2020-12-05-DREWPIC

A little-noticed remnant of the Gilded Age, this stone bridge today carries Riverfront Trail walkers south from Bridge Street in Great Barrington. It was built circa 1885, as part of a quarry railroad.

Mary Frances Sherwood (1818-1891) married into a railroad fortune. Her first husband, Mark Hopkins Jr. (1813-1878), was one of the financiers behind the Central Pacific Railroad that with Union Pacific Railroad completed a transcontinental freight and passenger line in 1861. With his death, she became one of the richest women in the United States. She set about creating a rural retreat in Great Barrington. She called her new estate Kellogg Terrace.

And she built her own railroad.

tracking her quarry

To construct the massive stone mansion — popularly called Searles Castle, today home to John Dewey Academy — she relied on a blue dolomite quarry on Old Road (Quarry Street) that had already been tapped in 1881 for a carriage barn and coachman’s cottage.

A separate crew was completing a new manse for the Congregational Church, courtesy Mrs. Hopkins and using her stone. The Berkshire Courier in 1883 said: “A Big Stone: On last Friday the largest stone yet taken out of Mrs. Hopkins’ quarry, to be used in the new parsonage, was brought over, requiring four horses to draw it. It was thought best not to bring it across the rubber bridge [Cottage Street] with the horses, which were taken off on the other side of the bridge and the wagon and stone drawn over by tackles. It is now being put in shape for a capstone for a double window in the second story ….”

Privately built in 1870, the wooden Humphrey bridge — the Bridge Street bridge today — was narrow, aging and not all that strong. The town replaced it with a metal through-truss in 1884, at considerable expense ($2,200). Kellogg Terrace construction began in April 1885 and the foundation walls rose steadily. Stones got larger and larger — some weighed 8 tons or more. Either the selectmen gave a directive not to use the new town bridge, or Mrs. Hopkins knew from her contractors that she needed a separate quarry bridge of her own.

In August 1885, she purchased two parcels of land on the east bank of the river. (Dewey Academy owns the land today.) The quarry on Quarry Street is across from a wooded lane (now owned by the town and used for municipal sewer and water lines) that descends to and crosses East Street. A timber track went down the hill, joined Humphrey Street, continued south across Bridge Street and down Bentley Avenue, past the present wastewater treatment plant. It skirted Little Mountain to a river site. Abutments remain on either side of the Housatonic.

After crossing the river, the rail line curled north through the Hopkins meadow to what is now Memorial Field, where stood several finishing sheds.

This was Mrs. Hopkins’ wooden-rail railroad. Cars were moved by oat-power (horses), not steam. The route is indicated on a map of his properties by Joseph W. Curtiss commissioned by Mrs. Hopkins’ second husband, Edward F. Searles (1841-1920), in 1898. It is also shown on the 1904 Barnes & Farnum Berkshire County Atlas.

Today the track bed on the west side of the river is part of the new Riverfront Trail, an extension of just-opened Riverwalk. You can see the east abutment if you take the new accessible path south until it veers west. Step cautiously out to riverside and look southeasterly.

The raw quarry stone was worked on in sheds in a yard set up in Memorial Field. Period photographs by Albert L. Bodwell (some are reproduced in my 2017 book “East Rock Is Falling”) show a short, elevated wooden roadbed rising from the site of the finishing yard to the Kellogg Terrace foundation.

a contemporary account

This account is from the Springfield Republican for 17 May 1885, filed by teen reporter William E. Du Bois: “The laying of the great foundation-stones of Mrs. Hopkins’s grand residence will begin today. They are immense flat rocks cut from the blue-stone quarry and will make the wall at the bottom eight feet thick. The super-structure will not be so thick, of course. The wall will be from 60 to 70 feet high and the foundation-stones will hold up a weight of from 12 to 16 tons to the square foot. A track has been laid to the house from the sheds on the meadow where the stone is cut, and the great blocks of stone, some of which weigh 12 tons, are brought from the quarry to the sheds on tracks drawn by horses and from the sheds to the house on a car drawn over the railroad by a cable attached to an engine stationed at the house. About 75 men are cutting the stones at the sheds, and the work they have done shows that all the trimmings will be substantial and elegant. Norcross Bros. will have as many masons laying the stone as can conveniently work and the great structure will rise rapidly this season. It is thought the roof will be put on this fall.”

A short, stone bridge survives on this short rail line, a holdover from all the construction work. The span is close to the trailhead; you might overlook it, as wooden rails have been installed for safety. The stone on one side has fallen off.

It’s a handsome historic relic.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.