Carole Owens: Springside's history is also Pittsfield's
James McGrath, Pittsfield Parks and Open Spaces manager, wants to ensure the future of Springside House. As Pittsfield considers the future of the house, it might be interesting to review its past.
Buildings are the repositories of our memories. Buildings hold our stories, however grand or humble. For more than 150 years, Springside was owned by prominent citizens of Pittsfield and therefore, its changing ownership mirrors the early growth and development of the city.
Pittsfield is incorporated in 1761. By 1790, Park Square is established with North, South, East and West streets radiating out from it. Then as now, North Street is the commercial street. However, farmland then surrounded the center of town; the economic engine of Pittsfield is agriculture.
Springside is the farm of Ashabel Strong. Strong is no simple man of the land. He is a Yale educated attorney, Pittsfield’s representative to the General Court in Boston, and a Federalist who marries a Tory.
Mary Stoddard Strong is the daughter of Israel Stoddard. She is described as one of the ladies, read Grande Dames, of "provincial polite society." The Strong house is "of stately comfort, square, and flat-roofed."
As the village grows and changes, so does Springside. Ashabel dies in 1809 and leaves the farm to his nephew, adopted son, and apprentice, Thomas B. Strong. Thomas follows in Ashabel’s footsteps as farmer, lawyer and politician. The Strong men mix their pursuits as Pittsfield begins to mix its economic strengths.
In 1810, Thomas serves on the committee to found the first Pittsfield Cattle Show. He also establishes the Agricul-
tural Society. Reflecting the changing economic base of Pittsfield, both organizations "promote agriculture and manufacturing."
In 1812, the United States government locates a garrison on North Street. The population doubles, and land is useful for homes as well as farms. The number of shoppers on North Street increases. Pitts-
field tastes the delights of retail, and land is necessary for shops, and factories. Nothing, however, changes land values, population, and Pittsfield’s economic backbone faster than the railroad.
In 1841, the railroad comes to town. The significance is not lost on Thomas Plunkett. He is no farmer. He moves as Pittsfield does into manufacturing -- shipping goods by rail creates a huge new marketplace. Plunkett speculates in real estate because Pittsfield is experiencing ano-
ther population boom. He helps found Aggie Bank and Berkshire Life.
In 1849, Plunkett purchases 149 acres just half a mile from the shopping street -- the former Strong farm.
North Street is becoming the shopping street for all of Berkshire at the same time as retailers, railroad hotels, and builders are making North Street accessible to outlanders. The old wood buildings are being replaced with stone and brick.
Pittsfield will never be a small, isolated farming community again. It is a transportation hub, manufacturing and retail center. Conco-
mitant with the growth of Pittsfield and its metamorphosis from agriculture to manufacturing is the rise of Abraham Burbank. He returns to Pittsfield in 1837 with a wife, growing family, a skill in carpentry and no assets. He lays track for the Western Railroad -- laying the foundation of new Pittsfield, and then rebuilds North Street.
By 1850, Burbank identifies himself as "master builder," hotel manager, and entrepreneur. He purchases 100 acres from Plunkett and moves into the Strong farmhouse -- "one of Pittsfield’s balustraded mansions."
In 1856, Burbank sells 28 of his 100 acres to the Rev. Charles Abbott. The parcel is in the southern portion of the property and contains a barn and the Strong house.
Abbott intends to establish and run a boys school. The 1860 census shows the Abbott family in residence but no schoolboys listed. In 1866, Abbott sells the land to the Reverend William C. Richards.
Richards is more successful. He finds a benefactor right next door -- William Pollock. In acknowledgment of the financial support, Richards names the school The Pollock Institute.
Nothing stands still -- neither Pittsfield nor land use at Springside. In 1873, Richards sells the former farmhouse, retreat of a wealthy man, and school, to a group that turn it into a resort.
By 1873, Berkshire is what it will remain: innkeepers to the outlanders. While the southern portion of the former farm is a summer resort, Burbank sells the northern 72 acres to a New York businessman, John Davol, as a summer cottage.
In 1904, John’s son William sells Springside to Clarence Stephens. In 1939, it is the Stephens family, at the urging of Berkshire Eagle owner and former mayor, Kelton B. Miller, who conveys the property to the city. Reflecting the values of the day, Springside is transformed into a city park
There are still mysteries to be solved about the house and land at Springside, but one thing is certain: whatever the adaptive reuse of Springside House is, it will be a new chapter in the story of a city and will articulate the values of its citizens.
A Berkshire writer and historian, Carole Owens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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