Looking for the perfect way to experience many of Massachsuetts' famous historical sites and gorgeous landscapes? Well you've found it! From the Revolutionary battlefields of Lexington and Concord to the majestic Berkshires, Massachusetts Route 2 is one of the Commonwealth's most historic and scenic roadways. At just about three hours from beginning to end, a self-drive tour of Route 2 is the perfect way to experience many of Massachusetts' famous historical sites and gorgeous natural landscapes.
Massachusetts Route 2:
A Historic Self-Drive Tour
From the Revolutionary battlefields of Lexington and Concord to the majestic Berkshires, Massachusetts Route 2 is one of the Commonwealth’s most historic and scenic roadways. At just about three hours from beginning to end, a self-drive tour of Route 2 is the perfect way to experience many of Massachusetts’ famous historical sites and gorgeous natural landscapes.
Begin your self-drive tour of Route 2 in Lexington. Follow Route 4/225 westbound from exit 56, toward the town center. Home to an eclectic collection of shops and restaurants, in the heart of downtown Lexington you’ll find the Lexington Battle Green, a large grassy area where the first battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Lexington, took place on April 19, 1775. At the head of the Battle Green you’ll see the famous statue of the Lexington Minuteman. Erected in 1900, the statue decorates the back of the Massachusetts state quarter. It bears the likeness of Captain John Parker, a local farmer who fought in the infamous battle.
Directly across from the Battle Green you will find the Buckman Tavern, the headquarters of the Lexington Militia. The tavern’s front door still bears the scars of musket balls fired that April morning. Other historic houses in Lexington also include the Munroe Tavern, which served as British Brigadier General Earl Percy’s headquarters, along with his 1,000 reinforcements, during the Battle of Lexington. The Hancock-Clarke House, the former home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, is the actual place where Paul Revere relayed the news that the British militia were coming to John Hancock and Samuel Adams.
Visitors interested in seeing more of Lexington’s sights, including its historic homes, will want to stop in at the Lexington Historical Society headquarters at 13 Depot Square.
Concord and Lincoln
From Lexington, drive west along Route 2 and take the exit for I-95 northbound. Get off at exit 30B, Route 2A west, and drive about a mile to the Minute Man National Historical Park Visitor Center, 250 North Great Road, Lincoln. At the visitor center you can pick up information on all of the park’s nearby historic attractions, including the North Bridge. Located just outside of Concord center, the bridge was the location of the famous “shot heard ‘round the world,” on April 19, 1775, when American militia fired on British soldiers. The bridge is also the site of sculptor Daniel Chester French’s famous Minute Man statue.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs a bit, take a walk along the park’s Battle Road Trail, a nearly 5-mile-long footpath that connects many of Minute Man’s historic sites including the spot where Paul Revere was captured by the British and the Hartwell Tavern Historical Area, an authentic 18th century farm and tavern that played an important role in the colonial community.
No visit to Concord would be complete without a stop at Walden Pond State Reservation, located just off of Route 2. The inspiration for Henry David Thoreau’s novel “Walden,” visitors can hike to the spot where the writer’s cabin once stood, as well as see a full-scale reproduction of his cabin, located near the Thoreau Society Shop which sells a variety of books and unique gifts.
Another famous literary figure from Concord is Louisa May Alcott, author of “Little Women,” whose home, Orchard House, is open to visitors daily. The house (399 Lexington Road) is the actual location where “Little Women” was set. Visitors can take a tour with a costumed guide, see Louisa’s writing desk and other original furnishings used by the Alcotts.
American history buffs will not want to miss the Concord Museum (200 Lexington Road), home to Paul Revere’s famous lantern, Thoreau’s writing desk and hundreds of other pieces of priceless Americana.
Take exit 38A off of Route and you’ll reach the Fruitlands Museum in the town of Harvard, a museum and once home to the Alcott Utopian Community. Established in 1844, Bronson Alcott (father of “Little Women” author Louisa May Alcott) created an independent farming environment on 90 acres of land. Today the Fruitlands Museum is home to Native American and Shaker artifacts and a collection of Hudson River School paintings. The Alcotts’ house, still on the property, pays tribute to the establishment of this historic landmark.
In the town of Shirley, take exit 35 off Route 2 to visit the Shaker Village Community. The Shaker Community was located on both sides of Route 2 in Shirley and Lancaster from 1793 to 1914. The Shakers, a community established by Mother Ann Lee, were known as the female embodiment of the Christ spirit and worshiped with dance, singing and speaking in tongues. At one time the community was home to a population of 150 residents and had 26 buildings, including a meetinghouse that still stands today. Now a State prison, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places. The Shirley Historical Museum conducts guided tours of the 13 remaining Shaker buildings.
Take exit 38B to the town of Lancaster to see the Charles Bulfinch Church. The oldest town in Central Massachusetts, Lancaster was named after town founder John Prescott’s hometown in England. It is historically called the “mothertown” because it originally included its now surrounding municipalities: Harvard, Stow, Bolton, Hudson, Marlborough, Leominster, Clinton, Bolton and Berlin. The Charles Bulfinch Church, located in the center of town, was designed by the architect of the same name, who also designed the State House in Boston.
Off of exit 25 you’ll come to Route 140 and Wachusett Mountain’s Redemption Rock in the town of Princeton. The Nipmuc Indians once inhabited the mountain. Redemption Rock was the meeting place of the rescue party that negotiated freedom for Mary Rowlands from Lancaster, who was taken captive by the Nipmucs for 11 weeks during the King Phillips War.
The town center of Petersham, exit 17 off of Route 2, was the site of the second Shay’s Rebellion battle, named after Daniel Shay, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. With financial unrest developing in the farming communities at the end of the Revolution, Shay organized a group of rebels. Battles occurred all over Central and Western Massachusetts, including the famous “surprise” attack on Petersham Common.
Also in Petersham, you’ll find the famous Quabbin Reservoir. In 1893 it was determined that Boston’s drinking water supply was not keeping up with the increasing population. The decision to flood the Swift River Valley, including five towns, to create the Quabbin Reservoir, was made in the early 1900s, with Petersham receiving the majority of residents from the flooded-out town of Dana. Explore roads and remnants of cellar holes along numerous trails off Route 122 in Petersham that lead visitors to the water’s edge.
Set along Route 2, you’ll pass the Erving Paper Mill on your way to the western part of the state. The mill has been in business for over 100 years. The original mill building was constructed near Route 2 in 1910. It is a typical New England mill operation whose paper products include napkins, towels, table cloths and tissue wrapping paper. As early as 1952, Erving used recycled waste paper as raw material in production. They once had mills in several locations, including Orange and Baldwinville, Mass., Brattleboro, Vt. and Ohio, Ga. The company has survived floods, war times and economic recessions.
Six and one half miles west of Erving, take a right turn onto Route 63. After 2 miles turn right into the Northfield Mountain Hydroelectric Plant and Recreation Center.
When the Northfield Mountain pumped-storage hydroelectric plant went into commercial service in 1972, it was the largest facility of its kind in the world. It was built entirely underground and does not depend upon the Connecticut River for operation. As much as 5.6 billion gallons of water is stored in the upper reservoir on Northfield Mountain. At times of high electric demand, it is released down a 1,100-foot-long pressure shaft to power a turbine generator, then continues to the lower reservoir, a 20-mile stretch of the Connecticut River. The power from this plant is quickly available in emergencies, or to meet the peak power requirements of over 1.7 million customers.
Owners of the hydroelectric plant operate and maintain recreational facilities at the site. Picnic facilities, river boat tours, camping, canoeing, hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on 25 miles of trails are open to the public.
Drive back to Route 2 and continue westward. In .7 miles you’ll come to the structurally beautiful French King Bridge. This bridge spans the Connecticut River, connecting the towns of Erving and Gill. It was built by the same firm that erected the George Washington Bridge in New York City and the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. More spectacular than the bridge, is the view from it. Park on the west side of the river and walk back out on the bridge.
Upriver from the bridge you’ll see the French King Rock, for which the stretch of Route 2 and bridge were named. According to legend, a party of Indians and French came down the river on a scouting expedition during the French and Indian War. They reached the rock, which was at the beginning of a dangerous rapid. Being nightfall, they did not attempt the rapids but instead camped on the west bank of the stream. In those days the rock probably stood 18 feet out of water. The commanding French officer was so impressed by the rock, he took formal possession of it in the name of King Louis XIV.
Travel west on Route 2 for another 3.3 miles. You’ll arrive at the Gill-Montague Bridge crossing the Connecticut River again into Turners Falls. Before crossing you’ll come to the William Turner Memorial.
The Battle of Turner’s Falls, also known as the Peskeompscut Massacre, was fought on May 19, 1676, during King Philip’s War, in present-day Gill. A band of English colonists under the command of Captain William Turner fell upon the poorly guarded Indian village of Peskeompscut near the Great Falls at dawn, slaughtering many of its inhabitants. Many of the warriors in the camp escaped. They regrouped with those from
Cross the bridge over Turners Falls (Great Falls) and dam. This is the entrance to the village of Turners Falls. Visit the Great Falls Discovery Center, a right turn at the end of the bridge. Drive 2.5 miles to the next bridge, cross it and turn right on to Mountain Road in Greenfield and in less than a mile (.8) you’ll find the entrance to the Poet’s Seat Tower. It is a sandstone tower that offers a great view of the valley west of the Connecticut River
Pocumtuck Indians were the original inhabitants of the Greenfield area. The English colonized the area in 1686 as part of Deerfield. In 1753 Greenfield was set off from Deerfield and incorporated as a separate town, named for the Green River.
After leaving the Poet’s Seat continue on Mountain Road until you get to Maple Street, the second left turn. Follow Maple Street to Routes 5&10 (Federal St.), a distance of .7 miles. Take a left on Federal Street and stay on Routes 5&10, traveling into Deerfield to Main Street (3.1 miles). Take a right turn, then an immediate left turn onto Old Main Street and you’ll arrive at Historic Deerfield (.5 miles).
Deerfield was one New England’s frontier villages, subjected to several attacks by the French, Mohawk and Abenaki Indians in three wars from the 1670s to the mid-1700s. In peaceful times, the village prospered by farming the rich land of the Connecticut River valley.
Today a part of Deerfield, known as Historic Deerfield, is preserved as a living museum of 11 historic houses. Special exhibitions, family activities, workshops and seminars on historic subjects are offered year round.
At 10 Memorial St., the second left off of Old Main Street, is the Memorial Hall Museum, located in the original Deerfield Academy building. This is one of the oldest museums in New England. They have a fine collection of local antiquities that includes paintings, furniture, crafts and clothing.
The Battle of Bloody Brook was fought on September 12, 1675 between English colonial militia and a band of Indians led by the Nipmuc sachem Muttawmp. The Indians ambushed the colonists escorting a train of wagons carrying the harvest from Deerfield to Hadley. They killed at least 40 militia men and 17 teamsters out of a company that included 79 militia. A marble obelisk marks the location on North Main Street in South Deerfield
Return to Route 2 and continue west.
Downtown you’ll find an elegant, green-domed library at the end of Main Street, built by the generosity of the town’s native son, Marshall Field of Chicago department store fame.
The Bridge of Flowers started out as a trolley bridge in 1908, but the railway went out of business in 1928. In 1929, funds were raised to transform the abandoned bridge into a bridge of flowers. Its upkeep still depends on donations from the public and the work of the volunteers. Every year, visitors from around the world stroll across the bridge to enjoy the beauty of this unusual garden.
Cross the automobile bridge, travel down Bridge Street and take the first right down Greenfield Avenue to the end to see the Glacial Potholes, geological wonders found along the Deerfield River, at the base of Salmon Falls. These are one of the largest collections of natural potholes in the world, and the site of the largest pothole on record. Formed as the glaciers receded, 50 separate “pools,” ranging from 6-inches to 39-feet in diameter, were formed.
From Bridge Street, return to Route 2 by re-crossing the bridge. Travel west, parallel to the Deerfield River, through the town of Charlemont. You will reach the Mohawk Park after 10.6 miles.
The “Hail to the Sunrise” statue in Mohawk Park visible from Route 2. It was sculpted by New York City artist, Joseph Pollia, who also sculpted the Peace Memorial in Orange, Mass. The plaque on the sculpture says it all: In Memory of the Mohawk Indian.
The Mohawks of the Five Nations began to settle in New York State in 1590. And for 90 Great Suns they fought the New England tribes.
The New York Mohawks that travelled this trail were friendly to the white settlers.
Erected by the Tribes and Councils of the
Improved Order of Red Men October 1, 1932”
This town was incorporated the year when President Thomas Jefferson proposed purchasing the territory of Florida from Spain. His proposal wasn’t adopted, but the town adopted the territory’s name. The Mohawk Trail section of Route 2 reaches its highest elevation in this town at the Whitcomb Summit (2,173 ft.). To the east of the summit is the Elk Memorial, sculpted by Eli Harvey and dedicated in 1923 as a memorial to the members of the Order of Elks who died in World War I.
The Hoosac Tunnel runs 1000 ft. below the roadway. It was finished in 1873, and 195 men lost their lives during its construction. Nitro-glycerine was developed here as an explosive used to break through the rock. Compressed air drills were first used here. It held the record of the world’s longest tunnel in for a time, measuring 4 3/4 miles.
After you’ve completed the famous Hairpin Turn on Route 2, you’ll arrive at North Adams, the smallest city in the Commonwealth. Once part of the town of Adams, it was originally named after Samuel Adams, an important leader in the American Revolution and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Visit Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art), American’s largest contemporary art museum, which can be seen from Route 2 near the junction of Route 8.
The North Adams Iron Co. smelted pig iron from Furnace Hill and the Paul Farm in the Notch and shipped it to a foundry in Troy, N.Y., to be used in making plates for the turret of the USS Monitor, the Union ironclad. The Monument to the Battle of the Merrimack and Monitor is on West Main Street near the intersection of Route 2. It was dedicated Dec. 10, 1951, because of the efforts of Clara Beckley, granddaughter of John Beckley of Canaan Conn., owner of the iron company in the 1850s and 1860s.
Visit the Western Gateway Heritage Park where there is both the North Adams Historical Society Museum and the park’s visitor center and exhibit that highlights the railroad and industrial heritage of the city and the construction of the Hoosac Tunnel.
Continuing on Route 2 for 1.4 miles, on the right is a Friendly’s Restaurant and Price Chopper Market. In the parking lot there is a field stone chimney where you’ll find the site of Fort Massachusetts, the last of a series of four forts built in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1745 to guard against the French from Canada and their allies the Abenaki.
Drive west on Route 2 for 3.5 miles to the campus of Williams College.
In July 1755, Colonel Ephraim Williams, Jr., en route with his regiment of militia to join the French and Indians at Lake George, was long enough in Albany to write his last will and testament. He bequeathed his estate for the founding and support of a free school, provided the township was named in his honor. By 1793 the Commonwealth has granted a charter to Williams College. It was a men’s college until 1970 when it began accepting women.
The school has graduated a number of notable figures including U.S. President James Garfield, Stephen Sondheim, Elia Kazan, Jay McInerney, Stacy Schiff, George Steinbrenner, Fay Vincent, Richard Helms, Jeb Stuart Magruder and William Bennett.
Take a right turn after the First Congregational Church onto the college campus. Follow the road through the campus. At the first intersection, under the trees you’ll find the Haystack Monument. It was erected in 1867 to commemorate an event that occurred in 1806 when five Williams College students met at a prayer meeting in an open meadow, were caught in a thunderstorm and took cover under a haystack. From this meeting they committed themselves to missionary work.
Original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – together with George Washington’s personal copy of The Federalist (1788), and the September 1776 British reply to the Declaration – are on display in the Williams College Museum of Art at 15 Lawrence Drive in Williamstown. Their permanent home is the Chapin Library on the Williams College campus which is has been temporarily displaced by the renovations of Stetson Hall in 2012.