Hampden County : Springfield (Massachusetts)
Springfield is the largest city on the Connecticut River, in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, USA. It sits only 24 miles north of Hartford, Connecticut, and only five miles north of the Connecticut state line. Springfield and Hartford are the principle cities in the Knowledge Corridor - the 2nd largest urban region in New England with 1.9 million people, 29 universities and colleges, and 120,000 university students.
For the first time in decades, 2011-2015 promises to be an exciting time to visit Springfield! With major construction projects serving as citywide catalysts, including a $1Billion new, intercity, high-speed rail line from New Haven, (expected to be operational in 2015;) a new, $75million intercity commuter line to Vermont, (expected to be fully functional in 2012;) the construction of Baystate Health's new, $256million "Hospital of the Future," (expected to be fully operational in 2012;) the $75million renovation of Springfield's grand 1926 Union Station into an intermodal transportation center for trains and buses, (expected to be completed in 2013;) a new $56million Federal Courthouse by starchitect Moshe Safdie, and a $101million high-tech Data Center adaptively re-used from an old high school, Springfield is experiencing major economic reinvestments for the first time since the early 1970s.
In addition to major economic revitalization, culture is currently blossoming citywide. New festivals such as the "Hoop City Jazz Festival" (which, last year, featured headliner and Springfielder, Taj Mahal;) the "Springfield Vintage Grand Prix," which, in 2012, will become the Vintage Sports Car Club of America's official race beginning; and Springfield's first-ever "Gay Pride Week," beginning June 8, 2011, which celebrates the city's recent influx of LGBT residents. Concurrently, renovations to Gilded Age theaters like The Paramount (formerly The Hippodrome,) The Bing Cultural Arts Center, and Springfield's increasingly eclectic Club Quarter have made the city more exciting than at any time in the past 50 years.
Prognosticators long-predicted Springfield's dramatic resurgence -- and it appears as though it's finally happening!
On June 1, 2011, an act of nature of nearly unprecedented strength in New England devastated large portions of the Springfield. That afternoon at approximately 4:45pm, the first of two tornadoes touched down within city limits. Within minutes, the tornadoes claimed four lives and caused "beyond tens of millions of dollars worth of damage," according to Massachusetts' U.S. Senator John Kerry. The U.S. National Weather Service rated Springfield's first of two tornadoes an E4 on the Fujita Scale (out of a possible E5.) Springfield's historic Main Street, with its reputedly attractive 19th century architecture, was left in shambles - particularly the commercial district of the historically Italian South End, the historic district surrounding Mulberry Street (of Dr. Seuss fame,) Springfield College, and Springfield's more suburban outer neighborhoods.
Will Springfield rebuild bigger and better than ever? WIth current investments in the city totaling in the $billions, the smart money is on "yes."
Located on New England's most fertile farmland in the Connecticut River Valley, at the mid-point of America's major Northeast trade routes between New York City, Boston, The Great Lakes, and Montreal, Canada, the City of Springfield (pop. 155,000) has been the technological and cultural center of the Connecticut River Valley since its founding in 1636. Having been burned to the ground during King Phillip's War in 1675, Springfield has rebuilt before.
Nicknamed The City of Homes because of its ubiquitous Victorian architecture and The City of Firsts because of the numerous "firsts" produced there during its 375 years - including America's first American-English dictionary, gasoline-powered car, motorcycle, fire engine, commercial radio station, and UHF television station - Springfield is best known worldwide as the birthplace of the sport of basketball. The Basketball Hall of Fame, located in Springfield beside the Connecticut River, is a major tourist draw.
Springfield is a highly walkable city - most of its major sites are in the Metro Center neighborhood; however, much of the city's attractive Victorian residential architecture is focused in its street-car suburb neighborhoods, (e.g. Forest Park Heights.)
From the early 1800s until the 1960s, Springfield was one of the United States' most financially prosperous cities, as reflected in its renowned architecture. The Springfield Armory, the site of which George Washington and Henry Knox selected personally, made the city a center of invention and industrial innovation from 1777 onward -- for example, America's first musket, the use of interchangeable parts in manufacturing, and the discovery of vulcanized rubber by Charles Goodyear all took place in Springfield. In 1968, during the Vietnam War, the Pentagon controversially closed the Springfield Armory. The United States' military's loss, however, is a Springfield sight-seer's gain - the Springfield Armory National Park features the largest collection of guns in the world. 
The Armory's closing in tandem with the growth of the interstate highway system, and "White Flight" from American cities to the suburbs, left Springfield reeling for approximately 35 years (1968-2003) as it de-industrialized. Springfield reached its nadir during the late 1990s and early 2000s, when it became financially insolvent. Luckily for Springfield, the city's financial woes focused regional and national attention on it, the problems needed to be fixed, and its development potential. Numerous organizations, most notably the National Urban Land Institute, studied Springfield and submitted plans for its revitalization.
Since approximately 2007, Springfield has reaped the rewards of the ULI's Plan for Springfield. Its South End, North End, and Metro Center (including the Main Street and State Street corridors) have all seen dramatic aesthetic improvements, which have increased liveliness in the neighborhoods. Concurrently, Springfield, which during the early 2000s ranked as high as 18th in the annual United States' "City Crime Rankings," dropped to 51st in those rankings in 2009. These improvements have improved Springfield's quality of life, and will improve any visitor's stay.
Springfield's South End is the center of its Italian community. The North End is the center of its prominent Puerto Rican community. The McKnight District - the United States' first planned residential neighborhood - is the center of the African American community. Springfield's entertainment district is centered around lower Worthington Street. Worthington features numerous bars and clubs, trendy restaurants, and a vibrant LGBT bar and club scene. Springfield has no "gay" neighborhood per se - it is very well-integrated in that regard (that said, the condos in Metro Center and Victorians in McKnight are currently trendy places to buy and rent.) In 2011, The Advocate magazine rated Springfield among the Top 15 "secondary" gay cities, (i.e. medium-sized cities with strong LGBT scenes.)
Springfield is the most centrally located city in the Northeast between major tourist destinations like New York City, Boston, Connecticut, the Berkshires, Upstate New York, and Canada. It features access from every direction, via every sort of transportation. Bradley International Airport is located 12 miles south of Springfield (equidistant to Springfield's twin city, Hartford, Connecticut.) Westover Metropolitan Airport is located 5 miles north of Springfield in the City of Chicopee, Massachusetts.
The City of Springfield itself is a major railroad and bus nexus, with trains and buses arriving from all directions. In 2011-2012, the city's grand 1926 Union Station will be renovated and become and "intermodal transportation hub," (this means that the bus station and local transportation service, the PVTA, will move into Union Station.) Within the next few years, Springfield is scheduled to see an exponential increase in train and visitor traffic. The city will become the main terminus for both an intercity commuter line heading north to Brattleboro, Vermont, and a high-speed rail line heading south through Hartford, Connecticut, to New Haven, Connecticut. By the time that these various construction projects are complete, Springfield should be ready to show-off its revitalized Metro Center.
The renovated Union Station will become the headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines, the PVTA, and the regional hub for Greyhound Bus. In the meantime, Springfield's Bus Station serves as the headquarters for Peter Pan Bus Lines, one of the major bus servers on the East Coast.
Bus & Train
From the South
Springfield is one of two northern terminals for Amtrak's Regional Service, connecting Springfield through Connecticut down to Virginia. The Vermonter also travels through Springfield, beginning in Washington, D.C. and terminating in northern Vermont.
From the North
Springfield is one of two current Massachusetts stops for Amtrak's Vermonter - the other is in the college town of Amherst, only 18 miles north of Springfield. In 2013, the Vermonter is scheduled to be re-routed to the old, more direct Montrealer route -- down the Connecticut River, through the bohemian mecca of Northampton, to Springfield. Once the renovations are complete, Springfield is scheduled to become the main terminus for the Western Massachusetts' intercity commuter rail, which will conveniently connect the the cities of Chicopee, Holyoke, Northampton, Deerfield, Greenfield, and Brattleboro, Vermont. Western Massachusetts' intercity rail service will be a boon to travelers looking to experience the Pioneer Valley's multiple facets - from urban Springfield to bohemian Northampton to the scenic beauty of historic Deerfield and Vermont.
Current fares are reasonably priced and it is by far the most relaxing way to enter Springfield from the north.
From the East
Unfortunately, in 2004, Amtrak canceled the Bay State route (AKA Massachusetts' Overland Route,) limiting rail service from Boston and points east to Springfield. Currently, once per day, the Lake Shore Limited stops in Springfield en route to Chicago. Plans are afoot to revitalize the Overland Route for both passenger and freight service; however, unlike Springfield's two other rail projects, this one has not yet been green-lighted.
In the meantime, Amtrak generally charges $15 for the hour and forty-five minute one way trip. Peter Pan Bus charges around $20-$25 for a less enjoyable, hot (in winter the heat is turned up too high and in summer, much needed air-conditioning is nonexsistant on Peter Pan's older busses), crowded trip that can often run into traffic on the Mass Pike (Interstate 90). That said, service from Springfield to Boston via Peter Pan and Greyhound Bus is frequent.
From the West
The Lake Shore Limited begins in Chicago, Illinois and terminates in Boston, stopping in Albany, New York and picturesque Pittsfield, Massachusetts before stopping in Springfield. Peter Pan and Greyhound provide bus service from Albany, and points further west.
Springfield is accessible via Interstate 90 aka "The Mass Pike," (east-west from Boston to Albany, NY;) Interstate 91, (north-south from the Canadian border to New Haven, CT;) and Interstate 291 (a connector from I-90 through Chicopee to Springfield.) , 91, and 291.
Luckily for sight-seers, Springfield is an eminently walkable city. Most of its historic sites, points of interest, and entertainments are clustered in the Metro Center neighborhood (aka downtown, where the skyscrapers are.) Thanks to Springfield's recent resurgence, tourist sites are well marked, as are many architecturally significant buildings. The Basketball Hall of Fame and Forest Park are Springfield's only major tourist sites outside of Metro Center; however, the Basketball Hall of Fame is within walking distance (it's less than a mile south of Metro Center, along the river.)
If you'd like to explore Springfield beyond Metro Center, (perhaps experience the city's serene Forest Park,) or further explore the artsy Pioneer Valley (maybe check out bohemian Northampton or one of America's best-known university towns, Amherst,) the clean, green, and reliable Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA)  offers service to every Springfield neighborhood, and throughout the Pioneer Valley's cities and towns north to Amherst. For a mere $1.35 on the PVTA, you can ride the 15 miles from Springfield to the counter-culture mecca Northampton, or the 18 miles to student-centered Amherst, and vice versa. The PVTA is a great deal and an easy way to experience this small and diverse region. If you see a PVTA bus headed your way and you are not at a bus stop, just wave your hands and most likely the driver will pull over to pick you up, (especially in Springfield.)
NOTE: Several years ago, walking through Springfield was considerably more hazardous than today. In the 1990s and early 2000s, crime was high in Springfield - the city ranked as high as 18th in the annual per city crime rankings; however, during the past few years, the city's fortunes have improved and crime has dropped off significantly. Currently, Springfield ranks 51st in those same rankings, and crime has fallen 50%.
Although Springfield is safe compared with neighboring cities like Hartford and New Haven, as in most urban environments, it's best to exercise caution when walking alone at night. The Entertainment District along Worthington Street is safe most times of day and night, as are many of Springfield's neighborhoods, e.g. Sixteen Acres and Forest Park Heights; however, certain parts of town can be sketchy after dark (e.g. Liberty Heights and Six Corners.) Luckily, Springfield's sketchier areas are generally well off the beaten path for tourists.