Walk Williamstown: Cultural District

by Joan Shainman Zegras

Click here to download a PDF of the tour.

This walking tour has jumping off points; 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. On either side of the street, there are boutiques like Nature’s Closet (left) for all things Patagonia and North Face, Chapter Two Books featuring lightly used books of all kinds, or Goff’s and the Williams Shop (left) for purple, gold and clothing sporting cows (Williams Mascot).


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 own 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. Tony’s Sombrero, Mexican (left), The Purple Pub (left), Blue Mango (left) and Spice Root, Indian (left), Pera, Middle Eastern (right), The Spring Street Market & Cafe (right) and Papa Charlie’s (right).


On the right side of the street, The Library Clothing Co. carries high end and vintage wear. The MASS MoCA satellite shop celebrates art and ingenuity, Mad Macs offers computer retail and repairs in a local business, Goodman Jewelers, The Print Shop, games at the Purple Dragon and gifts with humor and elan 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 theater that shows a range of independent, foreign and classic films is open 363 days a year. 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. Part of the lure of Williamstown is the way the Williams College buildings are seamlessly integrated. On the right as you head up the hill (2 minutes) is the older part of the Williams athletic complex. The buildings are vintage gray granite but rather than rip them down in favor of boring predictable facilities, the college adapts and reuses space in beautiful ways. They select world-class architects for all building projects even the renovations. Suddenly, like being inserted into a scary movie, the piercing Eyes by Louise Bourgeois (American sculptor 1911-2010) enter the landscape. The Eyes are placed strategically making this a visually compelling work from any point. Commissioned in 2001 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Eyes make a special walkway to the Museum. It is definitely worth taking a break or planning a return visit to WCMA. The museum housesmre than 14,000 works that span the history of art, and one of its strengths is American Art from the late 18th century through the present. The museum owns the largest collection of works by brothers Charles and Maurice Prendergast. WCMA also has an excellent collection of photography, prints, and Indian paintings. Since it is primarily a teaching institution, the special exhibits are scholarly, well thought out and compelling. Visitors are always welcome for the gallery tours and other programs.


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 the Williams College web site for hours of operation and the chance to see an awe-inspiring show of the night sky.


Cross the street, in the designated crosswalk (*STOP-LOOK-WAVE – traffic should stop) and head towards the new library complex. On the way, the Thompson Memorial Chapel is slightly to the left. It is a non-denominational refuge for all and popular for alumni weddings. Completed in 1904, the chapel is modeled after one in England. A studio in Birmingham, England, produced the stained glass. 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 Library. It is a wonderful conversion and use of space and the atrium level (5th floor) is worth a picture or two of the panoramic view of the purple mountains.According to the college, The Sawyer Library is a nexus for collaborative learning, social interaction, and intellectual engagement. 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. The new section has group study spaces, a videoconference area, a recording studio and exhibition capability. Make sure to pass by the reading room and the Zhan Wang sculpture Scholar Rocks, a recent gift to the college. The rocks are an ancient Chinese tradition. Speaking of rare, before leaving, check out the Chapin Library. They have 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 to name just a few treasures.


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. Again, it is interesting to note how well the architect of the Bernhard Music Building did in paying court to the classical building while creating a contemporary space.


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 fa?ade), 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 Tony award winning 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. This may be apocryphal (it does mention this on the sign in front) but the house was built entirely with antique tools and constructed using the same techniques as in the 1700?s. 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 Milne Public Library, the town’s public library, where you can find public computers to use, restrooms, along with books and a variety of quiet reading areas to relax.


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 (32 Renoirs in one room), silver, china and sculpture. The Manton Research Center, and the Stone Hill Center (home of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center), complete the complex. Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Tadao Ando designed the Stone Hill Center 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. Be careful, because there is no sidewalk, but it is not a busy street. 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 (halfway up the street on the East side).

When the ice cream gives you a second wind, head east to find the second half of Williamstown’s downtown.

The Water Street Walk

This street runs parallel to Spring Street, is on the upswing and has good restaurants, retail, galleries and potential living space for those who fall in love with Williamstown.

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. (There are other sports fields as well.) Just after the Athletic Complex, at the end of Meacham Street is Taconic Golf course, consistently rated the best in New England. It is semi-private, but enthusiasts may reserve tee times provided the course isn’t booked. Playing a round is well worth it. The views are gorgeous and the course challenging. It was re-built and restored by the famous designer Gil Hanse in 2009.

1. At Water Street take a right. Water Street Grill offers burgers, steak and comfort food. Toonerville Trolley CDs and Records is between the two restaurants, and the passionate owner focuses on rare recordings and imports.

2. Across from Toonerville, 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, The Mountain Goat Artisan Gallery, and Hot Tomatoes Pizza will beckon, beyond Galerie Reynard, the vivid orange Shinto gate to Intouch Massage and Day Spa, Rootz salon, Berkshire Fitness Co. and Casa Lina. In the summer months, the Casa Lina’s outdoor patio can be a good place to spot celebrities from WTF after a performance.

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 (left). 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. See previous Clark notes on how to return via the short cut through the Knolls.