Scenic Day Trip #2 - Central Berkshires
Approximately 78 miles
The scenic tour of the south-central part of Berkshire County begins in Pittsfield's Park Square. Proceed south two blocks and turn right onto Route 20.
Just past the intersection of Route 41 is Hancock Shaker Village, a living history museum which preserves the life of the nearly extinct Shaker sect. Founded in the 1760's by Mother Ann Lee, the Shakers were a religious order based on community property, celibacy, equality of the sexes and simplicity. By 1840 their name had become synonymous with excellence in crafts, industries and agriculture. Dedicated to preserving its Shaker heritage, Hancock Shaker Village maintains twenty restored buildings, working craftspeople and a farm with historic breeds of livestock and plant varieties. The Museum Shop sells Shaker items and the Village Café serves snacks and lunch.
On exiting Hancock Shaker Village, turn right onto Route 20 then right onto Route 41, pass the Richmond Congregational Church, home to many concerts by the Richmond Performance Series. Continue on Route 11 to the village of West Stockbridge where the first hydroelectric dam in the United States was constructed. This former railroad village is nestled in the picturesque Queensborough Pass.
After going over the bridge past the Shaker Mill, turn left onto Swamp Road then take an immediate right onto Lenox Branch Road. At the top of Lenox Branch Road turn right onto Lenox Mountain Road. After the stop sign at the foot of Lenox Mountain Road bear left and go about 500 feet on Route 183 and turn right into the main entrance of Tanglewood. Tanglewood is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra where the world's leading musicians perform each summer. A tour through the beautiful grounds is a must.
Exit Tanglewood turning right onto Route 183 into historic Lenox Village, the site of numerous boutiques and galleries. At the obelisk, bear right. The first building on the right contains the newly-restored Lenox Town Hall Theatre where the Armstrong Chamber Concerts take place October through May. Continue on 183 and bear right onto Kemble Street. On the right you will come to the new home of Shakespeare & Company.
Return to Route 183 (also Walker Street); turn right and continue to Route 7. Turn left onto Route 7 then right onto Housatonic Street. Follow Housatonic Street to the end, turn left and follow the signs to the Berkshire Scenic Railway Museum in the restored Lenox Railroad Station. The museum houses a collection of railroad memorabilia. and scenic train rides are offered. (Open June through October, weekends and holidays.)
Take Housatonic Street back to Route 7 and turn left. Continue south on Route 7. At the second traffic light, turn left onto Plunkett Street and immediately turn right onto the grounds of The Mount, home of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edith Wharton. (House and grounds tours June-October given by Edith Wharton Restoration, Inc. Admission fee.) Plays based on the works of Edith Wharton are performed in the salon of The Mount June-October. On the grounds of the Mount, Shakespeare's plays and modern plays are presented by Shakespeare & Company.
Exit The Mount by turning right onto Plunkett Street and proceed to Route 20. Turn right onto Route 20 where you will pass Laurel Lake and drive through the quaint town of Lee. The First Congregational Church on the town square has the tallest wooden spire in New England. Eight miles east on Route 20 is Jacob's Ladder Trail and Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, America's oldest dance festival presenting the best in national and international dance in the historic Ted Shawn Theatre. The Studio/Theatre is the setting for new music, dance and performance art. Free Inside/Out performances in the early evenings are educational and entertaining.
Continue east on Route 20 to the town of Chester where The Miniature Theatre, an equity professional company, presents distinguished performers in a five play season (mid-July through Labor Day). The Westfield River flows through this tiny New England town but the trains no longer stop at the unique, preserved, railroad station and no prisoners are held in the One Cell Town Jail.
Return via Route 20 west to Route 8 where you will turn right to reach the town of Becket, where the Becket Arts Center has seasonal shows of art & history. Continue through the towns of Hinsdale and Dalton. A side trip especially worth taking during the fall foliage season is to turn right off Route 8 onto Route 143. At the top of the first rise on Route 143 on your left is a cemetery in which Israil Bissell, an unsung patriot who outdid Paul Revere, lies buried. Israel galloped five days to carry the news of Lexington to Connecticut, New York and Philadelphia.
About two miles further, Route 143 crosses two causeways at Lake Ashmere. Above the lake is the center of Peru. The town is the highest in Massachusetts, 2,064 feet at its center. Natives like to point out that the roof of the Congregational Church is the dividing line for two watersheds: raindrops hitting the church roof flow into the Connecticut River watershed on the east, and into the Housatonic on the west. Take South Street off Route 143 to the Dorothy Frances Rice Wildlife Sanctuary; make a small circle and return to Hinsdale and Route 8 via South Road and Middlefield Road (Ski Line Trail).
Returning on Route 143, turn right on Route 8 to Dalton, the home of Crane & Company paper mills. Behind the company headquarters is the Crane Museum exhibiting the history of American paper-making.
Continue toward Pittsfield on South Street, turning left on Division Road at the four corners marking the Dalton-Pittsfield line. Turn right on Williams Street after about a mile and a half. At the intersection of Holmes Road and Williams Street, turn left. Crossing the railroad overpass and up a hill, on the right is Arrowhead, for 13 years the home of Herman Melville, where he wrote Moby Dick in 1850. It is also the headquarters of the Berkshire County Historical Society (admission fee).
Exit right out of Arrowhead onto Holmes Road. Take Holmes Road to Route 7 and turn right, returning to Pittsfield. On the left when entering the city are the South Mountain Concerts. Founded in 1918 by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, it presents internationally-renowned chamber music ensembles. (Performances September through early October. Admission fee.)
Continuing on Route 7 north you will pass the Country Club of Pittsfield, a pre-revolutionary dwelling, named Broadhall by Herman Melville, whose uncle owned it in the 1840's. Route 7 north leads directly to Park Square, your starting point.
Editor's note: For more information on this and eight other day trips, pick up a copy of "Touring the Berkshires and the Mohawk Trail," available from The Mohawk Trail Association, P.O. Box 1044, North Adams, MA 01247 or call 413-743-8127 or pick up a copy at The Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Berkshire Common, Plaza Level, Pittsfield, MA 01201 or call 413-443-9186.