Characterized by rolling hills and peaks, and dissected by river valleys, the Berkshires, considered southern extensions of Vermont’s Green Mountains, traverse Western Massachusetts and Connecticut, diminishing in elevation and profile from both north to south and west to east. Named by Sir Francis Bernard to honor his home county in England, they constitute both a highland geologic and cultural region, attracting considerable tourism during the summer months.
Wind, weather, and erosional chiseling of once towering mountains that formed the Housatonic, Green, and Hoosic River valleys after retreat of the last ice age some 25,000 years ago created the current hills and low-elevation peaks.
Mohican Indians, who had defected from the Hudson River Iroquois settlements during the mid-1600s, served as the Berkshire area’s first documented inhabitants and were considered instrumental in teaching white men basic survival skills, such as land clearing for crop cultivation and maple tree tapping for syrup collecting.
Energy-harnessing industries, attracted by the area’s numerous rivers, used abundantly available raw materials, including sand, granite, limestone, and marble from quarries and iron and clay in mines, to produce lumber, grain, paper, and textiles, in the process attracting the work force and their families needed to run their mills and plants.
Instrumental in the transfer of these products and materials, the Hoosac Tunnel, facilitating the state’s first northern rail route, linked Boston on the eastern seaboard with the Midwest.
Generating considerable interest in the region, many notable 19th- and 20th-century authors and visual artists included area settings and themes in their works.
Today, the Berkshires are synonymous with nature, country inns, historic sights, art, theater, film, and music.
Other than regional gateways, such as Pittsfield Municipal Airport-which are primarily served by private and corporate aircraft-there are no Berkshire-served scheduled airline facilities, the three closest airports being those in Albany, New York (52 road miles), Hartford, Connecticut (103 miles), and Boston, Massachusetts (143 miles).
Consisting of 32 towns, the region, which can be subdivided into northern, central, and southern sections, requires an hour-and-a-half to a two-hour drive, without stopping, to traverse. Accessed by Route 7 in the west and Route 8 for a portion slightly to the east of it, its picturesque, seemingly time-suspended, quintessential New England towns, framed by inns, white church steeples, art galleries, and crafts and antiques shops, are often dissected by either redesignated or rerouted arteries, including Route 2 in North Adams, Route 7 in Pittsfield, Route 102/Main Street in Stockbridge, and Route 7/Main Street in Great Barrington.
4. Northern Berkshires:
North Adams, as its name senderismo en indicates, is the principle town in the Northern Berkshires. Once the bustling hub of textiles and shoes during the 19th-century, it has since set its sights on education and culture with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts. Much of its history can be traced at the Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
Western Gateway Heritage State Park:
Occupying the site of the former Boston and Main Railroad’s freight yard, the park, comprised of several restored buildings that once housed cargo and shippable commodities, have been converted into shops, dining venues, and a museum surrounding a cobblestone courtyard, now all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum, toted as “celebrating the building of the Hoosac Tunnel and the age of the Iron Horse,” depicts North Adams life at the turn of the 19th-century and the impact both the tunnel and the railroad industry exerted on it and northern Berkshire County.