North Adams, Massachusetts

Photo: Tourists

When was the last time you visited the Berkshires? It’s probably been a while. You used to take the scenic drive all the time. Hiking in the spring. Outdoor concerts in the summer. Apple and pumpkin picking in the fall. Skiing in the winter. It was an easy getaway for your family. But you forgot about the northwest corner of Massachusetts as you grew up. A lot has changed recently.

North Adams was once an industrial center along the Hoosic River. Brickyards, sawmills, and printing companies flourished at the turn of the 19th century. They even supplied goods to the Union Army during the Civil War. The Great Depression deeply affected the area, though. The small city was later revived during World War II, when an electric company began designing weapons systems, including components of the atomic bomb. It closed and created another depression in the 1980s. The rest of the Berkshires relied on tourism. But no one wanted to hang out in North Adams.

But things have slowly and quietly been turning around during the last 20 years. First, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) renovated six old factory buildings, turned them into 19 galleries, and opened in 1999. The museum recently doubled its size, expanding into a 16-acre campus. The Extreme Model Railroad and Contemporary Architecture Museum is now in the works. Its name may be clunky, but architect Frank Gehry is designing it. Restaurants and breweries are catching on. Plus a new hotel, with an adult-summer-camp vibe, recently opened in the Blackinton Historic District.

Photo: Tourists

The Blackinton Historic District sits west of downtown North Adams. The Blackinton Company, founded in 1821, manufactured woolen goods. The self-contained community included Victorian architecture, two churches, and a grand Greek Revival house. Its brick buildings sat empty after the mill closed in 1950.

There’s new life around the old mill now. Tourists, a boutique hotel that opened over the summer, was built upon the foundation of a former roadside motel. A ranch house from the 1960s is now its lodge. The rustic lounge and bar has overstuffed couches, a fireplace, and a patio overlooking a saltwater pool.

Forty-eight rooms spread out from the lodge. They feature poured-concrete floors, high-vaulted ceilings, and blonde-wood furniture. Nooks with daybeds sit in front of picture windows. Vintage Mohawk Trail postcards decorate the walls. Bottles of Saratoga Spring Water and area Field Guides are set beside king beds. Minibars are stocked with locally made goodies. Radios play a specially curated folk-rock soundtrack (not surprising, since Wilco’s bassist is one of the hotel’s owners). Handmade soap wedges are in the bathrooms. While the view includes 55 acres of apple, sugar maple, and sumac trees. A wooden boardwalk even winds down to the river.

Tourists sounds great, right? It’s about to get even better. The hotel currently serves breakfast, picnic spreads, and cocktails. A full menu will soon be available at Loom. The restaurant, opening in a deconsecrated church, will be helmed by the chef of Bar Tartine, a former James Beard Award winner in San Francisco. Chime Chapel, a little stage in the woods, will also host live-music performances during the summer. Suddenly, North Adams’ resurgence is making you look at Western Massachusetts in a whole new light. It’s probably time to revisit the Berkshires.

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