All photos/art by Mark Eaton
By David Lyon and Patricia Harris
Massachusetts may have forgotten more history than most states can remember, but there’s more to the Bay State than 10th grade U.S. history books suggest. Forty miles of high dunes and Atlantic surf form the Cape Cod National Seashore, the ultimate playground for sunning, swimming, surfing, collecting seashells, surf-casting for bluefish, or just taking a break as the sun sets over Cape Cod Bay. Out on Cape Cod’s tip, Provincetown jangles through the season as a carnival of art galleries, ice cream cones, and tanning oil. Wellfleet’s briny bluepoint oysters are reason enough to visit.
North of Boston, on the other Massachusetts Cape — Cape Ann — artists have painted Gloucester’s fishing harbor and the towering granite headlands of Rockport for nearly two centuries. Yet this cape may be most famous for the fried clam, invented by Chubby Woodman in Essex on July 3, 1916, and still served there by his descendants.
It seems unfair that a state so blessed with coastline should be bracketed on the west by the gently rolling hills of the Berkshires, an epicenter of summer arts. Spread a gourmet picnic on the lawn as the musicians warm up for a Tanglewood concert or catch modern dance on a mountaintop at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. All year round, the former mill buildings of North Adams almost vibrate with the charged contemporary art of Mass MoCA, while Stockbridge still looks just as Norman Rockwell painted it.
Theodor Geisel — aka Dr. Seuss — drew his inspiration from Springfield. A bronze menagerie of his imagination, from the Cat in the Hat to Horton the Elephant, populates the grounds shared by a collection of quirky art and history museums, the Quadrangle.
In the fertile Connecticut River valley, farm stands delineate the seasons with spring’s asparagus, summer’s juicy strawberries and sweet corn, and autumn’s bright pumpkins. Orchards in the surrounding hills bear such heirloom apples as the pie-baker’s Roxbury Russet or the sweet-eating King David. If all else fails, order a slice of apple pie a la mode in one of the classic Worcester diners still dishing chow in their birthplace city.
With its world-class museums and symphony orchestra, Boston has long cast itself as the Hub of New England, if not the universe. From April into September (and if all goes well, October), that distinction belongs to Fenway Park, from which the spokes of the Red Sox Nation emanate to unite New England in a single crusade against Steinbrenner’s Evil Empire. There are other sports in Massachusetts, as the Patriots’ Super Bowl cups in Foxboro and the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield attest.
And, of course, there is history.
Boats still seek whales off the Massachusetts coast, though now they’re full of sightseers instead of the whalers who once trod the cobbled streets of Nantucket and New Bedford, where their enterprise is recalled in museums and a national park. On Nantucket’s sister island of Martha’s Vineyard, Edgartown is a small ocean of sea captains’ homes clad in white clapboards and black shutters.
The far-ranging sailors of Salem brought the riches and curios of the world back home. See their treasures at the Peabody Essex Museum before you indulge in Salem’s spooky attractions that trade on an enduring obsession with the witchcraft trials of 1692. The spirit of beat poet and novelist Jack Kerouac still seems to haunt his native Lowell, where a national park in the old textile mills relates the transformation of America from farming to industry.
An earlier transformation — from colony to nation — began in Lexington and Concord, where fed-up Colonials and frustrated Redcoats came to blows and set off the American Revolution. Their story continues along the red-lined path of Boston’s Freedom Trail embedded now in the glass and steel high-rise modern city, the region’s largest.
Even when the Sons of Liberty tossed British tea in the harbor, Massachusetts was already old. Just a few miles south of Boston, you can peer down upon Plymouth Rock and imagine Massachusetts as the Pilgrims first saw it and visit Plimoth Plantation for a total immersion experience in 17th-century colonial and Wampanoag life. So much of Massachusetts leads us back in time and tradition and then forward to today’s best travel destinations.