Gifted by nature, expansive Western Massachusetts is also a hotbed of history and culture, with numerous outstanding group venues throughout three-county Pioneer Valley and metropolitan Springfield, and in the state’s far western realms, the rapturous Berkshire Mountains.
“From the nation’s first armory to the invention of basketball, the rich history of Massachusetts comes alive in the Pioneer Valley,” says Lee Chambers, the Greater Springfield CVB’s marketing and public relations manager.
Boasting New England’s finest fall foliage and Mount Greylock, the state’s highest peak, the Berkshire Mountains are richly endowed with historical and cultural treasures such as the Norman Rockwell Museum, iconic performing arts venue Tanglewood, and Arrowhead, the 18th century farmhouse where Herman Melville, inspired by Mount Greylock’s distant humps, wrote Moby-Dick.
“Our cultural offerings truly distinguish us from other New England destinations and make us a year-round meetings destination,” says Lindsey Hammond Schmid, director of marketing services for the Berkshire Visitors Bureau. “Nowhere else in the country will you find such a varied collection of world-class cultural attractions in a single, spectacular rural setting.”
When booking meetings in Springfield’s MassMutual Convention Center and the surrounding hotels, or in the charming, picturesque hotels and resorts sprinkled throughout the Berkshires, consider the following memorable venues as a unique addition to agendas.
STERLING AND FRANCINE CLARK ART INSTITUTE, WILLIAMSTOWN
Settling in Paris in 1910 after his distinguished service in the U.S. Army, Sterling Clark began collecting art, a lifelong passion he would share with his future wife Francine Clary. In 1950, they founded the institute to house their world-class collection of paintings, sculpture and other works of art, opening its doors to the public in 1955. Situated on the edge of the campus of leading liberal arts institution Williams College, the stately museum and art-study facility is a superb choice for tours and outings (events are generally limited to members).
“The Clark is a wonderful addition to any group’s itinerary,” says Sally Morse Majewski, manager of public relations and marketing. “With a permanent collection rich in American, British, French and Old Master paintings, the museum’s special exhibitions bring great works of art from around the globe to the Berkshires.”
Dining options include Stone Hill Cafe, named “Best Museum Lunch Spot” by Yankee magazine, with stunning mountain vistas from the walking trails traversing the 140-acre property. Opened in 2008, the striking Stone Hill Center is part of an ongoing expansion that includes plans for a new exhibition, visitor and conference center.
JACOB’S PILLOW, BECKET
In 1931, after buying a farm he named “Jacob’s Pillow,” modern dance pioneer Ted Shawn began promoting dance as an honorable career for men. The school he founded there became his stage for bringing dance to mainstream America, and as Shawn became the first American man to achieve a world reputation in dance, Jacob’s Pillow, a National Historic Landmark, continues to thrive as a world-class performance destination.
“A welcoming place with deep history, a warm community and natural beauty, Jacob’s Pillow has an utterly unique atmosphere,” says Mariclare Hulbert, director of marketing and communication. “During the summer, planners love the personal care we offer when planning events and visits, as well as our 200 value-added free exhibits, talks, tours and performances.”
Recently awarded the distinguished National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, “the Pillow” also hosts weddings, meetings and other rentals in the fall and spring, with the same personal touch and singular ambience.
“It’s what makes Jacob’s Pillow an unforgettable experience,” Hubert says.
THE MOUNT, LENOX
Daring to break free of “Old New York” social strictures that discouraged women from anything but “marrying properly,” Edith Wharton (1862-1937) achieved legendary success as a writer, penning 40 books over 40 years that included The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome. As the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the self-educated Wharton was also an authority on architecture, design and gardens. She brought the principles of her first major book, The Decoration of Houses (1897), gloriously to life at the Mount, the home she designed and built in 1902.
“Edith Wharton’s gracious mansion, set on a 50-acre estate with nearly three acres of formal gardens, provides a unique and elegant setting for any occasion,” says Susan Wissler, executive director of the Mount. “On the main floor, the drawing room, dining room and gallery open to form one continuous area for entertaining, with the rooms opening to an expansive terrace overlooking the gardens.”
The Mount hosts events and programs year-round, and its ghost tours are a spirited option for groups.
VENFORT HALL MANSION AND GILDED AGE MUSEUM, LENOX
Built in 1893 by Sarah Morgan, sister of J.P. Morgan, this picturesque Jacobean Revival-style mansion was one of around 75 “Cottages” built in Lenox in the last century when the village became a popular Gilded Age resort. Rescued from demolition and its restoration ongoing, the mansion, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, today serves as an elegant museum and performance venue, with space available for meetings and functions.
“The ambience, rich history and intimacy of Ventfort Hall create the perfect meeting place for groups of 10 to 200,” says Gini Marauszwski, operations manager. “Our dedicated staff works with planners to ensure a seamless and memorable experience, while our caterers provide meals fit for royalty.”
Within walking distance of several B&B’s and historic downtown Lenox, the mansion, which appeared as the exterior set for the Academy Award-winning film The Cider House Rules, hosts tours, exhibits and special events year-round.
SPRINGFIELD MUSEUMS, SPRINGFIELD
Combining five venues in one downtown location, the celebrated Springfield Museums offer memorable interactions with art, science and history along with stimulating environments for business meetings, receptions, banquets and parties.
“Meeting and special event planners have a whole host of options at the Springfield Museums,” says Holly Smith-Bove, president of the Springfield Museums. “From our varied galleries to our 280-seat auditorium, there’s no limit to the possibilities.”
Organized around a central quadrangle, the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Springfield Science Museum, Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts and new 47,000-square-foot Museum of Springfield History provide a multifaceted cultural experience that includes the adjacent Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. At the quadrangle’s heart, the joyful Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, honoring Springfield native Theodor Seuss Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss), features full–scale bronze sculptures of his Lorax, Grinch and other whimsical creations.
HOTEL NORTHAMPTON, NORTHAMPTON
Located in the heart of one of New England’s most charming towns, this Historic Hotels of America property, built in 1927, retains its original allure as “An Inn of Colonial Charm.” Featuring 106 rooms and suites, the hotel accommodates groups of up to 200 people in six flexible function areas, including an executive boardroom and the area’s only true Grand Ballroom. With high ceilings and arched windows, the magnificent space is center stage for weddings, parties and other celebrations. Groups also have the convenience of two on-site restaurants, including the storied Wiggins Tavern.
Nestled within the Five College community, which includes Mount Holyoke College and Smith College, Northampton is one of America’s leading arts destinations, offering groups a range of diversions, including galleries, creative restaurants and unique boutiques.
SPRINGFIELD ARMORY NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE, SPRINGFIELD
First created as a military storage depot in 1777, Springfield Armory—the first in the nation—was commissioned by President George Washington to manufacture small arms for the young country’s defense in 1794. Over the following two centuries, the armory continuously produced muskets and rifles used by America’s armed forces in every war in the nation’s history before closing its doors in 1968. Reopened in 1978 as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, this National Historic Landmark and compelling group draw hosts year-round public and school programs, exhibitions and special events.
With daily ranger-led tours and group tours available by appointment, the armory houses a preeminent collection of military small arms, including the world’s largest collection of rare and historic American military firearms. Long a center of innovation, the Armory perfected pioneering manufacturing methods that were critical to American industrialization; among the weapons created here was the M1 rifle, used by American soldiers during World War II and the Korean War.
NAISMITH MEMORIAL BASKETBALL HALL OF FAME, SPRINGFIELD
In 1891, Canadian-born James Naismith, a physical education teacher at Springfield College (then a YMCA training school), was tasked with creating an indoor game that would provide an “athletic distraction” for students during the hard New England winter. After fixing two peach baskets to a 10-foot-high railing, he gave the boys a soccer ball—and thus was born the sport of basketball. With over 80,000 square feet of flexible function space, the Hall of Fame bearing his name is an exciting and innovative venue for groups, hosting hundreds of local and global corporate meetings, award dinners, private socials and internationally televised events.
Facilities include Center Court, which can be transformed into a grand ballroom; a 200-seat amphitheater; an executive boardroom overlooking the Connecticut River; and the flexible Special Exhibit Gallery, ideal for midsize and smaller events. Planners can also work with the O I C Group, a Boston-based leadership consulting firm and “Performance Partner” of the facility on sports-themed team-building events.
MASS MOCA, NORTH ADAMS
Representing the triumphant transformation of an 18th century industrial complex into the country’s largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) is worth the visit for its evocative architecture alone. Featuring 26 buildings on a 13-acre complex, the elaborate weave of interlocking courtyards, passageways, bridges, viaducts, elevated walkways and red-brick facades is stirring evidence of the site’s “mill to museum” rebirth. Outside and inside, the art is no less an inspiration for tours, weddings and special events (space available to museum members only).
“Groups have found that the art on display at MASS MoCA can be a wonderful creative spark,” says Katherine Myers, director of marketing and public relations. “Whether the visit involves just taking a tour or more time, the dramatic oversize galleries, the immersive installations and the beauty and logic of the Sol LeWitt installation tend to inspire meeting attendees to think outside the box.”
The museum has profoundly changed the fortunes of the city of North Adams, inspiring further revitalization such as the adjacent meetings-ready Porches Inn, a 47-room “retro-edgy” property created from a block of restored Victorian row houses.
Regular Meetings Focus East contributor Jeff Heilman spent four years immersed in the art, culture and history of the Berkshires as an English major at Williams College.