A Photo Tour of the Montague Bookmill

Alison Morris -- September 22nd, 2008

The Montague Bookmill in Montague, Massachusetts, is easily one of the prettiest, most peaceful places I’ve ever purchased a book or spent an afternoon. A used bookstore housed in an 1842 gristmill overlooking the Sawmill River, it’s a little over half an hour’s drive from the town of Northampton, where I attended Smith College as an undergrad.

When Gareth and I attended a wedding in Western Mass. a few weeks ago I insisted on taking him to the Bookmill, to revisit the place that became one of my favorite studying haunts during my senior year. Who wouldn’t love a bookstore with the slogan “Books You Don’t Need in a Place You Can’t Find”? Especially when it’s in a spot that’s perfectly picturesque during every season of the year AND it now shares the mill with a café, a restaurant, an artist’s studio, and an antiques store!

Because I’m such a huge fan of this place, it gets such PERFECT light, and I wanted to be sure to share it with you in grand style, I took a ton of photographs during our Sunday afternoon visit. Most of them, though, are focused on the architecture and comfortable stylings of this place, rather than on its book selection. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that the selection is just as appealing as the space itself.

Here’s how the Bookmill looks when you first see it, from the rise of the road above.

And here’s how it looks if you cross that road and step onto the bridge that beats an elevated path to the bookstore’s second floor.

Cross that bridge and you’re greeted by the welcome sight of books, big windows, and comfortable chairs. Heaven! This how the second floor looks when you enter and turn to your right.

If you’d entered and turned to your left, you’d have been greeted by the sight of more rooms, filled with more books.

Straight ahead of you (photos above and below) are the art books.

The the left are the stairs that lead down to the 1st floor, flanked by a display of old typewriters.

To the right is a room that houses a number of non-fiction subjects…

and the perfect little reading alcove…

with THIS view of the Sawmill River below.

Now on to the first floor, which looks like this as you leave the stairwell. That’s Susan Shilliday, the owner of the Bookmill, walking directly in front of me toward the point of sale counter (on the left). The doorway directly in front of her leads to the fiction and poetry room — more on that shortly.

Here’s how the counter (and main entrance) looks if you enter from the ground floor:

And here’s the fabulous display of Bookmill swag on the left side of said counter. (I confess I had to own a t-shirt myself and went with the purple one.)

If you walk around to right side of said counter you’ll see this lovely sight: the children’s section — picture books on the left, middle grade and YA novels on the right.

At the back of that corner sits the most inviting pair of threadbare chairs you’ve ever seen.

And the view from that window? The Sawmill, of course.

Lest you think these the only comfy chairs on the bookmill’s first floor, allow me to point out to you the green velvet couch that sits to the left of them, with its back to the river.

And to the left of that couch? This alcove with windows overlooking the river on one side and windows overlooking the café on the other.

Back now to that doorway I pointed out above — the one that leads to the fiction and poetry room. Here’s that room.

Walk through the fiction and poetry room and straight out the door at the opposite end. Walk about ten paces then turn around. Here’s how the bookmill looks from that vantage point.

Now step about ten paces to your left and take another, wide-angle look. That’s the antiques store on your left, with the art gallery above it. See the bridge crossing the “alley” in front of you? That’s the one we crossed from the road above, to enter the Bookmill on the second floor. If you continue under it you’ll reach the entrance to the café.

But what about the restaurant? Did you notice the white tent in the two photos above? It’s sitting on the restaurant’s patio, clearly in anticipation of some summer event happening out there. A wedding perhaps? Let’s walk down the ramp and check it out.

The carved wooden sign featuring a crescent moon tells you you’ve reached The Night Kitchen. And see that guy in the window just behind and above that sign? He’s a customer browsing the middle grade novels in the children’s section. Seems fitting that the children’s section should look out over the The Night Kitchen, doesn’t it? You could sit on a bench and read In the Night Kitchen, periodically glancing out the windows that overlook The Night Kitchen. Perfect!

Here’s my reflection in the restaurant’s door.

From the patio outside said door (the one sporting a tent on the day we were there) you can take in this view of the Bookmill and the Sawmill River… beautiful!!

Now let’s go back up to that “alley” I showed you above, and walk up it, passing the store’s ground floor entrance on our right, and passing under the bridge we walked across earlier. Just pass the Bookmill’s entrance is the entrance to The Lady Killigrew, the aforementioned café.

Here’s how it looks as you enter. You can sidle up to the bar and order a cold one, or try one of the many tasty items on the Lady Killgrew’s menu.

Carry your tasty treats down the steps and take a seat in my old studying space, where you can stare down at the Sawmill.

Now go back to the beginning and do it all over again!! (But be sure to buy lots of books this next time through.)

61 thoughts on “A Photo Tour of the Montague Bookmill

  1. Merrylyn Sawyer

    A friend moved from Maine to nearby the Montague BookMill. I just found this site and feel as if I have been there. How delightful. If I find myself in that part of Massachusetts, I”ll definitely stop by. Thank you.

  2. Leonardo Melo

    I worked at the Bookmill café in the nineties, while I was attending Umass. I have very fond memories of the people, the place, the customers. Now, many years later, looking at pictures on Internet I realize what a wonderful place this was to work!

  3. Bryce Giesler

    I first found this place on the internet a few year ago and thought “if I ever find myself in the neighborhood I’ll be sure to visit.” But Texas is a long way away. Well, as luck would have it my daughter moved to western CT. I went to see her last weekend and we took a day to drive up and explore. It was “only” 2 hours from Torrington CT.

    The bookstore and other places are as wonderful as everyone says. We spent too much time browsing the art store, bought too many totally unneeded books and swag, and had a wonderful lunch at the Lady Killigrew Cafe. It was totally worth the drive, which was beautiful in its own right.

  4. Ansgar Gerstner

    Got here through Seth Godin’s recommendation. From what I read and see it must be a wonderful place. If I should ever come to your area, I will definitely pay you a visit.
    Best wishes from Shanghai,
    Ansgar, author of The Tao of Business

  5. Joe T

    Great pics & description. I made regular trips to the bookmill starting in about 1988, during college. One of my favorite spots in the world. Even better when the bridge was out (closed to vehicles) and you had to walk a hundred yards or so to get to it.

  6. Ellen from Atlanta

    Beautiful! FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA (metro Atlanta) is another beautiful indie to tour. As one of the owners, I’m prejudiced, of course, but we’re often compared to Meg Ryan’s store in “You’ve Got Mail.” Come see us!

  7. Ann

    Enjoyed this tour SO much- then I got to the location- yay! I’m near Boston,but I never would have known about this little jewel. Perfect excuse for a day trip (hmmm-better make it a weekend). I can already see myself browsing and wandering happily from room to room- hope this is the future of “brick and mortar” bookstores. Thanks Seth and Alison!

  8. GF

    Thank you for the photo tour of such a lovely bookstore. Books and learning have been one of my core values as I haved moved through life, and I hope we never lose places like this to encourages to sit and be silent – ruminating in the gifts that others have given us.
    Your pictures remind me of a little book store we found in the San Juan islands – I could have spent the entire day there.

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