Often referred to as “Great Falls,” Turners Falls is the largest of the five villages of the Franklin County town of Montague, with a population of about 4,500 people. It is also home to NEPM’s Monte Belmonte.  

A great champion of his adopted hometown, Monte was kind enough to take us on a tour of some of the places and people that make this Franklin County village so special to him.  

Monte brought us to several stops along the way but began our tour at a place that he has a personal connection with – the Shea Theater. 

This segment originally aired on March 31, 2022.

Read the full transcript:

Monte Belmonte, NEPM:  Well, welcome to my neighborhood.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. And let’s make the most of this beautiful day, shall we? And I’ll show you around the village of Turners Falls, where I’ve lived for the last 18 years.

It is a great town and I love living here and I love being on Avenue A. I’m also really involved in this beautiful theater that we’re standing in front of right now, the Shea Theater, which is owned by the town of Montague and run by a nonprofit board, of which I am the president, and directed by Linda Tardif, who I’ll introduce you to when we go inside the theater.

Let me introduce you to our managing director, Linda Tardif. Hello, Linda.

Linda Tardif, Shea Theater Arts Center: Hey, Monte!

Monte Belmonte: Can you call me Mr. President?

Linda Tardif: I will not.

Monte Belmonte: Okay. Can you tell us the brief history of the Shea?

Linda Tardif: Well, it’s lived a lot of lives since it opened in 1925 as a vaudeville house. Then it moved on to a movie house, and we actually have one of the original posters here from The Three Musketeers.

Then in the 1970s, it was a renaissance community.

Monte Belmonte: A commune.

Linda Tardif: Commune.

Monte Belmonte: Yes. Taking over this building and using it as their kind of center of activity and worship and what.

Linda Tardif: And whatnot. And then it moved into a community theater. And then it comes to us, starting in 2015.

Monte Belmonte: Will you show us a little bit around the theater?

Linda Tardif: Come on, let’s go.

Monte Belmonte: All right, Linda, what are we checking out here?

Linda Tardif: Well, tonight is a really cool night because we have Grammy- nominated, all-female folk group Della Mae in the house tonight.

Monte Belmonte: What else is coming up?

Linda Tardif: All kinds of stuff. We have Amy Helm coming in April. We have a local all-day music festival called Mud Season, the Adam Ezra Group. There’s so much coming up.

Monte Belmonte: But it’s not just music. There’s also theater and other things, as well. There’s free movie nights.

I mean, I am part of the theater, so I know what’s going on in it. That’s kind of part of the overall vision of what we do. But we couldn’t do it without you, Linda Tardif!

Linda Tardif: Thanks, Monte!

Monte Belmonte: But we sure will try now.

I’m just kidding! I love her.

Coming up, I will take you to the store that has created the last two years’ worth of the strange outfits I’ve worn on this thing called the March for the Food Bank that you might have heard of. And it’s all made out of amazing, repurposed fabric, some of it from Broadway.

Let me introduce you to Catherine Greenwood Swanson from Swanson’s fabrics, plural and possessive, where all of the fabric in here is $4 a yard, no matter where it came from. It’s sort of your vision of being trash rich.

And some of this fabric has come from very rich background. Can you talk about your vision here?

Kathryn Swanson, Swanson’s Fabrics: Well, in fact, this piece actually here — hello, Monte —

Monte Belmonte: Hello!

Kathryn Swanson: — is a piece that came from a Broadway costume designer who had too much fabric and needed a place for it to go that was not the landfill. So, it came here.

Monte Belmonte: Another cool thing on this block is Buckingham Rabbits Vintage, which is two doors over where, if you know maybe you aren’t so adroit at making your own clothing yet, you can go over there and get other fantastic stuff.

So, this is sort of a block on Avenue A that’s focusing on reclaiming fabric and clothing.

Kathryn Swanson: This town is an incredible place for an enduring goods market, is what I call it.

So, a market where we are selling things that have already existed and are not being made new. I think it’s the most sustainable way you can possibly shop.

Monte Belmonte: One of the things that’s beautiful about the town is that the river runs right down behind us. And one of the great resources in town is a small museum dedicated to celebrating the culture of the environment of the river. And I’ll take you to the Great Falls Discovery Center to check it out.

I feel so, Mister Rogers-y, going around my neighborhood. But I want to introduce you to my friend, who is the Visitor Services Supervisor here at the Great Falls Discovery Center, a free museum on Avenue A in Great Falls or Turners Falls, it’s Janel Nockleby, otherwise known as The Lady at the Desk.

And you’re going to show us around this incredible, free museum where, you’ve got all these really cool dioramas of all this aquatic life and other types of wildlife that surround where we are in the Connecticut River Watershed.

What are some of the things that we learn about here?

Janel Nockleby, Great Falls Discovery Center: Well, you learn everything from the border of Canada and New Hampshire to Long Island Sound, all the different habitats.

So, everything from a salt marsh, where you might see a muskrat in our dioramas to the the floodplain forests, where you might see the raccoons and the eagles. Each habitat tells a story of animals that are unique to that habitat.

Monte Belmonte: And the other thing that’s really cool is you have a place where you can actually see all of the phases of the river, from industrialization to its habitat. All in the back of the building here.

Janel Nockleby: Yes! Yes.

Monte Belmonte: Let’s go check it out.

Janel Nockleby: Okay.

Janel Nockleby: What’s great about this canal is there’s a three-and-a-half-mile bike path that connects from Unity Park all the way to the East Deerfield Rail Yard.

It’s a great walk. And also, it helps remind us of the legacy of industrialization here, too. You can see old mill buildings. Some are still standing; some are long gone. Some are falling apart.

Monte Belmonte: Well, we’re really lucky — and I’m really lucky because I live right down the street — to have a great museum like this here. Janelle, thank you for giving us a little tour.

We could take the bike path, which is right outside this window, all the way down to the gateway to my neighborhood, which just happens to have an excellent brewery that I want to show you.

Janel Nockleby: Yes!

Monte Belmonte: It’s called Brick and Feather.

I’ve been showing you all around my neighborhood, you’re literally at the entranceway to my neighborhood, the Patch here in Turners. And I do feel like Mr. Rogers, although I don’t ever remember Mr. Rogers visiting a brewery.

But I’m really lucky because I think this is one of the best breweries we have in the Valley. And all my beer snob friends think so, too. It’s Brick and Feather Brewery with Lawrence George, who is the owner and the brewer.

You make one of my, I think, my favorite beer, this one here, the Sauron’s Nightlight. Tell me about your beer vision. What makes Brick and Feather unique in a valley that has some excellent, excellent, excellent breweries?

Lawrence George, Brick & Feather Brewery: It’s hard to say. When we started this brewery in 2015 or 14, there was probably maybe not even 100 breweries in the state.

And now we’ve at least doubled that. And it’s harder and harder to sort of, like, set yourself apart, in a real meaningful way anyway.

Monte Belmonte: Is there a beer that you feel like you are famous for, like certain breweries or they’re famous for their IPA or what have you?

Lawrence George: We got on the map early for one of our IPAs, In Absentia, which you’ve had —

Monte Belmonte: I love it!

Lawrence George: — a bunch of times.

That was back in 2016, when people would show up and wait in line to buy growlers. And that was the thing that happened here for a while. And obviously now we put our beer in cans and now there’s a lot more breweries, so you don’t have to go wait in line anymore. But that’s still our number one selling beer.

My gateway beer was it was this lager and it’s still my favorite beer. And if people aren’t into hops, that’s one that they’re going to go for, it’s called Kitten with a Whip.

Monte Belmonte: You also have some of the coolest named beers —

Lawrence George: Thank you, Monte!

Monte Belmonte: — like I said, Sauron’s Nighlight, a little homage to Lord of the Rings and the most delicious dark beer porter or stout?

Lawrence George: It’s a porter.

Monte Belmonte: Porter, that that I’ve had. So, I just live right around the corner.

So it’s really easy for me to come get it. But it’s one of the most amazing things about living here, right off Avenue A in Great Falls.