Walk Williamstown: Cultural District

By Joan Shainman Zegras

This walking tour has multiple jumping-off points so that participants can abbreviate it or choose to walk the whole tour. You may return to your home base at several junctures and pick up the trail the next day.

The Spring Street, Williams College Campus, Main Street
and the Clark Art Institute Loop


Walk north on Spring Street from The Williams Inn. On either side of the street, there are boutiques, bookstores, galleries, museum shops, and shops for Williams College apparel and accessories.


Left on Spring Street is the Greylock Gallery showcasing a variety of traditional and contemporary art from both emerging and established artists, representing Williamstown’s John MacDonald among others.

Further down, the Williams Bookstore, run by Follett, offers new fiction and nonfiction and hosts readings and events.

Among the retail establishments, there is every type of cuisine from Mexican at Tony’s Sombrero, pub grub at The Purple Pub, Japanese and Thai dishes at Blue Mango, Indian  at Spice Root, Middle Eastern at Pera, sandwiches, salads, and baked goods at both The Spring Street Market & Cafe and Pappa Charlie’s.


On the right side of the street, the MASS MoCA satellite shop celebrates art and ingenuity, Goodman Jewelers, The Print Shop, games at the Purple Dragon, and gifts for all ages at Where’d You Get That!?.

WilliNet Community Television is a local resource. They will lend cameras and teach media skills to community residents. On a regular basis, they produce programs on culture, municipal business and local events.

Images Cinema, a non-profit community movie theatre that shows a range of independent, foreign and classic films year-round. Images is dedicated to the exploration of film as an art form, a source of entertainment and an educational tool.


At the top of the street, hang a right. Buildings of the Williams College campus are seamlessly integrated into the town. Up the hill here is the older part of the Williams athletic complex. The buildings are vintage gray granite and the college has adapted and reused these older buildings in thoughtful ways. As you walk, you will encounter the surprising Eyes by Louise Bourgeois (American sculptor 1911-2010). The Eyes are placed strategically making this a visually compelling work from any viewpoint and create a special walkway to the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). WCMA is worth a stop now or a return visit. 


After WCMA, head right and follow the sidewalk to Hopkins Observatory, home of the famous Milham Planetarium, the oldest in America. The building was completed in 1838 (fully restored in 1977). Prior to opening, Professor Hopkins traveled to England to source an astronomical apparatus. The Clark Refractor, a state-of-the-art, seven-inch telescope, arrived in 1852. Check here for information about hours of operation and the chance to see a showing of the night sky.


Cross the street and head towards the new library complex. On the way, the Thompson Memorial Chapel is slightly to the left. It is a non-denominational retreat and popular for alumni weddings. Completed in 1904, the chapel is modeled after one in England. The late H. Lee Hirsche, a Williams College professor and artist, designed and made the large cross.


On the right is Hopkins Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus and the current home of the college administration. It was named for Mark Hopkins, Williams Class of 1824 and President of the college 1836-1872. The North facade is in the Romanesque Style. The building was renovated and the addition was built in 1988.


Enter the Sawyer Library (John E. Sawyer, class of 1939, President of Williams College 1961-1973) through the main entrance on the west side. As with many other places on campus, the college chose to incorporate the stately architecture of the Chapin Library into the new, open Sawyer Library. The atrium level (5th floor) is worth a picture or two of the panoramic view of the purple mountains. Home to the humanities and social sciences collections, the library juxtaposes the oldest and rarest of books with state-of-the-art technology and digital collections. This new research and academic facility includes historic Stetson, the College Archives, Chapin Library, and the Center for Educational Technology. Make sure to pass by the reading room and the Zhan Wang sculpture Scholar Rocks, a recent gift to the college. Before leaving Sawyer, check out the Chapin Library,  where there is a copy of the founding documents of the United States of America, a collection of Audubon’s Birds of America and Joseph Conrad’s papers.


Exiting the library from the Chapin side, head right and follow the sidewalk to the Bernhard Music building.


Head west to another Chapin Building, Chapin Hall. It is attached to the music department and plays host to the Berkshire Symphony and other important college events. 


Walk west for another 5 minutes on Main Street. On the way take note of the stately white, Sloan House (in 1801 Samuel Sloan built the ornamental facade), home of Williams College presidents. It was purchased in 1858 for $6,000 dollars by a distant relative of Ephraim Williams (founder of Williams College).


Keep walking west for another 600 yards to the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. This is an almost entirely new building and bears no resemblance to the old Adams Memorial Theatre. The Theatre now includes spaces for the dance studio, black box theatre, costume shop, class and rehearsal rooms. Note the spectacular kinetic sculpture by the late George Rickey gracing the front of the ’62 Center. Besides the college productions, the theater is home to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, a training ground and a source of some of the best talent in the American Theater. The company is in residence at the end of June through August. Catch a performance before it heads to Broadway.


Continue west for about 5 minutes. Field Park is in the center of the roundabout across from the Williams Inn and where the 1753 house, a replica in size and layout of settlers home. It was originally constructed by townspeople in 1953 to commemorate a Bicentennial year. The house was built entirely with antique tools and constructed using the same techniques as in the 1700s. It was intended as a temporary exhibit but has become a permanent fixture in the fabric of Williamstown (formerly, West Hoosac, settled in 1753).


Cross the street, cutting through Field Park past the 1753 House to the David and Joyce Milne Public Library, the town’s public library.


On the corner is the grand 1885 old English style building designed by Sanford White, first a fraternity house, now the home of the Center for Development Economics, a graduate program that brings students from developing countries around the world.


Turn right heading south on South Street (about a half mile), The Clark Art Institute. Opened in 1955, with an impressive collection of paintings, silver, china and sculpture. The Manton Research Center, and the Lunder Center at Stone Hill (home of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center), complete the complex. Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Tadao Ando designed the Lunder Center at Stone Hill and the expansive new visitors center. With great fanfare, the entirely new campus opened July 4th 2014. A visit to the Clark can last an entire day especially if you relax by the reflecting pool or hike the nature trails.


To return to the bottom of Spring Street take the first right on South Street into the Knolls. Follow the road and take a left heading down the hill. At the corner of Hoxsey and Walden streets, right and follow Walden back to the parking area. At this point, you have walked enough to treat yourself to an ice cream cone at Lickety Split (in a trailer adjacent to the parking area).


The Water Street Walk

This street runs parallel to Spring Street and has good restaurants, recreation and fitness sites, plus retail and living spaces.

As you head east down Latham Street toward Water Street (about 5 minutes), the new Williams College Farley/Lamb football and lacrosse field is to the right. Just after the Athletic Complex, at the end of Meacham Street is Taconic Golf Course. It is semi-private, but enthusiasts may reserve tee times provided the course isn’t booked. The views are gorgeous and the course challenging. It was re-built and restored by the designer Gil Hanse in 2009.

1. At Water Street take a right. Water Street Grill offers traditional American comfort foods and craft beers on tap. Next door, you’ll find LOCAL Consignment and Boutique, an upscale consignment shop with women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories.

2. Across from LOCAL, the reclamation project of what was formerly a complex of mills and later the Cornish Wire Factory has become a modern apartment building called Cable Mills. Built of native red brick, the main structure has turned into rentals and lofts. It sits near to most of the action in town including the Taconic Golf Course across the street with far-reaching views of the mountains and the Green River.

3. Heading north up Water Street, Hot Tomatoes Pizza beckons with a back bar and outdoor seating alongside the river. Beyond Hot Tomatoes, you will encounter the vivid orange Shinto gate to Intouch Massage and Day Spa, Rootz Hair Studio, Berkshire Fitness Co. and Casa Lina.

If the entire walk seems too ambitious, here are a couple of suggested edits.

Option B: about a mile and a quarter

At the parking lot adjacent to Tunnel City, head to Water Street. At the top of Water, walk west, along route 2 to the Hopkins Observatory, WCMA and Eyes. Cross the street and take in the Williams College Library, Bernhard Music building and Chapin Hall. Head back across to Spring Street and enjoy all that it has to offer.

Option C: about two miles

Walk north on Spring Street and head west. On the right is a sweeping view of Chapin Hall. In another quarter mile, passing a couple of noteworthy college buildings, there is the 62 Center for Theatre and Dance and the spectacular George Rickey kinetic sculpture. At Field Park, look west and enjoy the 1753 House. Take a left of South Street and walk a half-mile to The Clark Art Institute.