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24 hour series: North Adams


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by Erin Frick

One might think that the largest contemporary art museum in the United States would be located in an art mecca like New York City or Boston. Instead, North Adams gets the bragging rights, having the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass MoCA) located in town.

Nestled in the northwest corner of Massachusetts and a little over an hour from Amherst, its places like Mass MoCA that make North Adams one of the most historically and culturally dynamic towns in Western Massachusetts. With ties to the Civil War and the Underground Railroad, and its contributions to the development of the atomic bomb, the smallest city in Massachusetts carries a big stick.

North Adams rose to regional prominence as an industrial powerhouse then fell into a period of depression in response to European competition. While its days as a factory-laden manufacturing hub have long passed, North Adams has reinvented itself as a bohemian sanctuary. The town’s flourishing art scene is ubiquitous. From hidden galleries and refurbished museums to prominent installations and murals spanning the height of entire buildings, the town is alive with creative vigor.

The North Adams events calendar is packed with annual music festivals and established community events; it bustles with activity even on “quiet” weekends. To experience this town like a local, relax with a frothy cappuccino, scour bulletin boards and discover the unexpected pockets of culture that abound in North Adams.

If you only have one day to see it all, try out this sample itinerary to get the most out of your visit:

9 a.m.

Start your day with a cup of coffee and a fresh muffin or bagel at Luma’s Muffin & Mug. Cozy and quaint, this pint-sized bake shop offers indoor and outdoor seating over-looking the pedestrian activity of Main Street. Pull up a stool to sample eclectic baked fare such as bacon-cheddar-chive scones or an orange-pineapple-coconut muffin or peruse the shelves of used books with a steaming latte. If you’re in a playful mood, settle in for a game of Banagrams or Scrabble, selected from the cafe’s modest collection of popular board games.

10 a.m.

Fortified with a bit of sugar and caffeine, meander down Main Street towards the weekly Farmers’ Market, held Saturdays from 9am to 1pm in the Saint Anthony municipal parking lot at the intersection of Route 8 and Marshall Street. On your way, pop into the vestibule connecting Brewhaha Café and Man’s World Styling Salon to check-out the bulletin board and piles of brochures to see what might be happening in town during your stay.

Local galleries and cafes regularly host art shows, open-mic nights and artistic demonstrations, particularly on weekends, so keep an eye out! The market hosts local farmers and artisans, encompassing a variety of goods from produce and pies to jewelry and quilts. Workshops on topics such as composting and seed-saving are also offered on some weekends. To learn more about weekly vendors, workshops and seasonal offerings, call (413) 664-6180.

10:30 a.m.

Stocked with local rations, hop into your car for a quick jaunt beyond the town center for a leisurely morning hike. Natural Bridge State Park, located just off Route 2 on McCauley Road past the Eclipse Mill Gallery, offers visitors a chance to explore this curious geologic formation from 9am to 5pm. Turning into the park, roll down your windows and inhale an invigorating breath of crisp Berkshire air as you follow the narrow, earthen path leading to the top parking lot (a $2 fee per car).

Interpretive signs direct you to the “natural bridge” and surrounding walking paths. Formed over 13,000 years ago through processes of glaciation, the “bridge” is comprised of 550 million-year-old, white bedrock marble which has been carved into an arch by the Hudson Brook which courses 60 feet below.

12:00 p.m.

If you’re looking to appease your inner shopaholic, central North Adams does not disappoint. Discover the eccentric boutiques and consignment shops along Main and Eagle Streets as you wind through town. Berkshire Emporium and Antiques carries all kinds of New England-themed trinkets like local maple and honey products, books written by native authors, and peculiar antiques including vintage postcards and a collection of tiny clocks. Sift through baskets of gemstones or leaf through volumes of local lore.

Peek in store windows to find jewelry crafted by artists in the area. Who doesn’t want a pair of beer-cap earrings or some hand printed textiles, socially-conscious toddlers’ clothing (might as well start early with organic hemp booties) and musical instruments? This town’s artistic soul knows no rest!

1:30 p.m.

For lunch, North Adams offers a varied selection of restaurants and cafes. For a satisfying Mediterranean-inspired meal, step into MediTerra which crafts traditional and fusion-style dishes derived from Italian, Turkish, Greek and Mediterranean influences. MediTerra opened in July 2013 and has enjoyed immediate success. The atmosphere is casual yet trendy, the exposed ceiling and rugged brick walls are an obvious nod to North Adams’s industrial past. Keeping in theme with the town’s artistic vibe, the works of local artists are on display (and for sale). The menu features a selection of both light and heavy fare, ranging from a classic Greek salad, stuffed grape leaves and tabuleh to shish kebabs and calamari fra diablo.

If you’re still craving a sweet bite, indulge in MediTerra’s baklava or gelato. For those with a hankering for homemade chocolates, fudge or an ice cream sundae, walk to “I Got Goodies”, a nearby confectionery. Browse the tantalizing rows of chocolate delicacies for a nibble to take home.

3:00 p.m.

A quick survey of community bulletin boards is sure to inspire afternoon activities at local galleries. DownStreet Art, a city-wide network of galleries, museums, murals, installation pieces and other public displays, facilitates “performed art” pieces where artists demonstrate how they’ve created their work. It’s easy to stumble upon murals and galleries, but if you’re in need of inspiration and don’t feel like following a map, simply watch the sidewalk and follow the painted neon green footprints to find DownStreet Art participants and pieces.

If you meander up to the public library on Church Street, though small, it’s worth a peek inside. Wander into its homey reading room, scour its bulletin board offerings, or flip though books on the history of North Adams.

The nearby Rudd Art Museum, housed in a former chapel just a block from the library, is a member of the DownStreet Art project. Currently on display is a sculpture exhibit of over 400 life-sized human figures, most posed in the church’s sanctuary with others attached to the ceiling (the Sistine Chapel of plaster, if you will). Following the green footprints, you will find the stained-glass bus station on Main Street and even colorful mural-esque crosswalks. If you’re interested in viewing a wider variety of practical home-scale works, the NAACO Gallery on the corner of Main and Marshall Streets is the place to go.

5 p.m.

In need of a pick-me-up? Brewhaha! Café is just steps from the NAACO Gallery and offers an ideal place for afternoon repose. The menu includes a variety of unique coffees, lattes and espressos as well as light fare and all-day breakfast. The warm interior glows; from its pumpkin-hued walls covered in artwork and posters to the shoulder-to-shoulder seating of the dining area. If you’re not quite up for a bowl of chowder or panini, simply order an Ovaltine latte and pull up a chair at the bar-style seating overlooking the street.

6 p.m.

Depending on the schedule of afternoon art events, it may be time to head to a gallery to watch a performed piece. If you’d prefer to walk outdoors, you may choose to stroll up to Mass MoCA to follow the sidewalk path along the Hoosic River, through the surrounding residential area to the east of the town center. The sidewalk and strip of landscaping along the Hoosic River adjacent to MASS MoCA is well-maintained, although one should expect a taste of North Adams’s remaining industrial grit rather than a scenic, park-like experience.

Alternatively, for those who wish to remain in the town center, you may decide to head south of Main Street to stroll around the campus of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). Although the campus itself is not expansive, it offers a glimpse into the town’s college scene.

Evening

If you find yourself lingering into the evening, North Adams offers a handful of options for free, casual entertainment. If you’d like to sit down to a frosty ale and classic pub grub, visit the Freight Yard Pub for live musical performances by local artists most Friday and Saturday nights.

For a coffee, light fare and limited bar offerings, The Parlor Café , located near MCLA, holds open-mic nights on Friday evenings and schedules bands for Saturday nights. Both venues begin their entertainment at 8pm, so be sure to arrive early to snag a table or barstool.

This piece was written for Shaheen Pasha’s Travel Writing course. Erin Frick can be contacted at [email protected]

 

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The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department
24 hour series: North Adams