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Part II: 1904 Stockbridge Town Hall

By Sunday, Dec 6, 2015 Life In the Berkshires

Stockbridge — At the annual town meeting April 3, 1848 it was “voted that no meeting shall be held in the Town House which shall make it necessary to take seats out of doors.” Less than ten years after the 1839 Town House was built it was already too small for a growing community. During a Special Town Meeting held November 5, 1867 it was “Voted that the Selectmen be not allowed to rent the Town Hall for any other purpose than for religious or town purposes.” The April 3, 1874 Annual Town Meeting “voted that the Selectmen reset, if necessary, all the old boundaries of the Town Square and see that the present boundaries are in the right place.”

Every few years the town would decide to resurvey, among other town property, the town square, which despite being laid out by chainmen in 1745, remained surprisingly true to its original dimensions. Surveys during the 18th century would often end with the statement, “One rod in thirty as usual for swag of chain” meaning they were allowed a discrepancy of 16.5 feet (one rod) for every thirty rods measured. The good news is that the Town Square was 26 rods by 26 rods, giving hope that there was neither error nor swag in the chain.

Given the state of firefighting equipment available in 1902 it is amazing that the fire department was able to save the 1839 Town House when a kerosene lamp exploded on June 30, 1902. Highly trained in the use of the available fire fighting equipment and under the leadership of Frederick S. Aymar, the first Chief Engineer of the Stockbridge Fire Department, the firemen saved the building. The insurance company settlement suggests that whole interior of the building was consumed by fire. Insurance paid out for the fire damage was $108.00 for the loss of building contents and $968.88 for damage to the structure based on a policy with a stated building value of $3,000. For those hardy enough to crawl in the attic in that part of the current Town Hall one can still see charred beams and roof trusses from the 1902 fire. Town records were saved not by firemen but by town voters, who in 1884 approved the construction of a new fireproof brick town office building at what is now 34 Main Street.

The minutes of the November 16, 1898 Special Town Meeting state “voted that a committee be appointed by the chair to confer with the Committee of the Congregational Society in regard to an extension of the privilege of building to the south of the present Town Hall. Those minutes indicate the town had already decided to build a new Town Hall. However, the fire may have hastened the process. The September 17, 1902 Special Town Meeting, Article Two included a requirement that the 1839 Town House be incorporated into the new Town Hall. Given the fire damage to that building it suggests that the voters wanted it saved for historical reasons and not for its building value or to save money in the new building construction.

Annual Town Meeting: April 7, 1902 – Article19: Voted: That a committee of three be appointed by the chair to negotiate with the Congregational Church Corporation to lease or purchase additional land sufficient to allow for an enlargement of the Town Hall. Said committee to report not later than the next Annual Meeting of the Town: and if they deem it expedient to report to a Special Town Meeting to be called for that purpose. Committee: Frederick S. Aymar, James H. Punderson and William A. Nettleton. Punderson was the father of Molly Punderson, third wife of Norman Rockwell and through her mother a descendant of Rev. Jonathan Edwards.

Sidney Pease Lincoln, as Collector of the Congregational Society of Stockbridge, issued and posted a warning out sheet with the proposed article on a perpetual lease with the town and posted it at the store in Glendale, one at the Post Office in the village and one in “this house of worship.” Sidney Lincoln whose house sat at 82 East Main Street, was once one of six of properties in Stockbridge owned by the Rev. Jonathan Edwards.

“At a meeting of the Congregational Society of Stockbridge, legally warned and held May 8, 1902. It was voted under Article Two to lease the land in the rear of the Town Hall, in addition to the lot now occupied by the Town for the purpose of a Town Hall, under the same conditions and restrictions under which the former lease was made, extending the West line as by the old lease, through to the rear lot. The price to be $2,000.00. It was voted that the Chair appoint a Committee of three to convey by lease the land above mentioned in the name of the Society and in accordance with the vote just passed. The Chair appointed Sidney P. Lincoln, Henry S. Dean and John B. Hull and the appointment was confirmed by the Society.”

The lease recorded at the Middle District Registry of Deeds on September 23, 1902 said in part: “….does hereby demise and lease to the said Town the plot of land whereon the Town Hall now stands, being the Easterly portion of the Church green, with full right to enter upon the same and to pass and repass thereon to and from said Town Hall…. The Town shall have the right to remodel, enlarge or rebuild their Town Hall but on a line no further North than the Hall now stands, and the further right to make such use of said plot as is necessary for their Town Hall but not otherwise – In case this property shall cease to be used for a Town Hall it shall revert to said Society. In Witness whereof we the subscribers, a committee duly appointed and authorized hereunto set our hands and seals this twenty-fourth day of May A.D. 1902 Witness S.P. Lincoln, Henry S. Dean, John B. Hull.”

The original handwritten text for the final document drafted on the stationery of “John B. Hull shipper of Anthracite and Bituminous Coal, Stockbridge, Mass. Telephone ‘Stockbridge 12-5’” and dated May 8, 1902. Hull later sold the business to Edmund C. Wilcox, which was operated under the name Stockbridge Coal & Grain and which is now Stockbridge Gas.

During a Special Town Meeting September 17, 1902 – Article 2: “Your committee would report that the Congregational Society accepted the offer of $2,000 for a perpetual lease of the land now occupied by the Town together with the plot of land in the rear as authorized at the Special Town Meeting of said lease has been made, signed and accepted and is now in the hands of the Selectmen. Acting upon their convictions after the expression of opinion of those who examined the different plans, they have decided that the general features of the building proposed by Mr. H. E. Weeks of Pittsfield would best meet the needs of the Town and would recommend that he be employed to prepare the plans for a new Town Hall building. The proposed building to be of sufficient size to seat about 500 people on the ground floor or main auditorium. The present building to be utilized moving it to the rear facing to the east and preserving the present front.

The essential feature of the new building will be a stage, convenient for Town Meetings, school and election purposes. An auditorium large enough to comfortably seat the voters of the Town, and a room located over the vestibule and foyer that can be used as a gallery or separated from the main hall by movable partitions so to form a small hall that may be used independently for such occasions as may not require a large hall. Voted that the report be accepted and the committee continue.”

Three votes were taken during the Special Town Meeting September 17, 1902, two of the votes authorizing the town treasurer to borrow $2,000 for the lease of land and $14,000 for the “purpose of erecting a suitable Town Hall.” The third vote would allow the committee to “be authorized and empowered to contract for and have built a Public hall for the use of the Town.”

The Special Town Meeting August 10, 1904 Article 10 read: “The delay in the completion of the building has been a matter of deep concern and regret to your committee, but we feel that the inconvenience and expense it has occasioned is fully repaid by the great excellence of the work done as well as the care and attention which Mr. Pilling has given to every detail of the construction. It is hardly necessary to say anything in regard to the building, but your committee feel that they can rightly claim for Stockbridge the most convenient and attractive public hall in this part of the country. Committee: James H. Punderson, Frederick S. Aymar, William A. Nettleton. Voted that this report be accepted.”

Chris Marsden, facilities manager of the current town offices, shared with me that the “Pilling Brothers” were the carpenters for the 1904 Town Hall.  “The three brothers were my great, great grandfather George, John and James. They were the sons of Benjamin Pilling and Hannah Rathbun Pilling, who purchased the Red Lion Inn in 1861. The shop stood behind the Franz house and the 7 Arts building on Main Street. Family stories indicate that the Pilling Brothers also constructed the Williams Academy building, the Elm St. Firehouse, Hose Co. #2 house (Legion Hall), on Church Street and the Glendale Firehouse. The family still has a large sled that is stenciled ‘Pilling Bros.’ on the bottom and was used for hauling tools around town in the wintertime. A couple years ago in the basement of Town Hall I found a 1908 INSTRUCTIONS TO VOTERS from the Commonwealth.  On the backside of it written in pencil, is ‘this building built in (year crossed out) – 1903 J. L. Pilling, G. W. Pilling, Mch 24 – 1910’”

Basketball, invented in December of 1891, quickly grew in popularity and Stockbridge was not immune as witness the Annual Town Meeting April 4, 1910 – Article 22: Voted: That the Town raise and appropriate the sum of $500 and authorize the Selectmen to raise the floor in the Town Hall 12 or 15 inches at Stage, then running back as far as it will on level. Vote unanimous. This was done so a basketball court could be added in front of the stage to give the Williams High School basketball team a court to play on. Coached for several years by Graham D. Wilcox Sr., he led the team to the 1927-28 season county championship.

Some 55 years after the 1904 Town Hall was built the State Department of Public Safety condemned the building. In 1963 thanks to “Procter’s gamble” it was given a second life.

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