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 also 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: 1726–1995
The Mahican Indians called the area Mahaiwe, meaning "the place downstream". It lay on the New England Path, which connected Fort Orange near Albany, New York, with Springfield and then Massachusetts Bay. The village was first settled 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, which established an agricultural interest in the area of Great Barrington.
With the arrival of the railroad, Great Barrington developed into 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.
Other 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 American writer 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, located where present-day Route 23 would run. As a child, Du Bois attended the Congregational Church, where many of the church members helped donate 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 National Historic Site 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 that occurred in Great Barrington and the adjoining towns of Stockbridge and Lee. The Old Trinity Church that was the home of Ray and Alice Brock at the time of the incidents related in the song is at 4 Van Deusenville Road in Great Barrington.
On July 24, 2009, Great Barrington was named an Appalachian Trail Community by application and acceptance by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
On June 1, 2010, a new fire station was opened for the Great Barrington Fire Department, located on Route 7. The new fire station replaces the old one, which was located on Castle Street. The old fire station was deteriorating both aesthetically and structurally, and provided insufficient space for the growing needs of the fire department. The new $9.1 million facility will also host community events such as elections, and serve as the hub for emergency operations in southern Berkshire County.
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 includes the reconstruction of the road with 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.