards, viaducts and elevated walkways. Galleries, sculpture parks and performance arenas co-exist with e-commerce start-ups dubbed Silicon Village. MASS MoCA focuses on the work of artists charting new territory; works that blur the lines between visual and performing arts and works that have never been exhibited because of their size or materials. It opened in 1999 after being given up for dead at least four times. Now it is a national model of not only how to re-use old buildings but how to experience art and architecture today. "I have seen the future," wrote a Wall Street Journal reporter, "and it is MASS MoCA." Even if you don't like modern art, you'll be impressed with this.
(413) 664-4481. www.massmoca.org. Open daily 10 to 6, June-October; Wednesday-Monday 11 to 5, rest of year. Adults $8, children $3.
>> North Adams Lodging Suggestions
Porches, An Inn at MASS MoCA, 231 River St., North Adams. (413) 664-0400.
>> North Adams Dining Suggestions
Il Tesoro, 34 Holden St., North Adams. (413) 664-6400.
Eleven, 1111 MASS MoCA Way, Building 11, MASS MoCA, North Adams. (413) 663-2004.
Canteen, 139 Ashland St., North Adams. (413) 664-4415.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times