Bernard A. Drew: J.B. Goussett, the 'Walking Encyclopedia'

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GREAT BARRINGTON >> His name was Jason Byron Goussett, but he went by "J.B." If he didn't know every Berkshire resident personally, he knew where they lived. He kept close track in the series of community street directories he published for some 65 years.

Of French extraction, Goussett was born on Washington Mountain in 1859, the son of Frank and Mary Ann Louber Goussett. He had a brother Celestine and a sister Emily. He attended school in East Lee and his initial employment was as a clerk, first for a clothing store in Pittsfield in 1876. After three years in San Francisco, he circled back in 1884 to work for Marshall S. Bidwell, who had stores in Monterey and in Housatonic. He became postmaster in East Lee, a two-year appointment.

He started his own business, collecting census information, soliciting advertising and publishing street directories. An early volume was for the town of Lee, printed by Valley Gleaner Job Print in 1894. He expanded this with a Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, Dalton and Hinsdale directory; Eagle Printing & Binding in Pittsfield printed it in 1907. Goussett compiled a Great Barrington Directory 1896-'87 and George T. Denny's Pittsfield press printed it. The town, according to the listings, had a high school and 15 outlying grammar schools at the time.

Goussett issued his first Adams directory, printed by Gunn & Daly, in 1903. He brought out a Pittsfield city guide, map, railroad and street directory, and a book of Views of Lee, East Lee and South Lee in 1895.

Goussett went to work for Eagle Printing & Binding, continuing the directories every two or three years. Eagle's president, William C. Root, praised Gousset to a Berkshire Eagle reporter in 1938 as "faithful as the day is long and as reliable as the law of gravity."

The Pittsfield directory typically had a printing of 1,000 copies. In later years Yellow Pages and telephone directories took over some but not all of the listings for Berkshire residents. Old directories are still vital records for historians and genealogists looking for who lived where when.

A Republican who represented Ward 5 on the Republican City Committee, Goussett held minor public offices in Pittsfield in 1935 but failed to win election (he ran as an independent) as mayor.

Goussett was an early riser. "That gives you a chance to get the underbrush out of the way before you tackle the main woods," he told The Eagle. He once sued Pittsfield for $1,000 "when he fell over a plank on North Street in front of the Onota building," according to the Springfield Republican.

The compiler took great pride in his accuracy, and insisted his canvassers check and double check facts. Information on residents and businesses was collected in person, by workers who walked up and town city streets and country lanes.

His own listing in the 1938 Pittsfield directory was " Goussett, Julius B., salesman, emp Eagle Ptg & Bdg co., also Berkshire Directory Co., directory publishers and Pittsfield City Guide, 33 Eagle Square, h 20 S. Merriam."

His volumes contained useful information; a 1905 directory, for example, has sections on bands and orchestras, banks, Berkshire athenaeum, cemeteries, churches, courts, foresters, Grand Army of the Republic, Italians, Masons, Odd Fellows, Poles, post offices, unions and ward boundaries, to name a few.

His 1932 Pittsfield directory listed 157 Smiths, 107 Murphys, 97 Browns, 70 Johnsons and 57 Joneses, the Springfield Republican noted with great interest.

As age crept up, acute arthritis took its toll. He was stricken by paralytic shock in 1936 but recovered. He sold the directory businesses one by one. The Pittsfield one went to Eagle Printing in 1941. The Adams one went to H.A. Manning of Springfield in 1942. And so on.

A widower — I didn't have Pittsfield directories handy to look up his wife's name — Goussett died in 1944. He was 84.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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