GREAT BARRINGTON

Hotels were vigorous community gathering places a century and more ago, not just places for travelers to spend the night. Holiday festivities at the Greylock House in South Adams, for example, included a "Merry Christmas Ball" on Christmas Eve in 1858, with Hodge’s Cotillon Band playing music to the "small hours." Located convenient to the Pittsfield & North Adams railroad, the establishment had recently been enlarged under the proprietorship of Gen. Elijah Bailey.

Greylock House held lots of affairs. A grand ball and supper in February 1855, for instance, honored village fire fighters. A Pittsfield Sun correspondent said, "It was a Supper worthy of the Greylock House and its well-remembered Host."

It didn’t take much of an excuse for a party; the hotel celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans with a meal on Jan. 8, 1859. The 37th Regiment held its ball there in July 1865. It celebrated May Day on the first of that month in 1873. The list is a long one.

Serious business was conducted at the hotel, too. A landmark meeting there in May 1845 -- when it was called Lafayette House -- resulted in the adoption of a constitution for the Triton Fire Engine Company, predecessor of the Alert Hose Company. Another meeting at the hotel in May 1873 resulted in creation of the Adams Fire District.

After Bailey died in March 1864, manufacturer William C. Plunkett purchased the hotel on behalf of South Adams manufacturers who wanted a comfortable place for clients to stay and a spiffy dining hall for town events. Albert Bailey, who had continued on at the Greylock House after his father’s death, in August 1864 purchased the Mansion House in Williamstown and departed. J. M. Bowker became landlord of the Greylock House in September 1864. The following March, H.O. Cole leased Greylock House.

Sleigh rides were popular in winter 1868, and one group of 40 young ladies -- it being a leap year -- invited an equal number of young gents to ride from North Adams to South and then "feasted them sumptuously at Farnsworth’s Greylock House, made them ‘trip the fantastic toe’ for some time, and conveyed them safely home," The Pittsfield Sun reported.

William G. Farnsworth, a prominent Republican, deputy sheriff and village postmaster, purchased Greylock House in December 1866. The place had a new owner in January 1867: W. H. Wilkinson. D. Angell became proprietor in March 1872. In November 1873 he wisely had new 2-inch water pipes installed in the hotel for fire protection.

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The Burns Club of South Adams celebrated the 114th anniversary of the Scottish poet’s birth at Greylock House with a Jan. 24 haggis supper in 1873. Another birthday party in February 1873 was for George Washington, arranged by George E. Sayles Post, Grand Army of the Republic.

New owners gave Greylock House a fresh coat of paint, new wallpaper and new furnishings to refit the place "in first-class style," the Troy Daily Times said Jan. 26, 1874.

"We find warmth and dinner at the Greylock House in South Adams," gushed Mrs. E. B. Duffey writing about "An Autumn Holiday" in "Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine" for July 1876. "These country hotels! How much of comfort the traveler obtains in them. Good dinners, well served, and moderate prices. Who would put up with the discomforts and exorbitant charges of city hotels, when they can be avoided?"

John Thayer as proprietor of Greylock House orchestrated a sleigh ride to Hall’s Hotel in Lanesborough in January 1883. He broke his wrist, though, when one of the sleighs, going down a steep hill, snapped a pole strap and the four horses ran chaotically, throwing occupants to the snow bank.

Thomas P. Welch managed the Hoosac Valley House in Cheshire and the Adams House before he purchased the Greylock Hotel in the 1890s. During his tenure, one of the more unusual appearances in the ballroom was E. C. Pierce of Minneapolis, called by the Transcript "a human snake" as he demonstrated before the public his ability to expand his chest by 14 inches and to elevate his height by 3 inches. "The length of his arm was measured twice and the second time it proved to be three inches longer than the first time," the newspaper said July 12, 1898. "He said there was no trick in what he did but that his strange ability had come to him naturally."

Skipping ahead a few decades, the hotel sponsored sports teams. The Greylock House bowlers trounced the Adams House team in a March 1937 match-up at Crescent Alleys. In April 1949, the Greylock House softball team, played the first game that season against the Polish National Alliance nine at Russell Field.

In 1939, The Transcript newspaper occupied one street-level storefront, D. A. Murphy Hardware Drugs the other storefront. The hotel was demolished in a fit of urban renewal in 1967. Russell Bissaillon was the last owner. TD Bank is the modern-day occupant of the site, at the corner of Center and Myrtle streets.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.