The Mohawk Trail
The Mohawk Trail is now a modern two-lane highway that has evolved from a Native American footpath once used for trade and travel routes from New York to Boston and Deerfield. Centuries ago, political unrest plagued the tribes of the Mohawk of New York and the Pocumtuck of Massachusetts. Tensions mounted as hunting and fishing territory lines blurred, and eventually a peace conference was arranged. Unfortunately, this was not a peace conference meant to pacify either tribe. It was actually arranged by English and Dutch settlers who meant to pit the tribes against one another so that they might move in and take over their lands. The settlers killed a Mohawk tribe member and blame was cast on the Pocumtuck. Mohawk warriors attacked in retaliation and destroyed the Poctumuck. As the Mohawk were the last tribe standing, the trail was named after them. In 1914 the road was designated a scenic tourist route.
Sixty-three miles of history meanders through charming countryside dotted with apple orchards and sugarbushes. It weaves past the white spires of celebrated churches and stately New England homes, following winding streams brimming with flora and fauna and passing under old-fashioned covered bridges. It was the first scenic road in New England, and is still considered to be one of the most breathtaking. The small towns and communities along the trail and flanking either side of it offer quaint shops, cozy bed and breakfasts and a myriad of seasonal activities.
The trail begins at the New York - Massachusetts border, near the colonial town of Williamstown. "The Village Beautiful" is home to Williams College, one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation, as well as the Stelring and Francine Clark Art Institute, which houses an exceptional collection of French Impressionist paintings. Traveling east, at the Hairpin Turn, is North Adams. 'The Spire City" is home to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), an amazing center comprised of a historic mill structure that is now a mecca for both the visual and performing arts. Here you'll also find the only natural bridge formed by water erosion in North America. The Natural Bridge is a white-marble, water eroded natural bridge and chasm that was formed over 500 million years ago during the last ice age.
A little ways south of North Adams and the Mohawk Tail is the community of Adams.
This picturesque Victorian industrial town is the birthplace of Susan B. Anthony, who helped lead the women's suffrage movement. In fact, nearby New Ashford is the place where the first woman cast her vote in a national election. Adams also claims the highest peak in the state with Mt. Greylock, a towering 3,491 feet high. Legend has it that the saddleback shape of the summit inspired Herman Melville, who got a great view of the mountain form his nearby home in Arrowhead, to write about "the great white whale" in his famous novel Moby Dick. Get back onto the beaten path and you'll pass through Florida, and the eastern portal of the Hoosac Tunnel. The Hoosac Tunnel took 22 years to complete, cost over $20 million dollars and took nearly 200 lives. The 4.82 mile tunnel runs beneath the Berkshire Mountain range and was an engineering feat when work began on it during the 1850s. Construction of the tunnel incorporated the first practical use of the unstable explosive Nitroglycerin.
One of the next stops on the trail is Charlemont, where you'll see the spectacular "Hail to the Sunrise" monument, a 900 pound bronze statue of a Mohawk Indian with outstretched arms imploring the Great Spirit. This is a sight not to be missed. Another amazing view is the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. It is an abandoned trolley bridge now abounding with lush foliage and brightly colored flowers.
Here you'll also see the amazing wonders of glacial potholes at Salmon Falls, formed by currents of water and tumbling stones that eroded the granite. Following the trail and the Deerfield River east brings you to the community of Greenfield. Here you'll find a spectacular 360 degree view atop the Poet's Seat Tower, situated on Rocky Mountain at the eastern ridge border of the Connecticut River and Greenfield. Surrounding the tower is also a system of hiking trails for the more adventurous.
South of Greenfield lies Deerfield, the "New England that visitors hope to find." Settled in 1669, it is a quaint, friendly town that is host to a variety of museums dedicated to interpreting early American history. One in particular, the Memorial Hall Museum, opened in 1880 and displays artifacts from past Indian and Puritan inhabitants of the valley. Follow the trail further east and arrive in Erving, where the French King Bridge spans the Connecticut River and connects it with the quaint town of Gill, that contains several markers of famous historic Indian battles. Continue on the trail, past the towns of Orange, which boasts the only Peace Statue from WW1 in the United States and Petersham (south of the trail), which offers superb examples of Greek revival architecture. As the trail heads east towards Boston and nears its end, you'll pass through Westminster. Here you'll find yourself in the midst of "Johnny Appleseed country," where the pastoral serenity of apple orchards and the inspiring awe of Mt. Wachusetts gives visitors a glimpse of the nostalgic beauty and simple pleasures that have graced this area for centuries.
Photos by Jim McElhom.