Hilltown Families


Local Hauntings Hauntings and history go together because ghosts are often traditionally seen as apparitions that once lived and therefore represent a past not entirely forgotten because it crosses realms and lingers in the present and future. Many historic tales of hauntings are passed down through oral histories of places.  Through word of mouth, legends and ghost stories are passed down from generation to generation and become a part of a town… Read More

Cemetery Tours An experiential way to learn about local history while satisfying an intrigue for ghost stories is to participate in a guided cemetery tour. With some local cemeteries pushing their 400th birthday, Western Massachusetts’ burying grounds are community-based resources filled with primary source artifacts that support an interest in history. Through facilitated tours, often hosted by local historical societies, self-directed teens and lifelong learners can explore local graveyards together in order… Read More

Graveyard Tours Support an Interest in Local History and Cultural Studies Graveyards are filled with stone markers that chronicle a community’s history. Everything from the names of buried people to the style of the stone can tell visitors something about the time period to which a headstone dates back. Photographing and sketching gravestones is a creative way to explore local cemeteries, alongside a self-guided or facilitated tour. Here are three featured guided… Read More

Haunted Building and Tours Support Curiosity, and Learning! Towns across Western Massachusetts have tales of haunted historic buildings, ghost sightings, and supernatural suspicions that lead people to wonder whether a place is haunted or not.  Haunted tales are sometimes rooted in actual events or historical accounts from people of the past, and can add to the mystery and curiosity of a place. In the Berkshires this haunted season, three events support learning… Read More

American writer, Washington Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, doesn’t take place in Massachusetts, but it does show how the idea of a legend or passed down history is often used as a way to tell the story of a haunting.

Called “pompions” by the first European colonists, pumpkins were a food essential to winter survival – and they were grown in many more varieties than they typically are today. The custom of carving pumpkins into Jack O’Lanterns was introduced to American culture by Irish immigrants, influencing our cultural landscape to this day. Traditionally carved from root vegetables, including turnips and potatoes, new hybrids of pumpkins are grown specifically for carving.

There are so many different uses for pumpkins! One of America’s oldest native crops, modern day uses include carving as ornaments for Halloween, prepared as pies, and highlighted as a main attraction in agricultural fairs (largest pumpkin contests) and fall festivals (pumpkin roll & pumpkin games). Needless to say, pumpkins are an integrated part of our fall traditions in Western Massachusetts.

While Colonial Americans did not celebrate Halloween, their interest in pumpkins was food-based rather than a holiday decoration. Support a farm to table interest by incorporating fresh pumpkin into your culinary adventures!

Think About This: Pumpkins and a Sense of Place

In addition to bountiful harvests, autumn brings with a dramatic change in the color scheme of the local landscape. Leaf peeping is a favorite activity of folks from out of state – and for good reason! Make time to get outside as a family this fall and explore the brilliant red, orange, and yellow that the woods have to offer. The best leaf peeping excursions are ones that include not only woods walking but a view from a high place. We recommend…

En plein air is a French expression meaning “in the open air.” It’s used in English to describe a painting style that occurs outdoors. Made possible historically by the manufacturing of paint into tubes, artists no longer had to mix their paints in the studio from chemical compounds, freeing them to travel outdoors for inspiration. When participating in plein air painting, artists become fully engaged with the fall landscape through perspective, composition and, most importantly, color! Watercolors are the most portable and easiest to clean up, but plein air painting can be done in any medium – oil paint, acrylic, pastels, etc. – and by any age.

Really want to entrench yourself in local art history? Then paint at the summit of Mt. Holyoke! The mountain (not the college!) is the site of Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting “View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm” (commonly known as “The Oxbow”). This painting depicts the Connecticut River Valley and highlights Cole’s interest in depicting two parts of the American landscape: pastoral farmland and wild forest.

Crisp fall days are a great time for outdoor hands-on science! Using fall-harvested crops and the natural phenomena of autumn as inspiration, families can explore everything from weather prediction to animal tracks. These engaging outdoor science projects can be enjoyed by scientists of all ages, and require few materials – the learning inspired by each project will come naturally thanks to participants’ curiosity and ability to observe! Learn what color leaves different trees produce in the autumn and learn to read your landscape.

Think about this:

How do you think American landscape painting helped to inspire the early conservation movement in the late 19th century?

What interesting colors stand out to you during fall foliage walks? Which trees’ leaves turn which colors? Make note and learn to read your landscape!

Why do you think the manufacturing of paint into tubes helped shape the way artists such as the impressionists (Monet) and post-impressionists (Van Gogh) paint in the style that they did?

Phenology – the study of seasonal change in plants and animals – helps to illuminate the slow and subtle daily changes undergone in the living things around us. By combining leaf peeping with an awareness of phenology, families can learn about the science behind the colorful fall landscape.

Read more in our post, Autumn Supports Science-Based Learning in Local Landscape.

Fall in Western Mass is when nature literally takes center stage; a destination visitors outside the area flock to because of the gorgeous dynamism of the season. The trees and their changing foliage are great connectors for kids (in a sense they connect to themselves!) to the outdoors and their sense of place. In this change lies a wonderful community-based educational opportunities tied to art and science. Read on to see how you can get your kid hooked on fall by collecting, creating and learning in their own backyards!

Read more in our post, Autumn Leaf Collecting Supports Art & Science.

Exploring Literature, Art & History through Nature Trails Hiking is an engaging way to explore seasonal patterns with family and friends. It requires very little gear, just walking shoes, a water bottle, and a map! You can also bring a trekking pole to keep your footing steady. Art activities such as sketching, painting, and journaling encourage hikers to thoughtfully observe the macro and micro patterns found in their surroundings. Like Henry David… Read More

Guide Hikes Connect to Nature In The Maine Woods (1864), Henry David Thoreau writes: Talk of mysteries! — Think of our life in nature, — daily to be shown matter, to come in contact with it, — rocks, trees, wind on our cheeks! The solid earth! the actual world! the common sense! Contact! Contact! Who are we? where are we? Before asking the questions “Who are we? Where are we?” Thoreau already… Read More


Autumn in New England is rich with many traditions filled with the bounty of local farms and the seasonality of our region. In addition to the robust fall harvest and autumnal flavors that return to our cooking, the fall’s colors, sights and cooler temperatures inspire us to head outdoors and honor the season through nature. Fall is a celebration of all that nourishes us: food, art, and recreation; it’s a season that invites us to be together and enjoy the land we love.

During the autumnal months, communities celebrate the change of season with festivals that bridge agricultural and cultural traditions. These festivities not only celebrate the harvest season but also the cultural traditions that define Western Massachusetts’ unique identity.

Fall festivals are a community space that act as an intergenerational gathering place for folks to come together in the spirit of the season and share in the harvest and local traditions. Engage your community and attend a fall festival this season! It’s a great way to meet your neighbors, new friends and contribute to the preservation of this region’s special character, culture and history.

Food connects us. It’s an integral part of our cultural identity and is often prepared with the idea of sharing, giving, and enjoying together. Nothing indicates the beginning of autumn and the fall harvest in Western Massachusetts like the crisp bite of a local apple picked right off the tree, or the sweet taste of a freshly baked apple pie. Traditional recipes, the scenic orchard landscapes, and the representation of apple-picking in literature and art remind us of how the apple has become a rich part of our cultural heritage.

Participate in the tradition of apple-picking and support local agriculture! Check out these orchards and farms in Western Massachusetts for Pick Your Own Apples!

Poetry of William Cullen Bryant “The Planting of the Apple-Tree” Did you know that William Cullen Bryant, a 19th century poet (and Schoolhouse Poet like John Greenleaf Whittier) planted over 800 apple trees on his farm property? While the orchard is no longer active, you can still visit the poet’s homestead in Cummington, MA. A property of The Trustees, The William Cullen Bryant Homestead is open for house tours and other activities… Read More

What family recipes do you still make that have been passed down generation after generation? Can you recall and share the history of their origin with family and friends?

In the 1800’s, the traditional academic year was quite different in New England than modern day education. An element of seasonality was incorporated into how the school term was determined. 19th century poet John Greenleaf Whittier, part of a group of poets also known as the schoolroom poets, wrote a poem that describes well a typical country schoolhouse in New England. One of Whittier’s poems, “In School-days,” describes the memory of an old man as he recalls a fellow student and the life lesson she taught him…

Here in Western Massachusetts there are many preserved historic school houses people can visit to learn more about schooling and education before the 20th century. Here are six historic schoolhouses to explore in Western Massachusetts…

An interest in one-room schoolhouses can be a lens into learning about New England history, education, and local industry. Here are three free community-based events coming up this month that supports these intersections of learning!

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