West Springfield, Massachusetts, site of FMCA’s next Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase, awaits discovery.
By Chris Dougherty and Linda Levister
The Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, 100 miles west of Boston, is home to the cities of Springfield and West Springfield. This summer, FMCA members will gather in West Springfield at Eastern States Exposition, home of the BIG E, for the 94th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase.
The theme for the August 3 through 6, 2016, Family Reunion is “Find Your Freedom,” and what better place to do so than in the region where the United States was born? Plan now to attend. Early-bird rates extend to June 3, 2016, and space is limited at this particular venue. To register, visit FMCA.com or call (800) 543-3622 and ask for the Events Department. Get set to “Find Your Freedom!”
Eastern States Exposition
Motorhomers will meet at exposition grounds that have a long history. Joshua L. Brooks spearheaded the purchase of 175 acres of former swampland with the vision of creating an exposition to showcase agriculture in New England. In 1916 the site hosted its inaugural event, the National Dairy Show, the first held east of Chicago. In 1917 the first Eastern States Exposition (ESE) was held, and Brooks wanted it to be a truly regional event. He got his wish, as the expo included goods from states surrounding Massachusetts. Eventually the Avenue of States was built, with a replica of the original state house of each of the six New England states — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Each state owns its building and the land the structure is built on.
The largest and most recognizable building on the grounds is the Coliseum. The first building on the ESE grounds, it was built in 1916 and seats 5,000. It was once one of the finest hockey rinks in the country, but now it is particularly known for equestrian events, concerts, and the occasional circus.
A fun factoid: a plaque on the front of the Coliseum marks the water level of the great flood of 1936; see if you can find it! Another fun feature of the ESE grounds is Storrowton Village, a re-created 18th- and 19th-century village with authentic shops and houses. Nine buildings from various New England states were carefully relocated here. The Storrowton Tavern is open year-round and serves meals, and the village is open (free) for strolling. Or, for $5, you can take a guided, story-filled tour of the place; it’s a great way to learn more.
Springfield: The City Of Firsts
Many things we consider commonplace today originated in the greater Springfield area. Some of them are honored with their own museums in town.
- You’ve no doubt heard of Webster’s dictionary. After Noah Webster died in 1843, George and Charles Merriam’s printing company in Springfield bought the rights to his An American Dictionary of the English Language, Corrected and Enlarged. It became the basis of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary series we know now. The rest is lex-i-co-graph-i-cal history!
- How about basketball? James Naismith, a physical education instructor, invented the game in Springfield in 1891. Want to know more? Visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, a huge and impressive place about five minutes from the ESE grounds. This museum has a giant hall that is shaped just like a basketball. In addition to exhibits, it offers a “60 Days of Summer” event with all kinds of surprises. See www.hoophall.com for details.
- Volleyball was invented by William G. Morgan, a protégé of Naismith, in 1895. The first exhibition match was played in 1896. The International Volleyball Hall of Fame is located in nearby Holyoke, Massachusetts. Oh, and another first: the volleyball itself was invented in Springfield by Mr. Morgan in association with the A.G. Spalding & Bros. Company in Chicopee, manufacturer of sporting goods. Spalding, of course, is still making sporting equipment today.
- Clamp-on ice skates and roller skates (which could be attached to one’s shoes) were invented by Everett Barney in Springfield in 1864. Barney’s prosperity led to a donation of land that is now part of Forest Park. A zoo opened there in the 1890s, and it pleases modern-day visitors with kangaroos, alpacas, camels, bears, and more. A small admission fee is charged. (See www.forestparkzoo.org.) Forest Park also has water gardens, a rose garden, walking and hiking trails, a lake, and more on its 735 acres.
- Do you like green eggs and ham? Sam did not. It’s not clear whether his creator, Theodore Seuss Geisel, known as Dr. Seuss, did, but he was born in Springfield. Dr. Seuss’ many characters and places featured in the Seuss tales are celebrated at the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden, located on the Quadrangle in Springfield.
Four museums surround the Quadrangle. Step inside the visitors center and buy a ticket that admits you to all four of these facilities, collectively known as Springfield Museums. The Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts has paintings by Monet, Degas, Gauguin, and other Impressionist and post-Impressionists. The Springfield Science Museum is home to the oldest operating planetarium in the United States. Beautiful Chinese cloissone is found at the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum. And, finally, the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History showcases Connecticut River Valley history. The Museum of Springfield History boasts an exclusive collection that includes the first successful gas-powered automobile, the first UHF TV, the first American-English dictionary, and many Indian motorcycles. This beloved American motorbike was made in Springfield from 1901 to 1953. Go to www.springfieldmuseums.org for information about museum hours and all-inclusive tickets to all four museums and the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden.
- Built on the orders of George Washington in 1777, the Springfield Armory, which supplied the young nation’s firearms needs, is now a National Historic Site. The old iron fence that surrounds the site was built using metal from British Revolutionary War cannons. Inside is the world’s largest collection of historic U.S. military small arms — the array is amazing. Admission is free, and the site is open daily; see www.nps.gov/spar for details.
- We’re too young to remember the original “Checkered Game of Life” — it was first popular in the 1860s. But it evolved into the popular Game of Life board game that so many baby boomers played during their youth. The game was the brainchild of local draftsman and printer Milton Bradley. The Milton Bradley Company was headquartered in Springfield until it was purchased by Hasbro in 1984; games are still made under the Milton Bradley name at a factory about 15 minutes east of Springfield.
Out And About
Western Massachusetts is home to seven designated scenic byways. Among them is State Route 116, which leads to not-to-be-missed attractions such as Yankee Candle Village and Historic Deerfield. Travel north on State Route 116 to see the world’s largest candle store in South Deerfield. There, you can make your own candles, if you wish. The village also has a restaurant, a home décor store, and a Bavarian Christmas Village.
Approximately six miles north of Yankee Candle Village is Historic Deerfield, a collection of historical homes and buildings that transport you back to the 18th century with that true “English settlement” feeling. Both Yankee Candle and Historic Deerfield have ample parking for RVs.
Other tourist stops in the Deerfield area include Richardson’s Candy Kitchen and the beautiful Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gardens. Visit www.deerfieldattractions.com for details about these and other things to see.
A somewhat quirky place only a few minutes northeast of Springfield, via Interstate 291, is the Titanic Museum. Located behind a jewelry store on Main Street in the Springfield neighborhood of Indian Orchard, this tribute to the famous ship includes a huge model, plus items from the ocean liner, such as lifejackets, chairs, menus, tickets, written recollections, and photos. See www.titanichistoricalsociety.org for more information.
The Connecticut River flows between Springfield and West Springfield. Follow it by taking the Connecticut River National Scenic Byway, and learn more about the immediate area. This is one of the nation’s greatest drives, whether you’re looking for history, art, or beautiful parks and vistas. The road passes through many towns with lots to see, but parking for RVs may be limited; so, drive your towed car or rental car. Details about western Massachusetts scenic byways can be found at www.bywayswestmass.com.
To Do, Try, And Taste!
It’s easy to stay active in the West Springfield area. Golf courses dot the region. Near the Eastern States Exposition are the Veterans Memorial Golf Course (1059 S. Branch Parkway) and the Franconia Golf Course (619 Dwight Road). The Agawam Municipal Golf Course (128 Southwick St.) is in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts.
Bring your bicycles to this Family Reunion, because the region offers a number of great rail trails (converted railroad beds). They include the Connecticut Riverwalk and Bikeway right in Springfield, and the Columbia Greenway and Southwick Rail Trails in Westfield. More can be found at www.traillink.com/city/springfield-ma-trails.aspx.
If climbing to the sky on a roller coaster is more your style, then you’re in the right place! Down the street from Eastern States Exposition is New England’s largest and most popular theme park: Six Flags New England, featuring dozens of thrill rides, shows, and activities. Visit www.sixflags.com for details.
Eating out is always fun when you’re traveling. You will not have to leave the Eastern States Exposition grounds to enjoy some delicious snacks and meals. Every major building on the grounds has a concession, and the choices vary per building. Fine dining is available at the previously mentioned Storrowton Tavern. And the Young Building on the grounds has the Heroes & Legends Café. This 1950s-themed, cafeteria-style eatery offers all kinds of menu choices, from soups and sandwiches to gourmet pizza.
Off-site, popular spots include the following:
White Hut, for old-school-style burgers, hot dogs, fries, onion rings. Located close to Eastern States Exposition: www.whitehut.com.
The Monte Carlo, for a family-owned Italian restaurant experience. It is near the exposition grounds: www.themontecarloonline.com.
Red Rose Pizzeria, renowned even outside the state. Located in Springfield. Call ahead: (413) 739-8510; www.redrosepizzeria.com.
Charlie’s Diner for breakfast, plus lunch and dinner. This is a classic ’50s- and ’60s-style diner: (413) 733-8551.
Speaking of breakfast, Massachusetts is home to the Dunkin’ Donuts world headquarters. This is one doughnut-eatin’ state! There is a Dunkin’ Donuts shop for every 6,500 people in Massachusetts. You do not need to look far to be sorely tempted to bite into a treat.
FMCA’s first-ever Family Reunion in the Bay State will be full of fun, great sites (and sights), and experiences. What a great way to celebrate freedom and the motorhome lifestyle. It’s not to be missed! See you there!
Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau
1441 Main St.
Springfield, MA 01103
Storrowton Tavern & Carriage House
1305 Memorial Ave.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism
10 Park Plaza, Suite 4510
Boston, MA 02116
Driving In Massachusetts
- Low bridges are not uncommon in New England. Know the precise height of your motorhome and watch all overpasses.
- Rotaries (traffic circles) abound within Massachusetts, and can cause frustration. Be sure to remember that traffic already in the circle has the right of way over vehicles trying to enter it.
- Right on a red light is permitted unless otherwise noted.
The following campgrounds are within approximately a 30-mile radius of West Springfield. Other commercial parks may be found in campground directories or online at FMCA.com’s RV Marketplace, also published in the January and June issues of FMC.
In addition to these campgrounds, no-hookup state forest campgrounds (many with dump stations) are available for RVs up to a maximum of 35 feet; length limits depend on the park. For more information, visit MassParks at www.mass.gov/dcr or call (877) 422-6762 or (518) 884-4959. For a look at state park RV site maps and to make reservations, visit www.reserveamerica.com.
Sodom Mountain Campground
233 S. Loomis St.
Southwick, MA 01077
Southwick Acres Campgrounds
256 College Highway
Southwick, MA 01077
Prospect Mountain Campground
1349 Main Road
Granville, MA 01034
139 South Road
Westhampton, MA 01027
(800) 562-6572 (reservations)
Sunsetview Farm Camping Area
57 Town Farm Road
Monson, MA 01057
Partridge Hollow Camping Area
72 Sutcliffe Road
Monson, MA 01057
Walker Island Family Camping
27 Route 20
Chester, MA 01011
700 Tolland Road
Otis, MA 01029