At the confluence of the south and the faster north branch of the Hoosic River is one of the Berkshires’ former industrial hubs, North Adams. Hydropower and an industrial revolution under way, drew entrepreneurs, immigrants, railroads, and highways to this breakaway township. At one time, it boasted 8 shoe factories, a thriving textile industry that supplied a large swath of the nation, and innumerable paper mills. A small city even at its apex in the early 1940’s but exuberant with its century of rapid and runaway growth; this was a place of big dreams. But by the 50’s, industry had already started moving south and by the 1980’s, industry had all but disappeared. Big city aspirations were left to tumble around like weeds.
What’s left is a charmingly Lilliputian jumble of parking lots, churches, tenement buildings, turn of the century mansions – all of it busting with retired mills, ripe for renovation. With its gritty industrial past, and home to MASS MoCA, one of the world’s largest museums of contemporary art, North Adams is funky, affordable and fast becoming a favored haunt for Berkshire hipsters.
And there’s some good antiquing here too. The Berkshire Emporium & Antiques at 59 Main Street occupies a 150 year old building, site of former LM Barnes, an area jeweler. With two stories and 10,000 sq ft of space, the Emporium is expansive and brimming with turn of the century & mid-century furniture, housewares, tramp art, and gilded age bling. From the simple $1 dollar vintage postcards to the completely bizarre 1962 electric Finnish Porta-Sauna, the Emporium is fun to poke around in. The jewelry case at the front counter and the vinyl LP collection alone are worth several trips back (are you reading this Solid Sound Festival goers?). Proprietor Keith Bona also showcases the work of area artisans, specialty food items, and local authors. With books ranging from fictional to non-fictional historical titles and with a coffee shop and plenty of comfy chairs on site, the Emporium offers a rich history of the northern Berkshires and a nice segue from MASS MoCA to the town of North Adams itself.