The Berkshire Street Railway and affiliates by 1909 could carry a passenger from North Canaan, Conn., to Hoosac Falls, N.Y., and any spots in between, not to mention Hinsdale or Huntington or South Egremont on spur lines.
The trolley system, though, faced new pressures. It still carried passengers to and from work. But the automobile was becoming increasingly popular, and visiting tourists had more freedom if they drove themselves to outdoor attractions such as Bash Bish Falls or October Mountain.
With its two parlor cars, The Berkshire Hills and the Bennington, coming on line, the BSR decided to spotlight 62 historic points, from No. 1, “The road to Egremont leading to the last stand and most serious battle of Shay’s Rebellion, 1787,” to No. 62, a summary of Revolutionary War and other key moments in Bennington’s past.
Because some wordy signs were difficult to read as the railway cars whisked by, a pamphlet was offered and the contents were reprinted in The Berkshire Eagle and The North Adams Transcript (both on July 31, 1909). A “Heart of the Berkshire Hills” map issued the same year reduces the number of locations to 45, with indication only that No. 1 was positioned at about the Maple Avenue intersection in Great Barrington, and Vermont postings were split into Bennington Battle Monument, Vermont Soldiers’ Home and Catamount.
The signs in some cases pointed out the obvious. They also missed some historical sites and misstated the significance of others.
There was a hitch in Lee, for example, where William H. Gross, owner of the marble quarry, disputed placement of marker No. 20, which claimed stone had been supplied for construction in 1853 of the U.S. Capitol’s East Wing from then-abandoned part of the York quarry. Gross said the exact quarry was on Park Street, near Mrs. DeWitt Smith’s. Railway General Manager Clinton Quackenbush Richmond struggled to find a satisfactory spot to resituate the sign.
Sign No. 42 in East Renfrew pointed to Mount Greylock and said a cloudburst in Adams in August 1902 had created a landslide, thus a gash on the mountainside. The cloudburst was in August 1901. The sign was repainted.
There’s not space here to look at all the signs, but we’ll start at the south end and see how far we get. No. 2 reads: “The Henderson house, probably the oldest house standing in Berkshire county. Used as a storehouse for supplies during the Revolution. Here, in 1777, lodged General Burgoyne, a prisoner of war, on his way to Boston. Here, in 1821, William Cullen Bryant was married to Frances Fairchild, of Great Barrington.” That was the popular legend of the day. But the house, on its third location and next to CVS on South Main Street today, was built by Gen. Joseph Dwight in 1760 and is not the oldest house in town, much less the county. Gen. Friedrich Adolf von Riedesel, the Hessian general, stayed here, the guest of Dwight’s son Elijah. Burgoyne took a Central Berkshire route to Boston, following defeat at the Battle of Saratoga.
Nos. 3, 4 and 5 point out Bryant’s law office site (he had several), the First Resistance to British Rule marker on Town Hall lawn and, down Bridge Street, the 1904 Thursday Morning Club stone noting the location of an early Indian fordway of the Housatonic River. Any physical verification of that location has long ago washed away, and the main Native American trail used by Gen. Jeffery Amherst in 1758 and Gen. Henry Knox in 1776 was at the Great Bridge a half mile north.
Street Railway sign No. 7 mentions the dubious glorification on the same stela of Connecticut militia Maj. John Talcott’s raid in 1676, in a last gasp of the campaign against Indigenous people in the King Philip’s War, resulting in the massacre of Narragansett fleeing to find asylum with Mohawks. There’s no written or physical verification the raid took place here.
No. 9 acknowledges Monument Mountain, “Noted for the superb views and the ancient stone cairn built by the Indians and regarded by them as of deep religious import.”
Member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians certainly acknowledge and respect the cairn (which is not on a hiking trail). Mohicans consolidated in Stockbridge in 1737. The cairn likely predated their arrival, but was enlarged by their contributions of more stones when passing by. The present cairn is not the original stone pyramid, which was reused as a sheep enclosure. The one existing was reconstructed in 1882 by high school principal Frank Hosmer and student Charles F. Painter based on the memory of merchant Ralph Taylor, who had seen the cairn in 1824 in company of Bryant, before it was dismantled to create a sheep enclosure.
I’m being picky here, aren’t I? The next sign points to the Monument Mills power generating plant in Alger Furnace, installed by William Stanley in 1893. Then The Indian Burying Ground in Stockbridge; John Sergeant and Jonathan Edwards and the Mission, Ice Glen, a road to Beartown, where once dwelt the weather prophet Levi Beebe, and a road to Tyringham, once home of a Shaker settlement. Also Lee’s marble quarries, Jacob’s Ladder, downtown Lee, the Columbia paper mill and Frog’s Landing in Lenox Dale, where of space necessity I stop.
There’s no sign of the signs today, of course.