Springfield, Massachusetts and nearby Hartford, Connecticut combine to make the second largest metro area in New England (after Boston). Having been to Hartford a few years ago, I decided to check out Springfield. After toying around with logistics, I realized that I could tack on two half-days in Springfield on to my late February Worcester trip via the once-daily Amtrak. I planned to make this a car-free trip, so I rented an AirBNB about a 40-minute walk from downtown. The listing was interestingly in Spanish and was significantly cheaper than anything else in the area.
February 26, 2022: Out and About
The Amtrak train from Worcester arrived around 15:00. The ride took an hour and dropped me off in downtown.
Downtown Springfield is also home to all the attractions. One of those attractions is the Springfield Museums, a collection of 5 museums. It includes an art museum, history museum and Dr. Seuss Museum because the famed children´s writer is from Springfield. Entry to the museums cost $25 for the day. Unfortunately, with only an hour before closing, I could not justify this cost. So instead, I walked through the beautifully done Dr. Seuss sculpture garden.
Next to the Dr. Seuss garden is, appropriately, the main branch of the Springfield Library. The library was built by Andrew Carnegie and contains an impressive central rotunda dome.
I then walked to my AirBNB-. The walk took about 45 minutes. I was led past enormous mansions. Towards the end of my walk, the neighborhood changed to a Latino neighborhood. The houses were still large but not as large and were subdivided. My AirBNB was one of these subdivided houses.
A few blocks away was the childhood home of Dr. Seuss aka Theodor Seuss Geisel. He lived here from birth until leaving for Dartmouth College. After college he moved back to Springfield before leaving for good in 1927 to pursue his cartooning career in New York City.
After dropping off my bags and charging my phone, it was time to head downtown, which was buzzing despite the cold weather. My first stop was the White Lion Brewery. The brand has been around for 6 years, but recently opened its very own taproom, which is enormous. The menu was extensive, but heavy on sours. I got a flight of sours served on a Massachusetts-shaped paddle.
A few blocks away, I walked over to MassMutual Center for a minor league hockey game. Springfield is home to the Springfield Thunderbirds, the minor league affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. I got the cheapest ticket, which was $10.
While much smaller than an NHL arena, the MassMutual Center was still a comfortable place to watch a game and had a good array of food and souvenir options. It definitely felt more “hometown”. Local organizations such as the Lions and Boy Scout troops had tables on the concourse. A local kids dance troop was the entertainment.
As for the hockey itself, it was just as good as the NHL to my untrained eye. The game ended up being really good with the Thunderbirds winning in the last few minutes.
Since I had not eaten yet, I walked over to Theodore´s Blues, Booze, and BBQ, a local institution that does feel like New England. Live blues music filled the air as I ordered my St. Louis style ribs, collared greens and moonshine cocktail. I really liked this place.
Exhausted from a long day of exploring both Worcester and Springfield, I took an Uber back to the AirBNB and quickly fell asleep.
February 27, 2022: The Big Sights
My goal was to visit Springfield´s two main sights: the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Armory. Both are near downtown and can be visited on foot.
My first stop was the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Located in an odd strip mall next to a Cold Stone Creamery, the Basketball Hall of Fame consists of three parts: a museum of the history of basketball, the Hall of Fame, and a basketball court (of course!)
You may be wondering why this museum is in Springfield. Turns out Springfield is where basketball was invented.
James Naismith was working in the Springfield YMCA and wanted to create a game that could be played indoors during the winter. In 1891, he strapped peach baskets on either end of the gym and used a soccer ball as the ball. The game originally was played 9 vs 9 and had 13 rules. The game spread very quickly due to the wide reach of Christian missionaries associated with the YMCA and later by US soldiers in World War I. The first professional basketball leagues were founded just 8 years after the game was invented.
As for Naismith, he would move to Lawrence, Kansas where he started the basketball program at the University of Kansas. His head coaching record was not so good – he was the only coach in Kansas history to have compiled a losing record – but he remained a champion of the game. Naismith ended up living long enough to see basketball make its official Olympic debut in the 1936 Berlin games.
During this time there were numerous basketball leagues around the United States that would last a few years before folding. There were also professional teams that would travel around the country to play local amateurs (the Harlem Globetrotters are a relic of this era). The National Basketball Association (NBA) was founded in 1946 by merging two leagues. This league ended up surviving and is now the top level of professional basketball in the world.
While the superstars are undoubtedly a focus of the museum, there is a lot more to the story of basketball. The museum has sections on the Players Union, superfans, and coaches. The final section was about championship games. The museum did a good job at integrating college and the WNBA into the narrative.
At the end of the museum is the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame is a society of the top people who contributed to the game of basketball. This includes players, coaches, referees, teams, and other contributors such as team owners, sports commentators, or league officials. The Hall of Fame covers all levels of basketball in all countries and includes both the men´s and women´s games.
Induction to the Hall of Fame is based on a vote of committees of sportswriters. Inductees are welcomed into the Hall of Fame in a lavish ceremony every year. As of February 2022, there are 401 inductees. The names of the inductees are displayed in a sleek room at the end of the museum.
Finally, it was time to shoot some hoops. At the bottom floor of the Hall of Fame is a basketball court. Lots of kids were shooting. On the side, a couple peach baskets were hung on the wall, just like it was played here in Springfield 130 years ago.
My next stop was Springfield Armory National Historic Site. The site commemorates the United States Armory and Arsenal at Springfield, the US´s main military gun production center for nearly 200 years.
Gun production started in Springfield in 1777. George Washington himself picked the site due to its central location in New England and location with access to three rivers and four roads.
In 1787, the Armory was the site of Shay´s Rebellion, a populist uprising. The rebellion was quickly quelled, but it was used during the drafting of the US Constitution by those seeking stronger central government.
The Armory produced nearly all the guns used by the US military. During the Civil War, the North outproduced the South by a 30-1 margin because of the Armory.
The Armory was also a center of firearm research. Some of the deadliest weapons ever were created here including most notably the M1 rifle. The M1 was the most accurate gun of its day (the early 1900´s).
The Armory, at this point more than 20 buildings, closed in 1968 after it was decided that private companies would produce America´s weapons. 80% of the site would turn into a college. 15% is unoccupied and 5% is run by the National Park Service.
The Park Service section includes one large building with a firearm museum. The rangers here are exceptionally knowledgeable, and I had a really fun time chatting with them.
For lunch, I went back downtown to the Student Prince restaurant. Built on the site of the original fort, Student Prince is an old-school German food institution. I sat at the bar next to several older couples who were upset that the bar has been renovated since the 1960´s…while they watched sports on the TV. I ordered a sausage sampler with 3 types of sausage with Brussel sprouts and it was delicious.
With that, it was time to head home. I walked to the train station where I booked a bus home to New York. Multiple companies offer service to New York, but I opted for Peter Pan, which is headquartered here in Springfield. It was nothing special, but I got back to New York in a little under 4 hours.
Springfield was a surprising delight. The sights are numerous and varied: Basketball, US munitions manufacturing and Dr Seuss. The town has an energy that seems to be missing in many of the other mid-sized cities in the region like Worcester. Additionally, I enjoyed meeting the people.
In the summer, there is also a Six Flags park and the largest state fair in the northeast. For this reason, I believe Springfield is a worthy destination for a full day in the winter or for an entire weekend in the summer.