Quiet Places Of Massacusetts: Country Rambles, Secuded Beaches, Backroad Excursions, Romantic Retreats by Michael J. Tougias | NOOK Book (eBook) | Barnes & Noble
Quiet Places Of Massacusetts: Country Rambles, Secuded Beaches, Backroad Excursions, Romantic Retreats

Quiet Places Of Massacusetts: Country Rambles, Secuded Beaches, Backroad Excursions, Romantic Retreats

by Michael J. Tougias
The author takes you through old-growth forests, across bubbling brooks, into dark, narrow chasms, and in search of the best village greens. Focusing on unspoiled places, he covers the state from the northern Berkshires and towns along the Housatonic River to the trails near spectacular Quabbin Reservoir and the rocky cost of Cape Ann. Each of the 16 trips details


The author takes you through old-growth forests, across bubbling brooks, into dark, narrow chasms, and in search of the best village greens. Focusing on unspoiled places, he covers the state from the northern Berkshires and towns along the Housatonic River to the trails near spectacular Quabbin Reservoir and the rocky cost of Cape Ann. Each of the 16 trips details what you will see along the way, fascinating details of local history and where to find the cosiest B&Bs.

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Read an Excerpt

Western Massachusetts

The Northern Berkshires & Hill Towns

Florida, Monroe, Charlemont, West Hawley, Plainfield, Cummington & Goshen

On a warm October morning--a real Indian summer--my brother Mark and I followed the Deerfield River northward, far off the beaten path and into the isolated mountain town of Florida. This is a far cry from the Sunshine State, and not exactly a tourist spot. You won't find Disney World, Busch Gardens or beaches here, but hikers and nature lovers should make it a point to explore this area, as the rewards are many. Especially interesting is the Dunbar Brook Trail, owned by the New England Power Company. That is where Mark and I began our morning jaunt.

The trail follows the brook upstream from its confluence with the Deerfield River, climbing into rugged, wooded hills. Right away I knew I was going to like the place. Instead of the pines and oaks that dominate the area around my home in southeastern Massachusetts, we found massive hemlocks, maples, and white birch--as close to the "forest primeval" as I've ever seen. And the brook was a classic mountain stream, surging down the hills, flexing its muscles.

Scenery like this gives your legs their own special energy, and the rhythm of walking was like music. The farther upstream we ventured, the more rugged the land became, with little waterfalls dropping into slick pools below. Beneath the cathedral of trees, ferns grew in the shade--deep green over a blanket of fallen brown leaves. I wondered if Mohawk or Hoosac Indians had once used this same ridge trail.

Just after we crossed a log bridge to the opposite side of the stream, Mark spotted anold millstone in the river. I was surprised to learn that early settlers had lived here, in this wild land. But in the 17th and 18th centuries, water-power was a valuable commodity; both grist and lumber mills were erected all along the Commonwealth's rivers and streams.

We didn't find any more evidence of the mill, but five minutes farther up the trail we came upon an old cellar hole. We wondered if this marked the remains of an isolated home, or had there been a little village here that the forest had since swallowed up? It must have been a tough life working this bony land, but to have a home within earshot of the tumbling brook would be wonderful compensation.

Beyond the cellar hole, Dunbar Brook cascades down a series of ledges carved by centuries of falling water, fanning out at the bottom into a wide pool. This is where we finally rested, eating the sandwiches we had packed. The finest restaurant in the state could not duplicate the wonderful taste of those sandwiches; it was the air, the smell of evergreens, and the rigorous walk that made this meal special.

We lay back on the rocks watching the last of the leaves drop from the beech and maples. When the sun went behind a cloud, the wind kicked up, sending an orange avalanche of leaves tumbling down the hill behind us. Now there was a bite to the air, reminding us of the harsher weather soon to come. We shouldered our knapsacks and headed back downstream.

Back in the car, we passed the dark and forbidding entrance of the Hoosac Tunnel. Completed in 1876, this railroad tunnel took a monumental 25 years to build. It travels four and a half miles straight through the mountain. I could only imagine the conditions the laborers endured during its construction.

It was near the tunnel that we surprised a flock of wild turkeys. Though large birds, they're very quick on foot--too quick for my camera. In all my years of hiking the Bay State, these were the first wild turkeys I had seen. But they may not be the last, since their population is on the increase.

The turkey was Benjamin Franklin's nominee for the United States national bird. If you're only familiar with fat farm turkeys, you might wonder if old Ben was serious. But the wild turkey is a different bird altogether; he's faster, more cautious, and capable of flight.

Later, Mark and I explored some of the town's backroads. One was so steep that we could only climb it in first gear. On the descent, our ears popped as though we were landing a jet. We also came across a forlorn cemetery on a wooded hilltop. I remarked that perhaps 100 years ago there was a thriving village nearby. "Who knows, maybe in the next 100 years this will be suburbia," Mark said. I shuddered at the thought--we've already seen what development did to the other Florida.

Next, we followed the Deerfield River southward, stopping to fly-fish at a couple of "secret holes." Many anglers regard the Deerfield as Massachusetts' best trout stream, and I have to agree. This was one of the first rivers in the state to have a catch-and-release section, and the experiment has been a success. The result is bigger trout, and more of them.

The stretches of whitewater also attract the attention of experienced canoeists, kayakers, and rafters. And for those who have never run the rapids, there are outfitters--such as Zoar Outdoors and Crab Apple Whitewater--that rent equipment, provide lessons, and offer guided excursions on the river.

I try to avoid Route 2, The Mohawk Trail, because the traffic moves too quickly for a slow-poke like me. (Of course, it can get very crowded during October, when the leaf-peepers are out.) So Mark and I turned onto Route 8A, first heading north one-fifth of a mile to see one of the region's more scenic covered bridges. Large log railings line the edge of the road, directing your eye to the weather-worn boards of the Bissell Bridge. There are windows inside; it is possible to look out and see the Mill River passing below. Years ago, a bridge such as this would have been the perfect spot for a young couple to park their wagon for a bit of sparkin'.

Bissell Bridge was built in 1951 at the site of another covered bridge that once carried wagons to a nearby iron mine. When the new bridge was completed, the town of Charlemont held a square dance on it to celebrate the occasion!

There are a number of theories about why so many bridges were covered in the 1800s and the early 1900s. Most of these center around horses, because the bridges were built before the age of the automobile. It is said that horses feared crossing water at a height, and by covering a bridge the horses would get the impression they were simply entering a barn. The bridges also offered protection for horse, driver and wagons of hay during sudden summer downpours. Still another theory has it that the bridges were covered to prevent horses from slipping on the smooth wooden planking during periods of ice and snow.

But the real reason for covering a bridge has nothing to do with horses. Instead, it relates to the structure itself. Wood exposed to the elements decays faster than wood that is protected, and a roof shelters the bridge's important structural members in the span. Periodic replacement of the roof would be far simpler than repairing the timbers below.

Mark and I stopped here, taking pictures and examining the bridge's construction. Visiting a covered bridge can take you back to a simpler time. As we sat quietly by the river, I could almost hear the squeak of wagon wheels and the thud of hoofs on the wooden planks.

Heading south on 8A, we soon passed the wilds of the Savoy and Hawley State Forests. This is an isolated, rugged region, with only a handful of homes and an unmarked church hugging the hillsides. The road was most memorable for the rough-legged hawk that flew by with a snake in its talons. We searched the woods for bears, knowing this part of Massachusetts has more black bears than any other.

We also wondered if the "ghost of the forest," the mountain lion, was living nearby. Though these creatures are considered extinct in New England, reports of cougar sightings persist--especially here in the Berkshire Hills and the woods of Quabbin. On my last visit to the region, I met a man who said he saw a lion cross the Cold River, just a few miles from here. Count me as one of the believers. If there are cougars roaming these forests, it's unclear whether they were illegally released from captivity or are truly wild. It's also uncertain whether or not there is a breeding population. But it's possible; there are certainly enough deer to support them.

We passed through the sleepy village of Plainville and turned onto Central Street, a fine old country road lined by ancient maples, woods and fields. Nearby is the Swift River Inn, owned by Ninja Turtles creator Peter Laird, who grew up in the area. The inn is best known for its 600 acres of cross-country skiing trails that meander through both hills and forest. This is one of the few cross-country facilities that has snow-making capabilities, so one never need worry about snow conditions.

I've stayed at the inn during the spring. It was a convenient base from which to go trout fishing on the nearby streams and the Westfield River. My room was quite comfortable and the food was excellent. I used the cross-country trails for rambling, enjoying the sounds of spring peepers and red-winged blackbirds.

Mark and I stopped to fish a stream on Stage Road, where the water cascades over the remains of an old stone dam at a former mill site. Beaver had made good use of this spot. Their dam of sticks and mud was erected just above the mill site, forming a good-sized pool of water for their protection. From mill pond to beaver pond--I wondered what the former mill owner would have thought.

Two young boys were fishing downstream from us, one of them furiously trying to free his lure from a tree. For a moment I considered going over to give a hand and perhaps offer some casting tips. But then I remembered the last time I gave a couple of youngsters some fishing advice. When I finished telling them about the habits of trout and the best lures to use, one of the boys opened his battered and rusted tackle box to show me something. Crammed inside was a fat brown trout, no less than 16 inches long. I decided to keep my advice to myself.

When we reached Cummington, we followed Route 9 west a couple of miles to West Cummington. Here we stopped and took photos of an old church nestled in the woods. It rises above the village and the river below, like a sentinel guarding this peaceful place.

On past trips to the Cummington-Goshen area I've visited the DAR Forest. This is a great place for swimming and boating. It also has one of the few firetowers in the state that is open to the public. From the top, there are commanding vistas over the pines and hemlocks that seem to stretch endlessly.

Near the corner of Route 9 and Route 112 South, we stopped at the Creamery Grocery for a drink. Striking up a conversation with one of the locals, I remarked how the dairy farms gave these little towns their special character and open views. But my new friend said the farmers were in trouble, and later research proved him right: Massachusetts has only half the dairy farms it did just 10 years ago. Country life is not always as idyllic as it seems.

From the Creamery Grocery, it's just a couple of miles south on Route 112 to what I consider the perfect home. The 23-room William Cullen Bryant Homestead rests on a hill overlooking rolling countryside and the valley of the Westfield River. A view like this should be enjoyed from a country porch, and this home has a beauty. Maybe that's where the poet and writer Bryant found his peace and inspiration.

This place has an enduring appeal. In 1835, Bryant's widowed mother went into debt and was forced to sell the rambling home. Thirty years later, long after his mother had died, William Cullen Bryant--now a successful poet and newspaper editor--bought it back. Anyone who sees the place will understand why. Cummington could lure anyone back.

If You Go:

Zoar Outdoors (413) 339-4010

Crab Apple Whitewater (413) 339-6660

Swift River Inn (413) 634-5751

(800) 532-8022

Franklin County Chamber of Commerce (413) 773-5463

Northern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce (413) 663-3735

Berkshire Hills Visitors Bureau (800) 237-5747

Mohawk Trail Association (413) 458-2767

The William Cullen Bryant Homestead is owned by The Trustees of Reservations and is open to the public in the summer and fall. For the latest visiting hours, call (413) 634-2244.

The Dunbar Brook Hiking Trail can be reached via River Road near the Florida-Monroe border.

Mount Greylock & the Northwest Berkshires

Williamstown, Adams, North Adams & Lanesborough

On Mothers' Day, 1990, drenching rains pounded Mount Greylock in the Berkshires, causing a massive rock slide on the eastern slope. Trees were uprooted, and a large gash of exposed rock became visible as far away as the center of Adams. With most of the trees and brush gone, the profile of a man's face emerged from the granite. It is an angry face, with a mouth twisted downward, jaw jutting forward, high cheekbones and a bald or shaved head with only a lock of hair hanging behind. Many think it resembles an Indian. Perhaps it is Chief Greylock, come back to reclaim his mountain.

At 3,491 feet, Greylock is the highest peak in Massachusetts. The origin of its name is uncertain. Some believe it was named for the dark grey clouds that shroud or "lock" the mountain in winter. But others say it was named after Chief Greylock, a Mohawk leader who lived northwest of the mountain. Now that I've seen the rock slide and its facial profile, I'm inclined to believe the latter story. I like a little mystery.

The rock slide and profile are best seen from Gould Road in Adams. The profile is not easily discernible at a casual glance. One has to know that the face is pointing to the right as you look at it; then it all becomes clear. Perhaps the chief has come back to express his displeasure over encroaching development near the base of the mountain. Perhaps he is reminding us to care for the earth, our common mother.

On an early Sunday morning I coaxed my ancient Subaru up the 10-mile access road from Lanesboro. First I climbed through a forest of oak, beech, birch, and hemlocks. Then, after rounding hairpin turns, the trees in the upper elevation changed to mostly conifers (such as red spruce and balsam fir), clinging to the rocky slopes. Periodic views to the west appeared, adding to the sense of exhilaration I get whenever climbing a mountain--whether by foot or by car. Near the summit the trees were smaller, some stunted and twisted from too much wind and not enough soil. Not long ago, much of the mountain was devoid of trees and the east face suffered serious erosion from continual logging.

As my car coughed and growled, I thought of naturalist and author Henry David Thoreau. Even if there had been automobiles in his day, he never would have driven to the top. My guilt increased when I later learned that not only did he blaze his own trail to the summit, he walked here all the way from his home in Concord. Much has been said about Thoreau, but few acknowledge his remarkable physical stamina.

Thoreau's trek to Greylock came at a time when he was going through deep personal doubts. Just a few weeks earlier, he had accidently burned down a vast tract of forest in his native Concord. Perhaps he came to Greylock for escape and contemplation, knowing instinctively that mountains have therapeutic powers.

As great as his stamina was, his planning (or lack of personal concern) left something to be desired. The summit was so cold that he covered himself with boards to ward off the overnight chill. He wrote: "As it grew colder towards midnight, I at length encased myself completely with boards, managing even to put a board on top of me, with a large stone on it to keep it down, and so slept comfortably." I believe the part about the boards, but I'm not so sure about the comfortable sleep.

When I reached the summit, I forgot my guilt about driving up. Here was a sacred place, a cathedral open to the heavens. The 3,491-foot peak has vistas of up to 100 miles, past the Berkshire Hills into the Green Mountains to the north and the rolling hills of New York to the west. The silence was wonderful, but if you stare out from this vantage point long enough you just might hear echos from the past--the chants of Chief Greylock or Thoreau's chattering teeth.

I was so impressed with Mount Greylock and the surrounding hills that I came back the following weekend, taking seven-year-old Kristin with me on our annual father/daughter weekend. We chose Williamstown to explore because I'd never been there. It turned out to be a great choice. Williamstown is so handsome and so tastefully laid out that it ranks right up there on my list of most appealing country towns. Located in the northwest corner of the Berkshires, Williamstown is a small college town, offering the visitor a wide assortment of cultural and outdoor activities.

There is something special about traveling alone with a child in a situation that allows you to give them your full attention. During the ride up, we had great conversations--as if we were long-lost friends, rather than father and daughter. Kristin was asking all sorts of questions, singing with the radio, and simply enjoying the ride. Could it be that the child senses when the adult is relaxed, and responds by opening up?

When we arrived at Williamstown, we took an hour and explored this very walkable town on foot. There were pleasing views in every direction, historic homes, churches, and rolling lawns, all framed by mountains. The campus of Williams College lines the main road, and the college's many stone buildings add grace to the town. The feeling I had while walking was one of spaciousness. You couldn't help but realize the community had pride in every detail of its appearance.

The white man's settlement in Williamstown began in 1750. The town was first known as West Hoosuck. A blockhouse, stockade and fort were built at the present site of the Williams Inn as a refuge from repeated attacks during the French and Indian Wars. When peace came to the region in 1760, settlers arrived in droves, clearing the woods for agricultural use. Today, many of the farms are reverting back to forest, but the country feeling has not left.

After exploring the town's center we went to the renowned Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. This houses one of the largest collections of Renoir works in the world. I had my doubts about taking a seven-year-old to an art gallery, but Kristin surprised me with her interest. We made the visit more fun by keeping a list of our favorite paintings, then voting for the winner at the end of the tour. We also kept the visit short. My knowledge of French impressionist painters is little more than Kristin's, but you don't need knowledge to feel moved by beauty. Besides the paintings by Renoir and other masters, I was taken with the works of American artists such as Homer, Sargent and Remington.

We left man's creations of beauty to visit nature's, driving next to Field Farm, owned by the Trustees of Reservations. This 294-acre country estate lies at the foot of the Taconic Range and is home to wild turkey, coyote, bear, deer and fox. Osprey, wood ducks, kingfishers and herons visit the pond and marshes. There is even a bed and breakfast in a large home here that offers sweeping views of the fields, forest and Mount Greylock.

Back in Williamstown we took another short walk, this time along the banks of the Hoosic. Just beyond Williams College is an access road to ball fields. This in turn leads to a wonderful river walk that begins near Eph's Pond in a flood plain area that is one of the lowest elevations in the Berkshires. The woods here have giant cottonwoods, box elder, and sycamore (identified by the splashes of white on the grey-brown bark). The river ran swiftly, coursing with riffles over small stones. It appeared to be a great place for trout fishing.

That night we stayed at the Williams Inn, located adjacent to the common in the center of town. This features 100 guestrooms on three stories, all decorated in Colonial style. The room in which we stayed was quite comfortable. It had a TV, which allowed Kristin to watch her favorite show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

Not all trips go according to plan, and sometime during the middle of the night, Kristin awoke with a fever. The inn's manager came to the rescue, going out to purchase Tylenol so I could stay with Kristin. Now that's the kind of service that brings customers back.

If You Go:

The Williams Inn (413) 458-9371

Mount Greylock State Reservation (413) 499-4262

Clark Art Institute (413) 458-9545

Field Farm (413) 458-3144

Supplemental Directions to Hoosic River Trail: Park on Stetson Road across from Eph's Pond, near barrier gate on right. Follow paved lane bordered by light poles to evergreens, and turn right. Follow about 20 feet to trail on left leading into woods. Proceed to river.

Berkshire Backroads

Tyringham, Monterey & New Marlborough

The backroads above Tyringham took me up the ridge and past the old Shaker homes, plain yet handsome in their simplicity. It was a beautiful hilltop high above the valley, a place where road names retained their original meaning. Meadow Road wound through a golden hayfield, Forest Road passed dark and mysterious woods, and Tyringham Road went through town.

Now I was on Breakneck Road, dropping down the precipitous slope, the ancient Subaru growling in low gear. Then into green lowlands, over a stream, and through lush pasture, before turning onto a main road (actually named Main Road) toward town.

Ahead sat a structural oddity that made me slam on the brakes. A real honest-to-goodness gingerbread house, or so it seemed. Its roof was full of waves and curves in colored patterns of grey, brown and rust, like a marbled stone one finds in a streambed.

What kind of person builds such a thing, dares to be so different from his or her neighbors? I had to find out. A sign out front said Tyringham Art Galleries, so I went inside.

A woman stood behind a small desk in a cavernous gallery with cathedral ceilings. Her name was Ann Marie Davis, and she and her husband Donald owned the gallery. We fell into conversation and I learned that they bought the building in 1947, just after the death of its original owner and designer, Sir Henry Kitson.

It was Donald who first fell in love with the place. With no job at the time and no idea what he was going to do with the mammoth structure, he put their entire savings toward the downpayment and they became the new owners. He was smitten, and reason went out the window. "At the time, I was scared," Ann said with a smile, "but now, looking back, I'm glad he did it. It was hard work, though. Took us five years to renovate the place to the point where we could open it as a gallery."

The roof was fashioned with a rolling effect that recalls the Berkshire hills. English workers were imported for the construction; they labored on this project for more than two years. The roof--which has a thatched look--is made from traditional materials and has an estimated weight of 80 tons.

But the gingerbread house is much more than an amazing architectural feat. Inside is a treasure trove of paintings and other artwork, while out back is a sculpture garden nestled in quiet woods by a tiny pond. Walking through the gallery and on the garden path, one can appreciate the monumental effort that went into creating something different, something special.

The word "Tyringham" has a nice ring to it, and the center of town did not disappoint me. It reminded me of a Vermont village: a low-lying valley of farmland surrounded by green hills. At the center of town I turned off the main road and onto Church Road, which leads to a hillside cemetery behind Union Church. The view was wonderful. A town such as this ranks high on my list, especially when its backside is as good as its front.

While heading toward the trails at the Cobble, I came across four hikers sitting by the side of the road with their gear spread out around them. There were three boys and one girl, all college-age, and all spending the summer hiking the Appalachian Trail (which runs through the Cobble). The foursome had started out at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia about five weeks earlier. They had since covered over 500 miles, with the previous night being one of the roughest yet. They said they could find no water supply and were getting desperate when the sky opened in a downpour. Using ponchos, they were able to funnel rainwater into their cooking pot. It seemed like their troubles were over. But as evening turned to night, thunder and lighting came, whipping the trees above. The group spent some tense moments inside their tents, wondering if a tree would come crashing down upon them in the dark.

However, most of their journey had been filled with pleasant moments. They especially enjoyed meeting friendly people in small towns along the way. "When we go into town," one of them said, "they can smell us coming and know where we've been! Grooming conditions on the trail are not exactly the best. We have had many folks cook us dinners, and have slept in churches, a monastery, private homes, and barns--a nice change from lean-tos."

Wildlife was varied on their trek; they'd spotted a black bear, wild turkey, and even a rattlesnake. "This trip is something we have dreamed of for years, and we plan on going all the way to Mount Katahdin," one of them remarked. All I could say was, "Go for it, before the chains of the working world get you." Such an adventure will provide life-long memories.

And so I left my new friends and ascended the Cobble alone. As I hiked, I imagined this was the start of my journey to Katahdin. What would it be like to be outdoors for weeks, to have no other cares than the path in front of you? Life reduced to its most basic and elemental living. Someday...

The walk up the Cobble is a gentle one, passing through pasture, then woods, and later into a field with goldenrod waving yellow in the breeze. Monarch butterflies floated off in front of me and I felt my spirits soar with them. I was glad I was here alone, free to stop and feel the peace of this place. I lay back, letting my face soak up the September sun.

While in the field I saw two handsome birds. First, a blue bird winged by, and I thought of Thoreau's description, "They carry the sky on their back." Then I spotted a kestrel on a cedar tree. It stayed at the top of the tree, apparently surveying the field for insects or mice. I had a good long look through binoculars at this small falcon, with its rusty back and bluish wings. It is said that kestrels rarely go for larger prey, preferring insects instead. But I once saw one swoop down on a blackbird that was feeding on the ground and kill it in a spray of feathers.

Later I resumed my walk, passing an enchanting stand of white birch and then cresting the summit. Far below, an idyllic Tyringham lay nestled in the valley. When a cloud passed over the sun, it was as though someone had drawn a curtain on the town. Then, just as quickly, the light returned to illuminate the church, the green hills and golden fields. I'm sure there are all types of people living in this valley--both good and bad--but from this vantage point, the town seemed far removed from the troubles that plague the rest of the world.

They say that the Cobble was broken off from nearby Backbone Mountain and flipped over, because the oldest rocks are on the top of the hill. But try as I might, I could not picture the event. The hill seemed too permanent, like God put it here. But perhaps God, like man, changes things after a second look.

The rocks at the Cobble are known as "Tyringham gneiss." Once subjected to great heat and pressure, they have a marbled quality to them, and there are many veins of white quartz mixed with the gneiss. On the trail to the top, you can't miss a tall rock formation standing on its end. This boulder--actually a glacial erratic that was carried here by the ice sheet--seems so out of place that one would think it landed here from outer space.

From the Cobble, I drove south into Monterey, then hit the brakes when I saw River Road. A little way down the road was a small waterfall and broad pools. Here, two boys were swinging out over the grey-green water on a rope, and then dropping with a mighty splash. "What the heck?" I thought, putting on a pair of shorts. Shock is probabably not the right word for the feeling that occurred when I hit the water. The cold took most of the air out of my lungs, but I still managed a scream as I motored furiously to shore. Yet, within minutes, I was on the rope again. It was as though years had fallen away; I was 10 years old again, invigorated and totally alive.

River Road led down to New Marlborough, where the village green on Route 57 is a classic, complete with an inn. The Old Inn On The Green was built in 1760 and was an important resting spot for weary travelers making the overland journey from Westfield to Sheffield. The inn also served as a post office in 1806, with mail arriving once a week by horseback. Later, a stagecoach brought the mail daily on the "Red Bird Line." The latter ran from Albany to Hartford one day, and then reversed direction the next.

The inn and common look much as they did long ago, and a tired traveler can still find lodging and dining in this handsome building. For some, the location may be too quiet and out of the way, but for others, that's the very reason to come. One of the best things about the setting is the old Monterey-New Marlborough Road, which begins by the side of the inn and passes northward through woods and fields free of power lines and development. Old stone walls built by settlers more than a century and a half ago still stand firmly along the trail. Farmers built the walls from rocks turned up by the plow, using them to mark their property lines or enclose their herds and flocks. Neighbors helped one another when the job was large. "Stone-bees" were held, with oxen and many strong arms removing the rocks and crafting the walls.

Southfield Road leaves the green and winds toward the Old Buggy Whip Factory, which now houses antique dealers, craft shops and a café. At the nearby village of Mill River, I stopped at the old general store and struck up a conversation with the owner. I remarked how this is my kind of country. He responded by saying, "Yes, it's the last place." He meant that this was one region yet to be developed on a large scale. It really was one of the last best places. To underscore what he said, I went down to Upachene Falls, where two rivers converge. One of the rivers cascades down a series of ledges before mingling with the other river. A kingfisher, with its distinctive crested head, flew over the river with irregular wingbeats. Aside from the bird, I had the place to myself.

The falls are named after a Mahican Indian sachem, and surely Native Americans would have had a village or a camp here. The location would have provided both drinking water and fishing. Indeed, the spot where the rivers join would have been deep enough to float the dugout canoes used by tribes in southern New England. I wondered if these Indians could possibly have foreseen that this would be the "last best place?"

If You Go:

Tyringham Art Galleries (413) 243-3260

The Old Inn On The Green (413) 229-3131

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