The keys to Lee’s history can be found in its natural environment. Forests yielded the lumber that built our quaint old frame homes. Those same woods gave us pulp and, for a time, made the town the paper capital of America. Unyielding marble was cut from the ground by tough, hard-working immigrants, then shipped to Eastern cities to construct many of our most famous buildings.
There is a little bit of Lee in the U. S. Capitol Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Lincoln Memorial and the Boston Public Library. Quarrying still goes on in town and thousands of Americans sweeten their lawns with lime from Lee. Specialty paper is still made in the town that has not lost its blue-collar roots. Farms producing dairy products, beef, pork, vegetables and wool also dot the landscape. Most of us here are early risers.
Lee was never the darling of the Berkshire Cottage set and it remained a mill town well into the mid-twentieth century. Then the Massachusetts Turnpike cut its swath through the state and funneled most Berkshire traffic into our town. We started calling ourselves the “Gateway to the Berkshires.” Gradually we became a visitor stop and a place for vacation homes.
Even while Lee maintains its somewhat gritty past, it has made a transition. The College Internship Program gives us a little of the feel of a unique prep school village. Spectrum Playhouse brings in cultural events. Berkshire Gateway Jazz Weekend has intensified the beat. At Animagic you can practice with movie special effects. Jacob’s Pillow is in Becket, but its ties to Lee are strong. You can even take a hike with some friendly llamas at Hawkmeadow Farm. Lee remains at its heart a rather quaint industrial village that found a way to accommodate thousands of visitors without losing its soul.
More detail about the history of Lee is available through the very active Lee Historical Society.
Adapted from an article entitled “Authentic Lee in the Authentic Berkshires,” by Phil Smith, published in Our Berkshire Times, August-September, 2013, p. 11.