Take an easy walk into the Berkshires' past
Some historic paths leave much to the imagination, while others are sure to bring out your inner Sherlock. The following mostly easy walks are open to the public, daily throughout the year, free.
Mountain Meadow Preserve in Williamstown and Pownal contains enough remnants of the past -- foundations, chimneys, stone walls -- to whet the imagination.
Victorian-era botanist Grace Greylock Niles made her home on this rugged land. Her book, "Bog Trotting for Orchids," published in 1904, brought attention to plant life and land forms she found while wandering the nearby wetlands and forests in the Hoosac Valley. (Google her name to find it online, complete with color illustrations.)
To enjoy vistas and the northern reaches of the property the easy way, enter the reservation from Pownal. Meander past the foundation of the Niles homestead to the wood road leading to Mausert's Camp -- a rustic family getaway with fireplace chimneys, footings and vistas.
The Williamstown entrance brings visitors to the high meadow, offering views of the Hoosac Valley and Mount Greylock. Continue across the meadow and pass an abandoned hay loader, a monument to the meadow's 200 years of agriculture. All trails are connected.
In January 1788, Bald Headed Hill, just west of Lanesborough center, achieved lasting importance and later became known as Constitution Hill.
It all began when local farmer Jonathan Smith traveled to Boston as Lanesborough's delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention to seek ratification of our Constitution. Before departing home, he arranged for a bonfire to be lit atop the hill to spread the word that the Constitution was ratified.
The trail follows historic roads that are now little more than wide pathways through hardwood forests, at the former homestead of Henry Wheeler Shaw. It's not hard to imagination young Henry racing past us as we trudge up the steep trail to the top, past large white quartz boulders and an aged red oak tree that in his day was alive and growing in open pasture -- and had grown there since well before the American Revolution. Today, we know humorist Henry Shaw by his pen name, Josh Billings.
Back on Route 7, a bronze plaque on south lawn of the Town Hall, at the corner of Bridge and Main streets, memorializes Smith and across the highway, in the nearby Center Cemetery, is a large boulder within a low, iron rail fence that marks the final resting place of Josh Billings.
Becket's Historic Quarry, known in its day as the Chester-Hudson Quarry, operated for about a century and closed in 1950. Buildings, machinery, trucks and other vehicles, taking into account over 60 years of rusting and vandalism, remain as they were at the close of that last day, as the workmen picked up their final paychecks.
Watch your footing as you reach the water-filled quarry and imagine the days when the quarry was active, the roar of steam engines driving derricks to lift the massive granite blocks to nearby tracks (look for the rail beds and tracks) for transport to nearby Chester and Hudson for cutting and polishing into gravestones and monuments.
Abutting the quarry is a nature preserve with a demonstration forest, miles of hiking and cross country ski trails, beautiful vistas, wildflowers, wildlife and vernal pools. To find out more, go to www.becketlandtrust.org/quarry/
Questing is named for a mythical beast from Arthurian mythology, called the Questing Beast. The property requires imagination and investigation for it is dotted with stone walls. Now lost is the long-forgotten Colonial fort, where the first non-American Indian children, the Brookins twins, were born in Berkshire County.
A scattering of later cellar holes and foundations remain from the Leffingwell family settlement that lasted into the 20th century and the Great Depression. Wide grassy paths take the visitor along the edge of the 17-acre open field, that in summer, is full of wildflowers that attract numerous butterflies and dragonflies, while the hardwood forests, especially in spring, is dotted with blossoming wildflowers.
Mountain Meadow, Williamstown, Pownal
Williamstown parking area: From the intersection of Rts. 2 and 7 in Williamstown, take Route 7 north for 1.7 miles. Bear right onto Mason Street (steep dirt road uphill), follow to entrance and parking.
Pownal, Vt. parking area: From the intersection of routes 2 and 7 in Williamstown, follow Route 7 north 1.7 miles, turn right onto Sand Spring Road, then bear right onto Bridges Road Follow for 0.3 miles, turn left onto White Oaks Road, and follow for 1.1 miles when road becomes dirt. Continue for 0.4 miles, bear left at fork onto Benedict Road, and continue 0.1 mile to entrance and parking (eight cars) on left.
Constitution Hill, Lanesborough: Turn onto Bridge Street from Route 7 (Town Hall at corner) drive to parking and kiosk at end.
Becket's Historic Quarry: Take Route 20 to Becket. At the intersection of Route 20, Route 8 North and Bonny Rigg Hill Road, turn south onto Bonny Hill Road. At the four-point intersection, turn left onto Quarry Road, and continue until you come to the quarry signs and parking lot on the right.
Questing, New Marlborough: From intersection of Routes 23 and 57 in Monterey, take Route 57 East for 5 miles. Turn right onto New Marlborough Hill Road and follow to entrance and parking on left.
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