Hancock officials celebrate the designation recognizing the role the town had in history.
HANCOCK, Mass. — During the American Revolution, famed French general the Marquis de Lafayette played a significant role as an ally of the rebellious colonies.
So much so that President James Monroe invited him on a farewell tour of the nation in 1824, celebrating the country's 50th birthday.
Lafayette traveled all 24 of the United States, including going directly across the Berkshires on his way to Boston.
Now, the Berkshires have recognized his contributions by designating the trail he took from Hancock to Hinsdale on his way back Boston with an official designation as the Lafayette Trail.
A 2018 piece of legislation
created the designation and signage has now been installed along the statewide trail, concluding with the unveiling of the final sign near the New York border in Hancock.
The measure, S. 2265, An Act relative to the Lafayette Trail, was filed in December 2017 by state Sen. Adam Hinds after meeting with Consul General Valéry Freland, of the Consulate General of France in Boston. Hinds was chairman of the Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development at the time.
"To be able to recognize someone who had such an incredible role in our own foundation of this country is meaningful. I absolutely love that we were able to underscore these ties between Massachusetts and France in a very meaningful project," said Hinds at Monday's event.
The honor doesn't just recognize history or Lafayette but also represents the friendship between the United States and France. It is also eyed as another piece of history the Berkshires can market and honor as people come from other areas can learn about the region's history.
"This ceremony highlights the deep historical bonds between the United States and France and our ongoing friendship between the two nations," Massachusetts Office of International Trade and Investment Executive Director Mark Sullivan said, adding that the Baystate does more $700 million in trade annually with France.
Arnaud Mentré, now consul general of France in Boston, can't wait to see both American and French people learning of Lafayette's history on the trail.
"We believe in history. We believe in collective memories that provide guidance from one generation to the other," Mentré said. "In France, we see a clear rise in tourism related to history. We see young generations visiting cemeteries, battlegrounds, and symbolic places where history was forged."
The Lafayette Trail Inc. President Julien Icher said the general brought more than assistance for the war but also French values. He described Lafayette as having an "unwavering moral compass," values of anti-slavery, and his values were impressed upon his friends George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
"The general public will learn more about Gen. Lafayette's legacy," Icher said of the designation.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier agreed, saying Lafayette instilled values of dignity, liberty, and democracy.
Julien Icher said Lafayette brought French values to the United States.
"I think the value of this trail is to not only celebrate the great Franco-American friendship, a longstanding friendship that is literally as old as our country but to me, this says you are welcome. You are welcomed here no matter which country you come from," Farley-Bouvier said.
The trail in the Western Massachusetts extends the trail from Route 143 in Williamsburg, Chesterfield, Worthington, Peru and Hinsdale to Route 8 in Hinsdale, Dalton and Pittsfield; to Route 9 in Pittsfield and along Route 20 in Pittsfield and Hancock to the New York State border.
The legislation was supported by state Reps. Farley-Bouvier, Paul Mark and John Barrett III and signed by Gov. Charlie Baker in October.
State Department of Transportation Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver noted that Lafayette's influence spanned across the country with 17 counties and more than 15 cities behind named after him. The trail extends through 24 states and The Lafayette Trail Inc. has been advocating for the recognition.
Those officials were joined at the unveiling by the Hancock Historical Society. Chairwoman Marjorie Feathers said she was glad to see the recognition of the small town of Hancock and the role it has played in the state's history.
"This was nice. This was very nice," Feathers said.
Editor's note: updated at 11:27 a.m. to clarify Sen. Adam Hinds was the originator of the legislation.