Massachusetts: Geography


The eastern part of the commonwealth (its official designation), including the Cape Cod peninsula and the islands lying off it to the south—the Elizabeth Islands, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket—is a low coastal plain. In this area short, swift rivers such as the Merrimack have long supplied industry with power, and an indented coastline provides many good natural harbors, with Boston a major U.S. port. In the interior rise uplands separated by the rich Connecticut River valley, and farther west lies the Berkshire valley, surrounded by the Berkshire Hills, part of the Taconic Mts. The western streams feed both the Hudson and the Housatonic rivers. The state has a mean altitude of c.500 ft (150 m), and Mt. Greylock in the Berkshires is the highest point (3,491 ft/1,064 m). The climate is variable.

Boston is the capital and largest city. Other important cities include Worcester, Springfield, Lowell, New Bedford, Cambridge, Brockton, Fall River, and Quincy. The state is famed for its historic points of interest, among them being those at Concord and Lexington; at three national historical parks—Boston, Lowell, and Minute Man; and at eight national historic sites—Adams, Boston African American, Frederick Law Olmsted, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Longfellow, Salem Maritime, Saugus Iron Works, and Springfield Armory (see National Parks and Monuments, tablenational parks and monuments, table). Cultural attractions include the noted Tanglewood Music Festival and the many educational facilities of the state.

As a recreation and vacation land, Massachusetts has great stretches of seashore in the east and many lakes and streams in the wooded Berkshire Hills in the west. There are numerous state parks, forests, and beaches, and Cape Cod is the site of a national seashore. Provincetown, on Cape Cod, and Rockport, on Cape Ann, are artist colonies; Marblehead is a noted yachting center.

Sections in this article:

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. Political Geography