To most of the residents of Northern Berkshire, the Mohawk Trail is a means of getting from North Adams to Greenfield and, eventually, Boston. It is to us what the Massachusetts Turnpike is to the residents of central and southern Berkshire County. And when using the northern "MassPike," we're in hurry to get from North Adams and its environs to Boston and only stop along the trail if we need a restroom — and they can be few and far in between.
The Trail is an historic American Indian foot path connecting the Connecticut and Hudson River valleys. The Mohawk Trail highway was officially dedicated on Oct. 14, 1914.
On a beautiful summer day with lots of sun, a friend and I set out to explore the treasures the Trail has — and which I have overlooked all my life.
The first stop is the famous Hairpin Turn. As you pull into the parking lot of the Golden Eagle restaurant note how the building nestles into a niche carved into the cliffs behind it. The building, originally a gift shop owned by Donald and Lewis Canedy, initially sat on the tip of the U-turn. In the fall of 1958, within a span of 10 weeks, two runaway tractor-trailers missed the turn and crashed through the gift shop. The Canedys rebuilt and had a recess carved into the cliff, and the building has been safe since.
We stopped here now for the coin-operated tourist binoculars situated on the left side of the restaurant's parking lot. A quarter will provide 2 minutes of viewing time of the spectacular bird's-eye view of North Adams, Clarksburg, Adams and Williamstown. Well worth spending a dollar or two on.
The Elk On The Trail at the summit of the Mohawk Trail is a memorial commissioned by the Massachusetts Association of Elks to Massachusetts Elks who served in World War I. The bronze statue of an elk stands on a rough-cut granite base. The elk, with a full rack of antlers, was cast at the Gorham Manufacturing Company of Providence, R.I., and dedicated on June 17, 1923.
Mohawk Trail State Forest
In Charlemont, the state forest offers campsites and cabin for those planning an extended stay, but it is also open for day use. Plenty of picnic tables sit along the Cold River, which flows through the park. This year, the Cold River designated swimming area is closed due to extreme drought conditions, though camping will remain available through mid-October.
The forest has more than 6,000 acres of mountain ridges, deep gorges and tall old-growth trees and diversity of plant and animal life with trails to explore..
Hail to the Sunrise
Facing east and overlooking the Deerfield River at the site of the old Indian fordway in Charlemont, Hail to the Sunrise depicts a Mohawk Indian, arms raised in supplication to the Great Spirit and greeting the new-born day.
The monument purports to honor the Five Indian Nations of the Mohawk Trail. An inscription on the arrowhead-shaped plaque at the statue's base reads: "Hail to the Sunrise — In Memory of the Mohawk Indian." The memorial originally held a reflecting pool with inscribed stones from various tribes and councils from throughout the United States. It was erected by the Improved Order of the Red Men (a fraternity of exclusively white men established in 1834) and its women's auxiliary, the Allied Councils of Pocahontas of the Old Deerfield conference and dedicated on Oct. 1, 1932.
Avery's General Store
Located in the heart of downtown Charlemont, Avery's General Store is the epitome of the old adage of having "everything from a safety pin to a horse blanket." It offers grocery items, hand-cut quarter hinds of beef, sliced dried beef, paint, a full-line of hardware, clothing, and camping and tubing equipment. Items hang from the walls and ceiling and line the packed, narrow aisles. In March 2020, Avery's officially became an employee-owned business, following 42 at the hands of previous owners Dennis Avery and Karen Hogness.
Bissell Covered Bridge
Who knew there was a covered bridge in the heart of Charlemont? A block or two from Avery's turn onto Route 8A going to Jacksonville, Vt., travel less than a half-mile and there it is. The bridge is sited near an old mill dam and pond, but is not the original, which was constructed in the 1880s. According to a local resident, it is the second replacement of the original. It is listed on the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places.
Native and Himalayan Views
What's not to like about a retro-looking gift store with a huge American Indian, bear and teepee out front? I've loved the American Indian statue since I was young, and I was excited to finally take time to explore it. There is a small section of the shop, formerly known as the Big Indian Shop, devoted to American Indian crafts, but it also sells local products and handcrafts from Tibet, Nepal and India.
Hoosac Tunnel Eastern Portal
We took the scenic route back to North Adams and turned right onto Zoar Road just before the Mohawk Park campground. We followed the road past the Zoar Picnic Area and stayed on the road past Whitcomb Hill Road and to the entrance of the Hoosac Tunnel, where the tracks cross the road.
I have been to the western entrance off South Church Street in North Adams countless times, but it was the first time at the eastern end. My traveling partner, a longtime resident of the town of Florida, claims there are ruins of the workers' house a short hike from the tunnel.
Golden Eagle Restaurant
After a long day discovering the treasures along the trail, it seemed appropriate to stop at the place where we began — the Hairpin Turn. What could be nicer than drinks and an appetizer on the second-floor veranda of the restaurant as the sun sets?
There are many other treasures waiting to be discovered along the Mohawk Trail, and some day I plan to go back to Shelburne Falls to poke around the many shops, art galleries and bookstores. There are also many eateries there to be tried and I didn't get to the Trolley Museum. There's also supposed to be homes in the Charlemont area that were part of the Underground Railroad. More exploring is definitely in the cards!