Great Barrington ranked best small town in U.S. by Smithsonian

A view from above: Summer on Main Street in Great Barrington.

Is there no greater Barrington? Apparently not -- at least as far as the Smithsonian Magazine is concerned. The publication ranked Great Barrington as No. 1 among small towns in the United States in its forthcoming May issue, citing its "big-city" smarts and its New England sensibilities.

The editors of the monthly publication of the Smithsonian Institute said they took all kinds of factors into account in compiling their top 20 list, published online Monday, but put an especially high premium on culture-rich destinations. In fact, they started by asking a research firm to compile a database of cities and towns in the country with less than 25,000 people and a high density of museums, historic sites, gardens and art galleries.

Naturally, Great Barrington rose to the top. The magazine, however, found lots to love about the town, lavishing praise and noting the pedestrian friendly downtown, the scenic beauty of the surrounding countryside and the prominence of small farms, restaurants and the eat-local movement in general.

Denizens and town officials alike were glowing Tuesday after news of the honor spread.

"I think it's great," said Sean Stanton, the chairman of the board of selectmen. "It just reflects a lot of the imagination of the local businesses and the people here ... I feel really lucky to live here. It doesn't take a magazine to tell me this. I've always thought Great Barrington is a wonderful place to live, a wonderful place to visit and it's just a great community."

The magazine's write up on the town, in part:

"You've got to slow down when Route 7 leaves behind the wide-open valley of the Housatonic River to enter Great Barrington. The road becomes Railroad Street there, right of way to pedestrians stalled in the crosswalk trying to decide whether to have sushi or chimichangas for dinner. Others carry yoga mats, bags of farmers market produce, books, CDs, double espressos and all the other stuff it's hard to find in surrounding Berkshire Mountain villages like Stockbridge and Lenox.

"Compared with them, Great Barrington (pop. 6,800) is like a big city where you can get anything you want, to borrow the chorus from 'Alice's Restaurant Massacree,' by hometown boy Arlo Guthrie. He was 18 when he wrote the satirical ballad about true events on Thanksgiving Day 1965, when he got arrested for illegally dumping some of Alice's trash, ultimately making him ineligible for the Vietnam War draft. Trinity Church, former abode of the celebrated Alice, is now the Guthrie Center, a stage for folk music, starting point of the annual 'Historic Garbage Trail Walk' and a place for interfaith spiritual exchange in a town where there could be something contrarian in the water.

"Or in the food. At the forefront of the big-chain-grocery-store-defying, eat-local movement, Great Barrington is devoted to its family farms, farmers markets and co-op. Berkshire Grown, an organization that promotes the production and marketing of locally grown food, spreads the word with lectures by writers like Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma and most recently Food Rules)."

Read more on the Smithsonian Magazine's web site