Dewey Hall celebrates its 130th year as Sheffield’s cultural center
Sheffield — Dewey Memorial Hall, a fieldstone, marble and shingle structure built in 1887, stands proudly among the other historic buildings on the Sheffield Green. The hall, named for Orville Dewey, was built in the Arts and Crafts style that was a direct reaction to the mechanized production and division of labor that characterized the industrial revolution. It was widely thought that a healthy and moral society required independent workers who designed the things they made, and Dewey Hall is one such example. Furthermore, according to social criticism of the day, the moral and social health of a nation are ultimately reflected in the qualities of its architecture. Today, 130 years after the historic Dewey Hall was erected in honor of the Williams College graduate and Unitarian minister who called Sheffield home, it would appear that Sheffield is thriving. This weekend, the nonprofit organization will host a series of benefit events over four days to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the legendary hall and its continuing role as a cultural center for the community.
“Dewey Hall has been a pillar in our community for 130 years serving as a gathering place for the southern Berkshires and beyond, promoting the arts and culture, and instilling ‘good and kindly feelings’ as written in our mission statement,” says Board president Todd Mack. “Beyond the Hall’s elegance and charm, its role as a long-standing community resource cannot be underestimated. Our doors have never been closed to anyone, be it to host or attend an event, to share a meal with neighbors, or simply to congregate for the exchange of ideas,” he adds. In recognition of the pivotal role Dewey Hall has played in the life of Sheffield residents, the anniversary will be celebrated with four-days of music, history and tradition.
In coordination with the Dewey Hall Board of Directors, the Sheffield Historical Society — a partner for the weekend’s events — will kick-off the celebration on Thursday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m. with a lecture at the Hall about the Rev. Orville Dewey. Catherine Miller, a trustee and longtime member of the Historical Society, will talk about the life of the Unitarian minister and prolific author in whose memory the Hall was built. Miller will also expound on Dewey’s role as cofounder of the Sheffield Friendly Union, which enriched the community by giving the town a center of both social and intellectual life.
The Joint Chiefs, who have been entertaining audiences in the Northeast since 1995, will perform a benefit concert at Dewey Hall on Friday, June 16th, at 7 p.m. The band’s mostly acoustic, strikingly original music has roots in folk, zydeco, bluegrass, and old-time pop tunes. Their distinctive blend of original material and cover tunes covers a wide range of musical styles and tight vocal harmonies and a playful attitude characterize their acoustic sets. Musician and Dewey Hall board member, Kip Beacco, remarks: “Besides being one of the best sounding listening rooms in the Berkshires, Dewey Hall remains one of the few places in our area that you can go to see and hear some of the best traveling musicians on the circuit today. A local treasure to say the least….” Tickets to Friday’s event will be $20.
On Saturday, June 17, at 3 p.m., Jennifer Owens, administrator of the Sheffield Historical Society, will lead the weekend’s second historical presentation at the original Dewey Family homestead. The free event will begin in the adjoining barn, where an exhibit of photos and other materials about the history of the house will be on display. Following remarks by Owens, she will conduct a tour of the home, which will be open for viewing until 5 p.m. Also at the Dewey homestead, Dewey Hall board member and violinist Erika Ludwig, Ann Elizabeth Barnes, and other musicians will perform compositions by George Frederick Root, an ancestor of Barnes and a childhood friend of Orville Dewey. Ludwig comments, “I love that Dewey Hall provides an experience of history, a tangible sense of continuum. We can attend shows of established, great musicians and inspiring upcoming artists, then in the same room we can gather with our friends and make our own music. We can swing dance on the same floor where town leaders discussed the serious business of building our nation. We’re invited to create personal memories, to mark our family milestones and engage our friends and neighbors in a space that holds 130 years of collective history.”
The Annual Pancake Breakfast, a Dewey Hall tradition for more than 20 years, will cap off the weekend on Sunday, June 18, from 8-11 a.m. The Dewey Hall chefs will offer plain and blueberry pancakes, accompanied by sausages and real maple syrup. A highlight of this annual event is the Sheffield-grown blueberries in the pancakes. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children under 12.
Dewey, who preached in Boston, New Bedford and New York, was considered an influential if not controversial resident of town. Upon retiring to his farm in Sheffield, Dewey founded the Sheffield Friendly Union Library Association, whose goal was “to increase good and kindly feelings and to promote intelligence and cheerfulness.” When he died in 1882, Dewey’s family raised $10,000 to build the Hall in his honor; it has been serving Sheffield residents for generations. Dewey Hall board member Beth Carlson cuts straight to the chase: “It is such a privilege to put on events in this historic hall; you feel the sense of continuity, that music and dance have been here for 130 years, and we are still here, still dancing, still held by the warmth of the wood in the hall, the large beautiful windows, the soaring ceiling. I hope I can be part of keeping this a sustainable and vital part of the Berkshires, the Northeast Corner, and Columbia County.”
Dewey Memorial Hall is currently available for lectures, art shows, committee meetings, concerts, private parties and weddings, as well as contra dances and the Dewey Hall Folk Series. Both the Joint Chiefs concert and the Pancake Breakfast will help raise funds for the support of the hall, renovations, and the organization’s mission — which, in keeping with both the original goal and Dewey’s philosophy is to preserve Dewey Memorial Hall as a precious resource for the community. “Should Dewey Hall cease to exist, its absence would have a profound effect on our community” is the resounding sentiment of not only Todd Mack, but also the many generations of Berkshire County residents who have passed through the doors of Dewey Hall. “It’s no wonder that Dewey Hall is not only in the heart of Sheffield but also in the hearts of all the people who have experienced the welcome of ‘The Sheffield Friendly Union’,” says Ludwig in a comment that can’t help but pique one’s interest to check out this place this weekend. And so, in keeping with the spirit of both persevering and preserving, donations to Dewey Memorial Hall are welcome, and can be mailed to P.O. Box 92, Sheffield, MA, 01257.
Dewey Hall celebration schedule
Thursday, June 15, at 7:30 p.m.:
Lecture on Orville Dewey, Dewey Hall
91 Main Street, Sheffield MA 01257
Friday, June 16, at 7 p.m.:
Joint Chiefs Concert, Dewey Hall
91 Main Street, Sheffield MA 01257
$20 at the door, refreshments available.
Saturday, June 17, at 3 p.m.:
Talk, Tour and Live Historical Music, Dewey Family Homestead
254 S. Main Street (Route 7), Sheffield MA 01257
Sunday, June 18, from 8-11 a.m.
Pancake Breakfast, Dewey Hall
91 Main Street, Sheffield MA 01257
Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for children.