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Lee, Massachusetts
Town Hall
Town Hall
Official seal of Lee, Massachusetts
"Gateway to the Berkshires"
Location in Berkshire County and the state of Massachusetts.
Location in Berkshire County and the state of Massachusetts.
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Berkshire
Settled 1760
Incorporated October 21, 1777
 • Type Open Town Meeting
 • Total 27.0 sq mi (70.0 km2)
 • Land 26.1 sq mi (67.7 km2)
 • Water 0.9 sq mi (2.3 km2)
1,000 ft (305 m)
 • Total 5,788
 • Density 214.16/sq mi (82.69/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (Eastern)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 413
FIPS code 25-34655
GNIS feature ID 0618268

Lee is a town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts, metropolitan statistical area. The population was 5,788 at the 2020 census. Lee, which includes the villages of South and East Lee, is part of the Berkshires resort area.


Lee occupies land which was originally territory of Mahican Indians. The first non-native settlement in the area was known as Dodgetown as early as 1760. Dodgetown was named after its founding settler, Asahel Dodge, who immigrated to the area from Cape Cod. Lee was incorporated in 1777 from parts of Great Barrington and Washington. It is named after Revolutionary War General Charles Lee. Lee is a former mill town.

In the autumn of 1786 during Shays' Rebellion, about 250 followers of Daniel Shays encountered state troops commanded by General John Paterson near East Lee. The Shaysites paraded a fake cannon crafted from a yarn beam, and the troops fled.

Early industries included agriculture, lumbering, and lime making. Abundant streams and rivers provided water power for mills which produced textiles and wire. In 1806, papermaking became the principal industry with the construction of the Willow Mill by Samuel Church in South Lee. In 1827, the Columbia Mill in central Lee was established, and would eventually be the first to supply 100% groundwood newsprint to The New York Times. By 1857, there were 25 paper mills in Lee. The Smith Paper Company discovered how to manufacture paper solely from wood pulp in 1867, and through the 1870s was the largest producer of paper in the country. The mills previously owned by Smith Paper Company were closed in 2008. Today, Lee has only a single papermaking facility.

The town's marble is famous for its quality. The first quarry was established in 1852. In 1867, almost 500,000 cubic feet (14,000 m3) of marble was excavated and shipped on the Housatonic Railroad. Buildings constructed of Lee marble include a wing of the Capitol in Washington and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

The town's 19th century prosperity is still evident in its architecture, including its town hall, library, several churches and private homes. South Lee includes a historic district listed on the National Register.

Lee has become a popular tourist destination, noted both for its New England charm and its bed and breakfast establishments. It is known as the "Gateway to The Berkshires" because it provides one of only two exits on the Massachusetts Turnpike which serve the county, and the only one going eastbound.

Arlo Guthrie's court appearance before the blind judge and his seeing-eye dog for dumping garbage as noted in the song "Alice's Restaurant" took place in the courtroom at the Lee town Hall pictured above.

Lee was a filming location for Before and After (1996) and The Cider House Rules (1999).


According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 27.0 square miles (70.0 km2), of which 26.1 sq mi (67.7 km2) is land and 0.89 sq mi (2.3 km2), or 3.22%, is water. Lee is bordered by Lenox to the northwest, Washington to the northeast, Becket to the east, Tyringham in the southeast, Great Barrington to the southwest, and Stockbridge to the west. Lee is 10 miles (16 km) south of Pittsfield, 42 miles (68 km) west-northwest of Springfield, and 125 miles (201 km) west of Boston.

Laurel Lake, Berkshires, circa 1910
Laurel Lake in 1910

Lee is located in the southern section of the Berkshires, in a valley along the Housatonic River. The town lies to the west of October Mountain State Forest, with two sections of the forest in Lee. In the southwest corner of town lies a portion of Beartown State Forest, where Burgoyne Pass crosses the northern end of the mountain. Hop Brook, a marshy brook which flows from Tyringham, flows into the Housatonic in the south, and other bodies of water include Laurel Lake to the north, and Goose Pond to the southeast. The Appalachian Trail skirts the eastern part of the town, passing through Tyringham, Becket and Washington.

Lee is located along Interstate 90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike), and is home to Exit 2, the westernmost full exit on the turnpike (Exit 1, in West Stockbridge, is only a turnaround exit) as well as the first service area along the Pike. Lee lies along U.S. Route 20, the "old Mass Pike", which was the main route to New York state prior to the interstate. A small section of U.S. Route 7 crosses through the northwest corner of town before meeting Route 20 in Lenox. Massachusetts Route 102's eastern terminus is located at Route 20 at the Exit 2 toll plaza.

Looking North from Ferncliff, Lee, MA
Housatonic Railroad track in 1911

Lee lies along the Housatonic Railroad line, which travels from Pittsfield, through Lee to Great Barrington and Sheffield, terminating near at New Milford, Connecticut, near Danbury. The line is still the area's primary rail link to New York City's metropolitan area, to Boston, and to Albany. Currently (2013) there are negotiations of restoring rail commuter service between the Berkshires and New York City along this route. The town is covered by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) bus line, which travels between Pittsfield and Great Barrington. Regional bus services make regularly daily stops, and maintain year round schedules through Lee. Peter Pan and Bonanza Bus Lines each make scheduled stops at town hall, downtown.

Regional air service can be reached at Pittsfield Municipal Airport. The nearest national and international air services can be reached at Albany International Airport in Albany, New York, about 55 miles (89 km) away. Bradley International Airport, located near Hartford, Connecticut, is also a popular option for travelers, situated approximately 70 miles (110 km) from Lee.

Climate data for Lee, Massachusetts (01238)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 29
Average low °F (°C) 13
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.91
Source: The Weather Channel


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1850 3,220 —    
1860 4,420 +37.3%
1870 3,866 −12.5%
1880 3,939 +1.9%
1890 3,785 −3.9%
1900 3,596 −5.0%
1910 4,106 +14.2%
1920 4,085 −0.5%
1930 4,061 −0.6%
1940 4,222 +4.0%
1950 4,820 +14.2%
1960 5,271 +9.4%
1970 6,426 +21.9%
1980 6,247 −2.8%
1990 5,849 −6.4%
2000 5,985 +2.3%
2010 5,943 −0.7%
2020 5,788 −2.6%
* = population estimate.
Source: United States Census records and Population Estimates Program data.

As of the census of 2000, there were 5,985 people, 2,442 households, and 1,606 families residing in the town. By population, Lee ranks seventh out of the 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County, and 227th out of 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The population density was 226.7 people per square mile (87.5/km2), which ranks sixth in the county and 241st in the Commonwealth. There were 2,927 housing units at an average density of 110.9 per square mile (42.8/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 96.93% White, 0.62% Black or African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.95% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.74% from other races, and 0.60% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.49% of the population.

There were 2,492 households, out of which 28.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.7% were married couples living together, 10.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.2% were non-families. 28.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.91.

In the town, the population was spread out, with 22.1% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 28.5% from 25 to 44, 25.6% from 45 to 64, and 16.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.1 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $41,556, and the median income for a family was $49,630. Males had a median income of $35,565 versus $26,232 for females. The per capita income for the town was $19,799. About 2.5% of families and 6.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 3.4% of those under age 18 and 4.2% of those age 65 or over.

Sites of interest


Lee operates its own school department, which also serves the town of Tyringham, and has an option to serve Otis and Sandisfield. Lee Elementary School serves students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grades, and the Lee Middle and High School serves students from seventh through twelfth grades. Lee's athletics teams are nicknamed the Wildcats, and their colors are black and orange. Additionally, Lee is home to Saint Mary's School, a parochial school which serves students through eighth grade. Other private schools can be found in Great Barrington and other surrounding towns.

The nearest community college is the South County Center of Berkshire Community College in Great Barrington, and the nearest state university is Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. The nearest private college is Bard College at Simon's Rock.

Notable people

  • John M. Barlow, politician and businessman
  • Nathan B. Bradley, congressman
  • Henry Billings Brown, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • Michelle Cuevas, author
  • Thomas C. Durant, financier and railroad promoter
  • Frank Dwyer, baseball pitcher
  • Elisha Foote, judge, inventor, and mathematician
  • Henri Gosselin, politician
  • Addison H. Laflin, congressman
  • Wayne Larrivee, sportscaster
  • Debra Jo Rupp, actress
  • Augusta Read Thomas, composer
  • Edward V. Whiton, Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

Images for kids

See also

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