Local News & Views
Margaret Hart was one of the first students of color to graduate from State Teachers College at North Adams, now the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She graduated in 1935 and went on to earn a Master’s degree from Columbia Teachers College in New York. She was born in Williamstown in 1911, the daughter of Henry Hart Sr. and Kate Alexander Hart, and was part of the family who bought the Hart Farm in 1948 in South Williamstown.
Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, a South Williamstown resident and a professor of History, Political Science and Public Policy at MCLA, gave a brief talk on Margaret Hart at the South Williamstown Community Association’s Annual Meeting on Tuesday, June 7th, at the Second Congregational Church.
Frances Jones-Sneed has taught and researched local history extensively and is co-director of the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail. She was instrumental in setting up the Margaret Hart scholarship at MCLA, to which SWCA contributed.
Margaret Hart died in 2004 at age 92 after a teaching career of more than 50 years. The Margaret Hart Scholarship was established in her honor in 2000 and has been awarded yearly, giving preference to African American students from Berkshire County. Frances Jones-Sneed said that Margaret Hart “came to the campus to meet the scholarship recipients and was very inspirational.” Dr. Jones-Sneed said “When students asked Miss Hart about her decision to teach at Hampton Institute (which she did for 30 years), she responded that she wanted the experience, since she had grown up and gone to school in the Berkshires and had not been to an area with a large African American population. She wanted to give back to people who really needed it.” She finished up with teaching at what is now Reid Middle School in Pittsfield for 26 years.
Dr. Jones-Sneed’s talk on Margaret Hart, illustrated with photos, will be available on Willinet.
By Anne Lamb Tiffany
Students at the South Center, though stretching from First grade to Fifth, were always one big family. There were few secrets, and plans were made for events well in advance. At one point, it was decided to have a wedding. Everyone had a part in it. We had flower girls and ushers, best man/maid of honor/ minister — You name it!
The site was behind the woodshed, just out of sight of Miss Gobeille, our teacher. We ate lunch quickly that chosen day to allow plenty of time for the ceremony. Of course, we all knew the song “Here Comes The Bride” somehow and sang it loudly.
The bride walked from the ash pile to the rock we used for third base, where the minister stood waiting. It was all very solemn and serious. (I wish I could remember some of the words spoken but I know we were all moved, and the bell ending that lunch hour found us filing back into school quietly.)
Forward to 1955: My future mother-in-law, preparing for the big day (her son’s wedding) made an appointment with a hairdresser. She excitedly told the girl of the coming event, and the girl asked the bride’s name. When she was told the name, the girl said “Oh, I went to her first wedding.”
Needless to say my future mother-in-law went white, and choked until the girl explained that she was one of the eight-year-old bridesmaids at that noontime wedding at The South Center School many happy memories ago!!
Field Farm, an expanse of lush hayfields, lovely forests, meadows, pond and marshes, lies on a level stretch of land at the western edge of the valley just below the foothills of the Taconic Range. At present 300+ acres of land, the original parcel of 254 acres of farm and forest land has persisted through more than 200 years as an entity, never broken up.
Now it is owned and managed for public enjoyment, farming and preservation of two unusual houses, by The Trustees of Reservations, a statewide conservation organization.
The original farm was assembled by Samuel Sloan, entrepreneur and land Field Farm, an expanse of lush hayfields, lovely forests, meadows, pond and marshes, lies on a level stretch of land at the western edge of the valley just below the foothills of the Taconic Range. At present 300+ acres of land, the original parcel of 254 acres of farm and forest land has persisted through more than 200 years as an entity, never broken up.
Now it is owned and managed for public enjoyment, farming and preservation of two unusual houses, by The Trustees of Reservations, a statewide conservation organization.
The original farm was assembled by Samuel Sloan, entrepreneur and land speculator, from four lots from the second division of woodlots laid out by The Proprietors in the 1760s and 1770s. It included 500 acres then. He sold it in 1806. Sloan was the builder of the present Williams College President’s house. The farm was passed down through about six owners, one of whom was Nathan Field, whose name became the inspiration for the property’s name. There is little sign that anyone lived on the farm or had barns. There was a foundation, now filled in, in the Southeast corner of the northern half. Possibly it was used for pasture and hay crops by neighboring farmers.
By the mid-1900s, several of the owners had not done well and the farm was up for sale. My parents, Lawrence and Ele Bloedel, were interested in moving out from town, and I remember the three of us being dragged through thick brush by Sanborn Tenney, who was showing the property, so that we could see the most beautiful part from the best angle. This ploy worked and my parents bought the land in 1945 and completed the house in 1948. My father wanted it to be designed from the inside out, so rooms were arranged to get the best view and light. At first the house seemed a little bare, but soon he began to fill it with the modern American art he loved. My mother filled the garden and house with flowers.
A smaller building, a guest house, which might be reminiscent of Victorian Shingle Style, but with many more curves and angles, was constructed near the pond. The architect, Ulrich Franzen, had complete artistic freedom and created every element inside and out. With its reflection glimmering in the pond, it seemed like some of the follies of English landscape design, and so was christened The Folly. It is considered to be an outstanding example of contemporary architecture, and is open for tours in the summer.
The Trustees (TTOR), with a long and respected experience of preserving both land and outstanding houses, were chosen to be recipients of the property. This was their first acquisition of contemporary architecture.
Field Farm’s trails through field and forest, which lead to the mysterious “caves” and wind through drifts of spring flowers and big trees are open to the public. I hope you enjoy the sculpture in the gardens and the magnificent view of Mount Greylock and the surrounding mountains as much as I do.
by Pamela Weatherbee
By Anne Tiffany
In 1990, returning to the family homestead where I was raised, I learned that my school was being called “Little Red.” I rather resented that … and anyway it was never red. Brownish, I remember. (This was 1934 to 1939.)
The building is now much larger with the rear addition, and the library has disappeared. Originally, when you entered there were doors on either side — right side to schoolroom and left to the library room. Both went the entire length of the building. Each of those rooms took two-fifths of the width, leaving the center for entrance.
The immediate entrance was given over to the cloakroom, with its many hooks for coats (which were moved to the radiators on wet and snowy days) and a bench for removing our “arctics” worn from September to May, it seemed!
Continuing in you’d find the water fountain with the water running 24/7. There were two tiny rooms evident, which served as boys’ and girls’ rooms and all was well heated by a standing furnace.
Within the classroom, there was a circle of small chairs at one end for the “Dick and Jane” readings of the first grade. After that, the rows held the classes in ascending order with the numbers dropping as the students increased in age toward the back.
Our Monday mornings had a ritual. Each pupil had to go to the head of the room for an examination, with the hair inspected, clean hands displayed, and, of course, the clean handkerchief! (I managed to keep a clean one in my desk from Monday to Monday and hoped the teacher wouldn’t recognize the embroidery.)
Recess time was filled with strange games mostly from our own imagination and often eyes were watching from the library. I feared that librarian who wore those dark rimmed glasses, and often told my Mother about her. It was some time before I knew that person WAS my Mother, who served there from 1929 to 1962, when the library was discontinued.
Norman Burdick came to his first teaching job in 1955 at the South Center School, following time in the Army and a degree from North Adams State Teachers’ College (now MCLA).
In 1955 he taught grades 3, 4, 5, and 6 in one room and had 25 to 30 students each year. Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade were taught in the other room by a second teacher. When the addition was added to the back of the building, grades were reconfigured and divided into three groupings. He recounts being invited to attend a meeting of the South Williamstown Community Association soon after starting to teach and immediately being elected president of the group! Except for five or six years when Hans Bakke, Trevor Lord, and Tony Cangelosi served as presidents, Norm held the office until 2002. He said that “When the young, energetic, go-getter Sam Smith Jr. offered to take over I was relieved to welcome younger leadership.” Norm’s long reign as president of SWCA was a tremendous asset to our community.
Norm tells us that South Center School was the first in Williamstown to have an active PTA due to the pre-existing community group known as SWCA. He also mentions that when he first became president of SWCA and a teacher here, South Williamstown was like one big family. It seemed that the only connections to greater Williamstown were the Williamstown High School (Mitchell School) and the town dump on New Ashford Road. The school was the nucleus, the heart of the community. Functions by the dozens took place year after year. Some examples are the Promenaders Square Dance Club, 4-H Horse Club, community picnics, progressive suppers (going house to house for each course), Brownies, Cubs, Boy and Girl Scouts, the South Williamstown Fire Department, an adult baseball team playing other nearby towns, Friday night movies at the school, sliding parties at Sheep Hill, skiing trips to Goodell Hollow, Memorial Day parade with ceremonies at the school, church and cemetery, May Day celebrations with dancing around a May Pole at the school, and a hospitality committee to welcome newcomers with a party at the school.
There were homemade kite flying days and outdoor (under the stars) dances on the blacktop that the Vanderbilts gave to the school (with basketball hoops). The list goes on and can inspire us for some present day activities we may not have considered.
(to be continued)
Special Note: The documentation of the history of the South Center School is a SWCA project. If you were a student there or taught there or want to work on this, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Bette Craig at (413) 458-5257.
A HASTY HISTORY OF WILLIAMSTOWN DURING THE FRENCH AND INDIAN & REVOLUTIONARY WARS: TABLE OF CONTENTS
by Samuel Y. Edgerton
Was there ever a more egregious representation of “manifest destiny” than this 1872 painting entitled “American Progress” by John Gast? We see here a diaphanous ” Columbia” carrying school books in one hand and a telegraph wire in the other, arrogantly thrusting herself forward like a battleship figurehead. She flies above an earthly parade of pioneers who’ve crossed the Mississippi River and are advancing into the unknown wilderness beyond . Your sacred national duty, the air-born lady declares to them, is to spread modern civilization (and all its invented gadgetry from the enlightened eastern seaboard) into the heart of wild west darkness. I submit that that’s still America’s archetypal obligation, even today in international politics. Can we ever not assume psychologically that east is always back and west forever out?
In a series of forthcoming but leisurely intermittent mini-cyber lectures, I’d like to make the case that our Williamstown community, by virtue of its geographic location during the eighteenth century, played a significant role in shaping the very notion of “manifest destiny.” Indeed, Ephraim Williams, the founder of our town and its prestigious college, was one of the earliest martyrs in what some have called “America’s First World War,” fought amongst all the European powers, but most decisively between England and France in North America from 1755 to 1763, after which a unique Anglo-American hybrid civilization emerged which led to our inexorable conquest, not only of the whole western continent – but, at least culturally, of much of the rest of the world.
Allow me to display a map showing Just how strategically located our town was during the eighteenth century. It began as a tiny English settlement then called West Hoosac near the river named after the Mahican word for “Place of Stones.” By deliberate political intent, West Hoosac was founded right at the edge of a territory claimed by the English but disputed by the French during the imperialist expansions of both these European nations in the early 1700s. However, most of the area north and west on the map, whichever power claimed it, was thickly forested, and inhabited mostly by Indians and a few white trappers. If burdened armies would penetrate this vast area, they could only do so by traversing navigable water routes or by following ancient Indian trails already cut through the
dense wilderness. Thus, whichever military power controlled these routes, also controlled the surrounding lands as well. By 1755, the routes marked in red on the map were nominally British, while those in blue were French. The latter commanded the Saint Lawrence waterway through southern Canada and were pushing west and south via Lake Champlain and Lake George. The British on the other hand were driving north and west in competition. One can clearly see from the map just how important the original Mohawk Trail, which underlies most of present-day highway route 2, was to this expansionist endeavor. Running from Boston Through Deerfield, and then up along the Hoosic River just north of Williamstown and on to Albany, NY, it was the principal east-west avenue for bringing British arms to bear against the aggressive French advances south especially on Lake George, which, as we shall see, led to several heated confrontations between 1755 and 1757.
Perpendicular to the Mohawk Trail, were two north-south avenues, the western one, navigable from New York by way of the Hudson River as far north as Fort Edward just below Lake George, and a second route which present day route 7 follows from Norwalk, CT on Long Island Sound, north along the Housatonic River through Massachusetts, crossing the Mohawk Trail at Williamstown, and continuing to Bennington, VT, then over to Hoosick Falls, NY, Cambridge, Schuylerville, and on to Lake George. The French, however, were in control of that part of the route that ran along the eastern bank of the lakes. Present route 4 more or less follows this part of the trail. Along the short fifteen and a half mile stretch between Fort Edward, NY and Lake George, now traversed by NY route 9 but known at the time as the “Great Carrying” or “Great Portage” Place, occurred some of the bloodiest battles between the British and French from 1755 and 1763, and then between British and Americans in 1777. The armies on each side included large numbers of Indian allies as well as professional European soldiers and colonial militia. One of the first of their deadly encounters involved Ephraim Williams, newly appointed as brevet colonel in command of Massachusetts volunteers sent against the French on Lake George in 1755. He owned property in West Hoosac and was now leading his troops to reinforce Fort Edward when unexpectedly ambushed and tragically killed just south of the Lake in a brief engagement called for some reason the ”Bloody Morning Scout.” A monument to this event along with Colonel Eph’s original grave marker, still stand today off route 9, a few miles north of Fort Edward.
Finally, this history is also the hasty story of Benedict Arnold. While George Washington never slept in Williamstown, Benedict Arnold did! Furthermore, Arnold was about to become a great hero following the evening and night he spent in Nehemiah Smedley’s Tavern on Main Street in Williamstown on May 6, 1775. His service in the cause of American independence then soared even more brilliantly just two years later at Saratoga, only thirty-four miles away from Williamstown. Fortunately for us, his subsequent and infamous downfall took place elsewhere. Our town bears no blame for that – and may rightfully be proud that we hosted him only during his moments of illustrious patriotism.
Next installment: EPHRAIM WILLIAMS’ LAST STAND
Ephraim Williams (1714-1755) bears the distinction of being more remembered for the results of his death than what happened in his life. In this my second installment, I will discuss the latter, the events leading up to, and the battle in which Colonel Williams was killed.
I begin by quickly reviewing the situation in the New England colonies at the turn of the eighteenth century. The bitter civil wars that enflamed the British Isles during the previous hundred years, the struggle between the royalists and parliamentarians after the death of Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, had so concentrated the nation’s attention, that interest in the colonies had considerably waned. By 1700, a bare three thousand soldiers protected the entire American seaboard including growing towns of Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The thin red line of British civilization extending to the eastern Alleghenies was dangerously insecure, a fact that did not escape the covetous eyes of the French whose own colonial enterprise was expanding in Canada. Indeed, France had replaced Spain as the reigning power on the European continent. Her long ruling King Louis XIV decided that now was the time to challenge British hegemony overseas. He had already sent Jesuit missionaries to Canada to convert the Indians , in particular the Abenaki , who became known as the “St. Francis Indians.” Once inhabitants of eastern Allegheny forests but driven out by the English, they now had an added religious incentive to take revenge against the Protestant settlers who had usurped their former hunting grounds.
In 1704, the French struck a deadly blow deep in the heart of the English colonies. In February of that year a band of French and Indians sneaked on snow-shoes down the Mohawk Trail as far as Deerfield, Massachusetts, surrounded the town at night, and in the early morning with war whoops and slashing tomahawks swept through the small community killing and burning at random. By mid-day, some forty-six citizens including women and children were murdered, and a hundred nine more captured and forced to march for six weeks in snow and freezing cold to Canada where they were held for ransom. While many eventually were redeemed and did return, one woman, Eunice Williams, daughter of Pastor John Williams and distant relative of Ephraim, famously remained among the Indians, one of whom she married and by whom she had children. Her father, finally ransomed and returned to Deerfield was bitterly disappointed, not because his daughter remained a renegade, but because she had converted to “papism.”
In any case, the Deerfield massacre was a tocsin call for the British to defend their New England colonies against the French threat all along the trails. More troops were sent, local militias were raised (“papists” were pointedly excluded from enlisting) and forts were built at strategic locations. With the rise of a powerful Whig parliament in Britain and the accession of a stronger ruling dynasty, particularly under Hanoverian King George II who acceded in 1727, England embarked on an aggressive policy of colonization, urging ever more settlements further to the west. Wealthy investors like Ephraim Williams and his brothers were encouraged to purchase properties on the far frontier. To protect those along the extending Mohawk Trail, Fort Massachusetts was built in a bight of the Hoosic River, where the Trail crosses it twice. The Google Earth photo below shows just how strategic this location was. It’s now in the parking lot of the Price Chopper Supermarket on route 2 in North Adams where a monument marks the spot. The red dot shows where the fort once stood; the blue dots indicate the two river crossings on either side.
Notwithstanding, the fort was too close to a high ridge just to the north, allowing attackers to shoot into it from above, as French and Indians did in 1744, easily overpowering its small garrison. For a brief period the French fleur de lis then flew over our community until the fort was retaken and rebuilt in 1747, and put under the command of Major Ephraim Williams. The fort withstood another French attack in 1748 but was finally abandoned after the British won total victory over the French in 1763. During the 1930s it was again rebuilt as a tourist attraction, unsuccessfully as it turned out. The property was deemed more valuable for commercial exploitation, and so the fort disappeared for the last time. Below is an old postcard view of it looked in the 1930s. A full size reconstruction of the fort’s original barracks room is currently on display in Heritage State Park, North Adams.
I now return to the year 1755. The English were building ever more protective forts, two most importantly at either end of the “Great Carrying Place “ in New York, the fifteen or so miles of swampy land between the northern embarkation point of t he Hudson River, and the southern end of Lake George. All travelers including armies moving in either direction would need to portage their boats over this difficult stretch, usually requiring two or more marching days depending on how cumbersome their equipment; thus dangerously exposing themselves to enemy attack. Fort Edward commanded the Hudson River entry point and Fort William Henry would do the same for the southern landing of Lake George. Each was named after the princely progeny of King George II, and each guaranteed English control over this extremely strategic land link. The two maps below, one old the other new , should make this clear. Today, that once difficult portage distance can be traversed by car in just a few minutes over well paved NY route 9. How many modern travelers, speeding to enjoy what’s now a busy summer resort, give a thought to the blood that was spilled and lives that were lost along this incredibly historic bit of road? What if the other side had won and Lake George became instead a French-speaking Côte d’Azur?
In the late summer of 1755, Commandant Sir William Johnson was commissioned to build Fort William Henry, in preparation for leading an army down Lake George and attack the French stronghold at Crown Point on the eastern tip of Lake Champlain. At the same time, however, unbeknownst to him a French army under command of Marshall Baron Dieskau was heading south to attack Fort Edward (first called Fort Lyman after its then commander). Meanwhile newly appointed Colonel Ephraim Williams had arrived from Massachusetts with a regiment of militia and a contingent of Indians led by chief King Hendrick to aid in Johnson’s campaign. Suddenly the English learned of Dieskau’s plan, and Williams was quickly ordered to return to reinforce the Fort Edward garrison. Unfortunately, Dieskau divined this latter move, and so plotted an ambush of the English army as it passed southward.
On September 8, Williams’ army marched blindly into the trap, completely surprised by the French and Indians hiding in the thick forest on either side of the crude trail. Almost with their first volleys, Williams was fatally shot through the head as he stood on a rock still marked at the site. King Hendrick was also killed and all their troops scattered in confusion. Baron Dieskau and the French seemed to have won the day. Flush with this initial success, Dieskau turned to attack Johnson’s force working on the fort at Lake George, realizing that capturing the Lake George beachhead was the more valuable prize since it would give France control of all the Lake and thus the Great Carrying Place, rendering Fort Edward practically untenable. His initial assault was successful, but then Johnson rallied the English troops and in a series of sharp engagements on September 8 decisively defeated the French, even capturing Baron Dieskau.
Some two hundred dead from both sides were supposedly thrown into a swampy water hole just east of Route 9. It still exudes the dismal aftermath of that brutal battle. A marker appropriately identifies it as “Bloody Pond.” Another monument a few yards away across the same road a identifies where Ephraim Williams fell and his body first buried. Years later his remains were removed and re-interred with an appropriate epitaph in Williams College Thompson Chapel.
A curious addenda to this story is the fact that the famous American revolutionary fife and drum ditty, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” was actually written for British troops quartered in Fort Craillo, NY in 1755, by an army surgeon named Richard Shuckburgh. It was sung to the tune of a popular song in John Gay’s recent London hit musical, “The Beggar’s Opera,” and soldiers were invited to add new verses as they marched along singing in rhythm. One particular doggerel verse still recorded seems to poke fun at Ephraim Williams, whom the soldiers may have regarded as somewhat of a martinet, in any case a blundering military commander, no matter his heroic death in action. It goes like this:
Brother Ephraim sold his cow
To buy him a commission
And then he went to Canada To fight for the nation.
But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant coward,
He wouldn’t fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devoured.
Next installment: FOUNDING OF WILLIAMSTOWN & WILLIAMS COLLEGE
1. Wyllis E. Wright, Colonel Ephraim Williams: A Documentary Life, Pittsfield (Berkshire County Historical Society), 1970