Small Towns: West Stockbridge, MA

West Stockbridge, MA: In the Shadow of Hustle and Bustle

Welcome to a new blog feature I'm calling Small Towns. There are lots of out-of-the-way places in New England and, frankly, in many cases that's a good thing. Sometimes, though, there are small jewels deserving of your attention.

Let's kick things off with West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I mean West Stockbridge, not its famed first cousin Stockbridge, which lies 4.5 miles away. That one was founded (by whites) in 1739 and West Stockbridge 27 years later. Lots of New England towns have cardinal direction namesakes that formed for various reasons, chief among them religious disputes and the fact that older settlements ran out of desirable land in a generation or two.

You can forget the history lesson and enjoy West Stockbridge for its main modern virtue. It's near Berkshires tourist magnets such as the Tanglewood Music Center, the Kripalu School of Yoga, Berkshires mansions and all the other summer noise.  Stockbridge is where the masses head to see sites such as the Norman Rockwell Museum, Naumkeag, and Chesterwood. Traffic can be bad there at any time of the year because of the way the roads are laid out, but bottlenecks, clueless driving, and long waits to dine on the porch of the Red Lion Inn are as much a part of a Stockbridge summertime as mosquitoes and New York license plates. West Stockbridge is a place to take things at a less hectic pace. You might even spot Bay State license plates there.

West Stockbridge–population 1,360–invites one to laze about. It's the first exit off the Mass Pike if you're traveling east from New York State, and a place where we like to stop to shake off the road miles when driving home from visiting Pennsylvania relatives. It has a compact downtown that features the work of local artisans, and there seem to be quite a few of them. If you'd rather have a retro experience, Charles H. Baldwin and Sons is equal parts country store and time warp. Unless you're there around the noon hour–when you might have to wait–check out No. Six Depot, a coffee shop, bakery, and gallery space tricked out inside the old railroad station. We've never been there at dinnertime, but Rouge Restaurant gets raves from those who've dined there.

Our favorite activity is simply meandering. We duck into the craft shops, peruse book selections, aimlessly wander, caffeinate and repeat until the brain fog lifts enough to tackle the remaining 75-minute drive home. The Williams River makes a picturesque tumble through the downtown, spilling down from a large pond just above the old Shaker Mill. There's a used bookstore in that building and fossicking for used and remaindered tomes is one of the joys of the town. You can find some of the latter plus new volumes at Shaker Mill Books, which is next door to the old mill. 

We've heard good things about TurnPark Art Space, which is built by an old quarry but we're saving that for the next time we're homeward bound from a long drive. After all, there's just so much not-much-of-anything a person can do in a few hours!         

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