The Berkshires is a hilly region in the western-most part of Massachusetts, stretching north to the Vermont border and south to Connecticut. To the west is New York State, and to the east a ridge of hills over which runs the Appalachian Trail.
Settled in the late 1700s and early 1800s, the region is, in many ways, classic New England. It embraces 30 mainly rural towns and two small cities, Pittsfield, the Berkshire County seat, and North Adams. The region is equidistant from Boston — about 120 miles east — and New York City — about 120 miles southwest, or a two to two-and-a-half-hour drive.
The history of the area boasts a tradition of arts and letters from the 19th century, with famous American authors such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, who resided in the area, and Henry David Thoreau, whose visits to the Berkshires are well-documented. In the early 20th century, this was home to Edith Wharton, who built a summer estate called, simply, The Mount. This was also the summer getaway for the rich and powerful during the Gilded Age, when many of the luxurious Berkshire “Cottages” were built. These summer homes were, in fact, grand homes for residents of metropolitan New York who summered here at the turn of the 20th century.
In terms of economic development, Berkshire County organizations and agencies apply a sensitive balance of growth, technology and regard for the environmental, cultural and rural aspects of the area to regional planning. Their initiatives focus on using existing infrastructures, buildings and sites; downtown revitalization; and creation of a strong regional identity to market the area.
According to a report issued by the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute in February, 2002, the “technology enterprise” sector, defined as technology services rather than manufacturing, has enjoyed greater growth in employment than other portions of the Berkshire economy. In the telecommunications sector, an organization called Berkshire Connect is hard at work making sure that the county has a high-quality, low-cost broadband telecommunications service network. Broadband infrastructure had been installed to serve three principal sub-markets in the Berkshires for a cross section of business, industry, cultural and nonprofit organizations.
The upshot is a more relaxed pace that characterizes a lifestyle where people can live well, without the hubbub and frenzy of large metropolitan cities. Berkshire residents can train for new careers, take advantage of business resources and funding, network easily throughout the region, and enjoy a satisfying career, all the time making the most of the recreational and cultural attractions this rich region has to offer. Family picnics, nights at the theatre, a weekend by the lake, or, perhaps, a three-mile commute to work are part of life in the Berkshires.
World-Class Arts & Culture
The Berkshires is a vibrant hub for the arts and is internationally recognized as home to some of the finest cultural attractions, museums and historical sites. Tucked in among the charming New England towns are world-class festivals and art centers that span the original and cutting-edge to the Old World. Year-round the Berkshires attracts almost three million visitors, many of whom have chosen the area as their ideal vacation retreat, and for good reason. In terms of food for the senses, there’s something wondrous about this place.
Tanglewood in Lenox is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, where each year visitors relax under the sun and stars to enjoy music on the lawn, in the Koussevitzky Shed or in Seiji Ozawa Hall. Here acclaimed conductors, soloists and musicians flock to present many forms of music, from classical to contemporary to jazz. Baroque and classical music are also presented by the Aston Magna Festival in Great Barrington (America’s oldest annual summer festival), the Berkshire Choral Festival, Close Encounters with Music, the Butternut Summer Concerts, Richmond Performance Series, Sevenars Concerts, South Mountain Concerts, the Music and More Series, the Taubman Institute & International Piano Festival, and the Williams College Department of Music performances.
If it’s jazz that moves you, come to the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, which caps the summer season for three days with renowned performers, and the annual Berkshire Jazz Festival features greats such as Chuck Mangione, Maynard Ferguson and Spyro Gyra, performing on three stages at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington. Also in Great Barrington, presents professional opera and two outstanding choruses: Berkshire Lyric Theatre and the Berkshire Choral Festival.
The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown is both an art museum and a research center that possesses rich collections of European and American art, and is perhaps best-known for its extraordinary collection of French Impressionist paintings. Surrounded by 140 acres of expansive lawns, meadows and walking trails, the Clark displays exceptional examples of European and American painting and sculpture, master prints and drawings, English silver and porcelain, and early photographs.
In North Adams, MASS MoCA’s 13-acre factory campus, with its enormous unobstructed indoor spaces, irregular courtyards, elevated walkways, towers and industrial buildings, presents modern works that have seldom, if ever, been exhibited because of size, materials or complex technological requirements. The world’s largest museum of modern art, MASS MoCA also embraces performing arts, new media, film and other formats to further physically engage and challenge the visitor.
In Stockbridge, the Norman Rockwell Museum exhibits more than 70 original works by the artist, including examples from every decade of his career as well as rarely seen works from public and private collections. The museum features a remarkable selection of Rockwell’s magazine cover illustrations, story illustrations and advertising art.
The Berkshires is also home to Williams College Art Museum; the Berkshire Museum, a family museum featuring an aquarium, fine art, natural science, history, a mummy, dioramas, sculpture and special traveling exhibits; the Williams College Chapin Library, home to books and manuscripts of the 19th and 20th centuries and a permanent display of The Four Founding Documents of the United States; and the Crane Museum of Papermaking — all cultural jewels.
There are numerous historical sites, such as the 200-year-old Hancock Shaker Village with 21 buildings, Shaker furniture, crafts, and a heritage farm and garden; Herman Melville’s home, Arrowhead; Chesterwood, the studio and estate of sculptor Daniel Chester French, best- known for “The Seated Lincoln” in the Lincoln Memorial; and the Mission House in Stockbridge, which was home to the Rev. John Sergeant, the first missionary to Native Americans in 1739.
An elegant 1750 parsonage, the Bidwell House and Museum, is in Monterey. In Lenox, The Mount preserves the 1902 mansion and gardens of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton. Stockbridge is home to the grand Naumkeag house and gardens, designed by Stanford White in 1886. The Frelinghuysen Morris house and studio in Lenox exhibits a one-of-a-kind collection in the artist’s Bauhaus-style home. And Santarella Museum and Gardens in Tyringham is the sculptural museum, gardens and studio of Sir Henry Hudson Kitson, sculptor of “The Minuteman.”
The Berkshire Scenic Railway offers 11-mile narrated scenic train rides from Lenox Dale to the Stockbridge station, May through October. Showcasing local artists are the Berkshire Artisans-Lichtenstein Center for the Arts in Pittsfield and the Becket Arts Center of the hill towns, which also offers arts and crafts and children’s workshops.
For a stroll through 15 acres of intimate country landscapes and display gardens, visit the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, which from May to October showcases many plants that thrive in the Berkshires. The Botanical Garden also offers popular plant sales, special events, gardening classes and education for adults and children.
The Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge & Pittsfield is the third-oldest theatre in the nation and, for decades, has presented some of the centuries’ most important playwrights — William Gibson, William Inge, Lillian Hellman, Eugene O’Neill, Harold Pinter, Noel Coward, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Stoppard, Tennessee Williams — and actors — Anne Bancroft, Richard Chamberlain, Hume Cronyn, Sigourney Weaver, Shirley Booth, Buster Keaton, Calista Flockhart, Gene Hackman, Julie Harris and Dustin Hoffman. The theatre was originally designed and built by Stanford White as the Stockbridge Casino, which opened in 1888.
The world-renowned Williamstown Theatre Festival won the prestigious Regional Theatre Tony Award for its 48 years of sustained theatrical excellence. Each summer, WTF presents more than 200 performances of classic and new plays on its Main and Nikos Stages, outdoor free theatre, the Cabaret, and countless readings, workshops and other special events. Many of its productions have moved to Broadway, to off-Broadway and to regional theatres around the nation.
Founded in 1995, Barrington Stage Company is a three-time winner of the Elliot Norton/ Boston Theatre Critics Award for The Diary of Anne Frank and Cabaret, the latter also garnering four Outer Critics Awards. Several of its other productions, including Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Three Viewings, A View from the Roof, and Mack and Mabel, have also been awarded the Year’s Top Play honors by either area or Boston critics. Each year the company produces three Mainstage productions, two Stage II productions, a Youth Theatre Production, a New Works Festival and a fall production.
Shakespeare & Company in Lenox is a classical company that was founded in 1978 by Tina Packer and fellow director Kristen Linklater, who came to the Berkshires to create a multiracial American Shakespeare company. The company today resides on a 64-acre campus that is expected to become the world’s first International Center for Shakespeare Performance & Studies. It consists of the 466-seat Founders’ Theatre, the 99-seat Spring Lawn Theatre and the new Rose Footprint stage, which seats 150 in surrounding bleachers. Shakespeare & Company is moving quickly to break ground on the world’s only historic reconstruction of the Rose Playhouse, which will be built with traditional materials using traditional English building methods, and surrounded by a Rose Village of working artisans’ shops, eating places, museum and gallery space, and a library.
The internationally celebrated Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival was founded in 1933 by the legendary Ted Shawn and today presents dance in all forms from around the globe. Exceptionally talented artists have taught, performed and created dance at the Pillow, and in 2001, Jacob’s Pillow was named to the National Register of Historic Places. Located in the scenic natural setting of Becket, it has been called “The Hub and Mecca of Dancing in North America” by Time magazine. Its school boasts an international faculty that trains interns in arts administration and technical theatre and preserves dance legacies through documentation and an extensive historical archive. The Ted Shawn Theatre and Doris Duke Studio Theatre each summer offer nine weeks of live dance performances, including ballet, modern and ethnic. The Albany Berkshire Ballet, which stages performances in the Berkshires, has delighted summer audiences for years. Each year, the troupe takes its holiday tradition, The Nutcracker, on tour from October through December.
Courtesy of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.