We hope you are holding up well and remaining healthy. While we are still encouraged to maintain our “social distancing” status, we encourage you to explore historic Williamstown! Throughout town, nine historic sites are marked with plaques, describing their significance. Eight of the plaques were installed by the Williamstown Bicentennial Committee in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the town’s settlement, in 1953, and one was installed by a town resident.
We are currently running a series on our FaceBook page about the town’s historic sites, but we understand that not all of our members and friends use FaceBook, and we want everyone to take part in a “scavenger hunt” for our historic site markers. Each week we will post information about the marker at one of the town’s historic sites. If you wish to drive to find the markers, there is parking near each one, but getting out on foot, if possible, may be a great way to enjoy the spring and capture history at the same time. We encourage you to photograph the historic sites and email us the photo so that we may add it to our collection of current images of the historic sites in town. Please take care and have fun!
Historic Site 1. Nehemiah Smedley House
Benedict Arnold slept where?!?
Right here in Williamstown at the Nehemiah Smedley House, but where is that?
On May 6, 1775 West Hoosuck (the town was not yet Williamstown) tavern owner Nehemiah Smedley contracted with Benedict Arnold (then a revolutionary war hero, not a traitor) to produce or procure enough biscuits, salted pork, and rum to supply a contingent of men for a few weeks. According to the contract, which still exists, Arnold paid Smedley five pounds for the goods.
Can you locate the former home of Nehemiah Smedley’s tavern and its historical marker?
Captain Nehemiah Smedley was one of the seven sons of Captain Samuel Smedley III and Esther Kilbourne. He was born in Litchfield, CT, in 1732 and died in Williamstown in 1789. One of the notable early residents of our town, he served as a military and civic leader, built a handsome house, owned a fine farm, and ran a tavern.
In 1754 Nehemiah Smedley planted the first orchard in Williamstown, but not at the site of the Smedley house that is still standing. His first property was at intersection of South Street and Field Park, where the Williams College Center for Development Economics (former Delta Psi fraternity, also known as St. Anthony Hall) now sits.
A few facts about Nehemiah Smedley:
1. At 35 years old he was the youngest member of the Building and Seating Committee for the first meetinghouse (First Congregational Church) in 1768, but he never joined the church
2. No portrait or other likeness of this “founding father” of Williamstown is known to exist
3. No headstone was erected over his grave and even the place of his burial within the limits of the graveyard is unknown.
Are you interested in learning more about Nehemiah Smedley? You can watch a WilliNet video of a WHM sponsored lecture, presented in April 2014, by Louise Dudley and Judith Wilson, descendants of Smedley. Here is a link to the video: Smedley Family Video. In 2015, Bruce McDonald, the owner of the home, carried out extensive work on the house and presented a program on the history of the house and its restoration. You can watch the video here: Smedley House Video Enjoy!
How many of you found the historical marker by his home/tavern on Main Street? The privately owned house has recently been beautifully restored and is a real gem of Williamstown architecture. Take a peek next time you are driving or walking past. If you do, we hope you will photograph it and, and send the image to [email protected].
Historic Site 2. The Haystack Monument
You’ll have to delve into the depths of the Williams College campus to find our next historical marker which stands at the (supposed) site of the very haystack beneath which Williams students Samuel J. Mills, James Richards, Francis L. Robbins, Harvey Loomis, and Byram Green sheltered during a thunderstorm in 1806.
If you can find this marker and historic site, take a photo of it, or of you standing next to it, and send it along to [email protected].
Haystacks looked quite different in 1806 than they do today. We are used to seeing rolled bales of hay wrapped in Tyvek, but the image above is an example of the type of haystack the five Williams students probably sheltered under or, more accurately, within.
“The field is the world” (Matthew 13:38) reads the inscription beneath the globe atop the Haystack Monument. From that meeting under a haystack in 1806, came the impetus for the formation, in 1810, of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). By the mid-19th century over four dozen Williams graduates were serving as missionaries in the American West, the Middle East, Africa, India and Hawai’i.
Whatever your feelings are about the missionary movement, there is no question that what happened at the site of this historical marker changed the world.
You can learn more at the Williams College Chaplains’ Office webpage. The video and an article by Douglas Showalter’s can be found here: Into All the World: the Story of the Haystack.
This week’s historical marker is located on the land known as Mission Park – seen in the map and aerial view above.
“The bonds of secrecy were so strong among these students that for many years after the Haystack Prayer Meeting its date, its exact location, and even the names of all the participants were not known. Fortunately, in 1854, Byram Green, the last surviving participant, put a cedar stake in the ground where the haystack had been…”
– The Rev. Dr. Douglas K. Showalter
That land, known as Sloan’s Meadow, was purchased by the Williams Society of Alumni and renamed it Mission Park.
In 1857, after the 1856 Haystack Jubilee (50th anniversary) celebration, the Mission Park Association was incorporated with its members holding the property “for the purpose of . . . erecting and placing thereon suitable monuments, and other memorials to commemorate the origin and progress of American missions . . .”
The Society of Alumni donated Mission Park to the College in 1885.
Paid for by Harvey Rice (Williams Class of 1824), the Haystack Monument was dedicated in July 1867. Although Rice originally planned a life-size haystack made of sandstone, a monument was decided upon. Made of ‘silver blue’ marble, it was erected by the Berkshire Marble Company of Alford, MA. Several of the trees around the monument were brought by groups from around the world, contributing species not commonly found in Williamstown to the arboretum of Williams College. We hope you will photograph the monument and surrounding trees so we may add them to our collection for posterity.
You can find a PDF of the 1867 “Proceedings at the Dedication of the Missionary Monument in Mission Park” here: https://tinyurl.com/ybt65wcy
WCMA’s 2018 exhibit, “‘The Field is the World:’ Williams, Hawai’i, and Material Histories in the Making” looked at the legacy of the Missionary Movement. More about the exhibit can be found here: “‘The Field is the World:’ Williams, Hawai’i, and Material Histories in the Making.”
Good luck in your search and we hope you will photograph the monument, marker, and surrounding trees so we may add them to our collection for posterity. Thank you!
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. https://southwilliamstown.org/
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.
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.
Commercial area near the Store at Five Corners
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.
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.
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!
Historic Site 4. West College
This week’s site is easy to find. West College was the original building housing the Free School donated to the town in Ephraim Williams’ will, which became Williams College in 1793. You will find it on Main Street, across from the Williams College President’s house.
In this photo, c. 1850, you are looking from the east toward West College, from somewhere between Water Street and Spring Street from the north side of Main Street.
The Free School was conceived by Colonel Ephraim Williams, and described in his will for the direct benefit of the children of the soldiers who had served under him in one or other of the forts of the old French line.
The nine trustees empowered to establish the Free School in Williamstown met for the first time on April 24, 1785, in Pittsfield, and discovered that the $9,157 left by Williams’ was in no way sufficient.
In August, the Building Committee suggested that the “old lime-kilns” where Griffin Hall was eventually sited in 1828, would be a good location for the school, but the protruding rocks were deemed too difficult to level, as indeed they eventually proved to be.
A site directly across Main Street to the south, where the college built their second building in 1797, was also considered. But eventually the Committee decided on the site “south of William Horsford’s house” where General Sloan eventually built the house that has been home to the presidents of Williams College since 1858.
At the second meeting of the trustees, in August 1785 the trustees set out the dimensions of the building, but by May of 1788, when the following plans were announced, nothing had been built. Finances, clearing and leveling rocks, siting a sufficient well, and dealing with a lawsuit brought by the citizens of Adams [now North Adams], claiming that Williams’ had also intended that a Free School be erected in their community, were among the issues causing delay.
“That the house for the use of the Free School in Williamstown be constructed of brick, and be of the following dimensions, namely, seventy-two feet in length and forty feet in breadth, from inside to inside, three stories in height, with four stacks of chimneys and a bevel roof ; that said house be erected on the eminence east of the meeting-house, and south of Mr. William Horsford’s dwelling-house, on the south side of the highway; — provided the sum of five hundred pounds be paid or secured to be paid, to the said Corporation for the use of the said School.”
Finally, on May 26, 1790 the trustees voted: Taking into consideration the importance and necessity of erecting without delay the building intended for the use of said school ; and Colonel [Tompson Joseph] Skinner having this day engaged to sink the well already begun, and partly dug, on the western eminence where the house was ordered…to be placed, and to level the said western eminence sufficient to accommodate the building,— do resolve, that the committee appointed to superintend and direct in the erection of said building shall proceed to set up said building, on said eminence, without delay.”
The trustees, in their 1792 Petition to the General Court of Massachusetts, describe West College as “a large and convenient brick building within the said town of Williamstown, with lodging and study rooms sufficient to accommodate one hundred students, besides a common School-room sufficient for sixty scholars, a Dining room that will accommodate one hundred persons, a Hall for public academical exercises, and a Room for a library, apparatus, &c., the whole being nearly finished.”
David Noble donated a bell, which was rung to signal chapel, study hours, recitations, and evening prayers.
In 1793 the cupola and the top floor were finished, the hall divided by a partition “so as to make two rooms for the Students,” and a lightning rod was added.
Although the interior of West College has been reconstructed due to fire and various renovations, the shell of the building is original.
Where’s the water?
West College never had a well of its own, and never enjoyed a legal right of access to any neighboring well, although the Whitmans (successors to William Horsford) by courtesy allowed its roomers for considerable stretches of time to use the old well. There are two copious natural springs not very far apart from each other on the low ground to the southeast of the West College, from one or other of which the students supplied themselves for the most part till the middle of the nineteenth century.
When [Arthur Latham Perry, Williams class of 1852] as a freshman became a roomer in West College in 1848, there was a well-worn path diagonally across what was then called “Deacon Skinner’s meadow” on which there was not then a building of any kind, leading to what has now long been called the “Walden Spring.” At the same time there was opened a new and narrow street directly down to this spring southerly from Main Street, and consequently named “Spring Street.”
This 1889 Burleigh Lithograph of Williamstown shows West College (red x at far left) and Spring Street (red x near center). Remnants of the “diagonal path” between the two can still be seen here.
About the middle of the [19th] century… the Williamstown Water Company brought water from the “Cold Spring” to the village residences and near to the college buildings.
This wooden water pipe, shaped like a railroad tie with a hole bored through the center, is likely from the first set of pipes carrying water from Cold Spring into town. Wooden pipes were replaced by iron pipes in 1876.
What do we know about the Free School that existed in the West College building from 1790-1793?
Two departments of instruction were established at first : an English free school with students recruited from the higher classes in the town schools, such as these then were ; and a grammar school or academy, to which a yearly tuition of thirty-five shillings was charged.
Only two teachers were provided at first for both schools, a preceptor and his assistant; an usher was afterward added.
Only two Williamstown boys – Daniel Kellogg and Billy J. Clark, a grandson of Colonel Benjamin Simonds – are positively known to have been trained at the Free School, and while both became distinguished men, neither of them graduated from the College.
When the school became a college by an act of the Legislature in 1793, the common department, which was entirely free, fell at once into “innocuous desuetude;” but the tuitioned grammar department continued for a few years as a sort of preparatory school for the College, before it too closed.
Many of the citizens of Williamstown deprecated the action of the General Court in transforming the school into a college to the utter loss of Ephraim Williams’ original intention.
The 19th century saw many changes to the West College building.
In 1829 three students try to burn it down. William O. Parker & Stephen Thayer “concerned in firing the West College” were expelled, and Nathan T. Rosseter was “sent from college in disgrace.” (Records of the Faculty, 1821-1871).
As the College built more buildings to serve specific purposes – chapel, library, dining halls, etc. – more and more space in West College was converted to student living space.
In 1855 a major remodeling of the building saw the East-West hallway replaced by non-communicating entrances at the North and South ends. The annual commencement day march through that hallway had been referred to as going “through college.”
In 1871 the brick exterior of West College was painted yellow in a “renewal of youth and freshness,” according to the Williams Vidette.
The lighter color of the building can be discerned in this 1898 photo by Alexander Davidson (original in the Williams College Archives). The Davidson photo, taken from Lab Campus Drive, shows the stairs in place before the construction of Hopkins Gate.
To West College
…For every one
Who in the past has found a home in thee,
And for the countless students yet to be,
Whom thou shalt shelter from the rain and sun,
We love thee, old West College
– J. B. Pratt (Williams Class of 1898)
Williams Literary Monthly, April 1896
The West College building was gutted right down to its brick shell twice in the 20th century.
In 1904 everything except for the exterior walls was demolished and rebuilt with “all the necessities and luxuries of a College dormitory” according to the Williams Record, although one letter-to-the-editor judged the renovation: “as dangerously threaten[ing] the democratic spirit in Williams College.”
In 1928, after 57 years, the yellow paint was finally sand-blasted off the brick exterior.
Then on January 2, 1951 a devastating fire gutted the building. Three students who had returned early from vacation escaped with their lives, and all the residents lost their belongings.
North Adams Transcript, January 2, 1951
The $225,000 renovation wasn’t complete until the 1952-1953 academic year. The architectural firm Perry, Shaw, Hepburn, Kehoe, and Dean assured the North Adams Transcript that from the outside, the building looked “exactly as it was in 1790.” Inside, there were fireproof stairways, rooms for 48 upperclassmen, and a vault in the basement for College records.
A “West College Room” built from salvaged timbers, was added to the Alumni House, now known as The Log.
Can you find the historic site marker for West College and the building? If you find it, please photograph the marker, the building and anything around it and email your photos to [email protected] so we can add your images to our collection of recent photographs of historic sites in our ever changing town.
Please be safe, enjoy yourselves, and have fun!
This week’s historical marker is much harder to locate than some of the others. Do you know where the First Meeting House was located in Williamstown and its importance in our town’s history?
There was no separation of church and state in the late 1700s, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided that in order to incorporate as a town a community had to have a meetinghouse and a “learned and settled pastor.” This meant what we now call a Congregational minister. There was no choice, that was the religion of the Commonwealth.
The town needed to incorporate under the name of Williamstown in order to access the money left to them in Ephraim Williams’ will to establish a free school, and they needed a church and pastor in order to incorporate. And yet it took a decade those conditions to be met.
“In 1765 the town was regularly incorporated by the Province authorities at Boston…The proprietors and not the townsmen called and settled the first minister, Rev. Whitman Welch…and paid all the expenses of his ordination; they built and paid for the first framed meetinghouse in 1768…” – Arthur Latham Perry “Williamstown and Williams College” 1899
Moira O’Hara Jones gave a great talk for us in 2015 about the relationship between the town and what is now the First Congregational Church, on the occasion of that institution’s 250th anniversary.
During the years between the settling of West Hoosuck and the construction of the first meeting house which enabled us to incorporate as Williamstown, there was a log cabin referred to as “The Schoolhouse” built around 1763 and located on Lot 36, which can been seen at the bottom right hand corner of this map, where it says “minister’s,” as indeed that lot had been originally reserved for the first minister. (The building would have been about where Mark Hopkins Hall is on the current Greylock Quad.)
Despite its name, it was never used as a school, but as Arthur Latham Perry wrote in “Origins in Williamstown” (1894): “…the proprietors uniformly held their meetings at this schoolhouse for several years; and public worship was held in it, whenever there was any, until the first rude meeting-house was built, 30’ x 40’, in 1768.”
Even after the first meeting house was built, Perry continues: “The log building acquired a certain sort of sanctity thereby, which was never wholly lost as long as it remained standing.”
As was evidenced on the afternoon of August 16, 1777, when the pious women of Williamstown gathered in the Schoolhouse “to pray for the safety and victory of their fathers and brothers and kinsfolk in the battle of Bennington, then raging.”
The Schoolhouse was probably taken down in the mid-19th century when the original “Mansion House” hotel was erected at the front of that building site.
“The proprietors and not the townsmen called and settled the first minister, Rev. Whitman Welch, in 1765, and paid all the expenses of his ordination; they built and paid for the first framed meetinghouse in 1768…” – Arthur Latham Perry “Williamstown and Williams College” 1899
The accompanying excerpt from Perry’s “Origins in Williamstown,” 1894, features snippets from Proprietors’ Meeting minutes c 1766-1770 pertaining to the building of the first meeting house, located in the middle of what is now Field Park. This drawing is the only representation we have of the first meeting house since it was replaced by the second meeting house before the invention of photography.
The first meeting-house was 30′ x 40′. At first it would have had rough bench seating, but then pews, probably box pews, as the First Congregational Church has today, were built and “seated.”
“Colonial churches were generally ‘seated’ each year; that is, each worshipper was assigned a particular seat, determined in accordance with their social or perceived spiritual status in the community.” – John Ogsapian, “Church Music in America, 1620-2000” 2007
There was a “seating committee” for the first meeting house in Williamstown, but not for the second.
While there was talk of “having the gospel preached in this town” as early as the second Proprietors’ Meeting in April 1754, no concrete action was taken until the Proprietors’ Meeting of March 10, 1763, after the French and Indian War had ended, when it was voted “that for the future” they “would have preaching,” and accordingly a call was given to Rev. Moses Warren to preach on probation.
Whitman Welch, the sixth child and youngest son of Thomas and Sarah (Whitman) Welch, was born on June 5 1738 in Milford, CT. He was orphaned by the age of ten when he went to live with an uncle in New Milford, CT, and where in time he was married to Ruth Gaylord.
Welch studied theology, graduated from Yale in 1762 and was licensed to preach by the New Haven Association of Ministers on September 25, 1764.
Immediately after the incorporation of Williamstown, the Proprietors called Welch “to the work of the ministry in this town” on July 26, 1765. He was ordained in October or November of that year, “at which time a church was gathered,” although the first meeting house wasn’t finished until 1768.
While Welch was given the use of Lot 36, the “Minister’s Lot,” on what is now the northeast corner of Main and North Streets (the northern junction of Rts. 2 & 7), he promptly sold it to Josiah Horsford for £25 and bought 18 acres of farmland on the Green River, where he made his home next door to Nehemiah Smedley.
When the Revolutionary War began in 1775, Welch sold his farm to Smedley and joined the militia as a chaplain. He died of small-pox near Quebec on April 8, 1776, at the age of 38. His widow and children had returned to New Milford when he joined the war effort and never returned to Williamstown.
This map shows Williamstown in the upper left hand corner, and New Milford, CT in the lower left, on the Housatonic River just north of Danbury. A number of families followed Whitman Welch north when he was called to preach in Williamstown.
Williamstown struggled to attract a “learned and settled pastor.” According to Arthur Latham Perry: “They had had hard luck and had been at much expense even to get a suitable man to try for a settlement. In two cases where the candidate was willing, the constituency disapproved of him.”
But in neighboring Adams and Cheshire, founded by Quakers and Baptists respectively, they couldn’t incorporate as towns because the Commonwealth of Massachusetts didn’t recognize their worship or clergy as “Christian.”
In Cheshire Baptist pastor John Leland worked hard to get Thomas Jefferson elected President in 1800, because he believed Jefferson would work towards a separation of church and state in the newly formed USA, allowing towns like Adams and Cheshire to incorporate without having to abandon their preferred form of worship.
Once Jefferson was in the White House, Leland concocted an audacious PR stunt to call the President’s attention to his cause. He asked all the dairy farmers in Cheshire to donate a quart of milk, retrofitted a big cider press, and created what became known as the Mammoth Cheese.
The cheese weighed 1,235 pounds, was 4 feet wide, and 15 inches thick. Leland accompanied the cheese all along the three-week, 500-mile route. preaching fervently all the way. The cheese bore the Jeffersonian motto “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
In keeping with the Quaker’s abolitionist beliefs, Leland informed Jefferson that the Cheese was made “without the assistance of a single slave.”
Leland arrived on January 1, 1802, and presented the cheese to Jefferson, who that very afternoon, penned a letter to the Baptist community in Connecticut in which he coined the phrase “separation of church and state.”
So the people of northern Berkshire County played an important role in freeing both the states and the various faith communities from being under each other’s control.
You can visit the Cheshire Cheese Monument – a replica of the cider press used to create the cheese – across from the Cheshire post office on the northeast corner of Church and School Streets.
Have you spotted the historical marker honoring our first meeting house yet? Both the first and second meeting houses were built on that location, above the initial settlement , on what was then called “The Square,” now the east end of Field Park, formed by the intersection of Main Street with South and North Streets.
The construction of the first meeting house predated the establishment, or even the idea, of a college in town. The future of what we now call the Congregational Church in Williamstown was dictated by the needs of the college, not the congregation.
The first Commencement at Williams College was held on September 2, 1795, in the first meeting-house and “it was felt that the place was unsuitable.” President Fitch immediately began soliciting donors to help erect a temporary gathering place for major college events, but nothing came of that effort.
Before the next Commencement in 1796 there was a stronger and more varied opposition to going into the old meeting-house. Thomas Robbins (1777-1856, Yale & Williams 1796), who was to speak, wrote in his journal : “A scandal to have Commencement in such an old meeting-house.”
According to Arthur Latham Perry: “The College Trustees voted, ‘to hold the next Commencement in the town of Pittsfield or Lanesboro unless a suitable place should be provided in Williamstown,’ and appointed a committee to carry their vote into effect. But nothing was then accomplished, doubtless owing to much ill-feeling then prevalent as between town and college on political and other grounds, and the Commencement of 1797 also was held in the small and dark building.”
But on July 15 of that year Robbins wrote: “Great disturbance in town on account of the meeting-house being set on fire last night: it was happily extinguished: various conjectures about the perpetrators.”
The remains of the first meeting house were “removed a short distance” and used as a schoolhouse, and the second meeting house was erected on the site.
Perry wrote: “[The second meeting house] was so far advanced toward completion at the time of the Commencement of 1798, that its exercises were held within it, and thereafter uniformly until its destruction by fire in 1866.”
Historic Site #6.
Site of First Proprietors Meeting
We bet this week’s historical marker will be puzzling to folks for many reasons. Where was Seth Hudson’s house? Who was Seth Hudson? Who were our first settlers? Who were the West Hoosac Proprietors?
And, most importantly, what is/was a Proprietor?
Here’s what Roy Hidemichi Akagi said in The Town Proprietors of the New England Colonies (1924, University of Pennsylvania Press) which is still the authoritative work on this topic.
“[In 1753] the majority of land grants from the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were made to groups or communities for the purpose of the formation of new plantations and townships. The grantees of these township and plantation grants became known as the proprietors.
These grants gave to the proprietors both necessary ownership and local government powers. This meant that the next stage in the evolution of title was grants from the town proprietors.
Originally, there was no difference between the town and the proprietors, so that a grant from the town was a grant from the proprietors. But as the towns grew and persons who were not among the original grantees of the township came to live in the town, a difference arose between those having the right to vote as to town administration and business affairs and those who had ownership rights in the town lands.
Gradually a separation occurred and the proprietors claimed the exclusive right to convey the land belonging to the original grantees. With their organization as an independent body, they rather than the town members, exercised jurisdiction over the common and undivided lands in any township.”
If you are interested to read further, Akagi’s book is available as a free, downloadable PDF here:The Town Proprietors of the New England Colonies
A close up from the 1776 map of our region in Jeffrey’s “The American Atlas: Or, A Geographical Description Of The Whole Continent Of America.”
Who were the West Hoosuck/Hoosac proprietors?
According to Arthur Latham Perry in “Williamstown and Williams College,” 1899″
“…on the 10th of September, 1753, the House of Representatives at Boston voted that William Williams [of Pittsfield, first cousin once removed of Ephraim Williams], “one of his Majesty’s justices of the peace for the County of Hampshire [it was eight years later when Berkshire County was set off], issue his warrant for calling a meeting of the proprietors of the west township of Hoosac so-called…
This vote was concurred in by Governor [William] Shirley and the Council the same day ; and on November 15, 1753, [Williams] issued his warrant to Isaac Wyman of West Hoosac, requiring him “to notify and warn the proprietors of said township that they assemble at the house of Mr. Seth Hudson in said township on Wednesday, the fifth day of December next at nine of the clock in the forenoon to act”…
Such meeting was accordingly holden at that time and place, and inaugurated a successful local self-government, which continued for twelve years the sole authority within “the west township of Hoosac.”
Portrait of William Shirley (1694-1771),
colonial governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
by Thomas Hudson, 1750, from the National Portrait Gallery
The proprietors mentioned by name in the record of their first meeting…are : Allen Curtis, Seth Hudson, Isaac Wyman, Jonathan Meacham, Ezekiel Foster, Jabez Warren, Samuel Taylor, Gideon Warren, Thomas Train, Josiah Dean, Ebenezer Graves, — eleven [white] men.
With the exception of Allen Curtis, who was the moderator of the meeting, and who not very long after returned to his former prominent position as a citizen in Canaan, Connecticut, all these had been soldiers in Fort Massachusetts before and all took military service in some form when the French War broke out again in 1754.”
Thanks to Patricia Leach and The Clark Art Institute for this glimpse of the West Hoosuck Proprietors’ Book and a surveyor’s chain.
“The organization of a village and government had been approved on September 10, 1753, and a meeting of the proprietors was called to ‘determine upon a division of land or part of the lands in said township.’
Over the course of years to come, lands were divided many times and in a number of ways. About a quarter of the first lots were offered to soldiers from Fort Massachusetts in lieu of pay in cash, while many others were sold via lottery in the eastern part of the bay colony. Some of the other first lots were sold to settlers from Canaan, Wethersfield, and New London, Connecticut.
Further divisions of lands were devised to equitably allot the natural resources of the township so that each of the proprietors received a share of fresh meadowland, prime agricultural land, other agricultural lands, pine woodlot, oak woodlot, and forested land on steep slopes.
Lots were measured using a surveyor’s chain, and the measurements were recorded in this book.”Audio File of Pat Leach’s excerpt on the surveyor’s chain.
You can learn more about the exhibit that included the surveyor’s chain here: Clark Art Sensing Place Exhibit
Let’s meet the eleven white men who were the Proprietors of West Hoosuck at the first meeting in December, 1753. In 1753 the Massachusetts Bay Colony would only allow white men to own land in its boundaries.
ALLEN CURTIS, the moderator of the meeting, was the only Proprietor not to have been a solider at Fort Massachusetts. He was born on May 18, 1708 in Wethersfield, CT and died in 1783 in Canaan, CT. He hosted the second Proprietors meeting at his home, which stood directly across Hemlock Brook from Seth Hudson’s house.
“Captain Curtis brought his military title from Connecticut, and after a couple of years carried it back there, where he honored it by a life of usefulness.” – Arthur Latham Perry, “Origins in Williamstown,” 1894.
“The infighting between the settlers of West Hoosuck…and the powers in Fort Massachusetts continued unabated…The continuing friction was most evident between natives of Connecticut, who were in the ascendancy in West Hoosuck, and the ‘Bay’ natives at Fort Massachusetts.” – Michael D. Coe, “The Line of Forts,” 2006 (See illustration of the line of forts.)
SETH HUDSON treated soldiers at both Fort Massachusetts and Fort Hoosuck. A bill for his medical services survives and is pictured here. He was very influential in the settlement of our town and the last survivor of the original proprietors. In 1756, upon the death of William Chidester, Hudson became the commander of the fort at West Hoosuck.
ISAAC WYMAN, the clerk of that first Proprietors meeting, was the second in command at Fort Massachusetts, having been appointed by Ephraim Williams, Jr.. Born January 18, 1725 in Woburn, MA and died March 31, 1792 in Keene, NH, he married Sarah Wells in 1754 in Deerfield, MA, where the first of their ten children was born. The second was born here in “Hoosuck, Massachusetts” and remaining eight were born in Keene.
“…during the decade of the 1750’s…rancor grew between Williams loyalists like Captain Isaac Wyman and an anti-Williams group led by Seth Hudson.” – Coe “The Line of Forts” 2006
“Wyman…commenced [building] pretty soon on his lot, No. 2, which stretched along flanking North Street on the west side, and the front of which is now graced by the lodge of Kappa Alpha.” – Perry, Origins in Williamstown, 1894
“After 1759 [Wyman] continued to farm the ten acres surrounding Fort Massachusetts (acreage tat had originally been set aside for the use of the fort), but on November 13, 1761, he sold all his West Hoosuck property and moved to Keene.” – Coe “The Line of Forts” 2006
In 1762 Wyman opened a tavern on Main Street in Keene, which is now a museum (see photo). In 1770, the tavern was the gathering place for the first meeting of Dartmouth College’s Trustees. Although advanced in years, Wyman marched at the head of his company to Lexington in 1775, and later served in the Battle of Bunker Hill.
In “Origins in Williamstown (1894) Arthur Latham Perry wrote:” EZEKIEL FOSTER was from Fall Town, now Bernardston and quite constantly a sentinel in the line of forts from the beginning to the end. He drew house lot no. 13 in the original ‘lotting’ of West Hoosac…he was one of the first ‘eleaven families of us,’ already domiciled at West Hoosac, who petitioned Governor Shirley from Fort Massachusetts to which these families ‘ran for shelter upon the late alarm’ in October, 1754, for aid and military encouragement to ‘return to our settlements at the west town.’ Foster became a considerable landowner and a prominent citizen of Williamstown…”
Foster sold Lot No. 13 to Allen Curtis, another original Proprietor, but he “…continued a settler and citizen for many years. but bought lands, and had a home in different parts of town.”
Thanks to Paul W. Marino for a comprehensive, illustrated look at Fort Massachusetts. Fort Massachusetts by Paul Marino
JABEZ and GIDEON WARREN came from Connecticut via Brimfield, MA, and ended their lives in Vermont. Jabez was Gideon’s father, and another son, Jabez, Jr. also moved here, which adds to some confusion since our early records are incomplete.
West Hoosac House-Lots with Proprietors’ names highlighted. From “The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and Its History” by Grace Greylock Niles, 1912
(Manuscript map by Albany surveyor John Rutse Bleecker, showing Fort Massachusetts and the Hoosick circa 1745-55, around the time Williamstown (West Hoosac) was settled. Chapin Library collection.)
Here we meet some of our founding mothers for the first time, and encounter names – Blair, Meacham, and Simonds – which remain on our maps today.
JOSIAH DEAN was among the first European settlers to be granted land in what is now Hancock, and he may be the same man of that name to buy at auction in Boston the land that became the towns of Lenox and Richmond for £2,550.
His most significant action in West Hoosuck (Williamstown) was selling Lot 44 to Daniel and William Horsford of Canaan, CT, for “£260 Connecticut money old tenor.” That is the lot on which the Williams College Presidents’ house now sits. William and Esther Smedley Horsford became the second white couple to start a family in town.
JONATHAN MEACHAM, originally from New Salem, MA, bought house lot No. 43 from Seth Hudson for £5, and built his home very close to where West College now stands. Meacham most likely encountered the same problems finding water that the college did, and so he moved to lot No. 49, close to what was called the “college spring.” Later he went to farm on Bee Hill, where many generations of the Hickox family later lived.
Meacham and his wife, Thankful Rugg, were original members of the church, but in February of 1779 a committee was formed “to wait upon Jonathan Meacham to enquire the reason of his absenting himself from communion.” The Meachams were not dismissed from the church, but “are designated among those ‘removed to distant parts.'” While his cousin, James Meacham, “left a large posterity which has continued to be identified with the town…Jonathan left none.”
Jonathan Meacham was with Ephraim Williams at the Battle of Lake George in 1755.
THOMAS TRAIN, born August 1727, was originally from Weston, MA. After an engagement went awry, Train enlisted and came to serve at Fort Massachusetts, where he drew house lot No. 30 in West Hoosuck, close by Benjamin Simonds and his family.
Although he was twenty-four years her senior, Train married 19-year-old Rachel Simonds, daughter of Benjamin and Mary Davis Simonds, the first child born to a European settler in town. They set up housekeeping on the southern slope of Townsend Hill (lot No. 63) where their daughter Sarah “Sally” Train was born in October 1772, exactly nine months after her parents’ wedding.
Before Sally was born Thomas Train had gone off to Virginia and acquired “a good title to some lands.” But on his return journey north he apparently died “and lies buried no one knows where.”
After two or three years of widowhood Rachel married Benjamin Skinner and Sally was raised with the children of that marriage. In July 1792 Sally married William Blair and died in 1864, at the age of 91 “universally respected and beloved.” Her tombstone in Westlawn Cemetery is pictured. Her husband, her son James, her mother, and many other family members are also buried in town.
The museum collection contains a linen sheet from the Blair farm. The flax to make the sheet was grown, processed, and woven in Williamstown by Maria Blair who was the daughter of Sally and William Blair.
Born in 1716 in Northfield, MA, Sergeant SAMUEL TAYLOR served at both Fort Massachusetts and West Hoosuck Fort, where he was the first commander, continuously from 1746-1757. His wife was with him much of the time and their daughter Susanna was born in Fort Massachusetts in 1754, and their son, Elias, in West Hoosuck Fort two years later. Elias Taylor was the first white male baby born in this community.
The year after Elias was born Seth Hudson recounts that Taylor was ordered by Isaac Wyatt to forcibly remove Jabez Warren and his family from rooms William Chidester had agreed they could occupy in his home. According to Hudson’s account, Taylor “…Halled out man, woman & Children Stole their Cloaths & broke to bitts & Destroyed some of Mr. Chidester’s goods…”Not surprisingly, Taylor moved his family out of town shortly thereafter.
Samuel Taylor was the first owner of lot No. 63 at the junction of Hopper Brook and the Green River, known as “The Crotch” or “Taylor’s Crotch” and now called Sweet’s Corners (see map). Ten acres there were set aside as a “Mill Lot.” After the Taylor family moved away, Asa Douglass of Hancock, the father-in-law of Samuel Sloan, purchased an interest in this lot. On October 15, 1767, the proprietors voted to grant William, John, and Peter Kreiger, a Dutch family who operated Kreiger Rock Mill in Pownal, “liberty to sett up a corn-mill and saw-mill at Taylor’s Crotch” before August 1st of the following year.
Water-powered mills of all varieties were vitally important to the growth of towns in the 18th and 19th centuries. Our most recent WHM newsletter contains a fascinating article on the early mills of Williamstown by Mary Fuqua. Early Williamstown Mills article.
EBENEZER GRAVES, was born March 15, 1726 in Hatfield, MA. He served at Fort Massachusetts from 1746-1752. Graves was one of the thirteen original settlers of West Hoosuck to build regulation house here between September of 1752 and September of 1753, having drawn lots Nos. 53 & 56. In January, 1753, he married Prudence Hastings of Greenfield, where the couple later settled and where Graves died on October 19, 1814, aged 88 years.
The original house in which the First Proprietors meeting took place was moved to Bulkley Street from the southeast corner of the Hemlock Brook bridge on Main Street via Hemlock Brook. The current address of the building (or what might remain of it within) is 56 Bulkley Street, and is drastically changed from the original regulation house.
The map below shows the path of the move of the Seth Hudson House down Hemlock Brook to Bulkley Street.
If you can find the site of the First Proprietor’s Meeting, and its marker, we hope you will send a picture to us at [email protected]. For extra credit, can you find the “new” location of the house on Bulkley Street?
Historic Site #7.
Riverbend Farmhouse Tavern
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 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.
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.
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.
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].
Historic Site #8
Building on Latham and Water Streets
We hope you have had a peaceful, almost summer, week and that you were able to find last week’s site, Riverbend Farmhouse and Tavern, located on Simonds Road.
This week’s site is a bit more difficult to locate, though it is located near the center of the town’s commercial district.
The building in question is just one of several houses in town to contain remnants of an original “regulation house.”
What was a “regulation house”? In the 1750’s, when the British crown colonized this area, only white men were able to “own” land. Land in what became Williamstown was sold by the Massachusetts Bay colony to these men through a lottery and they had to quickly erect a building on the site to stake their claim. A regulation house was the smallest structure you could build to satisfy that requirement. The settlers then built larger homes around that original structure.
The 1753 House on Field Park is a replica of a regulation house. It was built by volunteers using 18th century methods and tools to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the first proprietors’ meeting in 1953. The photos below show the construction process and the building’s interior. A visit to 1753 house is a must if you are spending time in Williamstown!
This week’s historic site is a structure that contains the frame of a regulation house built around 1767. The timbers of the regulation house lie fairly deeply buried here, and this is not the only building in town to contain remnants of a regulation house.
You can tell just looking at the outside of the 1753 House, such a building would have been cramped quarters for even a couple, let alone a large colonial era family. But the regulation houses were just the first step in staking claim to a land grant, and our earliest landowners were soldiers from Fort Massachusetts and the West Hoosuck Fort. Even if they were married and had children, it was unlikely that their families were with them here in the “wilderness” at first.
A regulation house was never intended to be a home. It was a quick structure to establish land ownership that would then be expanded to house a family. There are several homes in Williamstown that started life as regulation houses.
Thanks to Michael Miller for an inside look at our historic building for this week, which used to belong to his family. His comments have been edited to keep the location of the marker and the building a secret. Have you found it yet?
“The only part of the original home, owned since the 1870s by my great-grandparents, grandparents, and lastly my parents, is the smaller portion on the north side. In the “tear-down” photo you can see the original beams of the ‘regulation house’ that remains.
Following the “tear-down” photo you see the original house (with additions marked in color by Mike) from around 1900, followed by the same photo without the markings, and then a view of the building in its saltbox configuration.
From Mike: “The ‘babe in arms’ is my great aunt Catharyn Welch, born in 1899…Our family owned all the corner lot and the next two lots heading west…(former Norton and Los properties).”
Thanks to our friend and neighbor Dick Steege for this article “The Life of a House” explaining how and why regulation houses were built and expanded over the centuries in our community.The Life of a House by Dick Steege
From the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) records of the Inventory of Historic Assets of the Commonwealth and National Register of Historic Places for The Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) 1998:
The structure presently at *** Street…is a recent recreation of 18th-century domestic architecture which incorporates into its fabric framing members of an authentic ca. 1770 residence…
During the comparatively peaceful period between the close of the Seven Years War and the onset of the Revolution, settlers streamed into Williamstown. In 1765, 285 residents inhabited 54 houses; by 1770, the population had doubled, and 30 more houses were erected. By 1774, Williamstown’s 1,015 residents occupied some 137 houses. Many of those newcomers were drawn from points south, and many were artisans who brought specialized skills to the village economy.
One of those men was cordwainer Isaac Searle, who came to Williamstown from Northampton and erected a portion of this house about 1770. Subsequent occupants included the families of Enos Wells, Joseph Osborne, William Touser, George Goodman, Norman Nichols (like Searle, an artisan; Nichols was a jeweler), and Electa Drury.
In the mid-19th century, the property passed to the family of blacksmith Michael Welch, who moved to Williamstown from Pownal, Vermont about 1868, and established his residence here, as well as a thriving shop just north…at the foot of Cole Hill.
In the late 1880s, Maggie Welch, like many women who at the turn of the century desired an occupation that would not require them to work out of the home, opened a dressmaking establishment here, assisted by her sister and neighbor Mary Welch Pike as well as Kate Donahue and Nellie Madden.
The Mass. Historical Commission Survey also details the 1975 overhaul of the “oldest house in town” and the North Adams Transcript covered the controversy surrounding it. Have you located the building and the historic marker yet?
“The structure presently at *** Street…is a recent recreation of 18th-century domestic architecture which incorporates into its fabric framing members of an authentic ca. 1770 residence. The newest sections of the building recreate the appearance of a two-story, side-gable, 4/4 center-chimney, Georgian-era dwelling with a on- and-a-half story rear ell. Window and door surrounds on the Latham Street facade are pedimented. Double-gable dormers are set into the one-and-a-half story ell roofline. The 18th-century framing materials are largely found in the northernmost section of the present building, today a wide, three-bay, center- chimney structure with its gable end…
In 1975, the building underwent major alterations. Nineteenth and 20th-century additions and alterations to the ca. 1770 structure were stripped away, until only the frame of the original building remained. The new and much larger building, designed by Twanette Garvey, incorporated the original post and structure into an “ell” on the north (rear) facade…The larger, two-story section was entirely new.”
Have you spotted this week’s historical marker at the corner of Latham and Water Streets? It is the northernmost portion of the house that faces east on Water Street that contains the timbers from the original 1770 regulation house.
There are many other homes in town that contain remnants of regulation houses or other colonial era structures. Here are photos of just a few of them. Take a drive down West Main Street, around the town center, and down Water Street/Green River Road to South Williamstown and keep your eyes open!
Final words from the Massachusetts Historical Commission:
“This property has been altered to the extent that its material integrity has been severely compromised. Its location and early history, however, would qualify it to contribute to the potential Town Center Historic District. The Town Center Historic District is a potential historic district that began to develop ca. 1765 and continued to the present as an industrial, commercial and working-class residential area. The district is important as the gathering place for groups from every section of the community that contributed to Williamstown’s labor history and civic development, as well as its social and recreational life.”
1136 Main Street
1166 Main Street
1174 Main Street
1192 Main Street
Have you found the site and its marker, located at 95 Water Street, at the Corner of Latham and Water Streets? If you find it, we encourage you to photograph the building and its marker and email the images to the Williamstown Historical Museum at [email protected] so we may add it to our current day images of the town’s historic sites. Thank you!
Historic Site #9
West Hoosac Fort
Our final marker commemorates the location of a structure vital to the founding of our town: West Hoosac Fort.
In late May of 1754, a year after the first proprietors’ meeting in West Hoosac (Williamstown), native Americans attacked what is now Hoosick and Hoosick Falls, NY, about 12 miles downstream on the Hoosic River.
Arthur Latham Perry notes in Origins in Williamstown, 1894, “All the settlers at West Hoosuck immediately abandoned the place on news of possible approaching attack ravages below them; those who had families betook themselves to Fort Massachusetts, where they were not very welcome, and others returned to their homes over the mountain or into Connecticut.
Images of the 1930s reproduction of the Fort Massachusetts
This bold incursion taught two important lessons. It taught the people of Connecticut that they were much exposed to Canada by way of the Housatonic, and that they ought to help the “Bay” to defend the gateway of the Upper Hoosac…the other lesson taught…was, that Fort Massachusetts was not well placed to defend the frontier towns in what is now Berkshire from the French and Indians. It stood to one side of the hostile route. This…doubled the confidence of the West Hoosac settlers, who were at the same time soldiers, to demand of the General Court a fort of their own, to be manned by themselves.”
The Line of Forts from present-day Bernardston to Williamstown
Over the next two years several pleas for the establishment of a fort here were sent to Governor Shirley, but it wasn’t until this pathetic appeal in January, 1756, from William Chidester, that action was taken (spelling and capitalization original):
“Your Petitioner and Some others TO THE AMOUNT OF FIVE FAMILYS are left alone in said Westerly Township as he apprehends in Emmenant Danger of being Murthered, and their substance destroyed by the Common Enimy…”
Gov. William Shirley by Thomas Hudson
National Portrait Gallery
Perry continues to explain: “Governor Shirley issued an executive order on the 6th of February in accordance with Chidester’s request, authorizing him to build a blockhouse on the ‘Square,’ – that is, in the Main Street on the third eminence, — if he could induce a sufficient number of the proprietors to join him so as to complete the work by the 10th of March; otherwise to build the block house on his own lot, house lot No. 6, and afterwards to picket the front part of that lot and of the lot next west, house lot No.8.
Chidester only found encouragement to do the lesser thing. Benjamin Simonds, Seth Hudson, and Jabez Warren, three of the oldest homesteaders..chipped in to aid him in his work. These four men commenced at once to erect the blockhouse on the eastern line of No. 6 where it touched the Main Street and several others who had left on the alarm in 1754, and among them Nehemiah Smedley and Josiah Hosford and William Hosford…returned and aided in the work.
A typical blockhouse
Ten men from Fort Massachusetts served as a guard from February 29th to March 29th, when the block house was finished. We can not tell exactly when it was done, but we know that pickets were set after the manner of Fort Pelham [a block house located in Rowe, MA, and ordered abandoned in 1954] around the fronts of both of those lots, enclosing the two houses…A good well was also within the enclosure. This rude work, not very well placed, and not meeting the views of a considerable number of the resident proprietors, was called ‘West Hoosac Fort,’ and it had a history, as we shall see.”
“It was inevitable, in the nature of things, that jealousy should spring up between the newer and the older forts in one small valley,” writes Arthur Latham Perry, “Origins in Williamstown” 1894
In April of 1756, in obedience to this order, Captain Isaac Wyman detailed five men from Fort Massachusetts, under the command of Sergeant Samuel Taylor, to guard the new fort, in connection with the men who had built it. This put the new fort under the control of a subaltern of the old one. So West Hoosuck resident William Chidester went to Boston in April, and obtained a Sergeant’s commission from Governor Shirley and the authority to supersede Taylor in the command of the new fort.
Perry further notes: “There seems to have been another jealousy stirring in the minds of these men…namely, the antipathy between the Connecticut men and the men of the Bay. Chidester and his chief friends were from the southern colony; most of the other leading men were from the eastward. This colonial bickering had certainly broken out at Lake George the fall before…”
In May of 1756 there were rumors of an enemy approaching from the northwest. The block house had no artillery at all and just ten men as a garrison. In June Chidester again took a petition to Boston urging the General Court not to rebuild Fort Massachusetts – “which is a considerable part of it fell down and it is Daly expected that the rest will fall” – but to fortify West Hoosuck to fulfill the same purpose of protecting the western boundaries of the Colony.
On June 11, as Chidester was returning from Boston without much encouragement for his petition, a series of hostile operations by French and Indians forces began along the Hoosic River, which cost several lives.
The Line of Forts from The Line of Forts: Historical Archealogy on the Colonial Frontier of Massachusetts by Michael D. Coe, 2006
It had long been the custom to keep small scouting parties in motion from fort to fort, from the Connecticut to the Hoosic, and down that river to the Hudson, and then back again, as this was the main source of news. Benjamin King and William Meacham had been sent on such an errand down the Hoosic by Captain Wyman, when, returning, they fell into an ambuscade only about three-quarters of a mile from West Hoosuck Fort and both were killed.
A close up from the 1776 map of our region in Jeffrey’s The American Atlas: Or, A Geographical Description Of The Whole Continent Of America
The tribes or communities of Indigenous People in this region were referred to as the Schaghticoke and were a part of the Mohican nation.
Fifteen days after Benjamin King and William Meacham were been killed by natives in June 1756 , a detachment of thirteen soldiers from the encampment at Half Moon were on their way to Fort Massachusetts when they were surprised in the town of Hoosac (now called Hoosick Falls or Hoosick, NY) about thirteen miles downstream of the fort, Eight of them were killed and the remaining five captured.
The next day, a small party was sent from Fort Massachusetts by Captain Wyman to reconnoiter the ground and possibly bury the dead, but upon approaching the place they found a large group of Schaghiticoke people, and Wyman and his group retreated. General Winslow detached a corps from Half Moon, who took possession of the ground and buried the slain.
Arthur Latham Perry notes in Origins in Williamstown, “On July 11, 1756, as William Chidester and his son James and Captain Elisha Chapin were looking for some strayed cows along Hemlock Brook at some little distance from their fort on the hillside above the brook, an Indian volley killed the two Chidesters, and wounded Chapin, who was seized, carried off about sixty rods, and killed and scalped.
The Indians then pressed up the hill, opened fire upon the block house, killed the cattle in the vicinity, and soon after retreated into the woods. Nobody dared, apparently, to carry the news at once to the other fort; and it was only on the second day from the attack that Captain Wyman sent twenty men to search for the body of Captain Chapin, who found him and buried him in a decent manner and returned with his family to Fort Massachusetts.”
Seth Hudson succeeded to the command of the West Hoosac Fort upon William Chidester’s death in July 1756. More men were billeted at West Hoosuck, and ammunition and food were supplied from Fort Massachusetts, but the majority of settlers were unhappy with what they perceived as inadequate supplies of men and provisions. There continued to be a schism between settlers from Connecticut, and those from eastern Massachusetts, with the former in favor of building up West Hoosuck and the latter wanting to refortify Fort Massachusetts.
In January of 1757, twenty-one West Hoosuck settlers petitioned Boston to redress of their grievances, and in typical governmental fashion, a committee was formed and no action was taken.
Hudson petitioned again in April of that year with the result that Timothy Woodbridge, Esq., a frontiersman from Stockbridge was ordered to “repair to the western frontier, and examined fully into the state of affairs there.”
Woodbridge made a thorough examination of the lay of the land and listened to complaints and concerns from both sides and within a month presented a full report to the General Court in Boston that was much more favorable to the West Hoosuck settlers and their claims than anything before.
Woodbridge believed that Fort Massachusetts was only built where it was because no one knew any better at the time, and that “…the enemies chief gangway to the western frontiers is about the west part of the west Township.” They found Fort Massachusetts “much decayed but still in such condition as may answer for a while” without the expense of repair, while the block house at West Hoosuck was deemed “…a place of considerable strength and tolerable situation…” which being fortified and additionally manned could be “…maintained against a considerable force.” He further stated that almost all of the settlers complaints were valid and that adding an additional twenty men to the ten already billeted to West Hoosuck would be a “public service.”
Another part of the Woodbridge committee’s report related to the conduct of Captain Isaac Wyman in his capacity as commander at Fort Massachusetts, to Major Elijah Williams as commissary at the west, and to Colonel Israel Williams as commander of the entire western region. According to Arthur Latham Perry: “A large mass of testimony was taken, including numerous depositions, in behalf of, and in opposition to, the complaints of the petitioners, which papers, in confusing abundance, are now in the secretary’s office at Boston.”
The name of Lord Jeffery Amherst is not often mentioned in polite conversation in Williamstown these days, both from the historic rivalry between the colleges and Lord Amherst’s relentless attacks on indigenous communities during his lifetime, but in western Massachusetts in the 1750s-1760s he was a major contributor to the end of the French and Indian War, whose military victories had a direct impact on life in the upper Hoosic Valley.
Perry states, in his 1894 Origins in Williamstown, “From the moment that the military temper and resources of General Jeffery Amherst were understood in New England, let us say from Sept. 30, 1758, the individual importance of the two forts on the [Hoosic River] began steadily to decline, and of course also the bitterness and bickerings between them.
It is pleasant to note, that the last official request of the commander of the West Hoosuck Fort was, that his garrison and neighbors might share in the privilege of hearing the preaching of the chaplain at the older fort a part of the time.”
There had been no proprietors’ meeting called or held here for six years and six months, when Captain Isaac Wyman, still nominally the proprietors’ clerk, was requested to call one in September of 1760. Notably, he dated this meeting call “East Hoosuck,” not “Fort Massachusetts.”
Wyman had not relished the charges so persistently made against him as commander of Fort Massachusetts by his co-proprietors in West Hoosuck and he lost interest in the governance of this town. At that 1760 meeting William Horsford was chosen clerk in his place; and in November 1761 the Registry of Deeds records that “Isaac Wyman, Gentleman of Fort Massachusetts, sold to Benj. Kellogg of Canaan, Connecticut, for £140 all his lands in West Hoosuck, including his fine house lot No. 2, “
Wyman left western Massachusetts and moved to Keene, New Hampshire, where his tavern still stands today as an historic museum. Wyman Tavern was built in 1762 and is Keene’s most historic house.
Photo of Isaac Wyman’s Tavern in Keene, New Hampshire, taken before 1905
So where was West Hoosuck Fort? The following maps show it on the property along Field Park where the Williams Inn stood from 1974-2019. You’ll find this week’s historical marker and a boulder with a commemorative plaque at the west end of that lot.
In Origins in Williamstown (1894), Arthur Latham Perry writes about the demise of the West Hoosuck Fort and how, in the late 19th century, he could establish exactly where the block house stood,
“The decadence and final disappearance of West Hoosuck Fort was similar in its course to that of [Fort Massachusetts]. Besides the block house, there were two other houses within the pickets, all standing on the front of lots 6 and 8, the block house being on the eastern line of the third house lot (6) west of North Street, and the two other houses still further west, on the declivity towards Hemlock Brook. The picket line was 28 rods long on Main Street.how far the picket lines extended northward and consequently how much land was enclosed by them; there are no present means of determining; but the position of the blockhouse and the easterly line of pickets can be determined almost exactly….”
(Perry continues in great detail with the measurements!)
After the battles of the French and Indian War moved elsewhere and military protection became less necessary, at least four proprietors’ meetings were held within its rude walls of hewn timber until the Fort was abandoned in 1761.