Great Barrington is a town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 7,104 at the 2010 census. Both a summer resort and home to Ski Butternut, Great Barrington includes the villages of Van Deusenville and Housatonic. It is the birthplace of W. E. B. Du Bois. In 2012, Smithsonian magazine ranked Great Barrington #1 in its list of "The 20 Best Small Towns in America".
Great Barrington today is a vibrant small town acting as the hub for "South County". The town and its surroundings support a year-round population as well as second homes. Great Barrington is home to over 55 restaurants catering to a wide spectrum. The recently renovated Mahaiwe Theater has become a center for year-round music and cultural events.
Early history: 1724–1995
On April 25, 1724 Captain John Ashley of Westfield, Massachusetts bought on behalf of himself and a committee of the Massachusetts General Court the land that became the towns of Great Barrington, Sheffield, Egremont, Alford, Mount Washington, and Boston Corner for £460, three barrels of "sider," and thirty quarts of rum from 21 Native American sachems headed by Conkepot Poneyote. The Konkapot River in southwestern Massachusetts is named after him.
The village was first settled by colonists in 1726 and from 1742–1761 was the north parish of Sheffield. In 1761, it was officially incorporated as Great Barrington, named after the village of Great Barrington in Gloucestershire, England.
In the summer of 1774, 1,500 men shut down the Berkshire County Court in response to British oppression. In the winter of 1776, Henry Knox passed through Great Barrington while transporting the cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to the Siege of Boston. Due to his time in the area, he established an agricultural interest in the area of Great Barrington.
With the arrival of the railroad in the late 19th century, Great Barrington developed as a Gilded Age resort community for those seeking relief from the heat and pollution of cities. Wealthy families built grand homes called Berkshire Cottages here, as others would in Lenox and Stockbridge. Among the earliest estates was that built by New York City banker, industrialist and art patron David Leavitt, who built an elaborate estate, and was soon followed by those of his sons nearby. Leavitt was instrumental in the development of the local Housatonic Railroad, serving as its president.
Later estates included Searles Castle, commissioned in 1888 by the widow of Mark Hopkins together with her second husband, Edward Francis Searles, and "Brookside", built for William Hall Walker. In 1895, Colonel William L. Brown, part owner of the New York Daily News, presented Great Barrington with a statue of a newsboy, now a landmark on the western edge of town.
In March 1886, the water mill at Great Barrington was the site of an experiment that first used water to drive an alternating current generator. A transformer was used to increase the voltage, and the current was transmitted over a mile away to the nearest town to power street lights.
W. E. B. Du Bois
Great Barrington is the birthplace of W. E. B. Du Bois, an African-American academic and civil rights activist, most known for being one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909. Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868, at a house later replaced by present-day Route 23 would run. As a child, Du Bois attended the Congregational Church. Many of these church members donated the funds needed for Du Bois to attend college. Du Bois lived in the town until he was seventeen. The W.E.B. Du Bois Boyhood Homesite has interpretive trails and a walking tour.
Arlo Guthrie's song "Alice's Restaurant," which runs for 18½ minutes, is based on true-life events of the late-20th century in Great Barrington and the adjoining towns of Stockbridge and Lee. The Old Trinity Church, which was the home of Ray and Alice Brock at the time of these incidents, and is now owned by Guthrie, is at 4 Van Deusenville Road in Great Barrington.
On October 18, 1990 Richard Stanley purchased the old Miller Hotel, also known as the Barrington House. Stanley started to upgrade the building, evicting tenants who had been involved in drugs. He removed the 1960s aluminum facade and returned the historic building through renovation to its 1929 appearance.
On November 15, 1995 Richard Stanley and Joseph Wasserman opened The Triplex Cinema in the heart of Great Barrington. This contributed to further developments in the town, changing the economy and enhancing its desirability by providing a place for community events. With increased appeal as a destination, the town attracted new restaurants and retail shops, which opened on both Main Street and Railroad Street. Both streets previously had many vacant shops. The Berkshire Eagle reported that Great Barrington had 50 places to eat in a town of 7,700 people.
On July 24, 2009, Great Barrington was named an Appalachian Trail Community by application and acceptance by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
The town celebrated its 250th anniversary with a large parade on July 10, 2011. Other events celebrating the 250th anniversary were held throughout the year as well.
The "Main Street Reconstruction Project" was launched in 2011, involving major improvements along Main Street between Saint James Place and Cottage Street. The plan elements include new pavement, new sidewalks, sewer and utility improvements, and the removal of the large trees that span Main Street, to be replaced with much smaller trees. The project had finished its design phase as of 2012, and construction was to be completed by the end of 2013.