Category Archives: Institutions

Trinity Church: Establishment and Early Days

10382388_701034836622246_22329675486241370_oBy the turn of the 20th century, the episcopal church in Lenox had  added four grand looking  gilded age buildings to Lenox:  church, chapel, and rectory in Lenox village and St. Helena’s in New Lenox.

Episcopalians Had Uphill Battle in a Congregational State

But the Anglican Church, throughout Massachusetts,  had an uphill battle establishing itself.

The puritan (Congregational) church was, in the early days of Massachusetts, as close to a state church as any would ever be in America.  Puritans had come  to  Massachusetts in 1620 primarily because they objected to the Church of England (the parent religious body of the Episcopal Church in the United States).  In the early days, church and state were totally intermingled as to law, voting and community activities.  By 1700, the puritan theocracy had been largely superseded by secular royal government in Massachusetts.  The royal government, in fact, forced the creation of and tolerance of an Anglican church in Boston.   But the “tilt” to Congregationalism remained in Massachusetts.  By the time the first settlers arrived in Lenox, there were 13 Anglican parishes — all east of Worcester.

As late as 1767, when Lenox was formed, towns were still required to have a church and citizens were taxed to support that church.  It went without saying that the “official” church was the Congregational Church.  To be exempt from paying this tax, a citizen had to be certified to be a member of another “official” church and that was not possible for Anglicans in Lenox until 1793.  The tax for support of the church continued until the new state constitution in 1834.

Although many of Lenox’s early settlers were Anglican, including soon to Revolutionary War heroes, Azariah Egleston and John Paterson,  many tories were also Anglican and growth of the Episcopal church was somewhat retarded during the Revolutionary years due to its ties to England.

At the end of the Revolution the American Anglican Church declared its independence from the Church of England and took on the official title Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  In due course, American bishops were appointed and the Book of Common Prayer was re-writen to be acceptable in the new United States (among other things, dropping blessings to the king).

Early Services for Anglicans

The wilds of early Berkshire County were territory for missionaries.  There religious needs were met by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts(SPG).  The first Anglican priest to visit Lenox, the Rev. Roger Viets, was SPG from Simsbury, CT.  It was trying work.  He wrote that the people were so poor they could not provide enough to cover the expenses of his long and difficult journey to Lenox and beyond.  In 1764 the beleaguered Rev. Viets was arrested in Great Barrington for conducting a wedding.

Until the first Trinity Church Was Completed in 1818, Services Were Held in Private Homes or The First County Court House

Rev. Gideon Bostwick, also under SPG auspices, became the first resident rector in the Berkshires (stationed in Great Barrington) and conducted regular services in Lenox from 1770 to 1793. In 1774 he mentions key names in the organizing of  Lenox services:  David Perrey, John Whitlock, John Whitlock, Jr., Royce Hall and Eliphalel Fowler.  A Day Book entry from May 19, 1794 lists Samuel Quincy as Clerk, Josh Whitlock and Jesse Bradley as Wardens, Amasa Glezen, Jeremiah Dewey, Issac Goodrich as Choristers.

With the appropriate infrastructure now in place, Lenox area Anglicans organized an official parish in 1793.  It initially included Lenox, Lee, Stockbridge and Pittsfield.  In that same year Deacon Daniel Burbans was hired as rector for Lenox.  He was rector for Lenox and Lanesborough as well as taking up the missionary work of the now deceased Rev. Bostwick throughout the Berkshires.

It is not completely clear where these early Lenox services were conducted in the newly built county court house.  (Then on Walker St.; still standing today on Housatonic).

Rev. Burhans took a position in Newton, Connecticut in 1799 and Lenox engaged the Rev. Gamaliel Thatcher to be shared with Lanesborough. He was followed in 1800 by Rev. Ezra Bradley – also shared with Lanesborough.  In 1801 Lenox reached an agreement to share the services of Rev. Samuel Griswold with Great Barrington.  Rev. Griswold was a nephew of the intrepid Rev. Roger Viets who had conducted the first Anglican services in Lenox.  He led the congregation through the completion of their first church in 1818.  That same year he was dismissed over an unspecified quarrel.

Early Members of Trinity

The Act of Incorporation of 1805 lists the following from Lenox:

Samuel Collins

Selah Cook

David Dunbar

Samuel Dunbar

Azariah Egleston

Moses Geer

Amassa Glezen

John Gregory

Moses Hall

John Hill

Henry Hunford, Jr.

Edward Martindale

Titus Parker

Eleazar Phelps

Samuel Quincy

Stephen Root

David Smith

James Smith

Jonathan Thompson

Thaddeus Thompson

Elijah Treat

John Tyler

William Wells

John Willard

Lenox residents added to the incorporation in 1807:

Salmon Andrews

Abel Avery

Daniel Butler

Jethro Butler, Jr.

David Collins

Stephen Crittenden

Samuel Gray

Edward Hatch

David Hubby

Moses Merwin

Daniel Palley

Samuel Palley, Jr.

Calvin Perry

Joseph Presby

Calvin Sears

Ashbel Sprague

Oliver Stedman

Henry Taylor

Joseph Tucker

Ira Warrener

Warren Warrener

John Whitlock

Daniel Williams

Samuel Wright

Rectors of Trinity Parish (1793-1801)

Daniel Burhans (1793-1799), shared with Lanesborough

Gamaliel Thatcher (1799-1801), one fourth – 3/4 Lanesborough

(Rev. Ezra Bradley also mentioned as sharing with Lanesborough in 1800)


Sources of Information

History of Trinity Church, Lenox, Massachusetts, 1763-1895 by Rev. Charles J. Palmer, John Wilson and Sons University Press, Cambridge, 1895

The Goodness That Doth Crown Our Days, A History of Trinity Parish by John Allen Gable, Lamb Printing, North Adams, MA, 1993










Church on the Hill Evolution of the Buildings

Started in 1805 and dedicated January 1806, the Church on the Hill remains one of the loveliest buildings in Lenox.  Information on the architecture and the nearby burying ground and early members have been described.  Here is some background on the evolution  of the its church buildings.

Required Meeting House

190px-Congregational_Church,_Lenox,_MAAt the time Richmond and Lenox were being formed, church and state were still closely aligned.  Citizens were taxed for support of the church and men had to be members of the church to vote.  A meeting house that was to function as both church and town meeting hall was a requirement for government approval of a town.  Because of the mountain range running down the middle of Lot#8, two locations were needed for meeting houses and by 1767 the lot was split into the two towns we know today.

The church was organized in 1769 by Rev. Samuel Hopkins of Great Barrington.   Land for the meeting house and nearby burying ground was donated by the heirs of Rev. Reynolds – one of the holders of the Ministers Grant that included much of current Lenox.

By 1770, Rev. Samuel Munson had been called to be minister and the original meeting house had been built slightly southwest of the site of the current church.  Rev. Samuel Shephard was called to minister to the church in 1795 and remained pastor until his death in 1846.

New Church in 1805

By 1803, town population had grown to 1,000 and the original meeting house had outlived its usefulness.  In fact  the old  meeting house’s condition and size  made congregants hesitant to hold services there.  A commitment was made at town meeting to construct a new church.

Much of the princely construction cost of almost $7,000 was paid by the sale of the box like pews (floor plan re-designed in 1840).  Sale of the pews brought in $6,811 and sale of the old meeting house brought in $205.51.

The contract for construction specified it was to be made conformable to the plan of a steeple laid down in plot No. 33 in ‘Benjamin’s Country Builders Assistant.”  The builder, Benjamin Goodrich is thought to have also played a role in the design.  Official documentation (Form B) attributes design to architect Captain Issac Daman.

Evolution of the Church Design

The original floorplan, as noted above, consisted of high sided box pews.  The circular pulpit was high so the preacher could see the worshippers.  No fires were allowed in the church so parishioners probably brought boxes of coals – foot warmers – into their pews.  During the winter the minister preached in a large blue overcoat and wore with a red bandanna around his neck and woolen mittens on his hands.  The long services broke at midday and parishioners went to nearby houses to warm themselves.

img_0424In 1840 the box pews were replaced with bench pews similar to those in use today.  The center alley was eliminated and replaced  by two large side aisles.  The pulpit and the gallery front were lowered and stoves were installed in the back of the main room.

New MA Constitution and the Church

In 1834 the new Massachusetts state constitution formalized separation of church and state by prohibiting town support for church operation or buildings.  This had no effect on the Church on the Hill building but did require relinquishing the acerage of the burying ground and all the land around the church except for the footprint of the building itself.

Churchyard Was Planted with a Row of Trees Given by 90 Year Old Eldad Post in 1870; in 1832 Mr. D. Williams Gave this Strip of Land to the Town That Was to Be Forever Kept Open to Preserve the Outlook from the Church.

In the early days there were few hymn books and it sounds like music was – to say the least – not a center piece of worship.  Use of the violin and flute was specifically criticized because they unpleasantly resembled the flute, harp, sackbut and dulcimer which accompanied the worship of Nebuchadnezzar.  By 1850, thinking on music had evolved and the rear gallery was resigned to house an instrument called a “Seraphim” to support the singers.  In 1850 the seats in the gallery in the porch were appropriated “for the use of those who assisted in singing”.  In 1868 the present organ was installed.

From “Buildings” by Rev. Harris B. Hinchcliffe in Church on the Hill History Gathered 1769-1970.

“In 1866, the floor plan of the meetinghouse as it presently exists was set up, and in 1880 a society of young women of the church financed a projection of the front wall of the building and installed the present platform and pulpit…….”

“…..In the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s the meetinghouse received rather continuous efforts of modernization.  Electricity was finally brought in, oil heating was installed so that for the  first time in many years services might be conducted at main church building throughout the winter.”

In the early days, worshippers were called to services by the beating of a drum.  A bell was installed at some point prior to 1838 when the Centennial History makes reference to a second bell being hung in the steeple (still in use as of 1906).

Fanny Kemble donated a clock in 1849 that was plagued with difficulty and was followed by the gift of a second clock by Morris K. Jesup  in 1899.

The first Bible gift recorded was from William Walker in 1818; another (still in use as of 1906) was donated by his son William P. Walker in 1852.  The baptismal font and tablets at the rear of the pulpit were placed in 1882 in memory of Sarah and Thomas Egleston.  The two pulpit lamps were given by Mrs. Robert E. Hill in the name of her husband Robert E. Hill, in memory of his grandfather Dr. Robert Worthington.

In 1896 Mrs. Mary Hill present a pulpit in memory of her mother Mrs. Jane Worthington Hill.

In 1864 Ammi Robbins donated the iron fence with stone posts.  His heirs gave the church society $1,000 the income of which was to be used to maintain the fence and the church grounds.  Needless to say that income didn’t last to the present day!  Fencing, church grounds and the cemetery owned by the Town of Lenox and maintained by the DPW

Church on the Hill Chapel

In response to the need for space for more social activities, the church authorized construction of a chapel in 1876. The official completion date (Form B)  is listed as 1877.

The site selected had been the location of the Lenox Library until the library moved to its current location in 1873 to what had been the second county courthouse on Main St.  The building on the site had been a wooden octagon building.  Foundation stones from the old library building were used in construction of the chapel

The Gothic Revival chapel was designed by J.F. Rathbone of Pittsfield and built by J.W. Cooney.  The original design had frescoed walls and a Gothic window facing the street.

It was used primarily as a meeting place until 1900. The chapel was re-designed, a dining room was added in the basement, the present entrance on the north side was added and a glass memorial window, in honor of Blanch F. Ferguson, was installed replacing the Gothic window.

Until the installation of oil heat in the main church in the 1950’s, winter services were held in the chapel.


The Chapel was severely damaged by fire in the mid 1930’s but insurance was sufficient to restore the chapel to its turn of the century appearance.

. In the 1950’s oil heat was installed at the Church on the Hill and services returned to that building.

A Church School held in the Chapel had increased its enrollment to the point that it overflowed the building by 1968. The interior of the Chapel was remodeled at this time to accommodate the school activities.  The chapel space was reduced so two classrooms and office space could be added.

Note:  Both the Church on the Hill and the Chapel are on the National Register.

Church on the Hill Parsonage

136 Main St., Congregational Church Parsonage
136 Main St., Congregational Church Parsonage

Rev. Hinchcliffe describes the various parsonages in The Church on the Hill History, Gathered 1769-1970.

“Dr. Samuel Shepard is reputed to have lived in a house on the old Bradford Tract, approximately across the Pittsfield Road to the east of the State Building on Routes 7-20.  This Pittsfield Road was not then so now, the main roads north being Cliffwood and East Streets.  Where the other early pastors lived is unknown.

During the pastorate of the Rev. E.K. Alden, a house was purchased for a parsonage. It was located just north of the present rectory of St. Ann’s Church on Main Street.  During the pastorate of the Rev. Edward Day, the parsonage having fallen into a dilapidated condition, plans were made and a committee was elected to build a new house and barn on the same site.  These were completed and Mr. Day occupied the new parsonage (which still stands*) for several years before he was dismissed in 1898.

The present* parsonage on Cliffwood Street was willed to the Church in 1919 by Mrs. Mary H. Barrett.  She was the granddaughter of Dr. Robert Worthington, a former deacon of the Church and staunch admirer of Dr. Shepard, who build and first occupied the house sometime between 1815 and 1820….”

*refers to 1970…the parsonage occupied by Mr. Day still stands (pictured above) as of 2016.



Form B

Centennial Anniversary of the Dedication of the Old Church on the Hill, Press of the Son, Pittsfield, MA 1908

The Church on the Hill, United Church of Christ, Lenox, Massachusetts, History, Gathered 1769-1970, 










Lenox Becomes the County Seat

Lenox Becomes the County Seat in 1782

In November of 1782* the Massachusetts state Legislature appointed a committee of three men to visit Berkshire County and pick a location more centrally located than Great Barrington.

The committee recommended that Lenox become the county seat after January 1784 to give the town time to erect a suitable courthouse. It also gave Great Barrington, Stockbridge, and Pittsfield the opportunity to protest the choice.  Somehow Lenox persevered and remained the center of Berkshire County legal activities until 1867.

1791 Berksx.1791 Berkshire County Courthouse, Lenox, Massachusetts. Image captured from pdf of Kevin Sweeney's 1993 "Meetinghouses,Photoshop8BIMvhes: Changing Perceptions of Sacred and Secular Space in Southern New England, 1720-1850," in Winterthur Portfolio vol. 28, no. 1 (Spring
1791 Berkshire County Courthouse, Lenox, Massachusetts. Image captured from pdf of Kevin Sweeney’s 1993 “Meetinghouses,: Changing Perceptions of Sacred and Secular Space in Southern New England, 1720-1850,” in Winterthur Portfolio vol. 28, no. 1 (Spring

In May 1786 planning for the new courthouse began and the first session of court was held in September 1787.

On September 11, 1787, the Court of Sessions appointed Azariah Egleston and Elisha Bradley to supervise building  the new courthouse.

Other names that would show up frequently in the days of the Lenox early republic, John Bacon and Caleb Hyde were put to supervision of building the jail.  It was to be located on Stockbridge Road near what was to become the Winthrop Estate and later the Windsor Mountain School.

The new courthouse was in use by 1791 or 1792.  It was located at Walker and Main — about where the current Town Hall is located.

The first courthouse had a two story courthouse** with 12 x 24 pane windows and banked seats for spectators–quite grand for a little farm town.

George Tucker’s manuscript lists public spirited citizens who donated  materials or funds.  Again, names we see again and again in the early days of Lenox appear on the list:  John Paterson, William Walker, Elias Willard, various members of the Nash family, John Whitlock, Lemuel Collins, etc.

LenoxLibrary143Court activity was robust and by 1815 Lenox had outgrown the original court house.  The handsome building on Main Street (completed in 1816) currently used as the Lenox Library was the second county court house in Lenox.

27 Housatonic St., First County Courthouse - 1791
27 Housatonic St., First County Courthouse – As It Appeared in 2014

The Fate of the Original Court House

The original simple court house still stands (with later additions and alterations) on Housatonic Street.  The, at one time, impressive entrance, now  faces Church Street where the coffee shop is attached.

The courthouse was moved to its current location when the new Town Hall was built in 1901.

defaultWhen the second court house was built, the original court house was re-purposed as a town administration building.  It was rotated (using canon balls!) to face Walker Street as the Town Hall does today.  It was an active center of 19th century town activity with a bank, post office, and shops.

Good Fortune for Lenox

The early proponents of Lenox as the county seat were far sighted to put money into this important town development. As the center of Berkshire County legal activity, Lenox attracted visitors, professionals and commerce beyond that of the typical 18th-19th century farm town.  The presence of the court attracted educated families such as the Sedgwicks who would contribute to turning Lenox into a rural literary and educational center.  1839_Print_of_Lenox,_MAThe presence of the court also created non-farm jobs ranging from working in the Old Red Inn(Curtis) Hotel, renting out horses, clerking and provisioning visitors.

An editorial from the 1830’s* paints a picture of how lively the little town would have been when court was in session:

“Lenox is alive during the administration of Justice.  The goddess has occupied her throne here for more than a week past, and our Village had abounded with Judges and Jurors, lawyers and litigants, prosecutors and prosecuted.  To us who live in the country, the occasion is quite imposing.  It presents to us a vast variety of characters:  young attorneys in the bustle of new-found business, and the older ones assuming more and more dignified gravity of the bench; waiting jurymen chatting in little clusters by the wayside; worrying clients complaining of sleepless nights; witnesses of all orders and descriptions.  Spectators trading horses in the street and politicians smoking over government affairs in the bar room.  Our boarding houses have their long tables lined on both sides with earnest applicants, and all expect more business, more calls, more conversation and more cheerfulness.  Messages are sent, and errands done between one end of the county and the other; business accounts are settled, plans laid; caucuses, conventions and singing schools agreed upon; newspapers subscribed for and distant matters in general arranged for the ensuing Winter.”


*Lenox Massachusetts Shire Town, by David H. Wood, published 1969 as a follow up to the Lenox bicentennial

**George Tucker, unpublished manuscript


Official Lenox Beginnings

Richmond. MA Farm
Richmond. MA Farm

What were to become the towns of Lenox and Richmond began as one tract with the catchy name of Lot #8.  Lot #8 was auctioned in 1762 as part of the Massachusetts General Court’s effort to settle newly formed (1761) Berkshire County with the sale of 10 potential township lots in this thinly populated portion of the state.

Initial Lot 8 Meeting

An Aid to Your Imagination for the Initial Lot #8 Meeting - Probably Would Not Have Been Quite so Well Dressed!
An Aid to Your Imagination for the Initial Lot #8 Meeting – Probably Would Not Have Been Quite so Well Dressed!

The area had been called Mt. Ephraim (now Richmond) and Yokuntown (now Lenox) in honor of the two Indian chiefs (Ephraim and Yokun)* who were the first claimants.  They and their descendants had sold to the General Court and to the Brown proprietor group.

The first meeting was held April 17, 1764 at the house of Mr. John Chamberlin in Mt. Ephraim and, among other things, voted to build two meeting houses because  the mountain range dividing the proprietorship made it difficult for settlers to attend worship in just one place.  On July 6, 1766 Yokuntown and Mt. Ephraim petitioned the General Court for an official division.

Gov. Bernard OK'd Richmond/Lenox Split of Lot #8
Gov. Bernard OK’d Richmond/Lenox Split of Lot #8

On Feb.  26, 1767, Gov. Francis Bernard signed a bill to incorporate the easterly part of the town of Richmond into the district of Lenox.  As a district, Lenox was allowed to unite with Richmond each year in choosing a representative to the General Court.  Apparently early Richmond and Lenox settler had better things to do than make the arduous journey to Boston as the records show them being assessed a fine in 1770 and 1771 for failing to send a representative.

Proprietorships were required to demonstrate certain conditions such as having sixty households, each having cleared seven acres.  We know the Hinsdale, Post and other families were already settled in Lenox and perhaps many of the conditions for settlement had been met for Lot #8.  The records we have found are not clear on whether both entities in Lot #8 had met the conditions.

Lenox and Richmond Town Names

Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond
Charles Lennox,, 3rd Duke of Richmond  (1735-1806)

Richmond was named in honor of the Duke of Richmond and Lenox in honor of his family name, Charles Lennox (the second “n” was lost somewhere in transcription).

The Duke was apparently so honored because of his favorable views toward the colonies.  During the American Revolution he would be shown to be a full bore supporter by initiating debate to withdraw British troops from the rebelling colonies in 1778.  It’s not clear from readily available resources what he had done in the 1760’s to receive such an honor (although with the state of transportation in those days it might have been quite a while before he knew two towns had been named in his honor!).  He is known to have been a Whig and a supporter of Parliamentary Reform – in other words part of the political party favoring the colonies.  He also had the honor of being intensely disliked by George III (the enemy of my enemy….)

The seat of the Duke of Richmond (Goodwood House) is in Weshampnett — part of Chichester,  Sussex, England.  Many of the Pilgrims came from that part of England and during World War II, Americans would have flown out of the nearby airbase.

Lenox Town Officers Chosen

According to Field’s 1829 “History of Berkshire County, ”

“The first town officers were chosen March 5, 1767,” and that date (or the 3rd) is generally celebrated as the birth date of the Town of Lenox.

The Birchwood Inn (Hubbard St. and Main) is at the Site of Israel Dewey's Home and Tavern
The Birchwood Inn (Hubbard St. and Main) is at the Site of Israel Dewey’s Home and Tavern

The proprietor’s minutes are spotty but the first Lenox Proprietor’s meeting (remember they were the owners and  governing body) on August 3, 1768.*

Israel Dewey was one of the proprietors and the owner of the land now occupied by The Birchwood Inn.  It was a tavern site in the 1760’s and the first meetings were alleged to have occurred at the then standing home and tavern.

This was an experienced and no-nonsense group that immediately moved to seek a minister, build a meeting house (in the location of the 1806 Church on the Hill that still stands today), levy taxes and build roads.

*George Tucker Manuscript


Lenox Town Business – Late Nineteenth Century

As we approach the annual town meeting it’s interesting to see what constituted important Lenox town business in the late nineteenth, early 20th century.

Getting the Sunday mail at the old town hall


Pauper Costs

One issue we’re not concerned with these days is the cost of paupers.  More than 10% of the town budget went to the support of paupers and there was apparently a constant effort to get people off the town’s rolls and onto someone else’s.  For instance, in 1868, the town warrant identified Mrs. Garnier as a pauper who was the widow of Frank Garnier who had been born in France – which meant she should be supported by the state alms house.  Apparently the argument didn’t fly as Mrs. Garnier shows up in several subsequent years on the pauper rolls.

The support for paupers tells sad tales.  Here is the 1875 detail for one family:

  • J.F. Morrell coal for Mrs. Farrington                                                  $10.50
    • F. McDonald good for Mrs. Farrington                                      $15.79
    • ”                                                                                                                         $11.53
    • Otis Clapp pasturing Mrs. Farrington’s cow                           $10.40
    • J.F. Morrell coal for Farrington family                                        $13.94
    • E. McDonald supplies Farrington family                                   $24.29
    • C.G. Banks attending funeral for Farrington child              $   9.00
    • D. Wood wood for Farrington family                                          $   8.00
    • S.P. Millard coffin for Farrington child                                        $15.00
    • Perry & Co. coal to Mrs. Farrington’s                                          $18.63
    • E.McDonald goods Farrington family                                         $10.27
    • Dr. C.E. Heath services for Farrington family                        $78.00
    • Wm. Perry wood, potatoes Farrington family                      $   8.00
    • Perry & Co. coal Farrington family                                              $   8.46
    • D.W, Noyes medecine Farrington family                                 $36.58
    • Thatcher and Stone supplies for Farrington family           $13.20
    • G.F. Washburn supplies for Farrington family                    $176.35

Unfortunately the Farringtons show up again in subsequent years.

In 1889 the town report noted that the number of persons requiring support was increasing and the costs kept exceeding allocation.  It was recommended consideration be given to purchasing a farm where they could be taken care of.


In 1889, the town set aside the considerable sum of $7500 for new sewers and disposal field.  Ernest Bowditch was the engineer and we hope he did a great job because we’re probably still using some of those pipes.


In 1875, primary (common) school and high school were still in the Academy building.  The School Committee had a slight surplus that year so was to be able to buy some advanced equipment – suitable maps and globes.

The school committee was pleased to continue using graduates of the high school to teach in the common school (so money did not go out of town).  The methods of instruction had been improved with the help of Mr. Walton of the State Board of Education and the school committee said they “hope for further assistance from him.” (Be careful what you wish for)


In hindsight, the 1915 report of tree warden F. Francis Mackey is so sad,  it is repeated here almost verbatim:

“Early in March the work of removing tent caterpillar nests from the trees on the highways was taken up.  Most of the wild cherry and wild apple trees were cut down and the egg clusters of the caterpillar destroyed………The maples on Court House Hill are in very poor condition being too old for any effective repairs, and I would advise the planting of elms on that street as in a year or two most of the maples will have to be removed.  ….  There is a movement throughout the state for the planting of more shade trees.  The Mass. Forestry Association has offered a prize of 200 trees for the town doing the most planting during the year.  The Lenox Improvement Society has already planted about 50 elms, and I would advise that 50 more be planted, trees being needed on Christian Hill in New Lenox and Lenox Dale.  …”

The next report is from the Moth Superintendent – so we can’t say our forefathers weren’t tried to beat back the gypsy moth problem.

Thanks to the Lenox Historical Society for Town Reports.

Lenox Water System

Lenox Water System – Meeting Challenges

The clear, drinkable water we get from our taps is easy to take for granted.  Lenox is fortunate to live in a region with plentiful water, but that doesn’t mean it has been  easy to meet the town’s ever growing demand for water.  Lenox has faced many of the same challenges as the rest of New England in keeping with the growing demand for water.

History of Water Access in New England

Not only does New England have plentiful rainfall, but it has fast moving rivers and streams with steep drops – making for – if untouched – clear, pure water from streams and lakes.

Hauling Water - Usually Wasn't Done by a Dapper Gentleman in Jeans
Hauling Water – Usually Wasn’t Done by a Dapper Gentleman in Jeans

Consequently, most early settlers in Lenox  – and elsewhere in the new world – would have gotten their water from naturally occurring sources.  Access to clean water was one of the reasons for the rapid population growth in the early days of the colonies.

As settlers moved further from open water sources, springs would have been tapped or wells dug.  As had been done since the Middle Ages, water was transported  by taking advantage of natural elevation or elevation created by wind or hand powered pumps. At first wooden pipes were used then iron pressure pipes starting in the mid 19th century.  Extensive piping and pumping would have been limited to wealthier homeowners.  And in fact, most early water systems were private and provided no guarantee of water for everyone.   Hauling water from a shared well or cistern (as still happens in the third world) would have been common.

From Any Water Will Do to Potable 

Because of low population density and the often fast moving water cited above, the Berkshires may have had less water borne illness than other areas in the 18th and 19th centuries.  However, as we now know, water that looks clear can still contain killer bacteria.  In 1854 Dr. John Snow deduced that water carried cholera by gathering data on the victims of the disease in a London neighborhood.  His research showed disease concentration around a particular public well.  By the 1880’s Robert Koch had closed the logic loop by showing that microorganisms in water could transmit cholera, typhoid, gastrointestinal distress and other illnesses.

Soldiers have been told to place their latrines downstream since the Romans.  With the development of germ theory the importance of keeping wastewater separate from drinking water had increased. Unfortunately, disposing of waste water in rivers and lakes continued.  And, industrial waste became a more common contributor to wastewater run off.  The earliest treatment was by running waste water through sand or aerating.

Chlorine had been used to kill these micro-organisms as early as 1847 (in Vienna, Austria).  Its use became common in US water systems in the early 20th century.  By the mid 20th century chemical pollutants had been identified as a threat – even to well water- and standards for drinking water became more stringent (Federal Clean Water Acts 1970, 1974??)

The combination of the growing importance of purifying drinking water and increased demand made systematic sourcing, treatment and distribution a critical civic function by the beginning of the 20th century.

Water Demand

Before there was disease theory, there was suspicion of water as a drink, so, but there was still need for water for washing, cooking and putting out fires. By the late 19th century, household plumbing (including bathtubs and flush toilets) had started to become common in wealthier homes, causing a spike in per household consumption at about the same time population growth was accelerating.

In addition manufacturing had become a major water user.

While demand was increasing, supply was stressed by:

  • industrial run off and household sewage was despoiling lakes and rivers
  • timber clearing increased run off
  • the readily accessible water sources had been tapped.

The costs of projects to both source and purify drinking water and treat wastewater (to ever higher standards) have made water access, transport and treatment one of the largest expenses of towns, cities and states.  Historically, these massive investments have been resisted until forced to deal with a water crisis.

Lenox Water System Initially Private

In 1874, Julius Rockwell, William O. Curtis, Thomas Post and Associates formed a private water company.  The initial water system consisted of Woolsey Reservoir #1, Aspinwall Reservoir and a distribution system.


With considerable foresight this private water company bought up watershed – bit by bit, and continuously expanded reservoirs; both by building new resevoirs and increasing dam height on existing reservoirs.  The details are nice documented by retired Lenox DPW head Jeff Vincent below in “History of Lenox Water System Facilities.”.

Lenox was fairly typical of water systems of the day in serving a limited % the population.  Although Mr. Rockwell, Curtis and Post were all permanent Lenox residents, it may have been the needs of the water hungry (presumable early adopters of indoor plumbing) cottagers that kick started the project.

Lenox was somewhat unique in

  • having still had untouched watershed available
  • having its needs met from multiple sources (in the 1900’s the Lenox Dale distribution system was a separate private company with water supplied from the Town of Lee and in 1957 when it was a town-owned system

Some the expansion projects (as was common elsewhere) may have been triggered by water shortages:

  • 1879-1880 – drought
  • 1908-1911 – drought
  • 1913 – water shortage
  • 1910’s – Laurel Lake used for emergency water supply

..and after the town bought the private water company in 1947

  • 1957 – drought
  • 1963 – drought
  • 1965 – drought, pumped from Laurel Lake
  • 1980 – severe drought emptied Upper Reservoir; town dredged to increase capacity but still had to pump water from Stockbridge Bowl all winter
  • 1981-1982 – continued dry conditions and pumping from Stockbridge Bowl

From Private to Town Owned

As noted above, the Town of Lenox bought out the private Lenox Water Company.  The town funded the purchase price of $173,000 as well as $60,000 for improvements to the distribution system.  In 1956, 26,000 feet of water lines were turned over to Lenox by the City of Pittsfield.  The West Street booster pump station was constructed to raise the gradient in Lenox center and to increase the flow from the reservoirs.  The first major new reservoir since 1891 was completed in 1959. In 1985, a moratorium had to be called on new connections to the town’s water distribution system.

In 1985, a special town meeting appropriated close to $6MM for the town’s share of the Washington Mountain Watershed Project which included a water treatment plant, storage tank, water transmission plan, transmission main and a water treatment plant for the existing Root Reservoir.  In 1995 the town installed a pump station on New Lenox Road to increase the amount of water that can be taken from the City of Pittsfield.  In 2005 work was completed on the Upper and Lower Root Reservoirs.  This enhanced the safety of the dams but did not increase storage capacity.

The Future

The demand for water in Lenox is not expected to decline.  Full-time population growth is currently slow but tourism remains the town’s major industry and brings in more and more summer guests.  In addition, the many 100+ year old pipes incur waste.  The current reservoirs are at capacity which is somewhat of a moot point since there is no additional run off anticipated from the watershed.

Resources for wells or other water sourcing will have to compete for funds with the investments needed to meet heightened standards for waste water treatment.

Lenox is not unusual in facing challenges in meeting water demand and satisfactorily treating its wastewater.

Many thanks to Jeff Vincent and Rich Fiuore for information on the Lenox Water System

History of Water Systems and Treatment

History of Lenox Water System Facilities

Land Transfers to Lenox Water System



More on Windsor Mountain School

Roselle Charlock gave a talk Oct. 30, 2014 at the Lenox Library which rounded out the information from Rick Goeld on Windsor Mountain School.  Rosalie’s talk provided an introduction to her new book, Windsor Mountain School, A Beloved Berkshire Institution.  Roselle is professor emerita of education at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the author of several books on education and on the Holocaust.

Progressive Education at Windsor Mountain with a European Flair

Her book provided additional information on the Bondy family (the founders of Windsor Mountain School) and their educational philosophy.  Max Bondy had a background with the German Youth Movement which, before it was co-opted into Hitler Youth, stressed healthy outdoor living  which Max and other faculty members brought to Windsor Mountain School.  Their educational philosophy also emphasized learning to control violent, destructive impulses natural to all of us by experiential learning, artistic expression,  and a self-defined path.  Freedom was seen as key to a self-defined life.   Continue reading More on Windsor Mountain School

Festival House Lenox 1950-1961

From 1950 to 1961 Bruno and Claire Aron owned what is now Ventfort Hall and ran it as a hotel for culture oriented travelers of all races and religions. Festival House was a precursor of many attitudes and activities important to Lenox today.

Claire and Bruno Aron

Claire and Bruno were first generation Americans in a family of Eastern European Jewish heritage.

Claire and Bruno Aaron Grew Up in New York and Went to City College
Claire and Bruno Aron Grew Up in New York and Went to City College

They both loved culture and were very concerned with social justice.  Bruno left his job at the Pittsfield Jewish Community Center in 1949 and started looking for other opportunities in the Berkshires.  Bruno and his family loved the beauty of the Berkshires and wanted to increase opportunities for others to visit.  While working at the Pittsfield Jewish Community Center, Bruno was often contacted by Jews traveling to Tanglewood about where they could stay when attending concerts, so he was aware of the discriminatory practices of some lodgers at the time and wanted to create a place that would welcome all visitors.  Demonstrating foresight on what was to come, he and Claire also envisioned leveraging the attractions of Tanglewood to make the Berkshires a cultural destination.

Continue reading Festival House Lenox 1950-1961

Progressive Education in Lenox-Windsor Mountain School

Groton Place WM Berk Eagle 20140308__BondyObit09
Groton Place, Home of the Windsor Mountain School – from the Berkshire Eagle Heinz Bondy Obituary

With its emphasis on experiential learning and letting the learner define the pace and structure of learning, progressive education techniques were/are particularly appropriate for young people who had trouble learning in more traditional environments.  In the Berkshires there were three private boarding schools focused on progressive education techniques:  the Buxton School in Williamstown, the Stockbridge School in Stockbridge, and the Windsor Mountain School in Lenox.  Only the Buxton School is still operating as of this date.*

The Windsor Mountain School was also a magnet for left leaning parents – some famous – who wanted their children to have a good but liberal education.  Well-known Americans who sent their children to Windsor Mountain included Harry Belafonte, Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston and civil rights lawyer Clifford Durr. **

The school was founded by educational reformer Max Bondy and his wife Gertrud Bondy who had studied with Sigmond Freud.  Both their progressive orientation and their Jewish faith made them targets of Nazism.  They re-established their school in Switzerland in 1937, moved to the United States in 1939, and to Lenox in 1944.  **

They were able to purchase the former Winthrop estate on Old Stockbridge Road as a home for their school.  In his recently published book, The People of Windsor Mountain, alumnus Rick Goeld describes the family-like atmosphere when he attended with the gifted counseling of Gertrud Bondy and a small student body (no more than 50 in the early days.)  Some of the faculty were fellow European refugees that lent a unique atmosphere to the school.  In the early days, classical music was played at breakfast every day.*

When Max Bondy died in 1951, Max and Gertrud’s son Heinz took over as headmaster.  He continued his parents practice of sponsoring orphans and others who would not normally be able to attend a private boarding school.  To address the costs of maintaining the extensive building and grounds while maintaining scholarships and excellent teaching staff, he expanded the student body to 250.  Consistent with the political and educational philosophy of the school, a diverse student body was recruited and in 1970,  40 of the 250 students were African American.**

In his book and at his talk (9/25/14) at the Lenox Library, Rick Goeld commented that Lenox was quite conservative at the time and town residents criticized school attendees as “hippies,” and were very concerned about drug use and inter-racial dating…leading to a town/Windsor Mountain School meeting at Church on the Hill. He also noted the fun outings to Wendover for a burger (now Shear Design on Church St. ), Hagyard’s Drug Store, or, when parents were around to foot the bill, The Yellow Aster (now Mazeo’s).*

*People of Windsor Mountain,  by Rick Goeld, Published May 14, 2014 by GGFC Properties LLC

** Wikipedia, Windsor Mountain School, September 2014