Reviving a relic of the Mohawk Trail: New name, new aim for old Redwood Motel

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NORTH ADAMS — Often, what has come before defines the present.

And in that spirit, the creators of a resort operation in the city have found their identity in a relic of the Mohawk Trail.

On the side of Route 2, outside a former farmhouse and boarding house built in 1813, the group happened upon a faded and worn sign that simply read "Tourists."

"We had, at one point, a list of about 60 possible names we had kicked around," said Ben Svenson, managing partner for the group. "Then we saw this old sign out by the road."

"Tourists" will be the name of the multi-dimensional hospitality operation taking shape around a cluster of properties now owned by The Beyond Place LLC, which include the former Redwood Motel, an adjacent 1813 farm house and the Blackinton Mill.

The Tourists concept is a 46-room hotel/resort, aimed at people with a passion for the outdoors, featuring expansive views of the forested riverside, according to documents filed with the North Adams Planning Board. The rooms are oriented for the views, and there will be trails for hiking, riverside access for fishing or boating, and a suspension footbridge over the river for further access to hiking trails and riverside activity.

"It is our goal to create a regionally unparalleled lodging experience that will serve as a vibrant destination and bring significant economic impact to the city of North Adams," according to the special permit application filed with the city by the partners in April 2016.

Documents filed with the Planning Board also include plans for a swimming pool, with extensive wood decking around the pool and outside the rooms. A small restaurant and adjacent courtyard is planned for the former four-car garage structure outside the farmhouse. And the farmhouse itself will be converted into a multi-use space including a meeting and private dining space on the first floor and massage, spa treatment and yoga spaces on the second floor.

Svenson pointed to the sign — its letters too faded to see from the road anymore — as an iconic image that once called out to travelers, much like similar signs at business all along the Mohawk Trail.

When that new sign is mounted outside the nature-centric resort and spa, which is expected to open by summer, Svenson said, it will mark a revival of the Mohawk Trail itself.

Even in the pre-revolutionary days, people were constantly traveling through, said Svenson, who has studied the history of the area.

He noted past land uses, from the times when the Native Americans used the original Mohawk Trail and the Hoosic River as a commercial corridor through the property.

The industrial revolution brought in new land uses other than agriculture, both of which impacted the property. Then came the motorcar and the paved Mohawk Trail, drawing thousands into the area to see the sights.

And then there is the Adirondack Trail, which for years has carried hundreds of hikers within a few hundred yards of the new lodging operation.

Like many other places along the Mohawk Trail, the property turned out to be very tourist-oriented for much of the 1900s, with the Airport Rooms & Tourist Home, operated by the Frank Stevens family on State Road in the former 1813 farmhouse, where the Tourists sign was found. It was directly across the pasture from a small airfield, now the Harriman & West Airport.

Then, in the 1950s, the Redwood Motel came along, another tourist oriented business targeting motorists and sight seers who traveled the trail by the thousands.

As the decades-long motoring craze started evaporating in the 1980s, so did the tourism business. The Airport Rooms closed down, and the Redwood Motel's business evolved into a lower-tier hospitality operation, and there it stayed until the group of partners purchased the property to preserve the novelty of the 1960s motor lodge.

Beyond Place purchased the Redwood for $350,000 on April 15, 2015.

But later that year, the partners discovered — and bought — much of the surrounding undeveloped riverside properties, including the Blackinton Mill, which is right across the river from the motel.

At that point, the scope of their concept changed and grew with a development team that includes lead developer Svenson and his brother Eric Svenson; Wilco bassist John Stirratt, Dana Nielsen of Broder Properties, Scott Stedman of Brooklyn Magazine, Simeon Bruner of Bruner/Cott Architects, Bigs Waterman with Waterman Excavating, and project manager Eric Kerns.

Taken together, the properties are also at the meeting point of the original Mohawk Trail, the Appalachian Trail and the Hoosic River.

"There's an amazing confluence on this particular spot," Stirratt said at the time of the mill purchase. "It's the intersection of two historic thoroughfares, the Appalachian Trail and the Mohawk Trail, and an exceptionally beautiful stretch of the Hoosic River. And yet it's not currently used by the community in any meaningful way."

Svenson has referred to it as an "astonishing place."

And he and the partners see themselves as stewards of the land and its history.

"We endeavor to build a strong economic engine in Tourists to entice thousands of new visitors to North Adams each year, often as their first experience," Svenson said. "We want to create lasting, positive memories for our guests with the long-term goal of growing North Adams' reputation as an irreplaceable destination, rich with natural, agricultural and industrial roots and fresh as a contemporary art town still becoming."

Reach staff writer Scott Stafford at 413-496-6301.


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