We headed to Springfield for one reason only: to visit the newly opened Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. We are big Dr. Seuss fans, enamored with his crazy, mixed-up words, his rhyming tongue twisters, his made-up, colorful characters, the utter nonsense. “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think!” He made reading fun.
The museum was full of bold colors and curvy lines, with hands-on exhibits, murals, and beloved characters. It was like walking into a Dr. Seuss book. The first rooms were dedicated to the author’s life growing up in Springfield. We pushed buttons to hear the sounds of his Mulberry Street neighborhood; we wrote on the walls in his bedroom, and prepared treats in the mock bakery where Seuss’s mother once worked. There was “fishing” in McElligot’s Pond, and popular Dr. Seuss movies played in a cozy corner cubby. Other rooms were full of interactive displays and book characters. We listened to Horton’s Whoville band, met the Cat in the Hat, and climbed a wump with humps. On the lower level, a full-time educator in The Cat’s Corner taught arts and crafts and science projects.
It had been years since we visited Springfield. We decided to stick around and check out some of the other city sights. Apparently, lots of folks have had the same thought. The new museum opening, along with a host of revitalization projects, has lured a record number of visitors to the city, and injected new energy and life to the downtown district.
“Visitation across all our museums was up 300 percent in the first three months after the opening of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum,” says Karen Fisk, public relations and marketing director for Springfield Museums. “And interest continues; we’ve doubled our admissions since last year at this point.”
Springfield, dubbed the City of Firsts (the first American-made musket was built here; the first American-English dictionary was created here; the first dog show was held here, and basketball was invented here), is on the uptick.
“We are absolutely shining now. There’s an optimism and enthusiasm that hasn’t been here before,” says Peter Picknelly, owner of Peter Pan Bus Lines, headquartered in Springfield. “It’s our Renaissance.”
This oft-overlooked, family-friendly destination, a mere 90 miles or so from Boston, has a lot happening. The historic downtown Union Station, shuttered for more than 40 years, recently reopened after an $88.5 million restoration project. The Springfield Thunderbirds, a new AHL hockey team affiliated with the Florida Panthers, has drawn enthusiastic fans and sold-out crowds to its downtown arena. This year, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will begin a massive, two-year multimillion-dollar renovation, and MGM will complete its $960 million mega resort and casino, transforming the tornado-damaged South End neighborhood. Downtown Pynchon Park Plaza is getting a $3.5 million makeover, including a pedestrian link to the Springfield Museums and Library Quadrangle. Things are beginning to buzz.
We started at the Quadrangle, home to five museums (800-625-7738, www.springfield
museums.org). After our fun Dr. Seuss immersion, we took a quick peek into the George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, home to a rare collection of plaster casts, Japanese arms and armor, 19th-century American paintings, Greek and Roman antiquities, and other collections. The Italian palazzo-style building was also recently renovated, including a complete restoration of its original Tiffany stained glass windows. We’d go just for a look at the exquisite windows; it’s the only museum in the world with original Tiffany windows still in place. The museum’s Hasbro Games Arts Discovery Center, with bold, jewel colors and Asian-inspired murals, is a cool hangout, too, where kids can try on costumes, create animal puppets, attend story hours and do arts and crafts projects. Other museums in the Quadrangle include the Springfield Science Museum, with its giant T-Rex replica, collection of mounted African animals, and planetarium; the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, featuring European art and an impressive Currier & Ives collection; the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, and the outdoor Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden. All the museums feature kid-friendly programs and exhibits throughout the year.
One of the top, often overlooked attractions in the city is the Springfield Armory National Historic Site (413-734-8551, www.nps.gov/spar). The nation’s first armory is jam-packed with firearms and weapons, dating back to the Revolutionary War. Rangers provide lots of history and background information, and lead several interesting tours. We would have liked a walk around the grounds, if it hadn’t been so cold.
Instead, we headed back downtown to the Student Prince and Fort Restaurant, a Springfield landmark since 1935 (413-734-7475, www.studentprince.com). The restaurant, specializing in German cuisine, boasts one of the world’s largest collections of beer steins (1,750); Gourmet Magazine listed it as one of 21 legendary restaurants in the country you should visit. We dined on schnitzels and sauerbraten, among a crowd of business people, families, and young and old couples. The place — like the rest of this city — was buzzing.
If you go: For more information, contact the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, or visit www.explorewesternmass.com. Consider an overnight; the city has a number of economical places to stay, including top hotel chains. We like the recently re-done Sheraton Springfield Monarch Place Hotel (413-781-1010; www.sheraton.com/springfield), with a central downtown location and updated, modern rooms; rates start at $129.Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at email@example.com.