Another in a series of New England getaways on public transportation.
SPRINGFIELD — The museums of the Springfield Quadrangle constitute a Massachusetts mini-Smithsonian. They’re mostly clustered around a plaza with a bronze zoo of Horton, the Whos, the Cat in the Hat, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel himself, and other fictive figures of tongue-twisting rhyme-jangling fame. When cabin fever sets in and spring seems impossibly far away, an escape to Springfield is not. It’s especially fitting that these treasure houses of art, science, and history grace the hometown of Dr. Seuss, who saw the wonder in everything. As Geisel wrote in “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” “Out there things can happen / and frequently do / to people as brainy / and footsy as you.” Hop a bus and have a look.
Peter Pan buses depart from South Station and arrive in Springfield at the Peter L. Picknelly Transportation Center, named for the son of Peter C. Picknelly, who founded Peter Pan Bus Lines in Springfield in 1933. The standard long-haul coaches tend to be well-maintained, with reclining seats, adequate legroom, reading lights, and adjustable vents. A few seats also have electrical outlets. In theory, cellphone use is limited to brief conversations and quiet tones. The ride takes from one hour 45 minutes to two hours 15 minutes, depending on time of day and whether the route includes stops in Framingham or Worcester. On both weekdays and weekends, there are two morning departures from Boston that give you plenty of time in Springfield before taking a late afternoon or early evening bus home.
This trip works every day but Monday — when the museums are closed. The Springfield bus terminal at 1776 Main St. doesn’t invite lingering, but it is convenient. Walking to the Springfield Museums Welcome Center (21 Edwards St., 413-263-6800, www.springfieldmuseums.org; single admission to all museums adults $15, seniors and college students $10, ages 3-17 $8) takes about 15 minutes at a leisurely pace. There’s also a taxi rank at the terminal.
WHAT TO DO
A good place to begin exploring is the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum , which opened in 1896 to display the collections amassed by G.W.V. and his Springfield-born wife, Belle Townsley Smith. The collector had strong ideas about making the most of the museum experience — opinions preserved on a plaque near the entrance: “Make your vision big and view the museum as a whole,” he advised, “instead of rushing up to an object and scrutinizing it
minutely, and then dashing to another corner and examining something else.” Each of the galleries is a little universe — one inhabited by Japanese arms and armor (including dramatic samurai pieces), others by Chinese jades and cloisonné. Chalky white plaster casts of classical sculpture pop against the lime green walls of yet another gallery.
The Michele & Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, diagonally across the quad, is home to the proto-steam-punk canvas “The Historical Monument of the American Republic” by Leverett-born Erastus Salisbury Field, who painted the 9-by-13-foot architectural allegory from 1867 to 1888. A handful of excellent Hudson River School landscapes flank Field’s masterpiece in the ground-level court, and a separate gallery features Currier & Ives engravings. The upper level skims swiftly and often memorably from late medieval Gothic painting to a Monet “grainstack.”
Kids adore the remaining two museums. The Springfield Science Museum spans the intensely local (dinosaur footprints laid down nearby 190 million years ago) to the universal (planetarium shows). Natural history exhibits — including a life-size replica of a T. rex and a veritable zoo of taxidermied African mega-fauna — are among the more dramatic.
The Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History transcends didacticism with eye-dazzling exhibitions of Indian motorcycles through the years, as well as a couple of stunning Rolls-Royce automobiles (also made in Springfield), and even an exhibition on the history of Peter Pan Bus Lines. Unlike the Smithsonian in Washington, there are no spacecraft, but a few Springfield-built Gee Bee racing airplanes hang from the ceiling.
At lunchtime, the museum’s Blake House Café (on the Quadrangle, $3.50-
$7), in an 1839 Victorian-style cottage, is a convenient option for soup, salads, and sandwiches without straying far from the exhibits. A 10-minute walk away, Red Rose Pizzeria (1060 Main St., 413-739-8510, www.redrosepizzeria.com, pizzas from $12, pasta and grinders from $7.49) is a Springfield institution in its own right. More than a pizzeria (although it’s fun to watch the dough-making operation through a glass wall), Red Rose offers a full line of Italian-American dishes. The family freezes local eggplants in the summer to make their eggplant rolatini all year round.
Boston-Springfield round-trip tickets cost $47 weekdays and $48 weekends at the ticket counter. E-tickets are $41.40 on weekdays and $47 on weekends from the Peter Pan website (www.peterpanbus.com), plus a $1 e-ticket fee. With only half-full buses on a weekday, we found the service clean, convenient, and reasonably comfortable.