Discover Historic Williamstown! Week 3

Posted by on May 13, 2020 in Talks | Comments Off on Discover Historic Williamstown! Week 3

Discover Historic Williamstown! Week 3

Historic Site 3. South Williamstown Five Corners

This week’s historic site marker is located in the center of South Williamstown at the Five Corners.

The Sloan, Stratton, Jordan, Phelps, and Steele families are just a few of the folks who made the “south part” the vibrant community it remains today.  We invite you to explore the Web site of our friends at the South Williamstown Community Association to learn more about the area yesterday and today.

Isaac Stratton, South Williamstown’s first European settler, was born in Warren, MA, in 1739 and moved to Williamstown with his parents and seven siblings in 1760. In 1762 he built his first cabin on the site of the The Store at Five Corners, which he subsequently sold to Samuel Sloan.

Stratton served as Justice of the Peace and had an illustrious military career, distinguishing himself as a Major in Colonel Simonds regiment at the Battle of Bennington.

Isaac Stratton married Mary Fox in 1761 and they had at least five children. They are buried together in Southlawn Cemetery.

Regina Rouse delivered this excellent presentation “Honoring Isaac Stratton” for us back in 2018. We encourage you to watch for a detailed account of this important founding member of our community.

Honoring Isaac Stratton Video

The Five Corners Historic District, encompassing the central district of South Williamstown, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. It is centered at the junction of Cold Spring Road (Rt. 7 north), Green River Road (Rt. 43 northeast), Hancock Road (Rt. 43 southwest),New Ashford Road (Rt. 7 south), and Sloan Road. The junction has been a prominent center in the area since 1760.

South Williamstown was formed out of the junction of four large parcels of land, and developed in the late 18th century as a stop on the main north-south stagecoach route (today United States Route 7). By the turn of the 19th century the village had a tavern, store, and cemetery, and the first church was built in 1808. The area remained agricultural through the 19th-century, having been bypassed by railroad construction and significant industrial activity.

Map of South Williamstown in 1876.

A History of the Store at Five Corners

Isaac Stratton built the original building, a log cabin, in 1760, then Samuel Sloan built a tavern on the site in 1770 where it became a gathering place for Colonial troops, including a brief stop-over by General George Washington.

Nathan Rossiter

In 1816 Nathan Rossiter had a tavern on the site. As Jordan’s Tavern, under the ownership of John Jordan from 1833-65, the second floor and Greek Revival portico were added. After two changes of ownership, in 1875 Thomas Sabin gave it the name Sabin House and conducted it as an inn.

While the Mills School was in existence just up the hill, the tavern was a haven for parents and visitors. Business took a hit with the closing of that school in 1889.

Photo of the Five Corners in 1880, featuring students from the Mills School.

In 1905 Thomas and Jane Hoy Steele and their ten children moved from Shushan, NY, and bought the Sabin inn for use as a family home. They lopped off a wing of the building and had hauled north on Green River Road by teams of horses. Eventually the Steeles started selling bread from their home and the Steele’s Corners Store was born.

Images from the Berkshire Eagle

Jane Steele ran the South Williamstown Post Office from the Store from 1916 until her death in 1930. The branch was closed the following year.

James A. “Jim” Steele took over the operation of the Store after his mother died and operated it until his death in 1963.

In a 1992 article in the Eagle, neighbor Harold Guiden remembered the Store being the hub of the community in the 1930’s and 1940’s, when “South Williamstown was a long ways from anywhere,” and going into Williamstown seemed as big a trip as going to Pittsfield.

Image from the Berkshire Eagle

The Store opened when Jim Steele got out of bed in the morning and closed when he retired at night, Guiden recalled. All day long there were at least a half-dozen people gathered around, drinking Cokes and shooting the breeze.

Jim Steele’s generosity was legendary, and he helped many members of the community during the Great Depression. Children of that era have fond memories of buying penny candy and ice cream and hanging out at the Store. Many teens had their first jobs working for Steele’s.

After Jim Steele died in 1963 his widow, Susan, leased the Store to Janet and Carroll Cummings, before selling it to William H. and Helen Cook Vanderbilt in 1978. The Vanderbilts renamed Steele’s Store the Store at Five Corners, removed the upstairs porch and expanded the sales room. While William Vanderbilt, the former Governor of Rhode Island, was known to pump gas for visitors, the Cummings remained as managers.

William Vanderbilt died in 1981 and Helen Vanderbilt put the Store up for sale in 1984. A year later she sold it to Patricia and Dr. Roger Gould, and Bernard and Cecelia Bandman, who also retained Janet Cummings as manager.

In 1987 the Store was up for sale again. Bryan and Donna Livsey appear to be the owners in 1990. Then in April of 1992 Stuart and Andrea Shatken purchased the property, holding a grand reopening in May with State Senators Jane Swift and Shaun Kelly cutting the ribbon while the Mt. Greylock Regional High School Band played.

The Store flourished during the five years the Shatkens owned it, being featured in Gourmet magazine. In September of 1998 they sold to Meredith K. and Jeff Woodyard, who replaced all the windows and added a deck and enclosed dining porch.

In July of 2009 the Store passed into the hands of the current owner Franklin C. Lewis, who also purchased the abutting Green River Farms property. In January of 2011 he closed both businesses, marking the first time in more than a century that the Store had been out of business.

The South Williamstown Community Association attempted to purchase the Store to operate it as a non-profit entity but couldn’t come to a sales agreement with Lewis. Lewis briefly reopened the Store in 2012-2013, after which it remained closed for another two years.

Since 2015 the Store has been open for business under various managers.

If you have found the marker we encourage you to take a photo of it and the surrounding Five Corners area and email it to us at [email protected]  We are grateful for our members and friends who help build the collection of historic photos of Williamstown!  Thank you!