Frequently Asked Questions
Where can I find a tourist information center?
You will find a tourist information booth just south of downtown Great Barrington on Route 7.
Why is this place called the Berkshires?
The original Berkshire is in England, south of Oxford. There it is pronounced “bark-sheer.” “Berk” derives from “bark,” used to make leather. Shire refers to an administrative district. Presumably, the original Berkshire was a tanning center. Berkshire County was created by the striking off of a section of land from the already-existing Hampshire County. The author of its creation was the Royal Governor, Sir Francis Bernard, and he declared that this section be named “Berkshire,” after his home county in England. Visitors from Berkshire, England often comment that this piece of land with its gentle green rolling hills is very like “their” Berkshires. NOTE: The gentle green hills that grace this land were once mountains as tall as the Rockies. Millions of years of erosion wore the peaks down. Two mountain sentinels remain as testaments to its prehistoric heights. Mt. Greylock (north) rises 3,491 feet. Mount Everett (south) rises 2,264 feet.
Was there really a "Great Barrington"?
There was a Lord Barrington, John Shute, (1678-1734 ) who may have been great but there is no historical proof. Town residents had petitioned the colonial governor of Massachusetts, Francis Bernard, for the town's incorporation in 1761. They did not have any particular name for this town. Bernard chose Great Barrington to honor the family seat of his wife's cousin, Lord Barrington. The town seal of Great Barrington is based on Lord Barrington's coat of arms.
What is a "cobble"?
A cobble is an English term for a large tract (outcroppings) of rock formations that form hills and knolls. Bartholomew's Cobble takes its name from the high knolls of limestone and cobbles of marble. In the 1930's, Tyringham Cobble was purchased by a group of conservative environmentalists that called themselves "the cobblers." In the 1960's, Tyringham Cobble was donated to the Trustees of the Reservations. Bartholomew's Cobble is also under the auspices of the Trustees. Directions: Bartholomew's Cobble, Ashley Falls. Take Route 7 south through Sheffield to Route 7A. Turn right onto Rannapo Road and continue approx. 1 mile. Turn left and quick right onto Weatogue Road. The entrance and parking is on the left. Directions: Tyringham Cobble, Tyringham. Route 7 north to Route 23 east. Follow to Monterey center. Take a left onto Tyringham Road and follow to Tyringham village. In the village center, turn left onto Jerusalem Road. Stay right and follow Jerusalem Road for about a half-mile to narrow parking area on the right.
Is it Bish Bash or Bash Bish?
Bash Bish falls is said to be the most spectacular of waterfalls in the Commonwealth and the most photographed. Legend has it that it is named after a Native American woman who was called White Swan. (Her nickname was Bash Bish). Bash Bish was a young wife and was heart-broken that her husband had left her for another woman as Bash Bish could not give him children. She lamented daily at the falls when one day she heard her mother calling to her from underneath the falls where she lived. With a leap of joy, she jumped into the falls just as her husband came running out of the woods to find her, and he jumped into the falls as well. His body was found but no sign of Bash Bish was found. She is believed to have joined her mother underneath the falls. Some say if you listen very carefully, you can hear Bash Bish's named being called from underneath the falls. NOTE: Swimming is not allowed in the pool formed by the waterfall. It is deemed dangerous and a ranger is always on duty. Directions: From Route 7 South to Route 23 West, take a left to Route 41 South in the town of Egremont. Take a right (almost when you get on Route 41) on to Mount Washington Road. It later becomes East Street. About four miles, the road splits. Take the right fork which is West Street. Then take a right on to Bash Bish Falls Road. Turn right and follow road to paved parking area on left. The falls can be reached from the Taconic State Park just across the NY State line. This parking lot is one mile below the parking lot in Mass off Route 344.
What is the Monument in Monument Mountain Reservation?
There is a legend that has survived over time about a young Mahican maiden who fell in love with her cousin. This was considered a taboo in the Mahican culture. William Cullen Bryant, a Great Barrington resident and America's first acclaimed poet, wrote a poem about the beautiful Mahican maiden and her unlawful love. Titled "Monument Mountain", his poem in excerpts follows: "There is a tale about these reverend rocks, a sad tradition of unhappy love. She loved her cousin: such a love was deemed by the morality of those stern tribes, incestuous, and she struggled hard and long, against her love, and reasoned with her heart. All that look on me, do seem to know my shame, I cannot bear their eyes: I cannot from my heart root out, the love that wrings it so, and I must die...when the sun grew low and the hill shadows long, she threw herself from the steep rock and perished...and o'er the mould that covered her, the tribe built up a simple monument, a cone of small loose stones. Thence forward all who passed, hunter, and dame, and virgin, laid a stone in silence on the pile. It stands there yet. And to this day the mountain where the hapless maiden died is called the Mountain of the Monument."
Why is it called the Poet's Hike?
Monument Mountain has a literary legacy as well. Herman Melville and Nathanial Hawthorne (the first American born authors) were part of a hiking party arranged by William Cullen Bryant. A sudden rain storm happened and Melville and Hawthorne took refuge under a rock overhang. It was in that space and time that both began an intense friendship that would span for most of their lives. Each August since 1977, the Berkshire County Historical Society commemorates the event with a hike, champagne, and a reading of Bryant's verse. DIRECTIONS: Follow Route 7 N to the parking lot and picnic grounds slightly south of the Monument Mountain Regional High School.
What are the trees all along the downtown Great Barrington Main Street?
Bradford pear trees grace Great Barrington’s Main Street. The white flowers blossom in May and for a short time provide a delicate canopy for pedestrians and birds. The leaves turn a beautiful bronze color after most other fall foliage is long gone and add yet another charming dimension to the downtown just as the holiday lights appear.
What is that castle in Great Barrington?
Former home to the John Dewey Academy, Searles Castle is across Route 7 from our Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center which is located at 362 Main Street, Great Barrington. It is now on sale, but it has a long and interesting history.
MARY FRANCES SHERWOOD
GREAT BARRINGTON, MA: The history of Searles Castle spans the breadth of our nation with the beginning history originating in Great Barrington by the birth of Mary Frances Sherwood on March 18, 1819. Born into a family of educators, Mary continued in the vein of her family's legacy as an educator and taught at her aunt's school. In 1854, Mary married her first-cousin Mark Hopkins. Shortly thereafter, they moved to San Francisco in the middle 1870's and Mark began managing the finances as well as organizing the advent of the Central Pacific Railroad.
MARY FRANCES HOPKINS
NOB HILL, SAN FRANCISCO, CA: As Mark addressed the financial concerns of the company, Mary addressed the domestic concerns of her new life as Mrs. Mary Hopkins. Her first order of business was to build a mansion on Nob Hill in San Francisco. Newspapers at the time named it as one of the finest and costliest mansions of all time. As the mansion neared its completion, fear of fire and violence frightened Mark Hopkins as riots and great railroad strikes stormed the country. In 1978, Mark Hopkins died of health complications and Mary Hopkins became a widow with an estate valued in the millions. Mary directed that the mansion on Nob Hill be completed. The completion of the mansion under the auspices of the interior decorating firm, Herter Brothers was finished in 1880.
MARY FRANCES HOPKINS SEARLES
SEARLES CASTLE, GREAT BARRINGTON, MA: One of the employees of the firm, Edward Searles, was asked by Mary to supervise and decorate an estate that she was planning on constructing in her home town of Great Barrington and she also asked for his hand in marriage. Edward said yes to both proposals. Ground broke in April 1885 for the new Searles Castle. McKim, Mead, and White was the architectural firm hired out of New York City for the design of the mansion. It is believed that the French-chateau design had the distinctive hand of Stanford White as its creator. Two years later, the marriage of Mary Frances Hopkins to Edward F. Searles took place in New York City. After a six-month honeymoon, the couple, with trunk loads of art treasure, returned to Great Barrington and took up residency in their new home. The mansion was completed in 1888 at the cost of 2.5 million dollars. The seven-story, 40+ room castle boasted a pipe organ, 36 fireplaces and dungeon.
MARY FRANCIS HOPKINS SEARLES
PINE LODGE METHUEN, MA: Mary enjoyed her new home for two years in good health. She became ill from a bout of pleurisy and Edward moved her to a property he owned in Methuen thinking, perhaps, a change in environment might be beneficial to her health. Her health never improved and she died one June morning in 1891. Mary had left her estate to Edward and Edward moved from the estate to his home town in Methuen, MA and lived out the remainder of his life at Pine Lodge. He died in 1921.
Since the mid-1980s, the castle has been the site of the John Dewey Academy, a private school for troubled teens. Every year, the castle hosts an antiquarian booksale in August.
Where is the boyhood homesite of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois?
(The pronunciation of Du Bois in his own words, "My name is pronounced in the clear English fashion: Du, with u as in Sue; Bois, as oi in voice. The accent is on the second syllable."). The daughter of a local farming family, Mary Silvina Burghardt met a young man who had just arrived in the Great Barrington area from Albany. The Haitian-born Alfred Du Bois took Mary Burghardt as his wife on February 5, 1867, in the village of Housatonic. The marriage was short-lived, however it was long enough to produce an offspring who would shake the human parameters of societal belief systems and challenge the ethos of a nation as well as laying the foundation of human rights around the world. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in 1868 on Church Street, Great Barrington. No physical structure remains of his home, however, a marker commemorating the site was dedicated by The Great Barrington Historical Society in May, 1994. The marker reads, "I was born by a golden river and in the shadow of two great hills, five years after the Emancipation Proclamation." Directions: Church Street is the first right after the Bridge Street/Castle Street traffic lights looking north from the Visitor Center. The Home Site: Shortly after his birth, his father left the family and his mother, Mary Silvina Burghardt (1831-1885), relocated with young Willy to the Burghardt homestead, the place of her birth on Route 23 in Great Barrington. Willy was a toddler (perhaps two at the time) and this is the first home in his memory. He wrote several reminiscences of his childhood years on the homestead and every recall was lovingly penned. Friends of the Du Bois Homesite and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst are working to restore the W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite, now a Historic Landmark and the primary historical site to visit located on Route 23, 0.25 miles west of Route 71 in Great Barrington. Area libraries and the North Star Rare Books all have extensive information on W.E.B. Du Bois. A newly opened museum located within North Star Rare Books is devoted to the life and works of Great Barrington's own native son. North Star Rare Books is on South Main Street (Route 7 S) and the building is sandwiched between the Mahaiwe Cemetery and the Mobil gas station on the right going south.
Where is the Housatonic River Walk?
The half-mile River Walk is a National Recreation Trail and follows the west bank of the Housatonic River, in two sections. The upstream section ccontains the William Stanley Overlook and is entered on Main Street through the gate between Rite Aid and Pink Cloud (195 Main Street). The downstream section is wheelchair accessible and can be entered through the W.E.B. Du Bois River Garden Park at Church and River Streets or at Bridge Street. You can view a map http://www.gbriverwalk.org/riverwkDesc.html or download a brochure at http://www.gbriverwalk.org/riverwkCleanup.html.
What is 1/2TIX?
Get half-off on same day tickets to selected Berkshire Performances! June - Labor Day - Tuesday through Sunday 12 -4:30. Tickets are sold on a first come, first serve basis, with an additional $3.00 handling charge per ticket. All transactions are cash only - no exceptions. Tickets are subject to availability. Participants are subject to change. Participants are Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Choral Festival, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Colonial Theatre, Jacob's Pillow, MacHayden Theatre, Shakespeare and Company, Tanglewood, Berkshire Fringe, Theatre Barn, Williamstown Theatre Festival. Info Hotline: 413-743-4500 ext. 322.
Where can I rent snowmobiles?
You cannot rent snowmobiles in Berkshire County. A local organization conducts smowmobile tours by reservation (call 413-637-8041 for information) or you need to bring your own snowmobile to partake of your riding enjoyment on the trails in our state forests. Please contact the Snowmobile Association of Massachusetts for further information. (413-369-8092)
Where can I rent ice skates?
You cannot rent ice skates in South County. However, there is a public out-door ice-skating rink in the town of Monterey. The Great Barrington Fire Department (if weather is appropriate) will flood the skate park surface located at Memorial Park. Memorial Park is on Bridge Street directly across from the former Searles and Bryant schools. Skate boarding is available but you must bring your own skate board!
Is there a lake nearby?
Yes. Lake Mansfield is in Great Barrington and it boasts a very nice beach area complete with life guard as well as a playground area for children. From our Visitor Center, take a left at the lights and get on Taconic Avenue. Go under the train trestle and bear right on Castle Street as you go up the hill, it becomes Castle Hill. Stay on Castle Hill until you come to a stop sign. Take a right at the stop sign which is Hollenbeck Avenue. Hollenbeck leads you right to the Lake Mansfield Road. Parking will be on your right as you approach the lake. Beartown State Forest hosts Benedict Pond which is a favorite spot for swimming, picnicking, and hiking. Take Route 7 North to Route 23 East and off of 23 East before the village of Monterey is Blue Hill Road which is on your left. Blue Hill Road will lead you right to the parking lot in Beartown. Green River is a popular watering hole for kids of all ages! Great spot for fly fishing as well, it is said! Route 7 South to Route 23 West. Go over the railroad tracks and continue until you see a small bridge. Park off the side of the road and cross the road (a left) and find your spot! Please respect the private property along the road and do not block driveways or park on any lawns. Also respect the property at the swimming hole. This is private property generously opened for public use by the owner. Otis Reservoir is the largest lake in the area, located off Route 23 in East Otis. There is a boat loading area at the marina and also one in the State Camp Ground that is adjacent to a beach and picnic area.
Does it snow a lot here?
Average snowfall in Berkshire County is 70 inches per year. We are in the North Temperate zone (Zone 5 for you gardeners) with winds predominately from the Northwest. Weather patterns change often and there are many variations between the higher elevations and the valley areas.
Where is the nearest covered bridge?
Starting from downtown Great Barrington, take Route 7 South. Just slightly north of the village of Sheffield, take a left on Bridge Road at the Covered Bridge sign. The bridge will be less than one-half a mile from this point. Park in the lot on your right as the bridge is for pedestrian traffic only. This bridge is the exact replica of the original bridge on this site which had the distinction of being the oldest covered bridge in Massachusetts. The original bridge had been built in 1832. Tragically, a trio of young arsonists set the bridge on fire on August 13, 1994. It was rebuilt in 1998 to the exact specifications of the original bridge.
When is peak foliage in the Southern Berkshires?
It changes each year and is always somewhat of a moving target. Please contact our visitor center at 413-528-1510 or at email@example.com for our most updated information.