Springfield is well known as the Massachusetts community where Canadian James Naismith invented the game of basketball. But, to our delight, we discovered several other “firsts” in this remarkable city of 153,000, the third largest in The Bay State.
In the heart of Springfield’s Cultural District, an easy walk from the Palazzo Café (great for breakfast) and our convenient Marriott Hotel, four excellent museums – Art, Science, Fine Arts and Springfield History – cluster around the whimsical Dr. Seuss Sculpture Garden. Theodor Seuss Geisel was a native of Springfield and wrote most of his endearing children’s books here, including The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who. Many of those delightful characters, and Dr. Seuss himself, are sculpted in brass in the Garden and have become a magnet for kids.
Inside the History museum, we found more firsts, many related to assembly-line manufacturing, which was invented in Springfield in 1819. In the early 1900s, Indian became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world and the company’s motorbikes were all produced in Springfield from 1901 to 1953. Sandra’s father drove one on Deer Island, New Brunswick in the 40s.
Another significant motorized vehicle was also made in Springfield. The Duryea Motor Wagon Company demonstrated its one-cylinder gas engine vehicle in 1893, making it the first American gasoline powered car. Duryea produced autos in Springfield until 1917, and several are on display.
It was startling to see a Rolls-Royce featured at the Springfield History Museum. Several thousand of these iconic luxury British vehicles were produced in the city between 1921 and the start of the depression in the 30s.
History buffs will also be intrigued to discover that the first board game (by Milton Bradley) was produced in Springfield, along with the first American English dictionary (Miriam-Webster). The Smith & Wesson firearms company was started in Springfield and even Absorbine Jr. was invented in the city. It was also here that Charles Goodyear perfected the vulcanization of rubber and received a patent in 1844. A lot of firsts for a small city!
Another intriguing museum, which is hidden in the back of an obscure jewelry shop in a Springfield suburb, is the Titanic Historical Society and its remarkable collection of Titanic memorabilia. The Society’s founder, Edward Kamuda, saw the 1953 version of the film Titanic and was hooked. He made contact with many of the ship’s survivors and convinced several of them to donate rare artifacts from the ship plus personal items. Centered around a three-metre Titanic model, the collection includes the original blueprints for the ship, the wireless message warning of icebergs and even Mrs. John Jacob Astor’s lifejacket. Of special interest to Canadians is the original programme from the St. Paul’s Church memorial service in 1912 and the ship’s bell from the Mackay-Bennett, the vessel that recovered hundreds of bodies and returned many of them to Halifax for burial.
As patriotic Canadians, we had to spend some time at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, so after a great lunch at the very popular Student Prince German restaurant, we headed along the Connecticut River to the dome and tower (basketball on top of course) housing the Hall of Fame. The three-story structure has 40,000 square feet of basketball history and honours 345 individuals, including the superstars of basketball like Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. The biggest superstar is Naismith himself , the Ontario-born teacher who invented and introduced the game in 1891 at the Springfield YMCA as an alternate winter indoor sport. The Hall is worth a stop of several hours.
We wanted to spend more time in Springfield (dinner at Lattitude, prepared by Jeffrey Daigneau, a chef with French-Canadian roots, was excellent) but we also felt the call of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.
Just an hour away from Springfield, Lenox is the best known community because of its association with Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for the past 80 years. The rural area, with rolling hills and clean air, has been a refuge for affluent New York and Boston residents, with several dozen grand mansions (called “cottages”) and a growing reputation for fine cuisine, plus a sophisticated arts scene. We saw an original musical (Presto Change-O) at the Barrington Stage Company in nearby Pittsfield that featured a talented cast of Broadway veterans, including a Tony nominee and a Tony winner.
There are several five-star resorts near Lenox but we stayed at a delightful and hospitable Victorian B&B on a quiet street in the centre of town, the Rookwood Inn. From there it’s an easy drive to numerous attractions like the Norman Rockwell Museum, Ventfort Hall (the imposing mansion built in 1893 for Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P. Morgan) and Arrowhead, the historic home of Herman Melville where the author was inspired to write his classic 1851 novel, Moby Dick, while observing the whale-like top of Mount Greylock from the desk in his study.
The rural beauty of this area of Massachusetts is most evident at the delightful Berkshire Botanical Gardens, fifteen acres of cultivated land in nearby Stockbridge that showcases plants that are indigenous to or thrive in the Berkshires. The Gardens has an extensive education programme and we saw groups of children happily planting seeds in their own plots and learning about horticulture.
As one would expect in this rural but affluent area of the state, good restaurants are plentiful and emphasize fresh and local ingredients. We enjoyed particularly good meals at the Mission Bar and Tapas in Pittsfield and at the Haven Café & Bakery, an institution in Lenox famous for its great coffee, generous sandwiches and decadent desserts.
We didn’t expect outstanding cuisine at Boston’s Logan Airport as we awaited our flight back to Canada. But Westjet had a mechanical problem and was running more than four hours late. It gave us a chance to sample crab cakes and crab salad at Legal Seafoods near our gate. Both dishes were packed with lump crab (close to 100% seafood) and were among the tastiest meals we enjoyed all week. It made the delay much more pleasant.
Photos by John and Sandra Nowlan. All rights reserved.