North Adams is rooted in some serious history. Take MASS MoCA’s campus, for example: these buildings, connected via tunnels, suspended walkways, light wells, and courtyards, were home to Arnold Print Works from 1860-1942. Employing a hefty portion of the city, the textile manufacturing company was driven by large government contracts — one of which including supplying fabric to the Union Army. When Arnold Print Works dissolved, Sprague Electric moved in. The company operated as a “city within a city” from 1942-1985, researching, testing, and manufacturing cutting-edge electric components, some of which were used in the first atom bomb (Sprague Electric physicists were even borrowed for the infamous Manhattan Project). Today, acres of contemporary art lies within the same walls. You can even spot where the old bathrooms used to be — just look for the subtle tones of pink and blue in the Building 6 light well. Like this 28-building complex, North Adams is dusted with a historical patina, so explore it through food and walking.
First stop: Jack’s Hotdog Stand, where you’ll get a days’ worth of fuel. Since opening in 1917, Jack’s Hotdog Stand hasn’t changed much – same counter, same menu, same charm. The buns are always steamed, the burgers are always cooked the same way, and the guys behind the counter are always asking how the family’s holding up. The chili cheese dog is a must — they’re miniature so get a few — and the fries! Hand cut and fried to a crisp, you’re gonna be ordering more.
Digest the dog with a few block’s walk to Berkshire Emporium & Antiques. This place is a labyrinth of antiques, tchotchkes, and used furniture (it’s also sprinkled with local crafts and food by the entrance). You might even find some stuff from the Arnold Print Works-era. A little digging will unearth some real gems, so make sure you go to the basement.
If you need a quick haircut or are just looking to hang in the most classic barbershop ever, hop into Man’s World. The place is a revolving door of interesting conversation. Like Jack’s, the same customers have been visiting for years, so there’s a real sense of camaraderie in there. Last time I was in there, an old regular bought the entire place coffee. A nice way to compliment a hot shave.
Fed, fresh, and full of antiques, chug on over to the Western Gateway Heritage State Park, where you’ll learn about the Hoosac Tunnel. Surfeit of awesome ghost stories, the Hoosac Tunnel was — and still is — an incredible engineering feat. In 1851, workers began blasting through the Hoosac Range. More than 20 years later, the straight-as-an-arrow, 4.75-mile-long tunnel was completed, making it (at the time) the second-longest tunnel in the world. It remains the longest active tunnel east of the Rockies. The details, however, are gruesome: hundreds of deaths led to the tunnel’s morbid nickname, “Bloody Pit.” The producers of Lore recently released a great podcast about it that you can listen to here.
Alright. It’s been a long day. Get yourself a beer at Bright Ideas Brewing.