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What does North Adams Museum of History and Science have in its collection? Here's a look at 6 items and what they mean to North Adams

Did you know there's a piece of North Adams on the moon?

NORTH ADAMS — Facing the loss of its space, the North Adams Museum of History and Science is closing indefinitely, taking with it pieces of the city's past. 

Before items in the 5,000-square-foot exhibition space at Hotel Downstreet are packed up and stored, we decided to take a tour of the museum and see what is in the collection. 

The museum's last day open to the public is Sunday, Jan. 30.

Chuck Cahoon, president of the North Adams Historical Society, the group that operates the museum, recently gave The Eagle a tour and pointed out some items in the museum's collection that stand out to him and explained what they say about the city's history. 

Coury's Drive-In memories

antique coin operated scale with games

A coin operated scale and quiz game that once stood at Courey’s Drive-In Theatre in North Adams is among the items from the city’s history at the North Adams Museum of History and Science. Wednesday, January 26, 2022.

The collection includes a coin-operated scale, quiz game and fortune-teller that all used to be at Coury's Drive-In, a movie theater on Curran Highway that closed in the '90s.

It was "the Berkshires' Most Modern Drive-In Theatre," reads a framed ad on the wall for the business, yellowed with age.

"For entertainment on a Friday or Saturday night around here," Cahoon said, "there was the movies. All the youngsters went."

Arnold Print Works history

zinc plates from arnold print works

Zinc plates used to make printed fabric at the former Arnold Print Works factory are among the items from the city’s history at the North Adams Museum of History and Science. Wednesday, January 26, 2022.

In a corner of the museum dedicated to the city's industrial history, there are zinc plates from Arnold Print Works displayed inside a glass case.

"They were made for printing colored cloth," Cahoon explained.

Why put that in the museum? "The whole process of printing cloth, they had some unusual machinery," Cahoon said. The company was a major employer in the city, and sold its products around the world, he said. "They were known all over the place," Cahoon said.

The factory used to be in the industrial complex that is now the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

From North Adams to the moon

replica of silicone disc dropped on moon by neil armstrong

North Adams Historical Society President Chuck Cahoon holds an exact replica of the silicone disc that was dropped on the moon by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. The disc is engraved with good will messages from 73 heads of state from around the world scaled down to 1/200th their actual size. The medallion that now sits on the moon was designed by Sprague Electric, with its roots in North Adams.

When Americans first went to the moon, astronauts left something there: a coin that reads "From Planet Earth — July 1969."

The disc had "goodwill statements" from U.S. presidents and leaders from more than 70 countries, according to NASA. Pictures of the messages were reduced 200 times and put on the disc.

That disc was manufactured at Sprague Electric Company in North Adams, Cahoon said. "That's a copy of it," he said of the museum's coin.

A look back at Main Street

north adams national bank stained glass sign

A stained glass sign that adorned the former North Adams National Bank is among the items from the city’s history at the North Adams Museum of History and Science, which is set to close indefinitely after its last day open to the public Sunday.

A stained glass sign for North Adams National Bank sat above a clock on Main Street, Cahoon said. The building was torn down during urban renewal, according to Cahoon.

Jack jumpers, because everyone had one in North Adams

jack jumpers and sit skis in north adams museum of history

‘Jack-jumpers,’ which were later manufactured in North Adams as Sit Skis, were a childhood staple for many Berkshire children, often cobbled together from found objects. These examples are among the items from the city’s history at the North Adams Museum of History and Science. Wednesday, January 26, 2022.

There are several "jack jumpers" in the museum.

"It's part of the thing you'd call local color," Cahoon said.

Blacksmith Walter P. Pritchard made jack jumpers and told The Eagle in 1941 he thought he sold 100,000 of them.

They were popular locally. "Ask any kid in Adams if he has a jack jumper and he will give you a withering look, as if you'd asked if he had a mother," a 1941 article in The Eagle, taped on the museum's wall, reads.

"A jack jumper is a runner with a seat on it," the article continues, "and when you get good, you can ride it like a bicycle, with the added advantage of being able to go off nice snow jumps with only minor damage to your liver."

More than just an oil can

beat up oil can from wwi

For years after the first victory march up Main Street in North Adams at the end of World War I, Nicholas J. DelNegro banged on this five-gallon oil can, using it as a noisemaker in the annual Armistice Day Parades through the city. The can, now mangled and worn, is among the items from the city’s history at the museum.

Like everything else in the museum, this mangled can has a backstory.

When World War I ended in 1918, people filled the streets with noisemakers to celebrate. Nick DelNegro went onto the street with a five-gallon can and a broom handle, according to a 1929 article in The North Adams Transcript.

"He started in at the head of the first parade that was formed and all day long, until darkness brought a cessation of the celebration, he marched about the streets of the city beating his tin can," the article reads. Later that day, the tin can was "battered beyond recognition." 

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.


Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.

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