Housatonic is located on Route 183 just north of Great Barrington, and about 12 miles south of Lenox.
Housatonic originated as a mill village, a small complex of worker's housing growing up around the
numerous mills that were located on that spot on the Housatonic River. At one time all of the mill buildings
were part of a concern called "Monument Mills", a textile manufacturing company. Monument Mills
flourished from the 1890's, until the late 1950's. Many of the local Polish, and Italian residents either
worked in the mills or were related to people that worked there. After the mills closed the industrial
buildings were abandoned for many years and at one time provided a vast and complex playground for
teenagers whose graffiti from the seventies can still be seen atop the water tower in the center of the
village. This water tower is considered a symbol of the village; an indicator of its past industrial heritage,
and its present visual artistic life.|
Beginning in the seventies individual mill buildings began to be purchased at very low prices and gradually
the mills began to fill up with an assortment of light industry and artists studios. At that time there was such
a vast quanity of unused space that for very little rent people took the space they needed and many artists
lived in the mills in very bohemian spaces. This period of Housatonic's history coincides with the similar
developments in New York's So Ho. Unlike So Ho however almost nobody knew about the situation in
Housatonic except those directly involved. By the 80's so many artists had located in Housatonic, that it
began to have a reputation as an artist community. In the late 80's galleries began to open in the town. The
first gallery to open was called Spazi, Spazi began as an artist studio on the top floor loft space above
Barbieri's Lumber company. The first show in the gallery was a show of work by Housatonic artists.
Almost all the galleries that have existed in Housatonic have been artist run and operated, or cooperatives.
At present there are three commercial galleries in Housatonic, and over thirty artist studios, some in the
mill buildings, and some in individual houses. The town sponsors open studiodays a few times a year, and
with the help of a map obtainable from the galleries, one is able to visit many studios, both in Housatonic
and along Route 183, north of the village. Although cheap, well lit space in the mills is a thing of the past,
Housatonic remains an artist community. There is a gritty, industrial quality about the village, which many
people find a relief after experiencing the quaint postcard perfect towns of Lenox and Stockbridge.
Note: When visiting Housatonic don't expect to find cafe's, restaurants and clothing boutiques, there are
none. To the first time visitor Housatonic seems to be completely without any activity. The qualities that
make Housatonic so unique have to be sought out. The artists who live in Housatonic love it very much and
as one said recently, "It's the best town I ever felt alienated from".
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