On the south side of the I-90 Mass Turnpike from Lenox, the other main center of Berkshires cultural life is Stockbridge (pop. 1,947). If Main Street feels familiar, perhaps it’s because the town made its way onto Norman Rockwell canvases during the final decades of his career, when he lived and worked here. You may dismiss his illustrations as the epitome of contrived sentimentality, but only people with hearts of solid flint won’t find themselves grinning after a stroll through the collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum (413/298-4100, daily, $17.50 adults). The modern museum is on Route 183 two miles west of town. The town itself is well worth a stroll, too, particularly past the grand houses along Main Street that seem frozen in an idyllic past.
While most of the large estate homes around Stockbridge are not open to the public, one of the county’s more extravagant “cottages” is Naumkeag (daily in summer only, $15 adults), an 1885 mansion on Prospect Hill Road less than a mile north of downtown. The mansion, designed by Stanford White for Joseph Choate, a lawyer who later served as U.S. ambassador to Britain, amply illustrates why this region was regarded as the state’s Gold Coast a century ago. The impressively landscaped grounds are an attraction in their own right.
Sculpture is the highlight of Chesterwood (daily in summer, $16.50 adults), off Route 183 just south of the Norman Rockwell Museum. The residence was the summer home of Daniel Chester French, one of the most popular contributors to the fin-de-siècle American renaissance. French arrived on the art scene with a bang, sculpting Concord’s Minute Man statue at age 25, but he is best remembered for his statue of the seated president in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. A tour of French’s studio and house (now a property of the National Trust) or a walk around the 122 wooded acres graced with works of contemporary sculptors quickly confirms why French once called his seasonal visits “six months . . .in heaven.”