Even the Hotel Carpets Knocked my Socks Off!
I was prepared to be stunned by the unique antique decorations of the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, Western Massachusetts — after all, the hotel is almost 250 years old.
However, I was not expecting what a WILD mix of old and new sights exist in this famed Berkshires, MA inn, from rainbow rugs, to colonial china, to modern bottlecap art. Every detail of the hotel’s decor is an adventure! Come explore this famous New England icon with me…
Why is the Red Lion Inn a Must-See?
Usually, in my decade of travel blogging, I do not dedicate an entire article to a hotel from a mere two-hour walkthrough visit. However, there have been two instances when the decor and history of a hotel were so exceptional that I had to make an exception: Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi (click and you’ll see why), and… the Red Lion Inn in Western Massachusetts.
What makes the Red Lion Inn so exceptional? First, you’ll see through these photos that the hotel’s decor is unlike any other hotel in the world, thanks to two and a half centuries of acquired curious, artfully placed. Second, there’s the history.
One of the Most Historic Hotels of America
Established in 1773 (WHAT?!) as a stagecoach stop, the Red Lion Inn is even older than the United States. It was a charter member of Historic Hotels of America, and is one of a very small number of New England guest houses that have been continuously open since before 1800.
As a gathering place, the inn was instrumental in helping plan revolutionary activity in the 18th century. Since the creation of the United States, five presidents have stayed at the Red Lion Inn (Cleveland, McKinley, Coolidge, and both Roosevelts), as well as literary luminaries like Hawthorne and Longfellow, and many other celebrities, including Bob Dylan, Oprah, John Wayne, and Billy Joel!
A Famous Norman Rockwell Painting has the Inn
Whether you know its name or not, you’ve likely seen the Rockwell painting, “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” (also called “Home for Christmas“)… and it features the Red Lion Inn on the right side! With its glorious white-columned wraparound porch, the inn is perfect in that winter holiday New England scene.
In fact, Rockwell lived and painted for much of his life in Stockbridge, and the excellent Norman Rockwell Museum can now be found in the town. As an homage to Rockwell, the friendly (but decidedly proud) cat stalking the halls of the Red Lion Inn is named… Norman! I gave him a rub during my visit, but he declined to pose for photographs.
Saved from Destruction by Fire
How did the Red Lion Inn survive all these centuries? Heroes. In 1896, a fire ravaged the buildings, but the numerous colonial antiques collected by the 19th century owners, the Plumbs, were miraculously saved.
Given the voluminous number of items this involved, I have no idea how this was achieved, but thank those who kept the historic decor alive! Visitors can now see the antiques displayed all over the inn, as in the glass case in the photo, below.
Would You Rather: the Inn… or a Gas Station?
Moving to the 20th century, the inn had fallen on such hard times in 1968 that it was slated to be leveled and replaced with… a gas station! Can you imagine?! All that history erased to make way for petrol!
Blessedly, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, (creators of Country Curtains) swooped to the rescue to purchase and revitalize the Red Lion. It was their initiative to unearth the hundreds of colonial era antiques collected by previous owners and display them as decorations.
Now, this is a perfect segue to mosey from historical talk towards the remarkable decor of the inn. Get your eyeballs ready…
Each Guest Room is COMPLETELY Different
Every single guest room of the Red Lion Inn is different from the others. Want to sleep in an antique bed with blue wooden carvings, in a room with uneven floors and historic flowered wallpaper? Done. Want a wheelchair accessible, new-construction, pet-friendly room with modern decor? Covered.
With over 125 rooms spanning multiple buildings — the main inn plus several surrounding cottages, including a renovated century-old firehouse! — options for accommodations are wider than nearly any other hotel I’ve ever seen.
Given this, it is very important to know that your stay will be completely different depending on which room you pick. Further do note that some rooms are still in the process of being upgraded. Be in clear communication with the staff if you choose an overnight visit, because sleeping in an ever-changing 250-year-old building is not like any ordinary chain hotel stay!
Unique Hotel Carpets, Furniture, and Decor
The common areas of the Red Lion Inn range from big gathering spaces to hidden nooks, but each crevice boasts decorative treats ranging from colonial antiques to modern art. You could spend days wandering the property, discovering a new visual and historic “Ahh!” each minute.
Isn’t it a hoot how my patterned dress blended with the flowers and waves of the wallpaper? If you’re digging my fashion choice and want to know more about the frock, check out my love song to my friend’s company that makes my adored dresses for travel. It’s one of the fastest-growing women-owned companies in America! Now, on to more Red Lion Inn decoration delight…
It was interesting to contrast the Red Lion Inn with the other Historic Hotel of America that I’ve explored: the Woodstock Inn — an astoundingly beautiful hotel founded way back in 1793 (20 years after the Red Lion) in the bucolic rolling hills Woodstock, VT.
Though both inns have similarities — calming New England settings, layers of history, and artful antique chairs placed in nooks — they are decidedly different experiences. While the Woodstock Inn has been fully renovated to streamline decor and feel, the Red Lion embraces its eclectic vintage feel.
To show how eclectic the Red Lion is, take note that we just moved from photos of a modern bottle cap art chair to the inn’s 18th century tavern!
It’s really important to note when planning at visit or stay at the Red Lion Inn that you are NOT walking into a cookie-cutter, super-polished luxury travel experience. Rather, the inn is a living, pulsing 250 treasure trove of history.
If you visited the inn once a month, you’d see something different each time. The hotel is in a constant journey of renovations and upkeep. I’m reminded of famous rainbow buildings of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico a world away: It’s a never-ending tango with time to keep centuries-old walls looking lovely.
4 Different Places to Eat at the Inn
Getting peckish after traipsing about the hotel to discover decor? Good news! There are four eateries at the Red Lion — each of which is decorated totally differently, and most of which are open to the public for food and drink. Just make sure to make reservations whenever possible, since spots go fast.
Pictured below is the tavern, which has a similar cozy, dark-wood feel to the Lion’s Den Pub: the large basement venue popular with folks from Stockbridge and beyond for its live entertainment and free entrance.
Most stately of the dining options is the red-carpeted, sprawling Main Dining Room which is pictured earlier in this article in its regal chandelier-crowned splendor. Even if you don’t get the chance to eat there, merely peeking at this Dining “Room” (which is more like 7 rooms in one) is an experience. I half expected a princess dress to poof onto my body, it was so castle-like!
Finally, there’s the outdoor Courtyard eatery. My little brother (who kindly accompanied me on this exploit) and I opted to lunch in the outdoor courtyard, picking a series of dishes which were crowned by these multicolored cauliflower florets, pictured below.
Stockbridge, MA and Tanglewood
The town of Stockbridge, itself, is wonderful. As you can see from the “Country Store” photo below, the preserved historic buildings make Main Street feel like a Norman Rockwell painting brought to life, and it’s a perfect place for wandering, window shopping, and getting away from your usual grind.
Of course, no mention of Stockbridge would be complete without an homage to Tanglewood: world class music and arts performances, a mere 11 minute drive from the inn. If you’re staying at the Red Lion, there’s even a shuttle to take you there! (Find information about this and other questions on the hotel FAQ page.)
James Taylor and Stockbridge
Speaking of Tanglewood concerts and Stockbridge, MA, raise your hand if the name of the town spurred a mental playback of the “Sweet Baby James” lyrics:
“Now the first of December was covered with snow;
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
The Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting,
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go…”
Porch Performances at the Inn
This song is based on the true fact that James Taylor made his home in Western Massachusetts for many years, and did indeed do that Mass Pike drive between Stockbridge and Boston. In addition to performing at Tanglewood, however, did you know that James Taylor has actually performed on the wraparound porch of the Red Lion Inn?!
That porch is constantly featuring events and presentations of all kinds, so definitely keep an eye on offerings you might want to attend if you’re nearby. We just missed a Dylan Thomas reading the day we visited!
Speaking of the intersection between the inn and the arts, I’m thrilled to report that — like the famous Fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright — the Red Lion Inn offers an artist residency program! Whether you’re an artist looking for a new spot to, well, reside, or a fan of the arts who wants to find new stars, this is worth checking out.
Things to Do in Western Mass
I’m becoming increasingly addicted to the rolling green hills of the Western Massachusetts Berkshires. Whether you’re planning on staying at the Red Lion Inn and want activities beyond it, or are cavorting in the Berkshires and popping by the inn to browse the history, there is a surprising amount to do (beyond just wandering the small towns, which is a particular passion of mine.)
A scenic drive of less than an hour north offers Mount Greylock (the highest point in MA — which you can summit with a looping drive for an incredible view of New England), MASS MoCA (one of the most astounding and enjoyable modern art museums around), and… an alpaca farm. Who doesn’t love an alpaca farm?!
Finally, if you’re up for a 37 minute drive south, Bash Bish Falls is the highest waterfall in Massachuetts and has two fun and doable hiking options — just make sure you click that article if you’re visiting to avoid making the mistake we made when we attempted the hike!
Closing Thoughts on this Historic Inn Visit
If you are near Stockbridge in Western Massachusetts, I highly recommend at least popping into the Red Lion Inn to peek at its epic decor. Should you decide to stay, this easy affiliate TripAdvisor link for discounts often yields booking deals — just remember to be in touch with the staff to find which of the 125 unique guest rooms matches what you are seeking, and remember that every room provides a totally different experience.
Overall, I was surprisingly moved by my day visit to the Red Lion Inn. It truly is a time machine… except every corner transports you to a different decade of the past 250 years, depending which curio, wall covering, or carpet you’re near!
I’d like to close by sharing a photo I took of a flower growing in the hotel’s garden. To me, it exemplifies the Red Lion Inn: Ornate, layered, varied and unique — but not crisp and “perfect”… and therein lies its beauty.
What Do YOU Think About the Red Lion Inn?
Have you ever visited the Red Lion Inn? If so, what were your thoughts? If you haven’t, does this seem like the kind of spot you’d like to go? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!