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Pittsfield in the heart of the Connecticut River valley in Massachusetts, is the perfect home base for touring the many and varied regional attractions. Many are world class including Norman Rockwell Museum, Chesterwood, home of Daniel Chester French and Hancock Shaker Village. You should plan to spend at least three days in the area in order to see everything properly. Before leaving for Massachusetts, write to state and local tourism offices for information on attractions,events and accommodation. Plan your visit carefully so that you don't miss anything and sure to make accommodation reservations in advance.
The Comfort Inn on South Street provides a reasonably-priced central location in the Pittsfield area. Staff is super friendly and continental breakfast is included in the room rate. From Comfort Inn's central location we sallied forth every day to enjoy new adventures knowing we were never far away from a comfortable bed. We were usually back in time for dinner at The Dakota, being situated as it is at the Inn's doorstep.
Set one day aside for exploring the cities of Pittsfield and Lenox. Both boast main streets lined with fine examples of Victorian and Edwardian architectural styles that typify New England. Both have excellent restaurants and interesting shopping opportunities. Enjoy a walk on the grounds of Tanglewood near Lenox, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
One day should be spent in Stockbridge and environs. Stockbridge made famous by artist Norman Rockwell, is a short drive south of Pittsfield. The Red Lion Inn anchors one end of a main street that has a good mix of traditional and specialty shops. Rockwell's studio was for many years, located above the General Store. To quote Rockwell - "I just love Stockbridge. I mean, Stockbridge is the best of America, the best of New England." To understand his passion for Stockbridge, take time for a leisurely walk along streets lined with pretty Victorian era homes. While in the village you may as well "do lunch" at the Red Lion Inn, preferably in their garden.
A visit to the small village of West Stockbridge is a must! This gem isn't as "discovered" as its big sister yet has a charming New England quality about it that even today Rockwell would appreciate. West Stockbridge is a great mix of old stores and newer artisan shops. After a walk around to see the Shaker mill and dam, we had lunch at Cardlake Country Inn then walked across the street to Charles H. Baldwin & Sons to purchase some vanilla extract. This company, established in 1888, and famous for its flavouring extracts, is housed in an ancient building on Center Street. Drop in at the hardware store across the street from Baldwin's and while there, pay your respects to the live-in dog. Check West Stockbridge out before the village changes too much. It is a beauty!
An afternoon can be spent at the Norman Rockwell Museum just outside of Stockbridge. Rockwell, known for his devotion to detail, said that he "showed the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed." His paintings spoke directly to the hearts of North Americans. Many of his best and most loved pictures are on display at the museum. Do take time to fully appreciate some of his finest paintings, including "The Four Freedoms." Enjoy such whimsical paintings as "No Swimming" and "Art Critic." Even today, regardless of age, nationality or gender, one cannot help be touched and moved by Rockwell's detailed work.
Tucked away in the pastoral Berkshire countryside a half mile from the Rockwell Museum is one of the most fascinating places in western Massachusetts. Chesterwood Estate & Museum, was home to American Renaissance sculptor Daniel Chester French from 1898 to his death in 1931. During his career French was creator of more than one hundred public sculptures. The Chesterwood collection comprises more than 500 pieces. French is most famous for "The Minuteman" sculpture in Concord, New Hampshire, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and the standing "Lincoln" in Lincoln Nebraska. A tour comprises both his home and 1898 studio designed by Henry Bacon. The studio is a wonderful architectural blend of north facing skylights, granite and marble.
Surrounded by gardens, designed by French, the building became the hub for the area's social activity, so much so that in 1905, a second more private studio was constructed on the property to give French some respite from visitors. When you marvel at the 1898 studio, keep in mind there is another, not open for tours tucked away on the property.
Hancock Shaker Village, seven miles east of Pittsfield, was the third of nineteen major Shaker communities established in New England between 1783 and 1836. At its peak, Hancock was home to more than 300 believers. Known for gender equality, pacifism and dedication to creating a heaven on earth, the Shakers became famous for their simply-styled architecture, furniture, stacking boxes, innovative farm and domestic operations. Hancock has twenty-one buildings. Some are original while others were moved from lesses known Shaker villages to the site. All are restored and have been adapted to interpret two hundred years of Shaker history.
Visitors receive an excellent site map with their entry fee. Before you go on-site take time to tour the various exhibits in the Visitor Center. They are designed to answer a number of questions about the Shakers, and to give an informative peek at their lifestyle. The first, and best, introduction to Hancock Shaker Village is the spectacular view of the stone barn and fields with the gentle Berkshires as a backdrop, when one leaves the Visitor's Center. Don't forget your camera. There are excellent photo opportunities throughout the grounds.
At various times during the day, special on-site presentations are given. Time yourself to take in a number of these excellent interpretative events. Staff members are knowledgeable and enjoy what they do, so be sure to ask questions. Watch for some of the unique Shaker features throughout the village. The Laundry building is a marvel with its innovative cone-shaped stove, huge wash boilers and two floors devoted to drying racks, with laundry chutes to send the clothing down to baskets on ground level.
The kitchens and storage areas in the brick dwelling are replete with large kettle stoves, unique ovens, built-in cabinetry, simple but functional furniture and innovative storage systems. Running water was made possible by a unique on-site water system that carried aqua to all buildings that needed it. Should there be a presentation of Shaker music, do feel free to join in! We spent one-half hour exploring all three floors of the brick dwelling that were open to the general public, and returned for presentations on cooking and singing.
The round, stone dairy barn was erected on the site in 1826 and remodeled in the late 1800's to accommodate a dairy herd. Once again, the time saving features that are built into this structure were far ahead of their time. Present day farmers should take note! For an acoustical remembrance of Hancock Shaker Village, walk to the center of the main level in the barn and call your name up toward the cupola. We lunched in the restaurant at the Visitor's Center and toured the gift shop. While in the Visitor Center ask about the various programs offered through the Center for Shaker Studies. Perhaps you might want to plan your visit around one of their seminars or "hands-on" courses. Other Pittsfield and area attractions include Santarella Museum & Gardens, the home of Sir Henry Hudson Kitson; the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Berkshire Botanical Gardens, Herman Melville's "Arrowhead", a 47 acre estate, from which a view of Mt. Greylock inspired the description of the whale in "Moby-Dick."
IF YOU GO:
Pittsfield, Massachusetts 01201
1055 South Street
Stockbridge, Massachusetts 01262
Pittsfield, Massachussets 01206-0927
Stockbridge, Massachussets 01206
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