Memories of Pittsfield's iconic England Brothers live on at Arrowhead
This story has been modified to correct the surname Radford.
PITTSFIELD — England Brothers closed almost 30 years ago, but for Berkshire residents of a certain age memories of Pittsfield's iconic department store and the family that owned it live on.
On Wednesday, about a dozen members of the England family gathered at Arrowhead as a portrait of family patriarch Moses England and a plaque commemorating the department store's 100th anniversary were formally donated to the Berkshire Historical Society.
"It was time to bring Moses home," said his great-granddaughter, Jane England Radford, who lives in Bluemont, Va.
An immigrant from Bavaria, Moses England came to Pittsfield in the mid-19th century from Albany, N.Y., as a peddler selling items from a horse and cart. He founded England Brothers Department store — Moses had three brothers — in 1857.
The store moved twice before settling at 89 North St., the location most known to Pittsfield residents, in 1891. Moses England died seven years later on Christmas Day at the age of 68.
His portrait, which was painted from a photograph, hung in Jane Radford's father Benjamin's office at England Brothers before she brought it to Virginia. England Brothers closed in 1988.
Following "20 years under the Mason-Dixon line," as Radford put it, she decided to return the portrait to Pittsfield. She chose the Berkshire Historical Society, which is headquartered at Arrowhead, author Herman Melville's historic home on Holmes Road.
"I was very excited to here from Jane," said Berkshire Historical Society Executive Director Will Garrison.
Radford's call came "from out of the blue," he said.
With her generation of the England family aging, Radford thought it was important to bring the portrait and the plaque back to the Berkshires.
"I don't think my children really appreciate or understand England Brothers," she said. "Their association is Virginia.
"I thought it was really important to bring him here because he was part of a community here," she said.
Radford came into possession of the plaque, given to the store to mark its 100th anniversary in 1957, after the England Brothers' building on North Street was torn down during the 1990s. A city official, whose name she can't remember, found the plaque in the rubble and contacted her.
"He said the plaque was just going to be thrown out, and he took it and put in his office," she said.
Both items have been placed in the barn on Arrowhead's property that was built in 1838, and already housed Myra Radford's wedding dress from 1908.
Moses England's portrait hangs over the fire place. The portrait was officially unveiled by Alison and Samantha Blau, sixth generation England family members.
Wednesday's event also served as a family reunion for members of the England clan. Radford's cousin, Barbara Singer Pratter, came the farthest, from St. Louis.
"Janie and I are very close," Pratter said. "I came to the Berkshires every summer to visit my grandmother. ... We don't have this opportunity often."
Moses England helped found Congregation Anshe Amunim of Pittsfield in 1869, and allowed religious services to be held in a building that he owned on Fenn and North streets until the congregation purchased its first building in 1927.
"For the first 60 years we couldn't have survived without Moses and his family," said Anshe's Rabbi Emeritus Harold I. Salzmann.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224.