Discover Historic Williamstown! Week 7

Posted by on Jun 10, 2020 in Featured slider | Comments Off on Discover Historic Williamstown! Week 7

Discover Historic Williamstown! Week 7

We hope you have had a good week and that you were able to find last week’s historic site, located on the western end of Main Street, the site of the first proprietor’s meeting.  Our next historical marker is located at River Bend Farm or Simonds’ Tavern. Built in 1770 by Benjamin Simonds (1725/6-1807), the house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Can you locate this marker? (Hint: It is NOT at the location of Simonds’ first home, pictured here.)

Benjamin Simonds

Benjamin Simonds had amassed quite a bit of property in Williamstown when, in 1769-1770, he built River Bend Tavern in the White Oaks neighborhood, a mile north of The Square (Field Park). Years earlier, in 1746, Simonds and his fellow captives from Fort Massachusetts rested at this location on the banks of the Hoosic River on their first day’s march to Canada.

The rivers were the highways of that period, the fastest and most direct route over which to transport people and goods. While the Housatonic and the Connecticut Rivers flowed southward to Long Island Sound, the Hoosic flowed northwards to the Hudson and thence to New York City.

The Hoosic is a three-state river, fed by streams that run down from the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Taconic and Hoosac Ranges, and the Mount Greylock Massif. It runs 70 miles from where it begins, at the man-made Cheshire Reservoir, to where it enters the Hudson river at Stillwater, NY. Altogether, the Hoosic and its tributaries – the Green River, the Little Hoosic, the Walloomsac, the Owl Kill and the Tomhannock – drain 720 square miles of land.

(For more information on the Hoosic River please visit HooRWA – the Hoosic River Watershed Association – at https://hoorwa.org. This map of the watershed is available from them.)

The Hoosac Mountain Range divided the Deerfield (and hence the Connecticut) and the Hoosic (and hence the Hudson) watersheds, nevertheless the Hoosic created an important in link between Boston and Albany, and via the Mohawk River to the Great Lakes region and the American west.

In the 18th century the Dutch owned the land along the Hudson, and the French were moving down the Champlain Valley from Canada, so the British moved in from the east. Thus, the Hoosic watershed became a battlefield for three European powers and their Native American allies. The British finally drove the French north after skirmishes on lakes Champlain and George, and also at Fort Massachusetts.

The settlement that became North Adams, at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Hoosic, and the one that became Williamstown, at the confluence of the Green and Hoosic Rivers, were key sites along an important trade route; one that was only enhanced by the construction of the Champlain Canal (completed in 1823), the Erie Canal (1825) and the Hoosac Tunnel (1873).

Simonds’ River Bend Tavern was located at the intersection of two important trade routes, the Hoosic River itself and the north/south roadway linking the Housatonic, the Hoosic, and the Walloomsac in Bennington, now US Route 7.

At the time Benjamin Simonds built his River Bend Tavern in the White Oaks section of Williamstown, there were at least three other taverns operating here, all but one at the confluence of important waterways. All or some portion of three of those four taverns are still standing today.

As you read the following paragraph, it is important to remember that colonial taverns were only accessible to white men.

Taverns were important outlets for gathering information in an age before the wide distribution of newspapers and tavern keepers were often trusted informants and confidants as well as fountains of information about the political and social turmoil of the time. Despite efforts by Puritan reformers to close taverns to reduce public drunkness and prevent anarchy, almost all politicians found it necessary to visit them if they wanted any real contact with the public.

In South Williamstown, Samuel Sloan’s tavern sat at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Green River and at the crossroads of the north/south roadway that is now US Route 7 and the roads east to Troy, NY, and other Hudson River port cities.

Site of former Sloan Tavern

Nehemiah Smedley’s tavern sat close to the confluence of the Green and Hoosic Rivers, on the Mohawk Trail, a centuries old east/west trade route.


Smedley Tavern

Josiah Horsford’s tavern, the only one not still standing, sat in the center of Williamstown, on the northeast corner of the junction of Main and North Streets (now Routes 2 & 7), where the Greylock Quad now sits. At that time Main Street continued west over the Taconic Range to Petersburgh NY and on to Troy. This tavern was kitty-corner to the meeting house which was the seat of town government at that time.

Views of River Bend Farm (Simonds Tavern) over the years. The 1876 map shows the farm under the ownership of J. L. Cole, who sold the property shortly thereafter, disillusioned by the incursion of the railroad and opening of the gravel bed. The large number of different Cole families owning property along what is now US Route 7 (Simonds Road) lent the area the name Coleville.

The original farm covered 170 acres along the banks of the Hoosic River and Broad Brook, but over the centuries land was sold off and farm outbuildings were destroyed. (Note the barns and silo behind the home in one shot.) The property was operated as a dairy farm well into the 20th century. The central chimney draws from five fireplaces.

One of Williamstown’s best pieces of farm land, River Bend Farm has had many owners since white settlers came to this region.

From The North Adams Transcript, December 27, 1939
by William B. Browne

[The northwest corner of Williamstown] was identified with the Smedley family for a long time and Ephraim Seelye, second of that name, bought up many of the oak and pine lots…

Seelye also owned…River Bend Farm having bought it in 1766 and in 1769 sold it to his son-in-law Elihu Ketchum. In the same year it was sold to Col. Benjamin Simonds. It seems probable that about 1770 Simonds commenced building the splendid house we now see on this farm. In 1813 the farm was sold by [Simonds’ son-in-law] Benjamin Skinner who said in his deed that Simonds had sold it to his brother, Tomson (sic) Skinner, in 1802 whose administrators had conveyed it to him in 1818, but neither deed is on record.

…In 1813 [Benjamin] Skinner sold River Bend Farm to Asa Northam who in 1836 sold it to Asa Northam, Jr. In 1836 it was owned by Leonard Cole and afterward by John C. Cole.

From the Pittsfield Sun, March 12, 1868:

John L. Cole [and his wife Ferry] purchased the “River Bend Farm” for many years owned by his father, the late L. W. Cole, paying therefor the sum of $9,000

From other sources:

John L. Cole sold the farm to George H. Prindle in 1877 who advertised the property for sale in 1919 & 1924, but in 1938 the farm was owned by Eugene P. Prindle, undoubtedly a relative.

It is not clear when Mr. & Mrs. Oliver Nichols acquired the property, but in 1950 they bought the Henderson Road home of Kenneth G. and Edith C. Ware and the Wares bought River Bend Farm, which they, and subsequently their son David F. Ware, operated as the Sunrise Dairy Farm.

In 1977 David J. and Judith A. Loomis bought River Bend Farm, which they operate as a bed & breakfast. They have owned the property longer than any other owners of record.

There are two reasons why River Bend Farm is such a showplace of 18th century architecture today. The first, oddly enough, is that many of the owners over the years were not very wealthy people. For much of its history it was a working farm and the people who owned it were farming families.

While these owners were proud of their home, when they went to spruce up or modernize, they tended to layer the new over the old, rather than tearing the old materials out and replacing them.

Which brings us to reason numbrr two: Dave and Judy Loomis. Since they bought the property in 1977 they have worked tirelessly to restore the original look of the house, while bringing the heating, electrical, and plumbing systems up to 21st century code and standards in order to operate it as a bed and breakfast. (Good news! As of – June 8, 2020 – River Bend Farm is once again open for business!)  http://www.riverbendfarmbb.com/about.html

“We did the restoration a room at a time and we could almost feel and hear the energy of each space as we uncovered the older construction,” Dave Loomis explained.

The parlor, the formal room downstairs, had a strange configuration of panels on the wall, and Judy was dying to find out what was under the sheetrock so she cut a little hole and from what we saw we were able to deduce that the whole wall was paneled! That gave us the direction in which to work and explained why the room was the way it was.”

Photo courtesy of David and Judy Loomis

The other downstairs room is the tap room where Benjamin Simonds kept his tavern. There was no bar as we know it today, but the room was a gathering place.

There were two entrances to the tap room, Dave Loomis explained, the front door with the pillars, and the “funeral door” on the south side of the building. “Many times wakes were held in taverns in those days, and so they needed an entrance wide enough and straight enough to maneuver a coffin in and out for the viewing. It was considered pretentious for common folk to enter through the front door, and all the physical evidence indicates the funeral door had much more use over the years.”

After the covered bridge over the Hoosic, known as the Moody Bridge, was replaced with an iron span in the 1930’s and a poured concrete structure in the 1990’s, the front yard of River Bend Farm took on a very different aspect from its original. “The house used to sit on a promontory and you looked up at it from the road (Simonds Road/US Rt. 7),” Loomis said. “Now it is lower than the roadbed, with the result that that side porch by the funeral door is no longer a pleasant place to sit.”

There are now four bedrooms upstairs (see photos), but originally there were just two front bedrooms and then a great room in back, serviced by a small back staircase. “The front rooms have plaster walls and chair rails, but the big room at the back plank walls and fewer windows, and plank rather than panel doors,” Dave Loomis explained. “There is only one fireplace upstairs in what was probably the master bedroom. I guess Benjamin Simonds liked to be warm!”

The attic is wide open and also contains a baking oven. There is evidence that someone lived up there over the centuries, maybe farmhands or maybe children of the large farm families craving a little personal space.

The basement, which has a dirt floor and a field stone foundation, contains two large bake ovens and a big , very similar to those recently restored at the Smedley house (see photo), which was built at much the same time period. “Probably these big ovens were used by people throughout the neighborhood who brought their loaves to the farm on baking days.”

There is also evidence of a big water cistern in the basement, although the original well was across the road at what is called the Hawkins House, at the intersection of Simonds Road (US Route 7) and North Hoosac Road, where Benjamin Simonds died. Dave recalled that the well was filled in because it was considered a danger to neighborhood children.

“From one preserved window shutter we were able to copy the pattern and hardware,” Dave added. “Most of the ironwork is probably civil war era and our local blacksmith, Bill Senseney, recreated the door hinges and latches.”

Three sides of the house are original clapboards with the hand forged nails still in there and still doing their job. In 1896 the North Adams Transcript recounted when J. L. Cole, who had been born at the farm, traveled from Seattle for a visit. “Mr. Cole pulled one of [the hand wrought nails] out of the house and had it attached to his watch chain as a charm…He will also take home a few shingles from the covering over the cellar-way, which were there when his father bought the farm, the spinning wheel his mother once used, and an old wooden coat hook which he found in the garret.”

Have you been able to find this historic site and the its marker, located at 643 Simonds Road ?  We hope you will photograph it and send the image to [email protected].  Learn more about the other historic sites featured in this series here:  
http://www.williamstownhistoricalmuseum.org/programs-events/explore-historic-williamstown-historic-site-marker-scavenger-hunt/