Beautiful Berkshires; Arts Region Comes Alive during Summer
Byline: Corinna Lothar, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. - A few hundred miles north of Washington, in one of our original Colonies, stand the Berkshires, a gentle range of hills that have given their name to an area of western Massachusetts.
The Berkshires comprise delightful small towns and villages, beautiful scenery and a cultural scene bursting with music, art and theater all summer long. The area includes names from America's Colonial history: Lenox, Stockbridge, Plymouth, Great Barrington, Adams and Lexington.
We are in Stockbridge, at one of America's oldest inns, the Red Lion. Built in 1773 as a stagecoach stop between Boston and Albany, the inn has lost its Colonial look with several expansions and renovations over the centuries, as well as a fire in 1896 that destroyed the inn.
The inn's 100-plus rooms and suites are scattered over several buildings; it is a whimsical hotel with rooms of different shapes and sizes and with an eclectic assortment of furniture ranging from antique to merely old. Bathrooms are modern and clean, with plenty of hot water. The rooms are air-conditioned, for the Berkshires can get hot and muggy. Throughout the inn are wonderful collections of rugs, china, teapots and other odds and ends.
Five presidents have been guests here. On a summer afternoon, the white wicker rocking chairs on the veranda are all occupied. Lemonade tastes particularly good on the porch as you rock gently back and forth, watching the tourists saunter past.
The Red Lion is owned by the Fitzpatrick family, who also own Country Curtains, a mail-order business with retail outlets throughout the East and one on the premises.
The Fitzpatricks also are proprietors of Jack's Grill, located just outside Great Barrington in Housatonic. Nancy Fitzpatrick has decorated the little restaurant with crockery and whimsical folk art; a toy train runs around the ceiling, and a wonderful chair is made of bottle tops. It's a great place for comfort food such as meatloaf, hamburgers and what surely must be the world's richest chocolate pudding. The Red Lion Inn, on the other hand, has a first-class chef and offers more sophisticated dining.
Stockbridge is a quiet village with a handful of shops. It was made famous by Norman Rockwell, who lived here for the last 25 years of his life, when he painted the main street of the village - including the Red Lion Inn - in a winter scene called "Main Street, Stockbridge."
The painting is in the Norman Rockwell Museum, a few miles outside town. The museum has the world's largest collection of Mr. Rockwell's paintings, as well as his studio, which was moved to the museum with its original contents. Many of the artist's familiar Saturday Evening Post covers are on view.
Not far from Stockbridge, just outside Lenox, is the Mount, the splendid house built in 1902 on 113 acres of farmland by Edith Wharton, one of America's popular and prolific Gilded Age writers. Wharton was born Edith Jones, of the prominent New York family about whom the expression "keeping up with Joneses" was coined. She wrote a book a year and 17 letters a day.
The Mount was built according to the architecture and design Wharton advocated in her books "The Decoration of Houses" and "Italian Villas and Their Gardens." An interesting sideline on Wharton's life and style are the frugal limitations she placed on the construction and decoration of her house.
She sold the Mount in 1911 and moved to France. The house subsequently became a girls' school and then fell on hard times. It now is the property of a foundation that is restoring the house. The original furnishings have been sold and resold, but it is the lovely house itself and the beautiful gardens that make this one of the stately homes of America.
Pittsfield is the home of Hancock Shaker Village, a living-history museum comprising 20 original Shaker buildings used by the Church Family of the Hancock Shaker community from 1783 to 1960 on 1,200 acres of woodland, field and meadow. …