So which town is the best in the Berkshires? Despite anything that the Smithsonian Magazine may have to say on the subject, it is an important question because if we can establish the best model, we might just all aspire to it.
So here goes: Great Barrington is the best of the lot. Part of it is just plain luck. Sometimes things happen. While Great Barrington was once a mess, it no longer is. Of course mistakes have been made. Someone recently wrote that while the town once had a road running through it, we now have a road with a town around it.
There was a period when there were too many drugs in the town. We still have too many drugs in town but the situation does seem better. District Attorney David Capeless and the state police Drug Task Force have made a tremendous difference.
The town police department needed some changes and, while still a work in progress, it is coming along. Thanks to Berkshires Health Systems under Dave Phelps, Great Barrington boasts a wonderful little hospital that keeps getting named to “Best Of” lists. It has a lot of great restaurants and coffee shops. It has the Triplex Cinema. It has Bard College at Simon’s Rock. It has great public schools under Superintendent Peter Dillon, despite the anti-education crowd who consider themselves liberals until it’s time to pay up.
It has the Rudolph Steiner people who are committed to their style of education. It has Lake Mansfield and civic leaders to keep it pristine. It has good bagels. It has Guido’s. It used to have the best Friendly’s in the world, sadly now gone.
Then there is Lenox which is a little more artsy than Great Barrington. As the gateway to Tanglewood, Lenox has lots of inns, Shakespeare & Company and a wonderful public library. It has other arts venues, it has the Mount where Edith Wharton once lived, and wonderful restaurants like Haven and Zinc and many others that are going to be correctly angry about not being included. It also has Guido’s. It has Matt Tannenbaum’s bookstore, the best in the Berkshires. But, it is a summer place and therefore doesn’t reach Great Barrington’s heights.
Stockbridge is a fine town but there really isn’t much there. It does have the Berkshire Theatre Festival and the Bowl and the Red Lion Inn, the vortex of the Berkshires, but it reminds me a little of the western movie sets where you just see the fronts of the buildings. It has the Norman Rockwell Museum, a great institution honored at the White House, and a fabulous little museum, Chesterwood, where you can see how the Lincoln Memorial came to be.
Then there are the Egremonts. Good schools and some other great stuff. But not competitive except as very good place for second homers and people who appreciate the quality of life, relatively low taxes and breathing good air.
Much the same can be said for little Alford.
Pittsfield has a long way to go. It’s a beautiful city. It has the Colonial Theatre. It has a fine museum. But it has way too many drugs and too much crime.
Lee is cool. It is a place where people can afford to live and has a thriving middle class. It used to have Kentucky Fried Chicken to take to Tanglewood but that’s been gone for years.
North Adams has enormous potential. I like it. It has MCLA and Mass MoCA. It has an involved electorate.
Adams hosts the WAMC tower.
The hill towns are very nice.
So, one has to conclude that our various villages, town and cities each offer specialties and have distinctive characters. Of course, our governments make us gnash our teeth but hey, that’s just human nature. Power corrupts.
Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 11/21/15