If Stockbridge seems strangely familiar, blame Norman Rockwell, who spent his last 25 years living and working right in the heart of town. He created some of his most visionary and socially engaged work here, without losing the touch that had already made him the beloved painter of small-town American life. At his death, he bequeathed his studio, archive, and many paintings to establish a museum of his work, now the Norman Rockwell Museum on 36 acres outside the town center. The Museum is open Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the advance purchase of timed-visit tickets required. The Four Freedoms are on tour (they’re in Denver this summer), but it’s fun to discover other great but less well-known paintings on the walls (Family Tree, for example, which puts a pirate at the root of one representative American family).
Visitors have returned to the classic rockers on the porch of the venerable Red Lion Inn on the corner of Main and Route 7. If you decide to become one of them, you can watch how out-of-towners manage the treacherous three-way stop at the intersection (cautiously, if they know what’s good for them). The Red Lion Inn now offers indoor seating at all meal periods in the Main Dining Room (reservations recommended). Al fresco dining in The Courtyard and on the Piazza is also available. In addition, the famous front porch welcomes visitors to watch the world go by.
The Inn has been there since the 1770s, when an influx of white settlers was displacing the native Mohican population for whom the town had been created (as Indian Town, complete with an English missionary) in 1737. When the railroad arrived in 1850, so did the wealthy summer folk. Artists and writers came too, among them Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln statue at the Lincoln Memorial and the Concord Minute Man, whose home and studio, Chesterwood, is open to the public for self-guided tours of the grounds, woodlands and sculpture exhibit Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. by timed, pre-booked parking passes. Guided tours of the Studio are available on weekends.
Naumkeag, designed by Stanford White, is a 44-room Berkshire cottage fantasy a mile from the town center with extensive gardens. The property is open Thursday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided garden tours are available Thursday-Sunday at 10:30 am, 11:30 am, and 1:00 pm. Space is limited and pre-registration is required. From a perch a couple of miles from the town center, the non-profit Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health affords a stunning view over the Stockbridge Bowl and offers day-visits and residential stays that focus on yoga, creative expression, wellness and self-discovery; more than 30,000 visitors come to Kripalu each year. Kripalu is temporarily closed but is offering online programs.
Some drive, some walk, some cycle: most of Stockbridge’s attractions are within easy reach. The self-guided walking tour of the town is highly recommended by the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce. One of the stops on the tour is the 1884 former Town Hall (you may know the interior from Rockwell’s The Marriage License); it’s for sale, btw.
The Stockbridge Library is a particularly fine small-town library, and some of the portraits of former citizens on the walls date from the 18th century; you’re welcome to stop in. The Library is currently open by appointment only, and is also offering curbside book pickup. The Austen Riggs Center, a therapeutic community, an open psychiatric hospital, and a center for education and research now in its one hundred and first year, is unobtrusively located right in the center of town; Norman Rockwell and his wife were patients, and the painter’s relations with his distinguished therapist Erik Erikson were recently the subject of an exhibition at the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Stockbridge is also home to some exceptional nature trails just south of town. Park at the end of Park Street, take the footbridge across the Housatonic, and take your choice of trails: a paved, handicapped-accessible trail that runs beside the river; a trail that leads up to Laura’s Tower, with a three-state view; and — not to be missed on a hot day — the trail into Ice Glen, with glacial boulders and caves of ice that last even into July. If you prefer strolling to hiking, head to the outstanding 16-acre Berkshire Botanical Garden just west of town. The Garden is open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October 31. Timed admission ticketing is required for all visitors.
In the evening, the Berkshire Theater Festival normally beckons with two Stockbridge stages, the iconic 314-seat Fitzpatrick Main Stage and the smaller 122-seat Unicorn Theatre, both just east of downtown. This is the BTF’s 93nd season: the Festival has legs (and a fully supply of equity talent). But this summer, those legs are following a slightly different routine, with performances under tents in both Stockbridge and Pittsfield.
Once Upon A Table, a cozy spot for lunch or in an alley right off Main Street, is offering a choice of patio or inside dining every day but Tuesday. Space is limited and reservations are recommended. Alice’s Restaurant, which was nearby, exists now only in song (Arlo Guthrie’s song, released in 1969). The new Tiffany’s Café has taken up residence at the Elm Street Market, also just off Main, and is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The recent arrival of the Lost Lamb Patisserie, “a French-style patisserie and snackerie,” is good news for croissant lovers — and lovers in general. It is currently open for takeout Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Lions Den, a basement bistro known for burgers and local brews at The Red Lion Inn (all roads lead to — and from — The Red Lion Inn), is temporarily closed but finer dining is available upstairs. Many other first-rate restaurants and congenial eateries are located south of town along the road to Great Barrington and in other surrounding towns.