Educated, progressive, safe and awash with parkland, Springfield (Massachusetts) is a city shooting up the lists of America’s favourite places to live. Springfield often describes itself as the “City of Firsts” for its many innovations, the big ones being motorcycles and basketball. To recognise its origins the Basketball Hall of Fame is located in Springfield and a pilgrimage for any fan of the sport. For a day of edification look no further than the grand old Quadrangle with a cluster of top-class museums, and for a night on the tiles get down to the Club Quarter, the largest nightclub district between New York and Montreal. Let’s explore the best things to do in Springfield!
1. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
Winters in New England can be long and savage, so in 1891 when the P.E. teacher James Naismith had to keep his restless class indoors for months he was ordered by the head of P.E. at Springfield YMCA to create an indoor game. After just 14 days he came up with basketball, so now Springfield is the site of the Hall of Fame for the world’s second-favourite sport. Since its creation in the 50s 300 of the game’s heroes have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and this is where you can look back at their sparkling careers. The museum inside is filled with hands-on mini games and shows, with shooting challenges and live skills exhibitions.
2. Springfield Armory National Historic Site
An invaluable bit of U.S. national heritage, Springfield Armory manufactured firearms for the nation’s military for almost two hundred years up to 1968. It’s rooted in the American Revolutionary War in 1777 as George Washington’s main arsenal, and from then on the armory made countless innovations, such as mass production and gun parts that would work with several different models. Browse the museum to see one of America’s most extensive collections of vintage guns spanning two centuries and learn about some of the technological leaps that took place in the armory.
3. George Walter Vincent Smith Museum
You can lose several hours pottering around the Quadrangle’s oldest museum. The 19th-century building is a palatial neo-renaissance design with cloisters next to the square. This attraction takes its name from the collection’s owner and Smith was a man with wide-ranging tastes; he assembled a vast number of stunning pieces from all sorts of locations and eras. This is what makes the museum so much fun – you’ll see Middle-Eastern carpets from the 1800s, ancient Greek and Roman sculpture and Japanese weaponry and armour. But best of all is the collection of cloisonné (Chinese painted metalwork), the largest outside China.
4. Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden
The much-loved author and illustrator Dr. Seuss was born here in Springfield in 1904. So this ensemble of five bronze sculptures, designed by his step-daughter, is an affectionate and fitting tribute to the man. The sculptures are placed in different spots around the Quadrangle: There’s a stack of Yertles reaching three metres in height marking the Chestnut Street entrance to the museum zone, and a stature of the Lorax in front of the Science Museum. Perhaps the highlight of all the pieces is the Cat in Hat, with this famous cat posing with Dr. Seuss who sits reflectively with one foot on his desk.
5. Springfield Science Museum
An imposing neoclassical building with art-deco and modern wings, the Springfield Science Museum was founded at the turn of the 20th century. The attraction’s age grants it some distinctive features, like the Korkosz Star ball in the Seymour Planetarium, the oldest star projector in the USA. There’s a live animal centre that recreates fragile eco-systems like mangroves, rainforests and coral reefs, while young ones can marvel at the life-size models in the Dinosaur Hall. Part of the museum’s collection is a fascinating curiosity; a Telegraphone Recorder from the 1910s, which recorded sound onto spools of wire and quickly became obsolete.
6. Springfield Symphony Orchestra
The SSO played its first concert in the 40s and has a majestic home in Springfield. Symphony Hall is a neoclassical temple-style building with a grand portico and a capacity for more than 2,600. When it was completed as a city auditorium back in 1913 President Taft was present to dedicate it. Inside is where the magic happens, as Symphony Hall has supreme acoustics, as good as any venue in the country. The orchestra’s season runs from October to April and during this time performs works from Stravinsky to Sinatra, so there should be something to tempt you if you’re in town .
7. Lyman And Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History
In a “City of Firsts” Springfield’s local history museum is a cut above the usual local historical society. The museum is also on the Quadrangle has assembled all the collections once housed in now defunct attractions around Springfield. So you can check out a wonderful collection of Indian brand Motorcycles, dating as far back as 1901, that used to be on display at Springfield’s Indian headquarters. If you’re into classic military hardware then is also the museum for you, with the world’s largest collection of Smith & Wessons.
8. Forest Park
Not your average city park, Forest Park is a whole leafy neighbourhood that was specifically plotted out from 1880 to 1910. Take a moment to admire the elegant homes in the Forest Park Heights Historic District, where Victorian, colonial and tudor-style buildings are separated by manicured lawns. Great for little ones is the zoo, a compact animal attraction with camels, pythons, De Brazza’s monkeys and red kangaroos. The park itself combines walking trails through woodland, a rose garden, ponds, lakes and graceful promenades next to sculptures. If you have energy to burn, make use of the tennis courts, baseball diamonds and basketball courts.
9. The Big E
The six states of New England come together for one giant state fair, among the largest in the USA and going back a hundred years. If you visit Springfield between mid-September and the start of October you can see what it’s like at one of these traditional agriculture celebrations. Every year the Big E sets up Avenue of the States, where you can wander past realistic full-size models of the region’s six state houses. Of course, all the classic carnival rides, midway amusements and fair food and drink will be on hand. But to really get into the spirit of the event you need to see the agriculture area, where livestock competitions, equestrian shows and giant vegetable displays honour the state fair tradition.
10. Six Flags New England
The amusement park in nearby Agawam has a long history; it was founded back in 1870 and has been open ever since, apart from during the Great Depression. One roller coaster from the early days is still here – The Thunderbolt dates to 1941 and is the oldest ride in any Six Flags theme park. The Six Flags brand took over the park in 1999 and has added all kinds of rides and attractions. Superman the Ride is possibly the king, a Mega Coaster that plunges from 63 metres. Another big-hitter is Batman – The Dark Knight, with five loops and max speeds of 89 km/h.
11. Paramount Theater
This fabulous heritage cinema is one for those who want to relive the golden age of movie-going. It cost a staggering $1m when it was built in 1926, but like many of its kind fell into disrepair after the 1960s. In 1999 it was restored and became a live music venue and nightclub, but since 2011 almost $2m has been spent on returning the lovely art-deco building to its original purpose. Inside keep your eyes peeled for the cinema’s organ, in place since the silent era and still playable.
12. Springfield’s Club Quarter
Taking up several city blocks around Stearns Square is a district that has been the beating heart of Springfield’s nightlife for more than a century. There are 80-odd bars, restaurants, clubs and cafes in this tight space, and the Club Quarter is often listed among the best places in America for singles to go out. In the last 15 years or so a thriving LGBT community has emerged in this area and now there are five gay clubs as well a bunch of other venues that organise gay-friendly nights.
13. Blandford Ski Area
The upside of the brutal winters in Massachusetts is the large amounts of snow deposited on higher ground in the state. Just west of Springfield is Blandford, an easy drive for holidaymakers. Blandford Ski Area has been managed by a private club since the 1930s but offers reasonable day rates for guests, as well as lesson packages for groups of ten or more. Everything here is up-to-date from the snow-making and grooming facilities to the night skiing areas that are accessed by 16 lifts.
14. Pioneer Valley
Springfield is part of a wider region along the banks of the Connecticut River admired for its green college towns and idyllic farmland. Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College and Amherst College are all set in the 24-mile-long Knowledge Corridor. In South Hadley the campus of Amherst College lies within elegant parkland and merits a stroll for a couple of hours. Out in the countryside in Pioneer Valley the foliage is most beautiful in Fall when the maple trees around the farms turn shades of orange and yellow.
At Springfield the state capital is close enough for a day trip and is well worth it. Boston has a character all its own and this is clear at the quaint and lively North End with cobblestone streets, historic brick buildings and excellent Italian restaurants. To see an American national landmark you can visit Boston Harbor for the site of the Boston Tea Party, a protest by the Sons of Liberty against the British Government, which started the course that led to the American Revolution. A more recent American touchstone is the distinguished Fenway Park, home field for the Boston Red Sox and the oldest ballpark in the MLB.