Thursday, September 17, 2009

Books of the Berkshires

Have Book, Will Travel...

Greetings again, kindest folks! I return once more with good tidings from the Bay State. That's right, ol' Massachusetts. As a youngster, now a couple decades ago, I discovered the wilds of western Massachusetts to hold the key to several mysteries of the world: summer music festivals at Tanglewood, elusive cafes and restaurants with regal names (Red Lion Inn), and the most ornately kept homes on perfectly 18th century symmetrical streets (Stockbridge). Well, it was to this fine place I returned for an afternoon of pleasantries. It was a rather busy afternoon, with the usual busy flocks and gaggles of tourists milling about. But it was good to get back and visit this part of New England, and even better to see the bookish side of things; something which I hadn't really done before. Now, it was quite interesting to see the diversity of this bibliotour this one afternoon, from catching a glimpse of this book-truck from the Western Massachusetts Regional Library System, which looks like it is transporting milk rather than books, to visiting the village library and historical museum (located in the library's basement).

"Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God!" Beware now folks! No, no, no. Just teasing you of course. This is one of my favorite endeavors: the discovery of something rather historic in a given location, or at least something that relates to history in such a way that makes me pause and reflect. It just so happened that in the historical museum and archives of the Stockbridge library was a magnificent collection of the works and personal effects of Jonathan Edward, puritanical sermonlord extraordinaire! In fact, they have his desk in this museum! Now, unfortunately, for the sake or pleasure of you good kind viewers, I was not allowed to take photographs in this museum, so I have nothing to show beyond this fuzzy entry sign. But use your imagination: it was a sun-beam lit basement, whispering New Englanders, collapsible shelving units, oil paintings of sour faced Bostonians, and furniture as old as George Burns, John McCain, and Jeanne Calmet combined (for those of you not keeping up with supercentenarian news, Jeanne was the oldest person ever...older than Moses!). I spoke to the curator of the collection briefly and made a brief "round" around the room, before returning to the New Englandy surface from middle puritan earth.

I came out of the library and met up with my co-travelers, of course, my family, as they were polishing off the last of some home made ice-cream, which we'd purchased just a few shops away. I'd already enjoyed my lick of some ginger-vanilla ice cream, which suited me just fine for such a warm afternoon in these hills. We'd lingered a bit and went in search of Norman Rockwell's old place up the street, before retreating to the cooled serenity and shelter of the air conditioned car.

The images above and below show the magnificent view of the former Hurlbut Papers at Willow Mill and the natural waters that used to power them. The present-day company is part of the Mead Corporation, and as we drove across this bridge, we stopped and asked one of the employees, who was leaving for the day, if he could tell us a bit about this place's history. After five minutes, we'd learned a great deal! In fact, what was perhaps the most telling fact was that the water power here only generated enough energy to run the lights of the operation, and not even all of them! The power was directed from some other locality, and the paper created in this factory was not your run-of-the-mill (ha!-no pun intended there, really) paper, but paper that is used industrially in carburetors. He kept asking what model car we had, "because we probably made that paper filter!" he exclaimed. He was a chemist, and had been with this company for decades. "But," he said, as he left us, "I think they're selling this present company to some other company today..., that's life."

Now returning to the more western hills and pastures of the state, before returning to the New York homeland, we came to the quaintness of Great Barrington. Such a pleasant little town, Great Barrington has much to offer. For instance, there is this delightful and newly renovated public library, named the Mason Library, which I first thought was some sort of library of cultic secrets and proclamations of GAOTU (you masons will get that). The fact, though, was that it was not "masonic," rather it was a gift from a "Mr. and Mrs. Mason." You will see one of their photos below.

The above photo is in the circulating stacks of the Mason Library; below is the regal old history room, or "local history" room. As you can see in one of the photos below, the rows of books on the history of old Great Barrington. Just in case you needed to know anything about old Great Barrington. (You never know!)

In the image below, we see an old photograph of Mr. Mason himself. I'd wanted to take a photograph of his wife, or a photo of a photo, which was located on the wall to the left of his portrait, but a homeless man was sitting in a chair situated directly under the photograph and I didn't want to invade his space and make it seem like I was taking a picture of him in his misery and unfortunate station in life. So here we have Mr. Mason, alone, solo, with some bronze type statuette.

Another delightful surprise was the discovery of a sign that marked the birthplace of WEB Dubois, here in 1868. Unfortunately, there is nothing left. It is an empty lot, near a little stream and a majestic pine standing guard.

I also came upon this little shop on a small dead-end street in Great Barrington. I was surprised, because the sign was so small, but I had to add it to the bibliotour: North River Press. If you go to their website at "", you will discover that they are a publisher of manufacturing and marketing information, founded in 1971.

Not a few hundred feet away was this delightful bookshop, which has been in the area for as long as my simple mind can remember. Yellow House Books is a privately owned local establishment, packed to the brim with every aspect of post-Dewey knowledge, which has a quiet New Englandy owner, a sleeping dog, and a continual piping of Mozart sonatas and public radio. In the summer, the owners will pull out their upright and spin off a tune or two themselves, for the pleasure of their reading (or perusing) public.

Finally heading out of Dodge, or Great Barrington, or wherever we were, not far from the New York border, we passed this little gem--off course it was closed! Farshaw's Rare Books and Toys. Quite a combination, I'd say. You can see their own little book-selling/buying wagon, or is it a caravan?

So, whether you're interested in buying books, selling books, looking for books, hiding books, smelling books, eating books, or [fill in your own personal verb and savior] books....remember: don't forget your watch or your wallet, or else you might end up in a predicament like I did below...


  1. Engaging and entertaining. Thank you for your post.

  2. My dad is from North Adams and he went to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture (part of UMass-Amherst). i love the Berkshires!