Hamp/Noho: Riding The Rails From WRJ
48 hours in Northampton
What's the point of the rail station in White River Junction VT if you don't hop aboard the train every now and then to see where it takes you? Northampton MA, the somewhat random choice for an early anniversary lark, was a mere 3 hour midday journey. We brought sandwiches, and soaked up the passing scenery (old tobacco drying barns) and the free WiFi. What to do when you get there? We were hoping for a little more foodie culture (not found, but liked Spoleto) and a just-right-sized art museum (found). And as in all adventures, there were some surprises. Here is our take on 2 days in Northampton, also called Paradise City.
A peaceful seat inside the Conservatory, within earshot of a small waterfall
Surprise # 1 was the Smith College Botanic Garden. Smith is all red brick and ivy and wrought iron, an impeccably manicured campus with paths for strolling. Find the one that takes you to the Botanic Garden. Indoors is the Lyman Plant House and Conservatory with 10 rooms open to the public, including the Palm House (cacao, cinnamon and mahogany), the Stove House (orchids), and the Show House (fragrance plants, like 1960s-era patchouli).
The story of the Fig Newton . . .
Outdoors are the Campus Gardens and Arboretum, originally landscaped by Frederick Law Olmstead. Each garden is a miniature gem, including one that overlooks Paradise Pond. The Conservatory is yours for a recommended donation of $2.00; the gardens and arboretum are free, all of it soul-soothing.
A Bierstadt at the Smith College Museum, and not of the West. This painting is Echo Lake, in New Hampshire's White Mountains.
Smith College Museum of Art: Not covered in ivy, this more modern building houses four floors of diverse art, including the works of contemporary and regional artists (street level) as well as 19th and 20th century American and European artists (3rd floor) with familiar names: Hopper, O'Keeffe, and Bierstadt; Monet, Morisot and Degas. $5 admission.
Artist David Andrews manning the desk at the museum while he creates his own art with paper and pencils. His work is currently on display at the nearby Forbes Library.
The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library was our second surprise. This library is about as far from its brethren, like the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, as one can imagine. It's small, and is the only presidential library contained within a public town library. In fact, it occupies a single room on the second floor. (Official maximum occupancy: 75, and that would be cheek by jowl.) Coolidge lived in Northampton and read for and practiced law there; he also served as the city's mayor. He and his wife, Grace, of Burlington VT, rented one-half of a house on Massasoit Street both before, and even after, his time in the White House. (Regular, non-presidential, town folk lived in the other half.) If you ever come across an old will or deed signed by J. Calvin Coolidge at auction, you may want to snap it up. It's rare; Coolidge dropped his first initial shortly after his admission to the bar.
Desk, chair, and door from Coolidge's law office on Main Street, at the Coolidge Presidential Library
For women only: there's an Eileen Fisher store just off of Main Street at which retail therapy costs . . well, what it costs. Booklink is an independent bookstore where, if you want to read Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder's stories of Northampton (which the old timers call "Hamp" and the newcomers "Noho"), you can find a copy of his book, Home Town. An Archer Mayor fan with no passion for rail travel? Visit Northampton in the pages of his 2012 mystery novel, Paradise City.
- - -
Detail of Tattered and Torn, painting by Alfred Kappes, 1886, at Smith College Art Museum
Please share this article on Facebook, Twitter, or by email. It's easy--see buttons at the top.