Paper mills and marble quarries built the town of Lee, with help from nearby forests and power from the Housatonic. The heyday of industry is past, but Lee has held its own, not least because an exit off the Mass Pike makes it “the gateway to the Berkshires.” Lee may be unpretentious, but it has small-town feel and eye-appeal in spades. The steeple on the First Congregational Church is the tallest wooden spire in New England: lift up your eyes.
Lee will welcome you warmly and keep you quite busy. For one thing, the town hosts an astonishing range of restaurants, and most are now open again for dining and take-out while observing mask and social distancing rules. Cuisines range from sophisticated farm-to-table fare such as Starving Artist Café (8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and Chez Nous (Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 4:30 to 8:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 4:30 to 8:30. Dining inside and out plus takeout. Reservations strongly recommended), to Greek, Vietnamese, Chinese, Peruvian, Italian, French, and Indian establishments, as well as humbler eateries where you can get a hot dog on the go, pick up a pizza (try Timothy’s, open Thursday, Friday, Saturday 4 to 8 p.m. for takeout, indoor and some outdoor service), or join the locally sourced customers for a plate of corned beef hash at Joe’s Diner serving indoors, outdoors and takeout seven days a week (Tuesday through Friday 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Monday 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.), or a tall draught beer at Moe’s Tavern (temporarily closed), or bistro food in a cozy setting at The Morgan House, serving since 1853 and currently open every day but Tuesday 4 to 8:30 p.m. Reservations suggested. Canna Provisions, off the Mass Pike as you head into town, offers a full line of THC and CBD wellness offerings (legal weed, in plain English). The shop opened last year as a stylish boutique with a full menu of buds, edibles and cannabis products that promote wellness. Currently Canna Provisions is open for curbside pickup, curbside orders and in-store ordering!
The eclectic collection of shops downtown is complemented by the more than sixty stores at Premium Outlets, with name-brand merchandise at discount prices, just one mile east of town via US Route 20. The Outlets are now open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with curbside pick-up and online shopping available and outdoor dining at its food court. Premium Outlets is the most popular attraction in Berkshire County, with about two million annual visitors, some of whom then head into Lee and environs to find things that can’t be found anywhere else. Ozzie’s Glass Gallery on Route 102 towards Stockbridge is more than a gallery with beautiful, affordable pieces, including jewelry and pipes (the latter upstairs), it’s a chance to see Michael Ozzie, a native Lee artisan, in action blowing glass; he’s happy to explain to you what he’s doing, too. Ozzie’s is open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Slightly out of town but worth the trip is family-owned High Lawn Farm. Stop by their Farmstead Creamery anytime between 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., 7 days a week, and cool off with a refreshing ice cream cone at one of their picnic tables while you enjoy their beautiful Jersey herd grazing in the fields behind the shop. You can also stock up on their full line of fresh daily products.
While not as eminent in the arts as its Berkshire neighbors, Lee has its own distinction. From a renovated former five-and-dime on Main Street, the College Internship Program (CIP) offers a year-long curriculum focusing on creative and educational development in the visual and performing arts for young adults with Asperger’s, autism, ADHD, and other learning differences. The Spectrum Playhouse in a converted church and the Good Purpose Gallery on Main help integrate these individuals into the community and enrich their lives through creative work in fields where they often display special abilities.
Young animators aged 5 to 95 will find AniMagic, a museum of animation run by a former Special Effects Oscar-winner, a fun experience. In normal times, animation classes are also available. AniMagic will reopen post-COVID and even then call ahead, because it’s not open regular hours.
Lee will appeal to nature lovers too. October Mountain State Forest, the largest in Massachusetts, is just north of town. It offers camping, hiking, picnicking, and non-motorized boating. There’s also the Goose Pond Reservation in a dreamy setting south of Lee. The Appalachian Trail crosses adjacent National Park Service land, and Goose Pond itself, a mountain lake with exceptionally clear water, is ideal for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. And if you’d like to try fishing, or simply floating, on the region’s rivers, Berkshire Rivers Fly Fishing (operating business-as-usual) can help.