2 Free little museums in Berkshires – Thunderbolt and Crane Paper Making

By Jelane A. Kennedy

Thunderbolt display. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

As we were exploring the northern part of the Berkshires and where the Ashuwillticook rail trail extended we discovered two great little museums that are little gems. The first was the Thunderbolt Ski Museum in Adams. The museum is in the Adams Visitor Center just as you come in the door from the parking lot. We noticed it as we headed for the restroom. When we came back out we decided to check out the display of old fashion ski equipment and apparel. Once in side the small space we realize we had stumble upon this great little museum that told the history of Thunderbolt. We had actually heard of Thunderbolt a few years earlier when we were near Whiteface Mountain in New York and read about lost ski areas in the northeast. For such a small museum it was packed full of interesting information.

Thunderbolt was a ski run that skiers would hike up carrying their gear, it usually took two hours to climb and not long to make the fast ascent down (the fastest under three minutes)! We could actually look up from the Adams visitor center and see the trail since at that time there was still a bit of snow on the ground. The trail has a very fascinating history. It is on the east slope of Mt. Greylock the highest mountain in the Berkshire’s in Massachusetts.

Another skier display at Thunderbolt museum Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

The Civilian Conservation Corp cut the ski run into the mountain in 1934. It was named after a Roller Coaster. From the time it was created and into the 1940’s it was actively used for numerous ski-racing competitions. Many skiers from the area served in WWII as military ski patrols having learned skiing on Thunderbolt. After WWII there was a decline in the use of Thunderbolt, as modern recreational skiing became more popular with ski lifts and other amenities.

It wasn’t until the late 1990’s when a group came together to reclaim the ski run for both skiers and snowboarders. A documentary movie (Purple Mountain Majesty) was made about the ski run and since then several completions have off and on continued. All run by hearty volunteers. The display has multiple examples of skis, boots, and apparel. There was also a history lesson about a few of local men who served in the WWII. There was also supposed to be a documentary available to watch but it was not working that day.

Another display I found, discussed the first ski patrols and how they came about. There is a website dedicated to Thunderbolt but it has not been updated since 2014.

Front entrance of Crane Paper Making Museum Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

While at the Thunderbolt Museum I picked up in the Visitor Center a brochure about the Crane Papermaking Museum. Eileen is a huge Crane paper fan; she use to stamp her own cards and Crane paper was her preferred choice. A couple of years ago we found out about the museum but at that time it was not open in March when we sometimes came to the area. But this time we were later in the calendar year and it was open that afternoon. So after finishing up at Thunderbolt we headed over to Dalton and found the Crane Museum and Center for Paper Arts.

The building that houses the museum is one of the original buildings. It was the former Rag Room for the historic Stone Mill. Crane has been making paper for the US Mint since the United States started printing paper currency since 1879. It has been the only company that has made our currency and up until recently it was a family owned business passed down from generation to generation. There are two locations one here in the US and one in Switzerland (that specializes in currency for other countries). Crane is known for the development of the security papers used that are full of all the high tech features, which make counterfeiting money difficult.

How is paper made? Eileen learning the process. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

Zenas Crane started the company in 1801. He came from a family of papermakers. What makes Crane paper what it is? Cotton not wood pulp. I had no idea that paper was made with cotton! Crane paper is also know as some of the finest personal stationery paper around and used by many presidents over the years.

As a museum it is neat to visit to learn about the papermaking process. The building itself is dramatic with large old beams and windows near the river, which use to power the mill process. There are displays discussing how paper was made in the beginning years and showing the labor intense process. The watermark process and concept was fascinating. While we were there a group of kids were just finishing a demonstration on papermaking. Since it was the end of the day we missed out on participating ourselves in the making paper.

The docent we met did a presentation about Crane paper and we watched a film discussing the security of crane currency papers. The film was very informative and worth watching.

The makers of money! Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

One of the displays discussed the security papers and how currency counterfeit measures are used. It was very fascinating to look at all the high tech measures in our paper money that make it safe. Who thinks up those things?

The other display I liked was the personalized stationary with notes from several presidents and first ladies. There were notes from long past to current day.

Our docent mentioned that she was uncertain how much longer the museum would be open as the new owner might decide that they did not want to continue. You could tell there was such a sense of pride for having worked at Crane and that people are nervous that one of the businesses they felt loyal to might go the way of many businesses in the area and leave.

So if you get a chance be sure to visit sooner rather than later. They are open typically in the summer from June to October, Monday through Friday from 1pm to 5pm. We actually went in spring, so they did add those hours a couple of years ago. It would be worth calling ahead.

Visiting Crane. Photo by Jelane A. Kennedy

© 2018 Jelane A. Kennedy


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