Thursday January 31, 2013

By Brian Sullivan, Special to The Eagle PITTSFIELD

I wish I could have met Parthenia Dickenson. She married Curtis Fenn, and I am taking the liberty here to assume that Fenn Street received its name in honor of the woman who headed the Ladies’ Aid Society during the Civil War and who trumpeted the idea for a monument to honor Pittsfield soldiers who served in the Union Army.

The Ladies’ Aid Society raised money locally to help the financial needs of families who were suddenly forced to fend for themselves when the man of the house was at first volunteering and perhaps later drafted into the War between the States.

When peace came, Parthenia was just getting started. It was her idea to raise money for the monument, which was finally dedicated on Sept. 24, 1872, and remains situated on the western edge of Park Square. I don’t doubt for a second that Parthenia was a spectacular woman who didn’t know the meaning of the word "no."

I hereby put forth a motion before our City Council to change the name of Fenn Street to Parthenia Way. Any takers?

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So, it was with great joy that I recently read in this publication that VFW Post 448, under the direction of Commander Arnold M. Perras, is putting in place a fundraiser targeting some restoration work for the bronze monument, which is showing some degree of disrepair.

The current fundraiser has a goal of about $30,000, which would cover current renovation work and future fix-up needs. That compares favorably with the $20,000 put together by Pittsfield to orchestrate the original project.

Parthenia and her crew raised about $5,000, the town chipped in another $7,000, while $7,000 more was allocated by Pittsfield to clean up what was determined to be a "very messy" Park Square.

While the very grand and very tall "Old Elm" had been felled a few years previous, Park Square remained littered with too many trees, plenty of which were in a decadent condition. Those trees were taken down, walkways within the park refurbished and curbing around the perimeter of the park reinforced.

Finally, the preliminary work was completed and the monument was dedicated in a vibrant and well-attended ceremony that included Gov. William B. Washburn.

So, when Perras and company come knocking at your door, please consider the history, the meaning and the city’s own self-image. And if that doesn’t inspire you to help out, then imagine Parthenia Dickenson standing at your door and her own unwillingness to take no for an answer.

That just might help you toss an extra nickel into the pot.

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The early to mid-1870s were an exciting time in and around Park Square. Both the Berkshire County Courthouse and the Berkshire Athenaeum (now probate court) were constructed and that helped greatly to give the center of the city a true center-of-the-city feel.

Those two buildings, the courthouse in particular, helped move the county seat from Lenox to Pittsfield, something that the political powers here had wanted for quite some time. On the heels of that came the decision by the state to build the Berkshire County jail in Pittsfield.

And put this down under trivia or coincidence: The town of Pittsfield, Maine, also has a very similar Civil War monument, which was dedicated in 1904. To that end, there are probably hundreds of Civil War monuments scattered around New England. I just thought that was interesting.

By the way, Maine’s version of Pittsfield is about 4,000 strong. But over the years, the town has supplied the state with three governors.

Our own Pittsfield gave the commonwealth George Nixon Briggs, who served seven one-year terms as governor between 1844-51.

Briggs was born in Adams and moved to Pittsfield just prior to becoming governor.

Briggs might very well have been at Park Square for the dedication the Civil War monument had he not died both tragically and rather unfortuitously in 1861.

Hanging up his coat in his Pittsfield home, a gun fell from a space atop the closet. The story goes that as he bent downward to retrieve it, the weapon discharged and put a bullet into Briggs’ chest.

He died the next morning. Needless to say, it was big news.

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A final note: Wonderful, we’re getting back one of our Burger Kings, and so is Lenox. It’s jobs, I get it. And it’s better than driving by a vacant building. That never reflects well on a town. But does it bother anyone else that it seems as though fast-food chains seem to be comfortably able to pay for premium commercial time during big-time television sporting events?

In between the rebounds, blitzes and home runs is a steady stream of burgers, tacos and pizzas.

This is neither a good thing nor a trend on which we want to endorse. If there weren’t 100 other things to worry about, you could even call it disturbing.

Brian Sullivan can be reached at mariavicsullivan@yahoo.com.