Much of the Western Massachusetts Scenic Byways network originated hundreds of years ago as Native American footpaths along river valleys and hillsides. European settlers expanded many of the the paths into stagecoach routes. The byways connected village to town as farms, tanneries and paper mills traded their goods, and destinations like Mount Holyoke’s Summit House attracted tourists beginning in the 19th century.
It was the advent of the automobile and the creation of state roads that had the greatest impact on the region. Some towns dwindled as local industries consolidated manufacturing in larger, far-away hubs. Other towns saw tourism boom as inns and motels, gift shops and restaurants popped up to cater to the newly motoring middle class.
The Jacob’s Ladder Trail Scenic Byway was the country’s first-ever auto road over a mountain range, and its completion in 1910 was celebrated by a crowd of as many as 4,000 people. A writer for the Lee Valley Gleaner heralded it as a “unifying of the state by surmounting physical obstacles.” Tourist inns and gift shops sprung up at the Morey Hill summit and all along the trail.
The Mohawk Trail Scenic Byway opened just a few years later in 1914, the first Massachusetts road to be designed and constructed as a scenic route. Native American–themed souvenir shops, gas stations and overnight cabins soon followed and flourished through the Great Depression. Until 1930, snow was hand-shoveled and the road could take weeks to clear—imagine that the next time you descend toward the famous hairpin turn in Clarksburg!
Today there are seven state-designated scenic byways in western Massachusetts, all part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Scenic Byways Program. Of these byways, the Connecticut River Scenic Byway also has the distinction of being a National Scenic Byway. The collaborative, grassroots efforts essential to this program help to recognize, preserve and enhance the archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic resources that are so important to these roadways.
Taking the time to slow down and travel the scenic byway network will reward you with unexpected surprises at every turn and in every season, from dining atop Mount Greylock at Bascom Lodge, to taking Cidermaking 101 at Franklin County CiderDays, to cooling off at a swimming hole in one of the state forests along the Mohawk Trail. Explore the map and plan an itinerary, or choose a byway and see what you find.
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