Women's Club of Berkshires legacy will live on thanks to sale of building


PITTSFIELD -- The Women's Club of the Berkshires no longer has a building to operate out of, and doesn't exist as a nonprofit corporation anymore.

But thanks to the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, the club's mission will live in perpetuity.

The Women's Club, which dates back to 1930, recently donated its assets to the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation after selling its former headquarters, the historic Thomas Colt House on Wendell Avenue, for $225,000 last August.

The club was able to donate that sum to the foundation after legally dissolving as a nonprofit corporation, a process that Women's Club President Belle O'Brien said took almost a year to complete.

"We are able to do so much more now because all of our efforts had gone into maintaining the building," O'Brien said, referring to the Colt House, which had been given to the Women's Club in 1937.

"Now, the money we made from our sale can be used for our purpose, which is the welfare of women," she said.

Berkshire Taconic plans to divide the club's assets into two funds. The Women's Club of the Berkshires Scholarship Fund will provide educational assistance, while the Women's Club of the Berkshires Fund will make funding available to other projects that affect both girls and women.

The BCTF is currently setting up the parameters for each of those funds. That process should be completed by the end of this year, said program director Maeve O'Day.

Both O'Brien and O'Day said the Women's Club members will have a say in how the grants in both funds are distributed.

"We'll be in the background," O'Brien said.

The transaction brings together an organization that could no longer afford the upkeep on its historic building with the largest community foundation in the Berkshires.

The two organizations first discussed the idea two years ago. "They were very interested," O'Day said.

But the process stalled because it took so long for the Women's Club to sell the 15-room Italinate-style villa that industrialist Thomas Colt originally built for his wife in 1866. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Women's Club of the Berkshires, which had as many as 874 members in 1962, now has around 30 and the majority range in age from 65 to 80, O'Brien said. The remaining club member's ages, plus the cost of maintaining the Colt House, proved to be too much for the organization to handle.

The Women's Club put the Colt House on the market in 2010. It was originally sold to a trust, but that group put the structure back on the market, and it took another year until Pittsfield-raised New York City attorney Lisa Whitney purchased the building in 2012. Whitney plans to turn the Colt House into an arts and cultural center, but also intends to maintain the historic home in the same manner as the Women's Club, O'Brien said. The club's records were given to the Berkshire Athenaeum.

"It was terrible to leave that building," she said of the Colt House. "You can ask anyone who was involved. It was like losing a member of our family. The worst part was when it was sitting there doing nothing.

"A group of lawyers could have bought it and it would have been just fine," O'Brien added. "But to have Lisa there with an arts and cultural center we're just pleased."

The Women's Club of the Berkshires is also pleased that the BCTF will be handling their assets.

"We knew their interest in women," O'Brien said. "And we know their history.

"We know our money will be safe."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:


(413) 496-6224


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