New England is chock full of history and the Berkshires are a concentrated county of these historical treasures. Famous writers, artists, and musicians have all made their homes here. What group tour doesn’t love exploring the heritage and history of the locales they are visiting? Luckily, for the Berkshires we have much to offer and these are yours to explore year-round.
One such treasure is Arrowhead, also known as the Herman Melville House. This historic farmhouse museum in Pittsfield was once the home to author Herman Melville during what many literary scholars consider his most productive years as a writer. It was on this very property, Melville wrote some of his major work, including the famous novel Moby-Dick, and other prized novels such as Pierre, Israel Potter, The Confidence-Man, and The Piazza Tales.
The house was built in the 1780s as both a farmhouse and an inn. It remained in private hands until 1975 when the Berkshire County Historical Society acquired the house and a portion of the original property. The Society restored most of the house to Melville’s period and today it operates as a museum in Melville’s honor. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is open to the public and boasts lovely gardens and summertime events. This is a group friendly destination and they will work with you to ensure your tour is perfect for a group of any size.
Another historic property listed on The National Register of Historic Places is the Bidwell House Museum. Located in Monterey, the house was built in the 1760s by the Reverend Adonijah Bidwell as the demographic center of the township and was located on the route of the Boston-Albany Post Road (a mail route that has turned into a series of highways). The house was built in the classic Georgian Saltbox style and has two additions, the Ell Addition (1820s) and a Greek Revival/Carriage Barn addition (1840s). Reverend Bidwell, a patriot, was an active supporter of the United States Army. Henry Knox, famous for his leadership of the expedition that carried strategically crucial cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights passed through Monterey on that famous mission and historical evidence suggests that Knox may have passed through the Bidwell property on his famous journey.
This property has had a long and storied past. After 100 years of being passed down through generations within the Bidwell family, the house was then sold to the Carrington family for 61 years, then sold to a lumber company in 1914 and then an Art School in 1935, acquiring the name Deepwood Manse. Falling into major disrepair, it was purchased by Jack Hargis and David Brush, two fashion designers from New York City in 1960. They bought it and the adjacent land for the sum of $30,000 and proceeded to spend the next 25 years restoring the house. Finding many of the objects originally owned by the Reverend Bidwell, the house became a museum in 1990. Call in advance to book your tour as this venue is not open year-round.
One of the more well-known historic places in the Berkshires is Hancock Shaker Village. Established in 1791, this former Shaker Village is now a popular wedding destination and unique experience for the whole family. One of the most notable buildings on the property is the “Round Stone Barn,” built to hold large numbers of cows and to be in the most efficient style at that time. The other iconic building is the large red-brick dwelling, which served as dormitory housing to more than 100 of the Shaker’s brothers and sisters. The dwelling was a good advertisement in recruiting new Shaker members, as it showcased the comforts the society provided to its members. These buildings also show the Shakers’ appreciation of the benefits of space, ventilation, and labor-saving modern conveniences.
In 1960, the Shaker Central Ministry closed the Hancock community and sold its buildings and land. The not-for-profit Hancock Shaker Village, Inc. was formed and purchased the property to preserve the historic site. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark District in 1968. Over 60,000 people visit the museum between April and October each year. It has 20 historic buildings with over 22,000 artifacts, extensive gardens, a working farm and hiking trails, and demonstrations. The Village hosts groups year round, offering discounted rates and personalized tours.
History and historic preservation have played a huge role in shaping the feel and look of the Berkshires. Visiting these landmarks allows us a small peek into the lives of the people that came before us in our beloved Berkshires.
Darcie Sosa is a Berkshire marketing/PR professional, who when isn’t working loves being outside hiking with her dogs, going to live music and theater shows, networking, trying new restaurants and volunteering for local nonprofits. She is an alumni of Berkshire Community College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and University of Massachusetts, Amherst.