CONNECTIONS: A notable corner in Stockbridge
On the corner…
St. Paul’s was designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White, a premier architectural firm of the 19th century. Inside, set among rich woods and stone vaults, is a singular jewel: a Tiffany window.
Across the way is an early tavern (the Red Lion today) where Ethan Allen bought a knife and had a mug of flip (beer, spirits and sugar heated with a hot poker). In early Berkshire, ministers complained there were more taverns than churches. They moaned that there was better attendance at one than the other.
Over the next 200-plus years, presidents and first ladies, senators and judges slept and supped at the tavern on that corner. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow registered and so did Carol Burnett and Bette Midler. Down the road apiece, Nathaniel Hawthorne met Herman Melville at luncheon, and Thomas Cole and Asher Durant visited.
On the corner…
There was a small wooden building. It was the office of Jonathan Field. The first transatlantic cable ever sent was received not in New York City or Washington, D.C., not in L.A. or Hong Kong. It was received at that little office in the village of Stockbridge. Sent by the man who laid the cable, Jonathan’s brother Cyrus wrote: “Cable successfully laid. All’s well.”
The children were let out of school, the church bells were rung and the people gathered on that corner to stare at the little wooden office where the world was connected. Jonathan sent an answer: “On earth peace and good will toward men.”
Later at that spot the town gathered again, on foot and in carriages, to mark the erection of the monument to those Stockbridge men who fought in the Civil War — to honor the men and thank God that the war was over.
Also on the corner was the home of Timothy Edwards, merchant of Stockbridge and guardian of Vice President Aaron Burr. He was the son of Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian. When smallpox wiped out his family, Timothy was left guardian of the son of Aaron Burr Sr., president of Princeton University. In later years it was home to Massachusetts senator and innkeeper Richard Treadway. Still later, the house was incorporated into the Austen Riggs Center.
In 1819 David Dudley Field Sr. came from Connecticut to serve as reverend of the Stockbridge Congregational Church. The Rev. Field remained in Stockbridge until 1837. He was father to the “Fabulous Fields.”
The Field brothers were Attorney David Dudley Jr., Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field; Cyrus Field, who laid the first transatlantic cable; attorney Jonathan, who received the cable; and the Rev. Henry Martyn Field, hero of “All This and Heaven Too.” It was David Dudley who introduced Melville to Hawthorne in 1850.
In private, David Dudley was erudite, gentle and well-loved. A lifelong Democrat, he switched parties to support Abraham Lincoln. Field was a Northerner and an abolitionist who defended the rights of Southerners in court after the Civil War.
He codified the New York penal code “to bring justice within the reach of all men.” He built a reputation as a legal wizard and defender of the best principles. He then threatened his entire reputation by defending the most unpopular “robber barons” of the day: Jay Gould and James Fisk.
He faced bad press, threats of punitive action by the New York Bar, and accusations of corruption. Far from retreating to higher (and safer) ground, David Dudley followed defense of Gould and Fisk by defending Boss Tweed.
The trial in which Field defended Tweed against accusations of corruption ended with a hung jury. In the next, Tweed was convicted. David Dudley emerged relatively unscathed, but it took courage to uphold his principle and put “justice within the reach of all men,” even when they were generally and genuinely disliked.
It is the corner…
Of the Main Street that Norman Rockwell immortalized as the spirit of Christmas and America’s hometown. It is the corner of the street that many believe is the goose that lays one of Stockbridge’s golden eggs.
On the corner…
In the last 80 years, there was one death by automobile. It was Aug. 8, 1940, shortly after 11 p.m. Special Officer Thomas Killfoile stood his post on that corner, ready to direct concert traffic. At Tanglewood that night was what composer-conductor John Williams called “The Great Tanglewood Triumvirate”: Koussevitzky, Copland and Bernstein.
As the Thursday night concert let out, concertgoers poured down Prospect Hill in a steady stream. Richard M. Booth was attending the concert with his mother, and was on his way home to New Milford, Connecticut. He was 24 years old. It was a direct hit — man and auto. Killfoile was thrown into the air.
Booth swore, “There was no time to apply the brakes and bring the car to a halt before hitting the officer.”
Killfoile landed 67 feet, 11 inches away and lay on the road. Officer Harry Stafford was the first to come to his aid. Stafford stayed with him while another officer ran down Main Street to the house of Dr. Campbell. When the doctor examined Killfoile, he called for an ambulance and ordered Killfoile moved to St. Luke’s Hospital on East Street in Pittsfield, where Killfoile died at 3 a.m. four hours after he was hit.
Booth was tried and found guilty of driving “so that the lives and safety of the public were endangered.”
Mary Flynn remembered the Killfoiles fondly: “After Papa died, the Killfoiles were afraid my mother, brother and I would be alone at the holidays so they invited us to their house on Thanksgiving and Christmas every year throughout my childhood. You don’t ever forget things like that.”
About the corner…
Folks complain about that corner on the summer tourist-filled days and especially after concerts. For decades, during those times of heavier traffic, a Stockbridge police officer stood on that corner assuring the safety. Now drivers navigate without assistance. Some say it is too dangerous for a policeman to stand there. Some say it is too dangerous without a policeman to direct them. Some remember Killfoile. Life is precious; even a single death is tragic, and yet it was the only loss of a policeman on that corner in eight decades.
Buildings are the repositories of our communal memory. Our history is one underpinning of Stockbridge wealth, attraction and attractiveness. Preservation is not stagnation; preservation is one important element of the selective decisions that define good planning. It is one element that more than saves our past: It shapes our future. On balance … on that corner … do you really want a traffic circle?