The Berkshire Flyer And the NYC/Berkshire Connection

By: Scout Swonger (They/Them/Theirs)

The grounds Berkshire Theatre Group operate on were once inhabited by the  Stockbridge-Munsee Community of the Mohican Nation. The Munsee people were gradually driven from this land by European colonizers and currently reside in northeastern Wisconsin. We honor the traditions and the peoples indigenous to these lands now known as the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; the Pennacook, Mahican, Pocumtuk, Massachuset, Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Nauset, and Chappaquiddick. Indigenous people are not relics of the past. They are still here, and they continue to demonstrate talents and gifts amidst a backdrop of ongoing colonialism and oppression. We celebrate their community and seek to honor the rich tradition of storytelling that we share.

——

This July the Berkshire Flyer will be making its inaugural run from NYC to Pittsfield starting July 8th. Berkshire County has long served as a summer getaway destination for New Yorkers, but making the trek one way or the other has not always been straightforward. The arrival of The Flyer brings the promise of easing that logistical burden, helping more city folk getaway to the mindfulness of the mountains for a weekend.

But how did the Berkshires become so entwined with NYC anyway? After all, Boston is also just a 2.5-hour car ride away, and in the same state! And what is the particular allure of the train over other modes of transport? 

The NYC/Berkshire connection began way back at the inception of the county. Back when state lines were still getting hammered out and treaty agreements with the various native tribes were being made and broken, the bottom of today’s Berkshire county was the cause of much dispute and many a kerfuffle. While one transaction, the Westenhook Patent, seemed to designate the land to New York, another deal made later meant to sell the same land to Massachusetts. Bitter words and brutality ensued for a time, and the state of the border was under dispute for quite some time until it was ultimately settled as a portion of Massachusetts in 1786.

An early map of the region, showing just how much the lines and names have changed since the 18th Century!

And there is a geographical sense to this border confusion. For, especially in the days of more rudimentary transportation, the mountains made for tricky traversing. Boston may now be within the same state border, but New York City was an easier trek topographically. Though the road from the Hudson River to the Berkshires is still mountainous, it was still easier on the carriages than that from here to the Atlantic.

Even as technology advanced and transportation grew more efficient, planes, trains, and automobiles all leaned to the New York route of travel. And among all those modes of transport, the rail continues to be a favorite of the northeast in a way it is not in the rest of the country. The reason for this is also partially geographical. While the United States as a whole is more geographically dispersed, the early-colonized northeastern corridor is more densely populated with large cities existing in closer proximity. This makes a speedy passenger rail a much more appealing mode of transport from, say, New York to Boston than taking a flight (and certainly less of a headache than trying to drive in either city). But when the distances become longer, the travel time of train versus flight weighs far heavier in favor of flight. Even buses are a more logical option in terms of accessibility! 

This is not only due to the geographical facts, but the history of the infrastructure as well. The railways currently in use today are all legacy rails, meaning that what lines were put down years ago are pretty much what we are working with today. And the transit that is taking up many of the westward lines is primarily used for industrial transit rather than passenger, limiting the availability of departure and arrival times. Of course, that is partially due to a vicious loop of supply and demand – fewer time options lead to fewer travelers lead to fewer time options – but the previously stated geographical factors certainly tip the scales towards flight-favored travel in that region. 

A map of the Northeastern Corridor rail line

But, being in that northeastern corridor where commuting by rail is standard, getting a train stop on a commuter line from a major city is a way to carve out an identity in relation to that place. And so the Berkshires is a natural nature haven for those in NYC looking to escape the city grind – in particular, its sweltering summer heat – and find some repose amidst the plethora of trees and fresh air. So, similar to the heavy NYC crossover between places like New Haven and Poughkeepsie, the Berkshires fill the hole in between, providing our own brand of beautiful vistas and cultural richness. 

Having spent a period of my own life going from NYC in the fall, winter, and spring to more natural surroundings in the summer, I have been lucky to appreciate the value of the practice. And while the Hudson Valley and quaint New England towns have their own features to recommend them, no area is quite like Berkshire County. In just 605,000 acres, our 32 towns boast a truly astounding number of cultural institutions and natural wonders. It is almost the perfect country counterpart to the city, where many feel no reason to leave because it feels like the whole world is there. Practically anything one might seek to do – from exploring a bit of history, to hitting the trails or the water in any number of ways, and of course seeing any type of show you please – can be done in the Berkshires. And now, all you have to do now is hop a train!

 

Berkshire Flyer riders get 20% off tickets to a BTG produced show by showing a train ticket or calling in and giving a reservation number to an associate at the time of purchase. Stop by The Colonial Theatre at 111 South Street in Pittsfield or call the ticket office at 413-997-4444 to order tickets for a weekend getaway!


References:

Bielinski, Stefan. “The Westenhook Patent.” The Colonial Albany Social History Project, 2005, https://exhibitions.nysm.nysed.gov//albany/na/westen.html.

Leffel, Tim. “Traveling the USA’s East Coast by Train.” Cheapest Destinations Blog, 25 Feb. 2022, https://www.cheapestdestinationsblog.com/2022/02/27/east-coast-by-train/.

Lenox Historical Society. “The Establishment of Berkshire County.” Lenox History, 18 May 2015, https://lenoxhistory.org/lenoxhistorypeopleandplaces/lenoxhistoryplaces/the-establishment-of-berkshire-county/.

Lenox Historical Society. “Settlement of Berkshire County Begins with Sheffield.” Lenox History, 7 Mar. 2015, https://lenoxhistory.org/lenoxhistorypeopleandplaces/lenoxhistoryplaces/settlement-of-berkshire-county-begins-with-sheffield/.

Margino, Megan. “From Suburb to City and Back Again: A Brief History of the NYC Commuter.” The New York Public Library, 10 May 2016, https://www.nypl.org/blog/2016/05/10/history-nyc-commuter.

New York State Department of Transportation. “History of Railroads in New York State.” The Official Website of New York State, https://www.dot.ny.gov/divisions/operating/opdm/passenger-rail/passenger-rail-service/history-railroads.

Yglesias, Matthew. “Amtrak Turns 45 Today. Here’s Why American Passenger Trains Are so Bad.” Vox, Vox, 1 May 2016, https://www.vox.com/2016/5/1/11539966/amtrak-45-anniversary.

Plan Your Visit

Read our suggestions on where to dine, and where to hang your hat.

Get Started
Did You Know?
Just like NPR, Berkshire Theatre Group depends on the generous giving of its members!
Join Today!
We believe the performing arts can transform a community.
Learn More
Of the 16,000 Berkshire County school children, we serve 13,000 through our BTG PLAYS! Year-Round Educational Programs.
Learn More
Theatre is the place where we go to understand what lies in the human heart.
About Us
BTG's buildings, on two campuses in Stockbridge and Pittsfield, are historic treasures.
Theatre Info
Berkshire Theatre Group believes that the creative arts encourage freedom of speech and debate.
Get Involved
"Out of need will come the way. Once the pandemic ebbs, whenever that is, there will be an incredible need to gather again." - Artistic Director, Kate Maguire
Join Today!
The theatre has existed from the time of the Greeks. We will go on.
Learn More
Join Our Mailing List

Receive the latest BTG News, Updates, Special Offers, and more right to your inbox.

Subscribe

News & Articles

From the Archive: Eva LeGallienne

By: Katie Birenboim (She/Her/Hers)   Devoted fans of BTG may gasp to discover that until doing a first round of research in the amazing BTG archives, I had never heard … Read On

Just announced! Max Creek will be live at The Colonial Theatre Friday, April 7 at 7:30pm. Tickets are $29 in advance and $39 day of! Visit our website to purchase!
.
link in bio!
Georgia Douglas Johnson was a well-known figure in the National Black Theatre movement in the early twentieth century, assembling and inspiring the intellectuals and artists who generated the next group of Black Theatre and rising education. Johnson wrote about 28 plays that were published under the pen name John Temple due to the fact that most of her writings were denied publication because of gender and race. By the end of her time, Johnson had written 200 poems, 28 plays and 31 short stories. She published her last poetry book, entitled Share My World, in 1962.
Are you and the kids feeling the February blues? Get out of the house and join us for “Magic Tree House: The Knight At Dawn” February 18th at 2pm! Author Mary Pope Osborne will be signing books from 1pm to 1:45pm in The Colonial Theatre lobby prior to the performance. Books will be available for purchase provided by The Bookloft in Great Barrington! Tickets on sale now!
There are still a few days to grab your tickets for “Draw The Line: A Tribute To Aerosmith!”
.
link in bio!
It’s almost time to jam! Join us TONIGHT at 7:30 for “Rev Tor’s 11th Annual Dead of Winter Jam!” There is still time to purchase your ticket! 
.
link in bio!
Berkshire Theatre Group celebrates Black History Month! For the rest of the month we will be highlighting Black Voices in Theatre through the years!
We sat down and had a fun chat with Rev Tor himself! Learn some fun facts about Tor and his band before catching the show this Friday!
.
Tickets through the link in our bio!
You won’t want to miss “Hyprov” on March 25! From the brilliant minds of Improv and Comedy Legend Colin Mochrie and Master Hypnotist Asad Mecci comes a brand new, mind-blowing, jaw-dropping, side-splitting show! Twenty random volunteers from the audience will be put under hypnosis, their inhibitions evaporated and their minds no longer their own. The contestants will be methodically and hysterically whittled down until the five best are left on stage when one of the world’s leading improvisers enters! Colin Mochrie will take the stage to improvise with the top five while they are still under hypnosis, which will turn the show into an improv extravaganza!
.
link in bio!
Join us March 24 for “Song and Dance.” Highlighting Berkshire women in the Arts, this show features performances by Gina Coleman, Olga Dunn Dance Co., Wanda Houston, Mary Ann Palermo and The All-Star Women’s Band, along with more of our extraordinary region’s unsung female heroes in the art, business, social and medical communities. Join us for an evening of celebrating women of the Berkshires!
Proceeds will be donated in part to several local non-profit organizations, including The Elizabeth Freeman Center that helps women and children in need.
Katie Birenboim is back on the blog this week highlighting some more of the rich history found in BTG's archives! A recent trip uncovered this essay from long-time president of the board and fixture of the Berkshires, Jane Fitzpatrick, outlining the formative years of what we now call the Playhouse on our Stockbridge campus! Read more from both Katie and Jane through the link in our bio!
Want to change things up this year for St. Patrick’s Day? Join us March 17 at 7:30 for The Young Dubliners! This American rock band have been recording albums and touring since 1993. Their style of music has come to be called Celtic Rock for the fusion of Irish traditional music with modern rock ‘n’ roll!
We are so honored to have been a part of such amazing theatre over the past year! Congratulations Kimille and DeAnna!
Buckle up and hold on tight as Berkshire Theatre Group presents The 2023 Berkshire Mountain Guitar Summit on Saturday, March 11! Enjoy workshops, demos and a luthier’s expo in The Colonial Theatre Lobby followed by a concert on the Colonial stage hosted by BTG’s very own Rev Tor and featuring performances by a handful of the region’s most beloved guitar heroes.
This year’s line-up includes: Fuzz of Deep Banana Blackout, Rob Sanzone of The Picky Bastards, Garrett Lechowski of Harvest, and RustSeth Fleischmann of Misty Blues! More announced soon so stay tuned!
.
link in bio!
Join us Friday, March 3rd for “Ivy League Stand Up!” Known for their elite brand of clever comedy, the members of The Ivy League of Comedy can be seen on late-night TV, Comedy Central and now on stage at the Colonial. This hilarious comedy show features original, well-written comedy that doesn’t resort to playing on stereotypes or picking on the audience. This is stand-up comedy’s funniest and brightest!
Today we remember a magnificent man. His words were extremely important then and they are still extremely important now.
"Photograph 51" is an intriguing portrait of British scientist Rosalind Franklin and her often overlooked role in the discovery of DNA’s double helix structure. A balance of the historical, romantic and scientific, it is a touching play about ambition, isolation and the race for greatness. The show first opened in the West End in 2015 and starred Nicole Kidman as Rosalind Franklin. We are excited to bring this show to The Berkshires June 15th-July 1st. Tickets on sale now via the link in our bio!
February 25th we’ve got “Tapestry, The Carole King Songbook Featuring Suzanne O. Davis.” In addition to featuring all the music from Tapestry, the show will also feature many songs that Carole King and her husband, Gerry Goffin, wrote in the 1960s as one of the most successful songwriting teams in pop music history. The more than 400 songs were recorded by over 1,000 artists, including The Drifters, The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Donnie Osmond, Aretha Franklin, The Shirelles, Bobby Vee and many more.

link in bio!
Are you looking for something fun to do with the whole family but don’t want to brave the cold days of winter? Join us February 18th for “Magic Tree House: The Knight At Dawn.” Based off of Mary Pope Osborne’s Award Winning book series, this show is wonderful for all ages! Mary Pope Osborne will be signing books from 1pm to 1:45pm in The Colonial Theatre lobby prior to the performance. Books will be available for purchase provided by The Bookloft in Great Barrington!

link in bio!
Mark your calendars for February 10th! We’ve got Draw The Line: A Tribute To Aerosmith! Combining the same blues-based, hard rock sounds of Aerosmith, Draw The Line performs  classic hits like “Walk this Way,” “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” “Dream On” and many others with stunning accuracy. Tickets on sale now via the link in our bio!
Join us February 3rd at 7:30pm for Rev Tor’s 11th Annual Dead of Winter Jam. Interweaving the classic songs and jams of The Grateful Dead, Dead Man’s Waltz is an all-star collective from the Northeast festival scene. Dead Man’s Waltz features top-notch musicianship and offers a refreshing twist to the music of The Grateful Dead. While staying true to the spirit of the music, the band members put their own dynamic spin on a vast catalog of beloved songs that are now part of the new American songbook. This show will feature some of your local favorites like Mark Mercier (Max Creek), Jen Durkin (Deep Banana Blackout), Mark Paradis (The Marks Brothers/Lobsters From Mars), Mike “Woody” Wood (Rebel Alliance) and Them Bastards (Chris Merenda & Dave Brown). 
Tickets on sale now via the link in our bio!
Follow Us