If you’ve grown accustomed to the typical tourist New England of village greens and clapboard B&Bs, industrial North Adams (pop. 12,970) may come as something of a shock. Nearly from its inception, North Adams tied its fortunes to major manufacturing plants, churning out printed cotton until textiles went south, then rolling out electronics for everything from the first atomic bomb to the television sets of the 1950s and 1960s. When electronics went solid-state and overseas, North Adams nearly died clinging to the belief that some new assembly line would come fill its sprawling complex of massive Victorian-era mill buildings. Finally, the town’s long-awaited salvation seems to have taken shape, in the form of art. The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as MASS MoCA (413/662-2111, daily late May-mid-Oct., Wed.-Mon. fall, winter, spring, $20 adults) fills some 250,000 square feet of heavy-duty industrial buildings with an ever-changing array of cutting-edge art plus the inevitable gift shop, a nice café, frequent live music, and even its own stylish B&B, The Porches Inn (231 River St., 413/664-0400, $159 and up).
For those who are interested in the olden days, the region’s historic gravy train is faithfully recollected in the Western Gateway Heritage State Park (413/663-6312, daily, free). About a mile southwest of the museum, and occupying the former freight yard of the Boston and Maine Railroad, the park highlights the landmark construction of the 4.75-mile-long Hoosac Tunnel, and North Adams’s front-row seat on the Boston-Great Lakes rail connection that it made possible.
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