A Walk Through Berkshire History

A Walk Through Berkshire History

An OLLI Course, Spring 2019

Kimball Farms, Lenox

April 18 and 25, May 2, 9, 16, and 23
 3:00 to 4:30 PM

Here is a preliminary description of a lecture course I will give this Spring in Lenox. You can find registration information on my OLLI page.

I’ll also be providing links to other blog posts I have already written, as well as more to come. I realize that my lectures can only be brief introductions to the rich history of our area, and I’ll be sure to direct people to other resources if they wish to visit these places in person, or to do more reading on their own.

For example,


This OLLI course is about Berkshire History. Not all of Berkshire history, of course. Many volumes have been written about that. We can only focus on a few things.

So this is my story. I have chosen six places that are special to me. The thing that they all have in common is that they are all beautiful places to visit, and they all have trails where you can walk and enjoy the sights. There are dozens of places like that in Berkshire County. Here is why these six places are special to me:

  1. Alford Springs is a BNRC property in the town where I now live.

    • A branch of the Wilcox family, separating from mine, moved into Alford in 1838. The property that I now own is a small corner lot, carved out of the Wilcox farm that has been passed down through the generations, today owned by my cousin Ray, from whom I buy the hay to feed my horses.

    • I’ve been riding horses in Alford for many years, all over the town. When I wasn’t riding, I was walking, exploring the forests and looking for new places to ride, or just admiring the views and observing old roads, cellar holes, charcoal pits, and other signs of long-ago occupation.

  2. The Bidwell House is a museum in Monterey that is much more than a house or even a museum. The inside of the house is fascinating, and well worth a visit and a tour. Outside, the grounds offer many opportunities for learning about the history of the area.

    • I’m a Bidwell, by way of my father’s mother. You’ll be hearing a lot about my grandmother, who was the family historian. It is also because of her that I became a stamp collector. The first United States postage stamps were issued in 1847. Monterey became a town in 1847. Coincidence? I think not!

  3. Keystone Arch Bridges are located on the eastern periphery of Berkshire County, spanning three counties, along the West Branch of the Westfield River between the towns of Chester, Middlefield, and Becket.

    • My personal connection here is tenuous, but as a stereotypical autistic, I have a fascination with all forms of transportation. We’ll talk about horseback, railroads, canals, turnpikes, bridges, and footpaths.

  4. Laurel Hill/Laura’s Tower/Ice Glen Hiking trails in Stockbridge, maintained by the Laurel Hill Association, which was founded in 1853 and bills itself as “The oldest existing village improvement society in the United States.

    • I lived on Park Street in Stockbridge in my early years, in the shadow of Laurel Hill, and led my first hike to Laura’s Tower when I was in kindergarten. That was also the first time my mother called out the police and fire departments to search for me. Laura’s father-in-law was David Dudley Field, and she lived in Laurel Cottage, which later came into the Bidwell family.

    • Ice Glen was given to the Town of Stockbridge by David Dudley Field. The rumor in my neighborhood was that the bank robbers had hidden their stolen money in Ice Glen. We looked for it in the caves, and dug holes. My grandfather was at work in the bank the day it was robbed.

    • David Dudley Field also donated the Children’s Chime Tower to the town in 1878. Ernest Gray rang the bells for 45 years, each day from the time of the first apple blossom until the first frost. He taught me how to ring the bells and let me help him play some of the songs.

    • David’s brother Stephen was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1863 by President Lincoln, and he served until 1897. David successfully argued some important cases before that Court. In 1890, their nephew and a relative of mine, David Brewer, joined the Supreme Court.

    • Another of David’s brothers, Cyrus, devised the scheme that led to the first Transatlantic Cable, in 1859. The first transatlantic cable was received in Stockbridge in Cyrus’s workshop, which had once been the home of Barnabas Bidwell, another relative of mine. John L.E. Pell befriended my grandmother to aid him in his advocacy for the Postal Service to issue a stamp to honor the 100th anniversary. I will share a picture he sent me.

    • As you can imagine, the potential list of stories is legion.

  1. Mahican-Mohawk Trail is an imagined re-creation of the original “Indian Trail” (as the English called it) that was a trading route between the Connecticut River (near Deerfield) and the Albany area.

    • When I was a kid, we all knew that “Indian file” referred to walking through the woods in single file. Based on my hiking experience in general, and after seeing the section of this trail that is known to have been in existence since before the English arrived, I’d say that was the easiest way to walk through difficult places.

    • I have long wondered why the auto route that goes from Greenfield to North Adams is called the “Mohawk Trail.” I knew from the stories my grandmother told me that the Mohawks did not live around here, but were over on the other side (to the west) of Albany.

  1. Parsons Marsh is another beautiful BNRC property. It has a fully accessible trail that goes through a wetlands area to a large platform at the edge of the open water, which will delight birders, and provides panoramic views.

    • I did some research at the behest of BNRC into early uses of this land, because they wanted to be sure their trail would not disturb areas that might contain indigenous artifacts.

2 comments

1 ping

    • Deborah on April 19, 2019 at 1:47 AM
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    David Dudley Field also donated the Children’s Chime Tower to the town in 1878. Ernest Gray rang the bells for 45 years, each day from the time of the first apple blossom until the first frost. He taught me how to ring the bells and let me help him play some of the songs.

    As a personal aside, the chimes were played to signal the bride’s (and her attendants’) limousine arrival on your first wedding day.

    1. I had forgotten about that. Mr. Gray also gave us two Courier & Ives prints that he framed, and I still have those.

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