In the northern Pioneer Valley, Greenfield is a scenic old mill town, historically known for toolmaking and cutlery manufacturing.
There are museums here and in nearby Turners Falls, going into detail about industry in Franklin County, and the defining role of the Connecticut River.
Greenfield’s townscape is framed by an abrupt mountain ridge between the downtown area and the riverbank.
Known as Rocky Mountain, this is part of the Pocumtuck Range, the northernmost subridge of the Metacomet Ridge, which continues all the way along the Connecticut River to Long Island Sound.
Downtown Greenfield is a treat, with lots of local businesses, a farmers’ market that has been going since the 1970s, and a sense of community spirit that shines through at public events like the Franklin County Fair in September.
1. Poet’s Seat Tower
The first thing to do in Greenfield is to scale that ridge, on foot or by car, and climb this fairytale tower in Rocky Mountain Park. Poet’s Seat Tower was raised in 1912, replacing a wooden tower from the 1870s.
The name of this Romanesque Revival structure refers to the Romantic poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873), who lived in Greenfield and would come to this spot for inspiration.
The panorama is sublime, encompassing Greenfield, the village of Turners Falls across the river, and a sweep of the Connecticut River Valley. If you happen to be in town in fall, this view across a sea of foliage will live long in the memory.
2. Downtown Greenfield
Loaded with coffee shops, public art, international restaurants, arts and culture venues, interesting retail stores, and diverse service businesses, it’s fair to say that Greenfield is the model of a healthy downtown.
At a recent count, more than three quarters of all the businesses here are independent, and the town is constantly looking at ways of improving Main Street.
This involves finding a new owner or tenant for the now vacant Wilson’s department store, which had been in business from 1882 to 2020.
As we’ll see, there’s a highly successful farmers’ market on Court Square, and endless live performances nearby at Energy Park in the summer.
As well as being full of life, this stretch of Main Street is an historic district, preserving commercial, public and residential architecture in a spectrum of styles, from Federal to Colonial Revival.
3. Rocky Mountain Park
The town started buying up land on the ridge to turn it into a public park in the early 20th century.
Now at almost 120 acres, Rocky Mountain Park is composed of five adjoining parcels, with a trail system that winds off into neighboring spaces like Highland Park to the south, and also includes the regional Pocumtuck Trail.
The latter begins at the Poet’s Seat Tower and runs south for 20 miles along the ridge of the Pocumtuck Range to Sugarloaf Mountain in Deerfield.
So while Poet’s Seat Tower is the main attraction at the park, this can be the starting point for a scenic hike, surprising you with marvelous views from the ledge.
4. Highland Park
Across Mountain Rd from the south side of Rocky Mountain Park is another steep and rocky space, acquired by the city in 1890.
There’s fantastic hiking here too, and on the south side is the high Sachem Head, with a ledge and substantial overhang.
There are three main trails in the park, perfect if you want some technical mountain or an energetic hike, with cross-country skiing available on the flatter sections in winter.
The Greenfield Tree Committee has laid out an interactive one-mile walking tour of the trees in the park, mostly sticking to the southwestern corner of the park.
5. Museum of Our Industrial Heritage
This site on the Green River was the scene of continuous industry from the late 1600s well into the 20th century.
As with much of the Green River valley, the predominant trades were metal-related, and from 1906 to 1920 Nichols Bros. Cutlery pioneered the mass production of cutlery here.
The old mill complex is now a museum, going into depth on industry in Franklin County and the wider Connecticut Valley.
From room to room you’ll pick up fascinating details, about small industry in the 18th-century, the importance of water power in the small hill towns, the story of cutlery mass production, and precision manufacturing in the 21st century.
If you come at the right time you can check out machine demonstrations in the Workshop Room.
6. Great Falls Discovery Center
Hooked up to the Canalside Rail Trail on the opposite bank of the river in Montague is a museum telling all you need to know about the Connecticut River watershed’s captivating natural, cultural and industrial history.
The location is appropriate, in a restored paper mill complex in historic Turners Falls. The main building has a remarkable walk-through diorama, displaying the flora, fauna and habitats along the river’s 410-mile course.
There’s a thought-provoking timeline here, showing the impact of humans on the river, and exploring ways to reduce this impact in the future.
Next to the main building, the Great Hall is a beautiful old machine shop, now hosting programs and staging temporary art exhibitions. The two historic structures are linked by a corridor with a clear view of the old canal that drove the mill.
7. Downtown Bee Sculptures
L. L. Langstroth (1810-1895), the man held as the “father of American beekeeping”, lived in Greenfield for several years in the mid-19th century. Around this time he invented the Langstroth hive, a design still commonly used today.
In 2010, to honor Langstroth’s work and recognize the universal importance of bees, Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church launched the annual celebration, Bee Fest.
Langstroth had once served as pastor at the church, and the event was inaugurated on his 200th birthday. In recent years a swarm of adorable bee sculptures have landed around Greenfield to honor this May festival and Langstroth’s contributions.
These are the work of local sculptor Rachael Katz, and each one has its own vibrant design by artists from the area.
8. Greenfield Farmers’ Market
Dating back to 1975, Greenfield has one of the best farmers’ markets around, taking over Court Square on Saturday mornings, May through October.
There’s an undeniable feeling of community at this event underpinned by a support for local musicians, with live performances scheduled throughout the season.
There are at least 30 vendors on the square every Saturday, selling fresh produce as it comes into season, as well as plants, cut flowers, grass-fed meat, eggs, cheeses, honey, maple syrup, fresh baked breads, pastries and much more than we can list here.
In the winter there’s a market on the square in the Second Congregational Church on the third Saturday of the month.
9. Greenfield Garden Cinemas
Another bragging point for downtown Greenfield is that the local movie theater dating back to 1928 is still in business.
Built in a Colonial Revival style, the Garden Theater was designed for both silent movies and vaudeville, before switching exclusively to movies after a few years.
In the 1980s the single auditorium was split into seven screens, to the obvious detriment of the interior’s once rich decoration.
All the same, a downtown movie theater is something to love, and as well as first run Hollywood movies there are special seasonal screenings for cult films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
10. Leavitt-Hovey House (Greenfield Public Library)
One of the main historical buildings in downtown Greenfield is Federal-style mansion built in 1797 for attorney, judge, and state senator, Jonathan Leavitt (1764-1830).
The house is an early design by Asher Benjamin (1773-1845), who lived in Greenfield at the time and made a lasting impact on townscapes across New England, right up to the Civil War.
An interesting feature is the pair of recessed, front-gabled wings, connected by short galleries. The house was taken over by Greenfield and opened as the public library in 1909, a role it still serves today.
11. Energy Park
By the tracks, this little oasis in the heart of Greenfield is on the former site Greenfield train station and an accompanying Boston and Maine Railroad yard.
In the 1990s, the town reached an agreement with the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA) to redevelop the property as a public space, knitting together that railroad history and the theme of sustainable energy.
You’ll see a preserved caboose, railroad-themed play equipment, and outdoor exhibits about renewables.
The bandstand is an anchor for outdoor gatherings and concerts, with up to 40 events held here during the summer. These include the summer concert series on Thursday evenings, and the Greenfield Players’ Shakespeare in the Park season.
12. Eunice Williams Covered Bridge
Crossing the Green River in remote western Greenfield is a handsome covered bridge. If this structure looks new, that’s because it was built in 1972 as a reproduction of a 19th-century bridge that had recently been destroyed by fire.
As markers tell you, there has been a crossing here for much longer, and the site is named for one Eunice Williams who was killed here during Queen Anne’s War in 1704.
She was one of more than 100 hostages taken by the French army and allied Abenaki and Mohawk tribes from nearby Deerfield to begin a grueling march to Canada.
Williams had given birth the day before, and, in no condition to make the trek, was felled by a tomahawk at this very site on the first leg.
13. Canalside Rail Trail
On the other bank of the river from Greenfield, almost four miles of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad have become a multi-use rail trail.
This takes you from the confluence of the Deerfield and Connecticut rivers in East Deerfield, upstream to Unity Park in Turners Falls, passing the Great Falls Discovery Center on the route.
The trail opened in 2008, and is mostly free of road traffic, apart from a short section on town streets.
Historic railroad infrastructure, like the old Turners Falls Branch Bridge between Deerfield and Montague, has been integrated into the route.
That metal truss bridge goes back to 1880, was restored after flooding in 1936, and then adapted for the rail trail in 2006.
14. Whitney Hill Antiques
If you love hunting for vintage items and collectibles, you’ll need plenty of time to do justice to this mammoth antiques center in downtown Greenfield.
Whitney Hill Antiques, which recently added a new location in Deerfield, is on three stories, with 60 vendors and 16,000 square feet of retail space.
You can disappear for an hour or two, browsing furniture, pottery, vintage clothing, lighting, cookware, toys, clocks, mirrors, dollhouses, tools, board games, sports memorabilia, seasonal decorations, and tons more.
Despite the amazing quantity of treasures, the store is neatly laid out, with clear walkways and constantly changing stock.
15. Franklin County Fair
Held in September and dating back to 1848, the Franklin County Fair takes place on Greenfield’s doorstep, bringing four days of livestock exhibits, contests, midway rides, craft vendors, delicious fair food, the Stoney Roberts Demolition Derby, and masses of other live entertainment.
On the opening Thursday there’s a kick-off parade, setting off from Greenfield Middle School and running through downtown on its way to the fairgrounds.
One emblem of the event is the Roundhouse, standing here since 1899 and serving as a showcase for handmade craft exhibits each year.