Rediscovering the Past: Local History & Hauntings

Local Hauntings

Hauntings at the Deerfield Inn? Some claim to have seen a ghost of Cora Carlisle, the Inn’s owner from the 1930’s. Others say to have witnessed a ghost known as Hershel in Room 148.

Hauntings and history go together because ghosts are often traditionally seen as apparitions that once lived and therefore represent a past not entirely forgotten because it crosses realms and lingers in the present and future.

Many historic tales of hauntings are passed down through oral histories of places.  Through word of mouth, legends and ghost stories are passed down from generation to generation and become a part of a town or city’s character. Curious to explore some of Western Massachusetts’ haunted places? Head out and visit some of these intriguing places:

Deerfield Inn at Historic in Deerfield
Some claim to have seen a ghost of Cora Carlisle, the Inn’s owner from the 1930’s. Others say to have witnessed a ghost known as Hershel in Room 148.

Theodores’ Tavern in Springfield
Investigators from the SciFi Channel’s Ghost Hunters came to Theodores’ Tavern to see whether the historic building was haunted or not. Many say they have heard whispering, balls rolling, footsteps and apparitions!

Smith College’s Sessions House in Northampton
There’s a Revolutionary War legend that Lucy Hunt died of a broken heart after being separated from the man she loved, General Burgoyne. The Sessions House was the 18th century home of Lucy’s family. The two lovers used to secretly escape to a hidden staircase in the house to spend time together.  It is said that Lucy Hunt still haunts that staircase today!

Read the rest of this entry »

Ancestors Come Alive in Local Cemeteries and Tours

Cemetery Tours

An experiential way to learn about local history while satisfying an intrigue for ghost stories is to participate in a guided cemetery tour. With some local cemeteries pushing their 400th birthday, Western Massachusetts’ burying grounds are community-based resources filled with primary source artifacts that support an interest in history.

Through facilitated tours, often hosted by local historical societies, self-directed teens and lifelong learners can explore local graveyards together in order to deepen their understanding of community history.

Read the rest of this entry »

Featured Events: Graveyards & Cemetery Tours

Graveyard Tours Support an Interest in Local History and Cultural Studies

Graveyards are filled with stone markers that chronicle a community’s history. Everything from the names of buried people to the style of the stone can tell visitors something about the time period to which a headstone dates back. Photographing and sketching gravestones is a creative way to explore local cemeteries, alongside a self-guided or facilitated tour. Here are three featured guided tours for this haunted season: Read the rest of this entry »

Featured Events: Haunted Historic Buildings & Tours

Haunted Building and Tours Support Curiosity, and Learning!

Hunt for ghosts at Ventfort Hall in Lenox, MA.

Towns across Western Massachusetts have tales of haunted historic buildings, ghost sightings, and supernatural suspicions that lead people to wonder whether a place is haunted or not.  Haunted tales are sometimes rooted in actual events or historical accounts from people of the past, and can add to the mystery and curiosity of a place. In the Berkshires this haunted season, three events support learning about local history through the lens of hauntings and paranormal tours: Read the rest of this entry »

Literature Spotlight: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Pumpkins: History, Culture, and Community Celebration

Pumpkins: History, Culture, and Community Celebration

Called “pompions” by the first European colonists, pumpkins were a food essential to winter survival – and they were grown in many more varieties than they typically are today.  The custom of carving pumpkins into Jack O’Lanterns was introduced to American culture by Irish immigrants, influencing our cultural landscape to this day. Traditionally carved from root vegetables, including  turnips and potatoes, new hybrids of pumpkins are grown specifically for carving.

Annual October events that bring communities together through the lens of food (pumpkins) and culture (Halloween). Check our list of Weekly Suggested Events and our Facebook page for community-based educational opportunities coming up this season and mark your calendars for these annual events: Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Education Resource: Pumpkin Patches

From the Pumpkin Patch to Home: History through Food

There are so many different uses for pumpkins!  One of America’s oldest native crops, modern day uses include carving as ornaments for Halloween, prepared as pies, and highlighted as a main attraction in agricultural fairs (largest pumpkin contests) and fall festivals (pumpkin roll & pumpkin games).  Needless to say, pumpkins are an integrated part of our fall traditions in Western Massachusetts.  Read the rest of this entry »

How Pumpkin Pies Support Interests & Education

Pastry Arts: Support an Interest in Colonial History through Seasonal Pies!

While Colonial Americans did not celebrate Halloween, their interest in pumpkins was food-based rather than a holiday decoration. Support a farm to table interest by incorporating fresh pumpkin into your culinary adventures. Remember Lydia Maria Child from September’s apple itinerary and her recipe for apple pie? Pumpkin was also considered a common pie in 19th century New England. Her recipe from 1832 is as follows:  Read the rest of this entry »

Think About This: Pumpkins and a Sense of Place

The Grand View of Fall Foliage in Western MA

10 Vistas for Leaf Peeping

The best leaf peeping excursions are ones that not only happen during a countryside drive or a solitary hike in the woods, but up high with a view! Once you know when the foliage will peak, make a trip to a nearby vista for a view that has inspired artists and poets for centuries.

In addition to bountiful harvests, autumn brings with a dramatic change in the color scheme of the local landscape. Leaf peeping is a favorite activity of folks from out of state – and for good reason! Make time to get outside as a family this fall and explore the brilliant red, orange, and yellow that the woods have to offer. The best leaf peeping excursions are ones that include not only woods walking but a view from a high place. We recommend… Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Resources: Plein Air Painting in the Autumn

Plein Air Painting

En plein air is a French expression meaning “in the open air.” It’s used in English to describe a painting style that occurs outdoors. Made possible historically by the manufacturing of paint into tubes, artists no longer had to mix their paints in the studio from chemical compounds, freeing them to travel outdoors for inspiration. When participating in plein air painting, artists become fully engaged with the fall landscape through perspective, composition and, most importantly, color! Watercolors are the most portable and easiest to clean up, but plein air painting can be done in any medium – oil paint, acrylic, pastels, etc. – and by any age.  Read the rest of this entry »

Art History: Summit of Mt. Holyoke

Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, 1836

Really want to entrench yourself in local art history?  Then paint at the summit of Mt. Holyoke!  The mountain (not the college!) is the site of Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting “View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm” (commonly known as “The Oxbow”).  This painting depicts the Connecticut River Valley and highlights Cole’s interest in depicting two parts of the American landscape: pastoral farmland and wild forest.

For full lesson, visit

View an interactive image of the painting at  (Can you see where the artist inserted an image of himself painting en plein air in the painting?)

Science of Autumn Leaves

Science of Autumn Leaves

Crisp fall days are a great time for outdoor hands-on science! Using fall-harvested crops and the natural phenomena of autumn as inspiration, families can explore everything from weather prediction to animal tracks. These engaging outdoor science projects can be enjoyed by scientists of all ages, and require few materials – the learning inspired by each project will come naturally thanks to participants’ curiosity and ability to observe! Learn what color leaves different trees produce in the autumn and learn to read your landscape.

As foliage begins to shed its summer green, explorations of leaves and trees become especially engaging. Using leaves found on trees right in a backyard, families can practice leaf and tree identification. Read the rest of this entry »

Think About This: Fall Foliage and a Sense of Place

Fall Phenology Inspires Science-Based Learning in Local Landscape

Autumn Supports Science-Based Learning in Local Landscape

Phenology – the study of seasonal change in plants and animals – helps to illuminate the slow and subtle daily changes undergone in the living things around us. By combining leaf peeping with an awareness of phenology, families can learn about the science behind the colorful fall landscape.

Read more in our post, Autumn Supports Science-Based Learning in Local Landscape.

[Photo credit: (cc) MOTT]


The Art & Science of Autumn Leaves

Autumn Leaf Collecting Supports Art & Science

Fall in Western Mass is when nature literally takes center stage; a destination visitors outside the area flock to because of the gorgeous dynamism of the season. The trees and their changing foliage are great connectors for kids (in a sense they connect to themselves!) to the outdoors and their sense of place. In this change lies a wonderful community-based educational opportunities tied to art and science. Read on to see how you can get your kid hooked on fall by collecting, creating and learning in their own backyards!

Read more in our post, Autumn Leaf Collecting Supports Art & Science.

[Photo credit: (cc) MOTT]


On the Trail: Nature and the Woodland Forests

Exploring Literature, Art & History through Nature Trails

Hiking is an engaging way to explore seasonal patterns with family and friends. It requires very little gear, just walking shoes, a water bottle, and a map! You can also bring a trekking pole to keep your footing steady. Art activities such as sketching, painting, and journaling encourage hikers to thoughtfully observe the macro and micro patterns found in their surroundings. Like Henry David Thoreau on his hike up Mt. Katahdin in Maine, take a moment to reflect on your engagement with the outdoors. Bring a notebook with you to write down your thoughts, ideas, questions, and observations. Prefer sketching to writing? Use your sketchbook and pencil to sketch the different trees, wildflowers, and water features you encounter on your path. Each time you venture outdoors, follow the same format until you have a notebook or sketchbook filled with different places and trails, filling your notebook with nature-based inspiration.

Chesterfield Gorge, West Chesterfield, MA. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Explore nature and the woodland forests through reading and literature. Here are recommended titles and poetry available through your local library:

  • Walking with Thoreau: A Literary Guide to the New England Mountains by William Howarth
  • “The Rivulet” (poem) by William Cullen Bryant
  • The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau
  • Wild Moments by Ted Williams

Excerpt from Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts (Seasons: Sept/Oct), a downloadable bimonthly publication produced by Hilltown Families that sheds light on embedded learning opportunities found in cultural resources that exist within the geography, history, and cultural traditions of Western Massachusetts.




4 Guided Hike Resources in Western MA

Guide Hikes Connect to Nature

In The Maine Woods (1864), Henry David Thoreau writes:

Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we?

Franklin Land Trust. Guyette Farm in Plainfield, MA (c) Sienna WildfieldBefore asking the questions “Who are we? Where are we?” Thoreau already provides his readers with the solution to discovering the answers: “think of our life in nature,” He urges the reader to come into contact with nature – to experience the natural world. This interaction with the outdoors can help us build a deeper sense of self and place – hence Thoreau’s final questions are left unanswered to provoke the reader, as if the author is directly telling you “go outside and discover! See yourself in nature, as a part of it!”  Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Patterns in Nature

Fall Festivals: Local Identity & Culture

Fall Festivals: Local Identity & Culture

Pumpkin games at the Ashfield Fall Festival.(Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield)

Autumn in New England is rich with many traditions filled with the bounty of local farms and the seasonality of our region.  In addition to the robust fall harvest and autumnal flavors that return to our cooking, the fall’s colors, sights and cooler temperatures inspire us to head outdoors and honor the season through nature. Fall is a celebration of all that nourishes us: food, art, and recreation; it’s a season that invites us to be together and enjoy the land we love.

During the autumnal months, communities celebrate the change of season with festivals that bridge agricultural and cultural traditions. These festivities not only celebrate the harvest season but also the cultural traditions that define Western Massachusetts’ unique identity. Fall festivals are a community space that act as an intergenerational gathering place for folks to come together in the spirit of the season and share in the harvest and local traditions. Engage your community and attend a fall festival this season!  It’s a great way to meet your neighbors, new friends and contribute to the preservation of this region’s special character, culture and history. Check out these featured annual fall festivals that happen in Western MA. Read the rest of this entry »

7 Featured Annual Fall Festivals in Western MA

7 Featured Annual Fall Festivals in Western MA

Annual Festival of the Hills
First Weekend in October in Conway, MA
Inspired by the town’s 1915 celebration, “Pageant of Patriotism in honor of Independence Day,” Conway Festival of the Hills took form in 1967 as an annual event, celebrating local talent and culture. Every year, families come to witness a Conway tradition: the skillet toss! Along with the skillet toss there are many activities to behold: a log splitting contest, live music, handmade crafts, parade, pancake breakfast, community dinner, and their most popular event, a book signing with local authors. Conway resident, Holly Hobbie, and other notable authors are known to attend, including Jane Yolen, Heidi Stemple, Natasha Lowe, David Costello, and many others!

Annual Ashfield Fall Festival
Columbus Day Weekend in Ashfield, MA
Since 1969, the Ashfield Fall Festival takes place on Ashfield’s charming main street and throughout the town every Columbus Day weekend, celebrating town culture, artisans, and Ashfield businesses. The annual giant pumpkin and tallest sunflower contests are something to be seen, along with an intergenerational round of pumpkin games! On the town common, carnival games initiated and facilitated by Ashfield youth take place, giving them an opportunity to develop their creative, social, and business skills in a real world application while contributing to their local culture. Admission is free to this two-day event, happening rain or shine.

Westhampton Fall Festival
Mid-Late October in Westhampton, MA
(Sunday, October 14 at 11:45 AM – 7 PM)
The newest festival in the Hilltowns, the Westhampton Fall Festival, began in 2005 in support of community-based learning and a celebration of local culture and civic organizations. Held in the town center, activities often include tours of the local church steeple and Blacksmith Shop Museum, demonstrations of traditional farming and artisan skills, a community supper, bonfire, sing-a-long, and their trademark event, the Great Pumpkin Roll! Call the library for date and time. – 413-527-5386

Read the rest of this entry »

Sense of Place: Community Festivals

Learning through the Lens of Food: Apples

Poetry, Place & Hearth: Apples

Food connects us. It’s an integral part of our cultural identity and is often prepared with the idea of sharing, giving, and enjoying together.  Nothing indicates the beginning of autumn and the fall harvest in Western Massachusetts like the crisp bite of a local apple picked right off the tree, or the sweet taste of a freshly baked apple pie.

Apple season is a beloved time of year in New England with apple orchards preserving our heritage, regional identity, and local landscape. By visiting pick-your-own apple orchards, we meet the farmers that grow our food, learn firsthand how apples grow, and engage in the seasonality of the land and the sense of belonging it instills within us. Traditional recipes, the scenic orchard landscapes, and the representation of apple-picking in literature and art remind us of how the apple has become a rich part of our cultural heritage. Read the rest of this entry »

PYO Apples

Pick Your Own Apples in Western MA

Apples, one of the earliest (and most delicious) signs of fall, have been an important part of New England agriculture for centuries. McIntosh apples are undeniably the most iconic of New England’s apples, and make up over two thirds of the regions apple crop! Macs and countless other delicious and fascinating varieties of apples are grown at orchards across western Massachusetts, and families can enjoy this year’s fantastic apple crop by visiting an orchard to pick or purchase a bushel.

Participate in the tradition of apple-picking and support local agriculture! Check out these orchards and farms in Western Massachusetts for Pick Your Own Apples!  Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry of William Cullen Bryant: The Planting of the Apple-Tree

Poetry of William Cullen Bryant
“The Planting of the Apple-Tree”

Did you know that William Cullen Bryant, a 19th century poet (and Schoolhouse Poet like John Greenleaf Whittier) planted over 800 apple trees on his farm property? While the orchard is no longer active, you can still visit the poet’s homestead in Cummington, MA. A property of The Trustees, The William Cullen Bryant Homestead is open for house tours and other activities in the fall.

While visiting the property, take a look at the scenic Hilltown views of the Westfield River Valley, take a picnic lunch (don’t forget your freshly picked apples!) and read Bryant’s poem “The Planting of an Apple-Tree.

The poem’s various stanzas walk through the passage of time, starting with the planting of the apple tree and ending with the apple tree in its old age, as well as the poet who planted it. The tree is more than just the bearer of fruit, but as Bryant nostalgically mentions, is a tree that represents childhood, home, and identity.  It provides shade on hot days, perfumes the air with the fragrance of springtime, and offers a resting place for playing children in the summer. The apple reminds the poet of New England’s seasonality and the apple-tree represents a unique  American spirit beginning to blossom in the mid-19th century.  Read the rest of this entry »

Culinary & Family History Through the Apple Pie


Where did the saying “Upper crust” come from? According to the U.S. Apple Association, in early America, when times were hard and cooking supplies were scarce, cooks often had to scrimp and save on ingredients. Apple pie was a favorite dish, but to save on lard and flour, only a bottom crust was made. More affluent households could afford both an upper and a lower crust, so those families became known as “the upper crust.”

In 1828 Lydia Maria Child published her book The American Frugal Housewife.  It was a popular book utilized by many 19th century women for its recipes, remedies, and home economics advice.  It also includes a few apple recipes, such as a common recipe for apple pie.  In her 12th edition from 1833 of The American Frugal Housewife, Mrs. Child writes:

Apple Pie
When you make apple pies, stew your apples very little indeed; just strike them through, to make them tender. Some people do not stew them at all, but cut them up in very thin slices, and lay them in the crust.  Pies made in this way may retain more of the spirit of the apple; but I do not think the seasoning mixes in as well.  Put in sugar to your taste; it is impossible to make a precise rule, because apples vary so much in acidity.  A very little salt, and a small piece of butter in each pie, makes them richer.  Clovers and cinnamon are both suitable spice.  Lemon brandy and rose-water are both excellent.  A wine-glass full of each is sufficient for three or four pies.  If your apples lack spirit, grate in a whole lemon. (p.67-68).

Curious to try your hand at apple pie?  Not sure which apples to use?  Ask a farmer!  At many pick your own orchards, or at local farmers’ markets, farmers can usually tell you which apples are best for baking and best for eating. Read the rest of this entry »

How Do Apples Grow?

One-Room Schoolhouse: Connecting to Place through Literature & History

One-Room Schoolhouse: Connecting to Place through Literature & History

In the 1800’s, the traditional academic year was quite different in New England. An element of seasonality was incorporated into how the school term was determined. In rural areas, children who helped out on the family farm attended school during the winter and stayed home to assist with the harvest during the summer and fall. In a one-room schoolhouse, grade levels were often mixed and one teacher was responsible for all of the students’ learning. A man or woman, the school teacher assigned tasks to each student depending on the pupil’s age, grade, and level of advancement.

19th century poet, John Greenleaf Whittier, wrote a poem that describes well a typical country schoolhouse in New England. A Quaker, abolitionist, and native of Haverhill, MA, Whittier is part of a group of poets also known as the schoolroom poets. Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. were considered the first American poets to bring forth an authentic American voice and rival the British poets. They were referred to as the Schoolroom Poets, Fireside Poets, or Household Poets given their popularity and widely read works. One of Whittier’s poems, “In School-days,” read here in this video by Tom O’Bedlam, describes the memory of an old man as he recalls a fellow student and the life lesson she taught him.

When listening to (or reading) this poem, notice the description of the schoolhouse: the warped floors, the schoolmaster’s worn desk, and the battered seats of the students – all characteristics that point to a typical 19th century schoolhouse in New England.  Read the rest of this entry »

Community-Based Education Resources: One-Room Schoolhouses

Community-Based Education Resources: One-Room Schoolhouses in Western MA

Here in Western Massachusetts there are many preserved historic school houses people can visit to learn more about schooling and education before the 20th century.

Print out and take John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “In School-Days,” with you to read as you explore these six historic schoolhouses in Western Massachusetts:  Read the rest of this entry »

Learning through the Lens of One-Room Schoolhouses: Featured Events

3 Community-Based Events Support Interests & Education Through the Lens of One-Room Schoolhouses

An interest in one-room schoolhouses can be a lens into learning about New England history, education, and local industry. Here are three free community-based events coming up this month that supports these intersections of learning! Read the rest of this entry »

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: