In Western Mass., the Only Potholes You Won’t Hate


Snowflakes have finally transitioned to raindrops, lawns are becoming thicker and greener, and thermometers are steadily on the uptick. The spring season is now very much here. In our little corner of the country, though, the focus is elsewhere: divots in the road have transitioned to potholes, potholes are becoming deeper potholes, and potholes, it seems, are generally on the uptick. I cringe for everyone’s axles just thinking about it. But there is one place in Massachusetts where potholes are a welcome sight, strange as that may sound. For those willing to trek to the foothills of the Berkshires, risking their vehicles’ suspensions and wheel rims on pothole-riddled roads, they are in for an idyllic treat.

Roughly two hours west of Boston is the unassuming town of Shelburne Falls, nestled upon the eastern bank of the Deerfield River. This community is a bucolic destination for New England tourists wanting to break from typical destinations down along the coast or high up in the mountains. Here they’re treated to a healthy dose of New England hilltown atmosphere along with views of what are called glacial potholes, etched by Mother Nature out of the rocky riverbed.

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Strange Massachusetts Place Names, Part 1: Satans Kingdom

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Satans Kingdom, MA

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to numerous cities and towns whose namesakes are of European descent dating back hundreds of years. It makes sense, of course, given that European powers claimed communities up and down the East Coast, with the British concentrating, in part, around New England during its earliest period of colonial settlement. Some of these weird Massachusetts town names, though, have a muddled origin; some have changed over time, as all languages do, while others remain unexplained to this day. Take, for example, the village of Satans Kingdom in Northfield, Massachusetts.

Satans Kingdom is arguably the strangest name of any area in Massachusetts. Consider for a moment that the state is overflowing with place names that are blatantly English (e.g., Gloucester, Leicester, Leominster, Worcester), are currently names of other more prominent places worldwide (e.g., Florida, Peru, Holland, Mt Washington), and are names of local historical figures (e.g., Adams, Hancock, Webster, Lowell, Revere, Winthrop). Others are comically odd (Braintree, Belchertown, Cummington).

You get the idea.

But Satans Kingdom is noticeably different. It injects an air of foreboding, casts a dark mystique over the area, implies the dominion of the devil. So how could Massachusetts name a place so eerie when it’s surrounded by places with names so endearing?

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4 Ideas to Reinvigorate Northampton’s King Street

On January 22 it was announced that The Colvest Group bought and will redevelop a three-acre parcel of land on King Street in Northampton, MA. The space falls under Highway Business District zoning regulations.

The land in question hosts the corroded bones of the Bill Willard Inc. concrete plant which closed in 2016. The Colvest Group’s new purchase adds to its King Street portfolio, where it also owns adjacent land upon which sits a fast food structure (formerly a Papa Gino’s), as well as a nine-acre spread upon which Colvest built Northampton Crossing (née Hill & Dale Mall), home of Baystate Outpatient Center, Greenfield Savings Bank, and Firestone Auto Center.

The property was sold for $2.25 million as per the purchase and sale agreement. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Colvest plans to create office or retail space on the site.

The Gazette also notes that King Street has seen its fair share of redevelopment over the past few years, including “new banks, car dealerships, retails businesses, and office space.”

To me, this signals that King Street is ripe for a more substantial refresh. Colvest has a prime opportunity to build something unique, something that can take advantage of the land’s surrounding amenities for the city’s residents who have an inherent taste for things home grown and craft made. Continue reading

Only 1 US President Actively Took Part in Naming a Town After Himself, Christening it with Watermelons

The founding and maintenance of the United States by its presidents led to the subsequent naming of cities, towns, schools, roads, bridges, and buildings in their honor. Perhaps the most obvious example pertains to George Washington, namesake of our nation’s capital; not to mention, it seems like every community in every corner of the country has a Washington Street of some varying length and prominence.

James Monroe with Washington shares the distinction of having a national capital named for him: Monrovia, Liberia. Here in the US at the state level there’s Jefferson City, MO (Thomas Jefferson); Madison, WI (James Madison); Jackson, MS (Andrew Jackson); and innumerable counties nationwide named for every one of these men and others. The list continues on through the forward trajectory of history.

This trend seems to have peaked after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, prompting a wave of locations, public spaces, and memorials named for the 35th president. With the founding and incorporation of towns essentially at a standstill since westward expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries, most modern presidents lend their monikers to the likes of battleships, airports, and national parks.

There was only one president, though, actively took part in the naming of a city and put pen to paper, scribing its name identically to his. One can almost picture him slouched over a desk, lazily and loopily sketching his name on the incorporation papers where a line on an official document thirsted for ink: L-I-N-C-O-L-N.

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How to Eat Healthy on Road Trips: Stop in College Towns

Road trips tend to be about the experience, the journey more than the destination. For many, the importance of budgeting time is as important as budgeting gas and tolls. Travelers want to see as much as they can in the time allotted them. This often means driving by highway or other major arteries. This, in turn, often means feasting at fast food restaurants overrunning rest stops, or from whichever bag of mass-produced corn chips hanging in prepackaged plastic along the aisles of the cheapest gas station contains the most real ingredients.

Eating healthy on the road isn’t particularly easy. Few items are natural, many are saturated with sodium and other preservatives that slowly rot the body from the inside out. Normally I’d recommend shopping ahead of embarking. Preparing food  is perhaps the most cost-efficient and time-efficient means of eating while on the road.

But if for whatever reason this is not an option, travelers can still enjoy healthy fare, picturesque scenery, and a hint of collegiate nostalgia.

Ahead of a recent road trip from Western Massachusetts to the Dayton, Ohio suburbs, my fiance and I decided against the most expeditious route– I-90 West, known colloquially to Mass. natives as The Pike — which would take us westward through Upstate New York, down the coast of Lake Erie, southwest from outside of Cleveland to Columbus, and finally due west again. We knew it’d be lined with stops peddling Auntie Anne’s, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Papa Gino’s, Roy Rogers, Tim Hortons, Sbarro, Subway, Steak ‘N Shake, and, well, you get the idea.

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When Confederate VP Alexander Stephens Was Imprisoned in Boston

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Alexander Stephens (1859)/ Image via Public Domain

On Sunday, May 21, 1865, the president and vice president of the Confederate States of America bade each other farewell. The latter would recall of the former, “he seemed more affected than I had ever seen him. He said nothing but good-bye, and gave my hand a cordial squeeze; his tone evinced deep feeling and emotion.”

It would be the last time rebel leaders Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis would shake hands.

Stephens had been arrested ten days prior at his estate in Crawfordville, GA — the main house of which he ironically named Liberty Hall — on charges of treason. He had woke that day, May 11, “a most beautiful and charming morning,” ate breakfast and wrote letters, and learned Union cavalry had descended on the rustic Georgia town to apprehend him. After a short time packing necessities, and no time to send word to his family, he boarded a Union train bound for Washington D.C.

It wasn’t until nine days later, while afloat off the coast of Virginia, that he learned his destination had been rerouted to Boston.

“I knew then that Fort Warren was to be my place of imprisonment.”

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Boston, Promote Your Abolitionist Past for a More Tolerant Today

It’s been difficult, as of late, for Boston to maintain its distinction as one of the foremost liberal, progressive, tolerant, and accepting cities in the country.

Twice this year the city’s solemn Holocaust Memorial was shattered by projectiles hurled by locals, the first in June by a Roxbury man, the second on Monday by a Malden 17-year-old. Prior, since its dedication in 1995, it had stood unscathed.

Boston was called the most racist city by SNL cast member Michael Che. Baseball player Adam Jones was subjected to racial slurs in the outfield of Fenway Park.

On a fairly regular basis, it seems, incidents and encounters such as these teem to the surface, tearing the scar of racism before it’s ever been fully healed — if it ever can be. And almost every time Boston residents recall about its most infamous race-related moment: busing.

In order to create a unified front against these ongoing acts of racism, of which recent incidents also include a man being called the “n-word” while walking down the street and a woman being struck with an umbrella and berated with anti-Islamic slurs on the subway, the residents and government of Boston must rally behind the city’s seemingly forgotten heritage of standing up to such prejudices instead of defaulting to recollections of the busing  incident, which does not define Boston’s attitude toward minorities.

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Robert E. Lee, Part II: My Heirloom Portrait of the Confederate General

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Heirloom portrait of Robert E. Lee sitting in my closet.

One fond memory of a trip to Gettysburg National Park consisted of my siblings, my cousins, and myself participating in a juvenile reenactment of the battle, complete with replica hats, jackets, and a discussion of soldierly life.

The instillment of the Civil War era in my life made it so the very idea of the conflict edged unassumingly along the spectrum of familiarity to complacency; to me Lee was always more of a character in a dramatic historical play, more protagonist than antagonist.

Consequently, I never considered the differing perspectives various people might have of the portrait of Robert E. Lee that hung in my childhood home, stoically placed as if the general himself were keeping watch over us.

I never thought twice about asking my parents for the portrait when they moved out of their house and downsized to a condo lacking abundant of wall space for Lee to reside.

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Peter Pan Bus Lines Owns the Charlie Baker Administration

Peter Pan Bus

Image via danjo paluska/(CC BY 2.0)

On Friday, July 7, Massachusetts legislators came to a compromise on a $40.2 billion state budget that’s now on the desk of Governor Charlie Baker.

Though the budget slices government spending in the range of $400 million to $500 million, it’s not without its casualties. One such fatality has been touted as a potential boon for the western portion of the Commonwealth, which continues to feel the sting of the state government’s home court advantage in easterly Boston. That is to say, the budget compromise seems to favor Eastern Mass. at the expense of Western Mass.

“This budget is not without pain,” Senate Ways and Means chair Karen Spilka, Democrat, told the AP. “It is clear that the state is facing a shortfall in revenue that will have an impact on real people’s lives.”

Added Democratic Senate President Stan Rosenberg, it’s “the harshest state budget since the last recession.”

For residents of Western Mass. — the region of the state composed of Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, and parts of Worcester Counties — the budget represents another instance of playing second fiddle to Greater Boston, this time though in the realm of transportation.

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An Afternoon in Cloudland: Plane Crashes, Transcendentalists, and Mount Greylock

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The author on the Appalachian Trail

Famed poet-naturalist Henry David Thoreau once stood atop a lookout tower on the highest point in Massachusetts above sea level and described the expanse of the vista using one overarching word: cloudland.

When Thoreau visited the summit of Mount Greylock, protruding 3,491 feet into the sky, the surrounding valleys in the earth far below as well as the scattered communities throughout the landscape were all completely shrouded in mist. Where on a clear day one can see as far as 90 miles in almost all directions, Thoreau was treated instead to an endless display of rolling, hazy clouds.

Wrote Thoreau in 1844,

“As the light increased I discovered around me an ocean of mist which by chance reached up to exactly the base of the tower, and shut out every vestige of the earth, while I was left floating on this fragment of the wreck of the world, on my carved plank in cloudland; a situation which required, no aid from the imagination to render it impressive.”

On our journey to Mount Greylock, the path took us in some of Thoreau’s footsteps before we struck out on the stoic Appalachian Trail, which spans more than 2,000 miles from Maine to Georgia, 90 of which pass through Massachusetts.

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