I’ve got news for all the quaint, New Englandy-picturesque towns that may lie ahead in my journey: After Shelburne Falls, you’ve got a tough act to follow.
Shelburne Falls Historical District, straddling the towns of Shelburne and Buckland in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, is just a hop off Route 2 beyond Greenfield.
The village boasts a few tourist-friendly sites, including the Bridge of Flowers and the Glacial Potholes, and a historic trolley museum, all within walking distance of a pleasantly worn downtown area.
My first stop on Sunday was the potholes at Salmon Falls. These rocky pools were obscured a bit by the raging Deerfield River, but you could still see the incredible markings on the smooth rocks where the water has beaten a unique path over centuries. Apparently in the summer when the river is low, some brave trespassers climb down over the rocks to take a dip in the pool – that wasn’t an option during my visit because of the current, and the temperature, a balmy 52 degrees.
Along Deerfield Avenue — a nip of a street that has no business calling itself an avenue — you’ll find a yoga studio, a glass-making studio/store and the Shelburne Falls Booksellers. I’m a sucker for used bookstores so I popped in. The cash-only shop had some neat items, including a big New England/Massachusetts history shelf, rare books and art. I like to think the slight, older woman who rang up my 1945 edition of Emily Post’s “Etiquette” ($12) on an ancient cash register had a good laugh when I noticed they decided to shelve erotica books just above religious texts.
Across the street at the glass studio, you can peruse handmade items for sale; but the cooler part of the studio is to the right of the retail store. It’s a garage converted into a glass studio, open on weekends “by chance” and with a counter area where you can see the artist’s recent projects and watch him in action.
Back outside, I walked the steel bridge over to Buckland, poking my head into a little food market before heading up a hill toward the trolley museum. To be honest, it looked kind of boring; a yellow trolley car on tracks that appeared to head toward a modern, industrial train yard.
Right next to the museum is the Salmon Falls Artisans Gallery, worth a stop to check out some masterfully carved wooden sculptures, furniture, quilts, paintings, glasswork and jewelry — as well as the stunning views of the village below.
I didn’t buy anything there — the natural-wood table I loved ran a cool $6,000, but I enjoyed browsing through the displays.
Back down to the village, I walked across the Bridge of Flowers, which closes this weekend for the winter. The footbridge leads across the Deerfield River and features hundreds of seasonal flowers on both sides. It’s both gorgeous and unique, and worth a slow walk.
Most of the people I spoke with were visitors, like me, but after speaking with merchants in some of the stores I learned that the area is still reeling from the devastating floods that came with Hurricane Irene. The water destroyed some businesses and left others needing months of renovation work. Both towns had their share of vacant storefronts.
The shops on the Shelburne side aren’t varied, and since I’m not a country-crafts fan I didn’t overwork my credit card; another used bookstore and a cool-looking thrift store called Rethreads were closed for the day, and I didn’t stop into a Bridge Street leather merchant, because I would have bought the green leather wallet I saw in the window. A few restaurants occupy little storefronts, with promising options — a coffee shop, a sandwich place, some artsy-looking bistros — and I settled on the Village Restaurant for lunch. The Bridge Street eatery is cute in a wood-paneled, linoleum-floored, paper placemats way, and the open-faced turkey sandwich was like early Thanksgiving.
I passed a New-Age book- and gift-shop and made my final stop in a small, specialty foods store called Mother’s to buy some local honey.
The trip was nice; if I were staying in the area to ski or leaf-peep, I could kill an afternoon wandering through Shelburne and Buckland. I got some ideas for destinations in future adventures, including the Magic Wings butterfly conservancy in nearby Deerfield.
Outside of the village area, most of the towns are farmland, and if I were staying for longer than an afternoon, I would have loved to go for a hike in Buckland, where the views looking down on the river and mills must be outstanding.
On my way home I stopped at the Mohawk Trading Post and the Hager’s Farm Market, both on Route 2. Neither was as promising as the downtown area, and at Hager’s, things seemed pretty picked-over by Sunday afternoon.