Thursday August 30, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- A stone cellar hole sits above Route 7, just west of Carberry Auto Parts. Thousands of people drive by it every day and don't see it. It shares a knoll with a double-sided billboard, both backed by the rock ledge of Bung Hill.

Who lived there and when, I wondered?

A name on a map in the 1876 Beers Atlas of Berkshire County prompted a visit to the Registry of Deeds office to learn that Charles Pixley had conveyed the parcel to Edward J. Mallory and his wife, Maria, on June 20, 1865, for $830. Following the ownership chain backward, Pix ley had acquired the 60-or-so-square-rod parcel from Lucius J. Nettleton a year before for $100, with no mention of a building. So Pixley built the house on speculation and sold it.

The 1865 deed describes one rear lot corner as being a "stake and stone in a cavity or seam in a ledge of rocks." A short clamber up this hill to the rear is where Gil Belcher, the infamous 18th-century counterfeiter, hid his gear - until New York authorities, tired of seeing his flood of fake Yorker currency, swooped across the border and arrested Belcher and accomplices, John Wall Lovely and "Dr." Joseph Bill, in December 1772. They were executed the next year.

But Edward Mallory, the first to live in the little house, was a reputable chap. His middle name was Joy, after all. Born in 1828, a native of Norfolk, Conn., he enlisted in the Union Army in June 1861. He was in the Mas sachusetts 1st Calvary until he transferred to the 10th Vol unteer Infantry and was assigned to protect Washington, D.C. He was discharged in Nov ember 1862, having been wounded at Malvern Hill, near Richmond, Va.

The Malvern Hill (also called Poindexter's Farm) engagement was a bloody one on July 1, 1862. The day before, Con fed erate forces under Maj. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and others had attacked Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan's Union Army at White Oak Swamp. CSA commander Rob ert E. Lee then made a rare mistake. He pursued the attack. He lost some 5,300 men, while the Yanks, holding the higher ground, suffered barely a third of those losses. The fight ended the Peninsula Campaign.

And it ended Edward Mal lory's military career. He returned to Great Barrington and spent his years as a teamster.

The Berkshire Courier de scribed the circumstances of his passing in its issue of Nov. 22, 1882: "Death of an Old Soldier: Mr. E.J. better known as ‘Jack' Mallory, a member of the old 10th Massachusetts regiment, and well known throughout this section, died on Monday morning, from the effects of injuries received last Thursday, while driving a team heavily loaded with dirt on Mrs. Mark Hop kins' place [now commonly called Searles Castle], in the village. He was walking beside the wagon, between the wheels, when he stumbled and fell, the wheels passing over him and crushing in his ribs and otherwise injuring him, so that he lingered in great pain until death put an end to his sufferings."

Mallory's widow lived out her years in the small house near Belcher Square. Her estate sold it to Wyatt E. Seeger in 1915. The place was conveyed from Seeger to Lucy F. Roe in 1922, then it passed to Fred J. and Ida Case in 1924, and to Annie Williamson in 1928. In essence, it was a small place ideal for pensioners and widows.

Meanwhile, changes were made in the road, one of the oldest through Great Barrington. The Commonwealth of Massa chu setts took the old Mallory place in 1946 as part of a major highway improvement.

It paid $1 for 210 square feet. The dwelling disappeared. The roadwork widened, flattened and lowered the highway (we now call it State Road).

And the cellar hole, once on the same level as the road, once home to a Civil War veteran, now sat well above the road, lost from sight to all but the workers who periodically re place the billboard posters.