Leaving Wilmington Vermont at 2:37 p.m., my ride took me through sleepy hamlets and through beautiful valleys, with fields of corn swaying in the slight breeze. The mountains also continued to frame my ride and the rolling hills allowed me to see beautiful country vistas. The signs on Massachusetts Route 112 proclaimed that this road was a “scenic byway” and indeed it was.
At 3:26 p.m., after driving 29.4 miles, I pulled into downtown Greenfield to see my last hotel of the day. I wasn’t sure what to expect after being in beautiful Wilmington. From my Grandfather’s letter, he surely did not have a good time in Greenfield. But what would my 2019 experience be like compared to his 1929 experience? I would soon find out.
I knew from my research that the Mansion House had burnt down in a huge fire in January 1959. This hotel was located on the north side of Main Street in Greenfield, just west of where the public library is currently located. Prior to its burning down, this spot had always had some sort of inn/tavern/hotel on it, much like Pittsfield and North Adams. Originally, there was a tavern on the spot that was built around 1720. Then, a brick building was built in 1828. This served as both a stagecoach stop and a hotel. When railroads became more popular, the stage coach stop ceased being used, but the hotel still remained popular. The building was demolished after the fire. From pictures of the hotel, it was a large brick structure on a corner. There appeared to be shops on the bottom floor and about three floors above the ground floor. Initially, I wasn’t sure where the hotel was actually located until I found this wonderful brochure on a walking tour of downtown historic Greenfield (http://www.greenfieldsfuture.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Greenfield-Historic-District-Walking-Tour.pdf) By looking at this information, it was clear to me that Greenfield seemed to be a city that treasures its history. While we often flock to cities and towns that are perceived to being important historically, it is equally important to note that every town and city has its own history and stories to tell. So, judging by this historical information, Greenfield want the stories of its history told. (and this sign was seen outside the Unitarian Universalist Church on Main Street in Greenfield). Using the information in this brochure about the Mansion House, I set east on Main Street to find the location of where the Mansion House had been located.
It was in the 90s as I walked up the road about a 1/4 from the public parking lot. There were people out and about, eating ice cream at an outside shop and just strolling along leisurely on this hot afternoon. Quickly, I was at the Greenfield Savings Bank, which now occupies where the Mansion House once was. As I sat on the wall outside the bank, I could look across the street to a movie theater, named the Garden. In my Grandfather’s letter, he wrote “This evening Frank suggested right after dinner that we go to the theater to see Thomas Michigan in the Argyle Case and that there would be a half-hour of organ music before the show. All that organist played was lonely and blue music, which made me feel worse and I somehow hoped that he would stop playing. The picture was very good, so that amused me for awhile, but after the show, I am worse than I have been all day long.”
What was great about Greenfield’s celebrating their history was that there was also a historical plaque on the sides of buildings. To me, this shows pride in telling their story and for people to realize that each building or each spot does have a story to tell.
And here’s a little more about the history of the Mansion House:
Before heading back on the road, I wanted to explore a little more of this town as well as, yes, get one more ice tea. The town had a lot of interesting buildings, architectural wise. What was also interesting was the town’s commitment to social justice as there were murals on sides of buildings and on other items throughout the town.
With just 20 minutes to spare before it closed, I found Greenfield Coffee. This little cafe, located at the intersection of Route 2A and Routes 5/10. As this was my 5th ice tea for the day, I was wondering what I might find at the end of their day. And I ended up finding the best one of the day – a refreshing Hibiscus-Ginger ice tea. I sat outside on one of the small tables and took in the good vibes that Greenfield was giving off. My eye was drawn to what looked to be a farmer’s market across the street, so after finishing my tea, I set off across the road.
I learned this was called Court Square and not only was there tents set up with many great vegetables, but there were a lot of folding tables set up, complete with pretty vases and flowers. I was wondering what was going on there, so I went over to a small music events place, where there was a sign in the window to what was happening at this location very shortly. There was a community dinner, called the Harvest Supper, where everyone would share local fresh farm food, and family entertainment. The only thing you needed to bring was your own plate! I loved the diversity of people who were showing up to enjoy community. Even more impressive was this was the 15th annual event. And then, it really struck me that Greenfield was a place that treasured community, social justice, and history.
From looking at some of my Grandfather’s letters in other years, he traveled to mainly large cities. I have also been to some larger cities during these sets of journeys, but I have really come to appreciate the small towns, that value community and their histories.