Bernard A. Drew: Oliver Hutchinson’s barrel shop blues



Oliver S. Hutchinson (1842-1918) of New Lenox and his brother Oscar S. (1844-1939), who was postmaster, Adams Express Co. agent and ticket agent at the Dewey (or New Lenox) railroad depot, together owned 70 acres of farmland and a operated lime kiln on Roaring Brook Road. Oliver also had a sawmill on Mill Brook on East New Lenox Road to make staves for barrels for the processed lime. The sawmill turned out 10,000 board feet a day. Oliver was mechanically minded; he received U. S. patent No. 286,201 on 9 October 1883 for a carriage feeding device for saw mills.

The Hutchinson sawmill shut down in 1895 when the city of Pittsfield dammed Mill Brook for a reservoir for drinking water. Pittsfield exercised a legal taking in December 1895. Damages proffered by the Berkshire County Commission came nowhere near the $100,000 Hutchinson asked for. He appealed to Superior Court.


"Hutchinson’s case was a peculiar one," the Springfield Daily Republican said May 13, 1900, "as he claimed damages not only from being deprived of the water of Mill brook, but of Roaring brook also. Mill brook is a small stream running down the north side of October mountain, east of New Lenox, and Roaring brook comes down a ravine on the south side of the same mountain. Roaring brook has its rise in a small lake on the W.C. Whitney tract on the mountain and near his country seat. A mile or so from its source it runs within half a mile or so of Mill brook for some distance, and then bears south and so down the ravine to the river. Hutchinson owned large tracts of timber in the section, and did quite a business in making lime barrels on Mill brook. He had also bought some years ago of various owners the water rights in Roaring brook, intending to buy from Jane Dexter a small tract of land over which he could carry in a ditch or canal the water of roaring brook into Mill brook, and years before there had evidently been some such a combination. Hutchinson had bargained for the Dexter land, but for some reason did not get a deed, and later the city bought the same farm, thus stopping any diversion of Roaring brook into Mill brook.

"The city claimed there was no damage for Roaring brook it not having been taken by Hutchinson and the arbitrators evidently held to the same view. This was one of the legal questions which the court will be asked to settle on the written evidence. It is not stated whether under the award, the city would have any right to now take Roaring brook. Hutchinson’s claim was that by building reservoirs on the brooks he could establish electric power transmission plants and sell the same to Pittsfield, and this he claimed in addition to the damage sustained by him to his sawmill."

Hutchinson wasn’t the only one to sue the city. Nancy Sears Wellington, who had grown up in New Lenox but after her marriage to Hiram B. Wellington moved to Pittsfield, still holding family land along the Mill Brook. She received $1,500 in a court settlement in which she claimed loss of water for irrigation of farm fields. Chauncey E. Dewey’s heirs, owning some 900 acres of land up the mountainside, accepted $1,300 from the Berkshire County Commission. Levi C. Miller, "who owned an abandoned saw and grist-mill privilege," pocketed $1,400 from the commissioners. And Clara B. Curtiss received $1,300 for loss of irrigation.

At the Superior Court trial in October 1899, Hutchinson testified he had spent $6,000 to build his own dam in 1892. Part of it is still there. "In answer to the question of the damages amounting to $87,000, Mr. Hutchinson said that his was his own estimate, assisted by two expert engineers whom he had engaged for the purpose," the Republican said Oct. 19, 1899.

Two Hutchinson employees, Arthur H. Harris and a Mr. Frink, "testified as to the abundant supply of water the year around at that time, when the machinery could be run 10 hours daily. On being cross-examined by ex-District Attorney Pillsbury they spoke of frequent stops during the summer and attributed the stoppages to the fact that other work had to be done, whereas the lawyer sought rather unsuccessfully to show they were due to a shortage of water."

On the second trial day, Jean Dexter of New Lenox testified about a ditch from Roaring Brook to Mill Brook dug about 50 years before. The defense posited the ditch reduced flow into Roaring Brook.


More testimony, more arguments. It was a big case. Court arbitrators awarded Hutchinson $14,918 plus interest, or $19,000. A month later it was revealed the city’s legal and expert witness expenses totaled $23,000.

The city was in the soup again in 1912, when it took more land on Washington mountain to expand its reservoir system with the Farnham dam. The city hampered the flow of Roaring Brook into the Housatonic River, thus reducing the waterpower for Smith Paper and Eaton-Dikeman of Lee, those businesses claimed as they filed petitions for damages. Back to court.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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