The Amherst College–owned Emily Dickinson Museum preserves the memory and work of the poet and hyphen master by maintaining the estate where she lived and composed many of her nearly 1,800 poems. The museum includes The Homestead, her birthplace and longtime residence, which stands near The Evergreens, where her brother, Austin, lived with his family. Emily and her siblings were all avid gardeners, cultivating flowers and hedges throughout their 3-acre estate. Emily herself maintained a conservatory for her collection of exotic plants, and she drew endless inspiration from her natural surroundings for her work.
The Emily Dickinson Museum welcomes field trips for groups of students and schedules events throughout the year to celebrate her poetry and role in American literary history. Interactive poetry discussion groups meet at various Amherst locations, keeping Dickinson's style relevant by communicating only in rhyming quatrains.
Many a 19th-century summer day, William Skinner would wipe his brow with a silk handkerchief and breathe in the sweet scent of wisteria vines. His wife, Sarah, had trained the vines to grow alongside their sprawling home, which he had built in 1874 with the profits from his silk-manufacturing business. He named it Wistariahurst in honor of his wife’s prized vines, which continued to grow even after the stately home passed down to the next generation of the Skinner family and, in 1959, to the city of Holyoke.
The wisteria vines have not stood the test of time alone. The home's elaborate woodwork, original leather wall coverings, and elegant columns have also remained intact. Every week, the docents at Wistariahurst Museum lead tours across the historical estate, elaborating on the Skinner family's history and showcasing collections of architectural prints and silk textiles from the family's manufacturing business. In addition to tours, staff members regularly offer workshops that teach Girl Scouts about such Victorian-era pastimes as knitting and playing parlor games with the ghosts in the attic.
In the warmer months, Wistariahurst’s immaculately manicured gardens play host to a wide variety of events. Concerts and lectures remain open to the public, and private rentals allow guests to hold weddings or play ill-advised games of hide-and-seek in the minotaur labyrinth.
Arriving in Paris after leading a scientific expedition through northern China, Sterling Clark was just another Boxer Rebellion veteran and Yale-educated engineer looking for something to do with the inheritance of his magnate grandfather, Robert Clark, who was an heir to the Singer sewing-machine fortune. Like the countless men who found themselves in the same position, Sterling did the only thing left to do at that point of his adventurous life: invest in art.
Sterling and his wife Francine both displayed a discriminating eye for art in their first year of collecting, almost immediately acquiring a piece by the sought-after painter Hyacinthe Rigaud, who was famous for his portraiture of 17th-century European nobility and drawing the most realistic-looking stick people. The Clarks' tastes evolved over time, and their collection ballooned to include more than 30 paintings by Renoir and dozens of works by other impressionist artists.
In 1955, a year before Sterling passed away, he and Francine founded their art institute, where the museum's curators presently stay true to the couple's artistic interests. French impressionism still forms the crux of the collection, but the museum's scope is ever expanding and nowadays includes works of early photographers and American painters and a rotating schedule of well-curated special exhibitions.
In the summer of 1850, a moderately successful writer brought his young wife, Lizzie, and their baby, Malcolm, to the town where his father grew up, Berkshire. Seduced by its picturesque countryside, the writer impulsively bought a farm, which would become the family’s home for the next 13 years and the place where he penned a novel that would change the face of American literature: Moby-Dick.
Today, the Berkshire Historical Society maintains the farmhouse where Melville sharpened his quills, gazed out the library window, and drank in the view of Mount Greylock, whose statuesque peak supposedly inspired the elusive white whale that taught Ahab to use his nose as a blowhole. The house was old even then, as it was originally built in the Georgian style back in 1780, acquiring Federal-style details in the 1840s. Careful preservation allows visitors to wander through Melville’s study and gaze upon the fireplace featured in his short story I and My Chimney. They can also observe the piazza that makes an appearance in The Piazza Tales, and see the restored barn where Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne whiled away the hours with deep literary conversation and video games.
In addition to pondering the rooms where Melville lived his days, visitors peruse furniture, portraits, and clothing from the Berkshire Historical Society’s collection of artifacts and enjoy exhibits and events such as plays. Those who make appointments in advance can also immerse themselves in the manuscripts, atlases, oral-history tapes, and photographs that populate the Margaret H. Hall Library and Archives.
For more than a century, the Berkshire Museum has blended history, science, and art into a cohesive whole, drawing inspiration from both the Smithsonian and the American Museum for Natural Science. The museum is packed with wonders ranging from Wally—the fiberglass stegosaurus who guards the museum’s entry—to the John James Audubon display, an impassioned tribute to the very ornithology that prompted Audubon to pen The Birds of America. Other, more playful displays unveil additional wonders, including Alexander Calder's collection of wooden push and pull toys. And inside the vast, salty aquarium, a teeming collection of clownfish, blind cave tetra, and puffer fish swim merrily side-by-side, thankful that they've yet to be cast as members of some trite, underwater calypso band.
In 1843, Charles Lane and Amos Bronson Alcott—father to writer Louisa May Alcott—founded a utopian and transcendentalist community in the fields of Harvard. More than 70 years later, visionary Clara Endicott Sears was so moved by their experiment that she decided to establish a museum on the same site to preserve its history. Today, the Fruitlands Farmhouse stands as a testament to the original settlers’ ingenuity, which surfaced in their trailblazing thoughts on veganism, sustainable living, and harnessing moon beams to power home stereo equipment.
Clara has incorporated the Shakers’ original office into Fruitlands, where it now shows off Shaker artwork and artifacts, many of which were donated by the Shakers themselves. Since then, the museum has also collected a curated assortment of more than 1,000 Native American artifacts, as well as a longhouse, dugout canoe, and traditional garden.
The brains behind the museum are still innovating today, curating permanent additions such as an art gallery with Hudson River School Landscapes. In addition to organizing school field trips, the staff also hires experts to teach classes and workshops on sketching scenes from nature, painting watercolor landscapes, and constructing 3D sculptures.