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The 1753 House on the green in Williamstown. Photo courtesy Williamstown Historical Museum

CONNECTIONS: Berkshire road trip! Part I

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By Tuesday, Mar 12, 2019 Life In the Berkshires 2

A road trip is fun and easy in the Berkshires. In a single 45-minute drive down Route 7, you can traverse almost 300 years—experience the simplest shelters of the 18th century, the pleasure palaces of the 19th century and the new builds of the 21st.

We are known for our unique mix of nature and culture, but Berkshire County is also an architectural treasure trove. We preserved our proud history in wood and stone. Every building has a story and, in the Berkshires, every story has a preserved building. Follow Route 7 from Williamstown to Great Barrington and experience American history.

Start in Williamstown, at the intersection of Routes 7 and 2 on the old green. There you will find “the Regulation House.” Even before we were a country, under British rule, the first buildings were erected in Berkshire County. In 1750 the General Court of Boston laid out 63 lots of 10 or 12 acres each in Williamstown, then called Hoosac. On horseback, in carts, on foot, through woods, over muddy tracks and rock outcroppings, settlers came to Williamstown. In exchange for free lots, prospective owners had to clear 5 acres for cultivation and build a house that met the regulations of the General Court.

Regulations stipulated a house 18-by-15 feet clad with split shingles. This provided a one-room house with a chimney on one wall. The fireplace was the source of food, light and warmth. The house was intended for a family of two. As the family grew, the house could be enlarged by adding another 18-by-15 section, creating a home 18-by-30 feet. By 1753, the population of Hoosac was 25 in 13 “regulation houses.” Two hundred years later, the residents of Williamstown built the replica you can visit today, using the same materials and the same tools as the original settlers.

One of the builders, Henry N. Flynt Jr., remembers the rebuilding with pride and affection: “the experience of doing that with our hands – it was like creating a three-dimensional explanation of a way of life.”

Elm Tree House at Mount Hope Farm in 1954. Photo courtesy Williamstown Historical Museum

The opposite end of the housing spectrum – from rude shelter to mansion – is just down the road. Elm Tree House at Mount Hope Farm is a brick-and-marble Georgian with 72 rooms. It looks as it did in 1910 when Col. E. Parmalee Prentice and his wife, Alta Rockefeller Prentice, built it on 1,400 acres. Col. Prentice, a Chicago lawyer, married the daughter of John D. Rockefeller Sr., reputedly the richest man in the world. The colonel’s intention was to create a model farm. With 168 in help, Prentice succeeded in developing cattle bred for milk production in his million-dollar cow barn; raised chickens and Dorset sheep; grew apples, grains, vegetables and flowers; kept bees; and tapped for maple syrup. Today the estate is owned by Williams College.

Kathleen Brookman Dunn, CPA, grew up on Mount Hope Farm. Her father was livestock manager for the Prentice family, and later the general manager for Williams College.

“I could not have grown up in a more beautiful place. My favorite part of the estate is the cobble – a road behind the mansion – where we would hike. There were cut outs in the trees so from different spots we could look across the whole valley. In the big house, my favorite was the Aeolian pipe organ. The organ was on the first floor, but the works were on the second floor with vents so when it was played, you could hear the music all over the house.”

St. Luke’s Old Stone Church in Lanesborough. Photo courtesy St. Luke’s Lanesborough

Continuing down Route 7 entering Lanesborough is St. Luke’s Old Stone Church. The church was founded in 1767 by the strong and determined few who came to the Berkshires to carve out a life with their hands. In 1836 they built the church that stands until today. Although it has been renovated twice, the stained glass and interior are much as they were when it welcomed its first worshipers 173 years ago.

The restored Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield. Image courtesy ‘Gem City in the Gilded Age’ by Carole Owens

Enter Pittsfield and the Colonial Theatre stands on your left. The annex of the Colonial has the words “Berkshire Auto” above the door. Here, at the turn of the last century, the first Berkshire automobile was manufactured. It offered six different body designs and won all the speed races it entered; nonetheless, Detroit automobile manufacturing won the race for production and the Berkshire Auto disappeared.

The Colonial Theatre opened Sept. 28, 1903 with a production of the operetta “Robin Hood.” Built in the grand 19th-century style of theater-palaces, the fully restored building is worth touring.

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2 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Tony Carlotto says:

    And again Carole opens our eyes and minds to the history and beauty we take for granted. Kudos!

  2. Brooks Bradbury says:

    Thank you Carole for your beautiful stories and articles!

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