Williamstown | Williamstown, Mass

Posted by on July 28, 2007

Once again the New York Times and I have the same idea. Only this time, they scooped me. That is, if you think an article in the Friday Real Estate section counts.

We had already had one of our many yearly trips to Williamstown by the time the NYT article appeared, but I hadn’t written about it.

In addition, that article was about moving to or having a second home in Williamstown. It’s becoming more attractive all the time for living, despite it’s being way far from New York or Boston. Our visit did not focus on the real estate market – though it certainly is a tempting place to which to re-locate. It is not easy to get there, and maybe that’s part of the charm. It’s about 2 hours from central Dutchess County.

Our recent trip included a visit to a friend who recently relocated to a retirement community in Williamstown called Sweetwood. I have to say that at first I thought it was not a very good choice, what with the New England winters, and the snow and ice and distance. Spending a day in Williamstown almost made me change my mind. Imagine being able to take college courses for free? Well, you can if you get the professor’s permission.

This small (pop.8,238) college town is like a movie set, and has cultural attractions far beyond its small size.

For example, we spent a good part of the afternoon exploring the Williams College Museum of Art. Here we saw several very sophisticated exhibits, including the early work of Andy Warhol, the elegant and haunting Carrie Mae Weems’ “The Hampton Project”, and “The Moon is Broken,” an exhibit of photography chosen by poets, with the poems in close juxtaposition to each photo. This is clearly an intellectual museum for brainy people, but I enjoyed it just the same. We sadly missed a Gregory Crewdson/Edward Hopper photograph/painting dialogue, which had recently closed. My guess is that whenever you go, there will be something of equally stimulating quality. One coming exhibit is Making It New, opening on July 8. It is subtitled The Art and Style of Sara and Gerald Murphy. It’s all about Europe, especially the Riviera in the 1920’s with “glamour, jazz, cocktails, and Cubism.” The Murphys were in a close circle of artists and writers: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Cole Porter. Sounds like something to see. I have been fascinated ever since I read Gerald Murphy’s travel book about his adventures in the Alpujarras Mountains in Southern Spain. I read it as we were driving through the Alpujarras and it made the entire place come to life.

Also on view are some early Maurice Prendergast works. Over the last 15 years some 250 works from the estate of Prendergast were given to the museum. They are very different from the pointillist works I was familiar with, and include abandoned watercolors, student sketches – all of which bring out a different person from the known artist.

You really can’t miss this museum, though it is tucked in between other college buildings. On its front lawn are several gigantic eyes created by Louise Bourgeois. Trust me, you can’t miss them.

Williamstown also has the legendary Sterling & Francine Clark Museum, of which I have written much over the years. It is one of the premier private museums in this country, and lives in a most attractive setting. It also has a very nice restaurant with a good menu, as well as picnic grounds overlooking the bucolic hills beyond.

Becoming famous, though in a less attractive setting is the new museum called Mass MoCA, in nearby North Adams. It is now housed where there used to be a large textile mill, using the abandoned brick buildings as a suitable background for contemporary art.

I haven’t even mentioned the shopping and restaurants available in this charming town. I can think of at least three restaurants where we have eaten. Spring Street is the main street, and Water Street is the other north/south street. Now I’m told there is a Chinese, a Thai and an Indian restaurant on Spring Street, all very good and not very expensive. And Water Street is where the new (to me) Mezze Bistro and Bar is located. That sounds pretty good as well. As for shopping, I have only raves about the Library, a mix of antiques, wonderful clothing and artifacts.

I can’t recommend any places to stay, although there are many that we passed. The last time we spent a weekend in Williamstown, the Williams Inn was still located in it’s old building on the campus. THAT Williams Inn closed in 1974, and became one of the first girls’ dorms on Williams Campus when women were first admitted to the college. That was almost 35 years ago. Today, the Williams Inn is a modern hotel, located at the west entrance into town.

We drove away from this charming town toward the end of the day, still able to see the rolling hills all around, and envying the students who get to study here, and the retired people who get to live here, and partake of all those interesting faculty lectures, art exhibits, college classes, et cetera.

By the time we got to Great Barrington we decided we were hungry and not yet ready to leave the Berkshires.

Wandering up Railroad Street, we decided to try Pearl’s Restaurant. What a lucky idea that was! It was early on a Sunday evening, and we didn’t want much. We had excellent service, which provided two very nice steak sandwiches, topped with grilled onions. The seats are very comfortable, lots of space between tables, good bread, and better, a very well-priced wine list. Best of all was the fact that in Massachusetts you are allowed to take home the rest of your bottle of wine. This was news to me, but it allowed us to order a better wine, (Torbreck Woodcutter’s Shiraz from the Barossa Valley) at a most surprisingly good price. Each of us had a glass, and brought the rest home (all stapled together in a bag, with the sales slip for our dinner as per the Mass. Law.) That, and a small portion of ice cream with hot fudge sauce, made for the perfect meal.

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