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WHY GO: Arlo Guthrie made Alice’s Restaurant the Berkshires famous. Norman Rockwell lived and composed his iconic Saturday Evening Post covers here. Inexplicably, Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick here, far from any sea, and Edith Wharton designed her own ideal home here.
In the summer, Berkshires MA towns are jammed with Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow bound culture-vultures who have elaborate picnics, garden music and dance in mind.
But the quiet off-season is the Maven Favorite, when a few key attractions are open and you can get a luxury room for a relative song. Snow might linger on lawns, but this Berkshires MA Getaway will warm your heart.
Things To Do In The Berkshires
Norman Rockwell, who “chronicled the American Century as no one else did, with an eye for everyday drama and extreme attention to detail” was only 22 years old when he began creating covers for the Saturday Evening Post.
You’ll hear tidbits and gossip about the life of one of America’s most popular illustrators in the one museum that houses the largest number of original Rockwell’s in the world, based in the town where he lived the last 25 years of his life. In fact, if you come at the right time, you might get to meet one of his child models, now elderly: those still living and willing take a first Friday of each month at 1:30PM to provide behind the scenes stories about working with the great illustrator.
Take a wonderful 30 minute tour (free with entry) to learn about Rockwell’s favorite model – Billy Pine – the disgruntled boy pushing a baby buggy in his first Saturday Evening Post cover, and about the townspeople depicted in “The Gossips” who wouldn’t talk to Norman for months after that issue came out.
Rockwell’s Four Freedoms (of Speech, of Worship, from Want, from Fear) based on FDR’s “inalienable rights,” toured the country during WWII, and raised $145 million for War Bonds – the most successful drive ever. In the turbulent, racially divided 1960’s, when The Post shied away from controversy, Rockwell moved to Look Magazine, which was more than willing to print “Murder In Mississippi” and “Ruby Bridges.”
Rockwell was born in 1894 and died in 1978, bearing witness to both the first flight at Kitty Hawk and the Moon Landing – along the way illustrating Tradition and the Past while honoring the American Spirit. Start your tour downstairs by watching a 12 minute video of Rockwell’s life in a room that displays all 343 of his Saturday Evening Post covers. $16 adults, $5 kids, Open daily 10-4 and till 5 in season
Considered a “Local Treasure,” for 110 years the Berkshire Museum has been delighting and educating the surrounding communities and tourists alike. Melding science, nature and art, you’ll stroll through galleries showcasing aquatic life around the world, birds and animals mounted in old-fashioned dioramas, a large Paleontologist-in-training “dino-bone-digging” pit, and a true Victoriana display called “Objectify,” which dredges up a Sperm Whale jawbone, humanoid Chimp skeleton, a 2,300 year old Mummy in sarcophagus, and paintings and sculptures from storage – displaying them right upon the crates in which they were stored.
My favorite exhibit, and certainly a crowd-pleaser, is the Feigenbaum Hall of Innovation, which posits “All kids are born scientists and engineers,” and stresses, as Thomas Edison said, that “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”
Starting with the innovative iron plow that Thomas Melville (Herman’s dad) introduced at the 1818 Pittsfield Agricultural Fair, this gallery invites visitors to consider Unexpected Outcomes, Overcoming Obstacles, and How to Define Success in interactive ways.
In effect the Hall of Innovation reflects the collaborative spirit of past and present Berkshire’s innovators. $13 adults, $6 kids, Monday through Saturday,10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Noon to 5 p.m.
VISIT/PARTICIPATE: The Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church, Great Barrington.
Yes, it’s the church in which Arlo Guthrie’s friend Alice, of “Alice’s Restaurant” lived. Now, it’s an interfaith house of worship “BYOG” (Bring Your Own God) on the first Sunday of every month, and a community hall of sorts. Come for a free lunch (Wednesdays), free legal advice, a concert, drum circle or other programming. Just check the website for calendar offerings.
SNOWSHOE: Lake Mansfield Recreation Area, Great Barrington.
Snowshoe in the winter, swim in the lovely lake come summer. As Arlo Guthrie’s dad, Woody Guthrie, wrote – “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land,” – so get out there and take advantage. This land was made for you and me.
RIP: Clemens Kalischer owned the Image Gallery, Stockbridge which was located next door to the Red Lion Inn. Holocaust survivor and world-famous photographer, Clemens Kalischer died in June 2018 at the age of 97. Kalischer left his German homeland in 1933 when his parents saw “the writing on the wall.” Norman Rockwell’s principal photographer, he was best known for his portraits of immigrants arriving in New York City from DP camps after the war.
SHOP: Robin’s Candy, Great Barrington.
Much can be written about Robin Helfand’s MBA Corporate background, her stint at Dean & Deluca and founding of her own specialty store in upstate NY (it’s all on the website), but suffice it to say, you come to Robin’s Candy for the vast array of sweets in a vibrantly colorful fantastical space.
Things to Do In The Berkshires In Season
It’s small, but very pretty. And then there’s the “Solar Greenhouse” which seems a bit redundant. May-Oct. 9-5
VISIT: Naumkeag, Stockbridge.
The 44 room McKim, Mead and White designed Gilded Age “cottage” – summer retreat for prominent NYC attorney, Joseph Choate -has an extravagant view of the Berkshire mountain range. $15 for two hour house and garden tour. Open May 26 to October 15, daily, 10AM to 5PM
VISIT: Chesterwood, Stockbridge.
Have you ever been curious about the man who sculpted the Lincoln Memorial? Daniel Chester French was one of the most celebrated artists of his day, and Chesterwood was both his summer home and studio. $16, adults, $8 children. May to Oct 10-5.
VISIT: Frelinghuysen Morris Museum and Studio, Lenox.
Fans of modernist, abstract art will want to peruse the work and collection of Suzy Frelinghuysen and her husband George K. Morris. Visitors can see their work hanging beside that of the most famous Cubists of the day, including original Picasso’s. $15 adults for hour long tour, Thurs-Sun 10-3 June 20-Labor Day.
VISIT: The Mount, Lenox.
Edith Wharton, author of The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction at a time when society women were expected to marry and oversee the home. Wharton did oversee the home- the design and building of her own – The Mount in 1902 based on the principles detailed in her influential book, The Decoration of Houses (1897). Open daily May-Oct 10-5, $18 adults, free for children under 18.
VISIT: Arrowhead, Pittsfield.
Herman Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick, while living in this small bright yellow house, right on a main road. Open daily from Memorial Day Weekend through Columbus Day, from 9:30 am. to 5 pm. Tours begin hourly, with the first tour at 10 am. and the last tour at 4 pm. Tours are approximately 45 minutes long. Tour rates are: adults $13.00 and children & students (with I.D.) $8.00.
Restaurants in the Berkshires MA
EAT: Table Six Restaurant at Kemble Inn, Lenox.
As Chef in the Clinton White House, Ron Reda cooked for the President and world dignitaries. He now presides over this elegantly intimate dining room, overseeing innovative and traditional dishes, like Crispy Portobello Schnitzel with Gruyere ($14), and Roasted Lamb Rib Chop with Butternut Squash Mash ($39). Table Six specializes in three-course Prix Fixe Menu ($67) and Chef’s Tasting Menu ($97).
EAT: In Great Barrington, Baba Louie’s Pizza is a standout. In fact, Baba Louie’s is so popular, there are other outposts, including one in Pittsfield. With funky inventive combos like the “Dirty Brutto” piled with roasted red potatoes and roasted garlic ($11.95 for 10 inch sourdough pie) you’ll probably have to contend with long lines any time of year.
Hotels In Berkshires MA
STAY: Red Lion Inn, Stockbridge, MA.
First opened in 1773 as a rough and tumble stage coach stop, then evolving into a way-station for prosperous sojourners, The Red Lion Inn’s current owner, Nancy Fitzpatrick has breathed fresh, plush life into formerly shabby rooms and has added several cottages.
If original sloping floors could talk, they’d tell of the tens of thousands of guests who have wandered down these mazelike hallways; filled with enough art, including hometown hero, Norman Rockwell’s, to make historians and museum-goers giddy.
Rockwell’s painting of Main Street Stockbridge in winter depicts an unlit, closed-up Red Lion Inn. From the mid-1860’s, when it became a summer country escape for city folk, until the 1960’s, the inn was open only in the warmer tourist season. Now, wintertime is prime time, and if you come when the snow starts to fall, you’ll see why.
First Impressions of Red Lion Inn
Step onto the wide white porch and through the door, you’ll be hit with a nostalgia not necessarily your own. Deeply colored upholstered Victorian chairs and couches face a warming fireplace. A collection of teapots line shelves and cram crevices all around.
I nearly bumped into the “Lincoln Table” – from the old Union League Club of New York – bequeathed to long-time Red Lion Inn owner, Mrs. Plum right after the Civil War. Charles Dickens and Abe Lincoln were purported to have dined at this table. Who am I to dispute this claim?
Service is laid back, the kind you’ll find in a rambling old hotel. All will be fine, you’ll be attended to presently, but there’s really no rush.
Rooms at the Red Lion Inn
In the 1990’s the Red Lion had seen better days. And then it was refreshed. Country Victorian with modern amenities, each room harks back to the days when city-folk came to the county for fresh air and homey ambiance. Bathrooms are updated with marble sinks and subway tiles, and color pallet is the mauve-olive combo and others you don’t see much of today. You can choose to stay in the main inn or in one of the cottages just a block away – each with its own parlor and fireplace.
Dining at the Red Lion Inn
Burgundy carpeting, pewter plates and crystal chandeliers bring a turn-of-last-century ambience to the Main Dining Room, which has much improved over the last few years. Roast Turkey with Farmhouse Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes and Gravy ($ 27) is the comfort food signature, of course, but the Quinoa Pasta With Harvest Vegetables ($24) was quite delicious and would satisfy any picky vegan and quite a few meat eaters as well.
You can get Yankee Pot Roast ($24) and Prime Rib “Popover” ($19) at the Widow Bingham’s Tavern – where complementary coffee is served each morning.
Just the Facts: Rooms off season start at $99 per night, in season up to $250.
STAY: Kemble Inn, Lenox. Built in 1886 as home of Frederick Frelinghuysen, US Secretary of State under President Chester Arthur, JP Morgan’s sister lived here while her own home was being constructed across the street. Plenty of other tycoons rented here as well.
According to owner Scott Shortt, this home was “Mansion Base Camp” for the wealthy of the day. It became the Lenox School for Boys, and then a Bible School before being turned into a traditional New England inn in 1995. Tradition was turned on its head when Shortt purchased the place in 2010.
With dark-as-black plum and bright turquoise walls, twelve-foot ceilings, navy blue velvet Ralph Lauren couches, large diamond-like crystal chandeliers, mirrored sideboards, and wood burning fireplaces, and nods to Queen Elizabeth and Shortt’s Canadian heritage, the Deco/contempo/Neauvo/Polo décor is unlike anything else in Lenox.
Rooms feature dark stained wood floors, 20’s period furniture, cloud-like bedding, and large “Waterworks” subway and hex tile bathrooms. Breakfast is served in an intimate “Chef’s Table” sized space, formerly the kitchen, which features a rare 1907 Duparquet, Huot & Moneuse Co. iron stove (the Viking of its day). Rates from $220-$600 depending on size of room and season, and include gourmet breakfast, wi-fi, and parking. Two night minimum in season.