Learning Ahead: Vacation Destination

Season of Vacation Destination

In the 19th century, New England was a popular place for outdoor recreation. At a time when the American landscape was championed for its unique, natural features, setting it apart from Europe, Americans were interested in exploring the mountains and woods that defined this country’s geography. In fact, as you discovered in the Summer Storms section of this issue of Learning Ahead, 19th century authors Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville participated in outdoor recreation by hiking up Monument Mountain. Henry David Thoreau, another 19th century author and transcendentalist, climbed Mt. Greylock, located in Adams, MA. Another scenic spot for recreational tourists was the Summit House at Skinner State Park (then known as Mt. Holyoke) which operated as a hotel, allowing visitors to stay overnight while visiting. As you can see, Western Massachusetts was a popular destination for 19th century Americans with many of the outdoor places and summits still available for today’s hikers and outdoor enthusiasts to explore.

While many Americans travelled throughout New England, exploring the different summits and rural landscapes that defined this region, others were city dwellers who often took up residence in Western Massachusetts to enjoy summer vacations away from the city. For example, although the poet William Cullen Bryant grew up in Cummington, he spent the majority of his life in New York City. In 1865, he purchased his childhood home and summered there from 1866-1878. Even today Western Massachusetts’ rural landscapes provide a summer retreat for those looking to enjoy outdoor recreational opportunities as well as art, culture and local food.. As a result, summer in Western Massachusetts is filled with various festivals, art celebrations, local food gatherings, guided hikes, paddles, triathlons, and other programs that engage both year round and summer residents with the culture and identity of the region as highlighted by the seasonal landscape.


Historic Houses

During the summer, historic houses are open for tours and guided experiences for visitors. Some were the summer homes of famous authors, writers, and poets, while others were full time residences. Historic homes act as the gateway to the past through their collections and objects that tell the everyday stories of those who lived there and how they interacted with their environment.


Think about this:

  • How can historic houses connect us to local history and the past? How can they tell us about the people who lived there and how they interested with their immediate community and environment?
  • What similarities and differences do you think exist between the way people recreated outdoors back in the 19th century and the way we interact with the outdoors today?
  • If you were to go on a summer retreat, what part of New England would you travel to? Why? What aspects do you look for in a summer retreat that perhaps those that vacationed here in New England also sought after?

Download our July/August edition of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts for embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.

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