A Photo Tour of the Montague Bookmill

Alison Morris - September 22, 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. EM

    I was waiting for the part where you tell us this is where you and Gareth will be getting married next year. It sorta smack of perfect, don’t it?

  2. ShelfTalker

    It does indeed seem fitting, EM, and it IS on the list of possible wedding/reception sites. But right now that list is verrrrrrrry long, so…? We’ve got no idea where our final knot-tying spot will be!

  3. Martin Burns

    I miss the Bookmill, spent many a happy afternoon surrounded by the smell of old books and the sound of the falls… reminds me that I owe it a visit, thank you for that…

  4. Hal Brown

    I’m late to this party, but I love bookstores like this. Thanks for a picture tour – if I’m ever in the area I will search this out. Thanks also to Seth Godin for pointing me to this.

  5. Pam Saxon

    This reminds me so much of a bookstore/coffee shop I used to frequent when I attended North Carolina School of the Arts (Winston-Salem) in the mid-80’s, called the Rainbow Bookstore and Cafe. I have thought of that place often and have yearned to find another place like it. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful images and for bringing that wonderful, warm memory back to life for me. The next time we are up in Mass I hope we can visit!

  6. MRMaguire

    Be prepared to get a jump in your stats. You were just linked by Seth Godin. 🙂
    Aside from that, I am in awe, and envy! I am far away from such a lovely and delightful place but thanks for taking me on a tour. I adore places like this and they’re not easy to find. In cities that are littered more and more with dull book chains, places like this will become cherished. I fondly remember a used bookstore/coffee house in Cincinnati although the local wasn’t nearly as picturesque.
    This beats Half Price Books any day of the week.

  7. MYMoon

    Wonderful tour. Your photos and narrative brought the site alive in my mind. And thank you for the views from the windows. These are too often missed in photo tours, but it’s those views that are so inviting in my mind. I’m in California and I yearn for bookstores like that in my area. Just for the setting, I would become a loyal customer. Thank you again!

  8. Devon Carroll

    What a charming place! Thanks for sharing and allowing such a glimpse of this delightful space. I just want to sit awhile and embrace the books, the sounds, the views ~ just need a good cup of coffee on the table beside me!

  9. JuleS

    Thanks for sharing (I think) — why do all of these great bookstores have to be halfway across the U.S. from here I am??!!
    This is one of those “someday I’ll get there” destinations — as is almost ANY used-book store!

  10. Lori

    Thank you for the journey, I love bookstores & this one has such character. You told a great story, makes me want to visit too.

  11. Burl

    Thanks for the great tour! It gives me a reason to go to MA! And thanks Seth Godin for pointing out this little place that has books you don’t need in a place you can’t find…now maybe I can find it!

  12. John

    Another GREAT used book place in New England is the Big Chicken Barn near Ellsworth Maine on Coastal Route 1. They are on line at bigchickenbarn.com. I’m usually good for a couple hours when I go there.

  13. Carrie West

    Seth Godin’s blog post got me to this site and it took my breath away. I grew up a few hundred miles from Montague and I get homesick for spaces such as this. Your tour and photographs evoked “I want to be there” feelings. I love where I live now yet I thank you for the opportunity to peek into the window of a special place. Best wishes with your career. So far, everyone on this comment board thinks you ought to get married at Montague Bookmill and since the article was written in 2008, I wondering if, in fact, you did get married and if it was at Montague Bookmill! Let us know!

  14. Vicki

    Thank you for the glorious Sunday morning road trip. I’m not there in person, but happily took the trip through your splendid pictures and commentary. Special thanks to Mr. Seth Godin for the link.

  15. rani

    this is wonderful! I look forward to the day when I can travel with my family to mass…this will definitely be a stop! Thanks for all the great pics!

  16. ShelfTalker Alison

    Carrie, After much debate, my (now) husband and I decided to host our wedding at a summer camp that could house all of our guests, rather than tying the knot at the Bookmill. (You can see photos of our wedding day in this blog post: http://www.publishersweekly.com/blog/ShelfTalker_A_Children_s_Bookseller_s_Blog/29032-A_Photo_Tour_of_Our_Wedding.php) But maybe we’ll renew our vows amid those glorious stacks of books someday! Thanks so much for your kind wishes.

  17. Eric Parrott

    Thanks so much for the great tour of the bookmill. I just added it to my list of road trip places to go. Of course, with a meal at one of the restaurants. It’s great to see a place with more character and soul than just a business.

  18. Didier Daglinckx

    Thanks Alison (and Seth),
    It seems to be a great place.
    Just a little far away from were I live actually, Belgium, but it’s a pleasure to know that this kind of place and more important people do exist.
    Good luck for the future.

  19. Susan Reiman

    How blessed we are to have the internet, Linchpins such as Seth Godin, folks like Alison who love to share photos and such writing talent that makes you feel you are right there, and places such as the Bookmill to be written about and visited, even if only virtually. Thanks, Alison and thanks, Seth, for sharing the link!

  20. Mike

    I literally went away for about five minutes and I imagined myself in this location, sipping a cup of coffee, rooting through the stacks, exclaiming out loud at some discovered literary treasure that I’ve always wanted to own. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Rebecca Buerkett

    My husband and I used to go to the Montague Bookmill every Sunday morning back in the early 90s when we were newlyweds. Thanks for the lovely trip back in time! Miss that place!

  22. Kel

    Ahhh… love books and love your tour of the Montague Bookmill. At 11, my oldest daughter is an avid reader and book fanatic. Your post inspired me to take her on a book tour of “old fashioned” book stores owned by passionate book sellers.

  23. Simon

    The Montague Bookmill is actually even more enchanting than you let on. Your photos don’t have any sound, but the little waterfall on the Sawmill River does. Uh oh… I’m starting to hear it in my mind now. And there’s the smell and taste of the coffee at the café with real cream. Sigh.

  24. Nicolette

    Thanks for a trip down memory lane. I’m from South Africa, but was introduced to the Bookmill by my brother in law while visiting him. It left a lasting impression on me, and now is one of my favourite places.

  25. Kumar

    Great photpgraphs and apt commentary. Visiting, savouring the place and buying books over there must be a great experience. I am from India and hope to visit the place some time! Thanks for the visual treat!

  26. KH

    What a great way to let us have the experience of your store. Seth Godin was right. Good luck and when we drive from CT to visit we will stop in to see you!

  27. Amelia Brazell

    First, I adore books. Second, this made me panic for a moment. Just for a moment, I imagined what it would be like to no longer real bookstores.
    There is simply nothing better than visiting a bookstore, curling up in a comfy chair, surrounded by others who appreciate printed books.
    But as things change so will the book market – When do you think we will reach a point where bound books are only available in used bookstores or the local antique mall? A sobering thought.

  28. 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.

  29. 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!

  30. 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!

  31. 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.

  32. 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

  33. 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.

  34. 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!

  35. 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.


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