The term “glamping” had not been thought of when South Berkshire farmer Rufus C. Fargo opened his property in Monterey to campers and day visitors in the late 1850s.
Fargo anticipated Gibson’s Grove and Turner’s Landing on Lake Buel by 18 years. The Industrial Revolution had engendered a rising middle class and the concept of leisure time. The railroad arrived in South Berkshire county in 1843, and the decades following the Civil War saw great public interest in the outdoors. Inhabitants and out-of-town visitors were drawn to natural attractions. They hiked, fished, picnicked and played sports. Village and farm boarding houses emerged, as did camping destinations.
Fargo (1808-1886) farmed acreage off the Monterey-Otis road (Route 23) on the shore of Brewer Pond, which was renamed Lake Garfield in 1881 after President James A. Garfield (he had family in Monterey) was assassinated. Fargo started slowly, entertained fishing parties, opening a small lunch room, building a small hall in 1872, and enlarging it with a dance floor and second-floor bunk rooms in 1878.
The land backed up to the southeast shore of the pond, which was smaller in those days before Housatonic Water Co. dammed it in 1870 to increase a water supply for industrial use far downstream in Derby, Conn. Outflow from the lake went into Konkapot Brook, which powered a few mills in Monterey village before joining the Housatonic River in Ashley Falls.
Visitors came initially from nearby Egremont, New Marlborough, Great Barrington, Mill River, Housatonic and Lee. But as word spread, parties arrived from the Catskills, New York City, Brooklyn, San Francisco and Paris — as documented in a guest book Rufus kept from 1872 until his death. By then, Fargo’s son Henry P. (1848-1908) had assumed much of the operation.
A writer in The Connecticut Western News noted Aug. 10, 1881: “Mr. R.C. Fargo, the proprietor of the grove and ‘Pine Grove Hall,’ leaves the management of the place to Henry, his son, and what Hen don’t know about fishing and rowing — well, somebody else does. Get him to pilot you down to the lake and first show you about the grove and hall, where there is ample room and all the accommodations for house keeping. There is a place to sleep, eat, cook dance, swing, play croquet and even get lost away off in the woods if you choose, but don’t you do it, because Otis is close by, and the ‘Otis cannibal’ has been sharpening his teeth with a whet stone ever since he saw that party of newspaper reporters over a year ago. ...
“After you have been rowed around the lake, which is one and a half mile long by one mile wide, go ashore, which is about the only place you can go, unless you tip over. Take a view of the lake from several points on the shore, and see if it doesn’t compare favorably with your heretofore favorite resort. An island containing about half an acre, situated at the lower end, was only a short time ago in the upper end of the lake a mile from its present location, but became loosed from its mooring about four years ago and floated down to its present resting place in a single night. It is now supposed to be securely anchored on stumps and bogs in the bottom and will probably stay where it is until called for. After you have been here long enough — be it a day or a week — go back to the house, look at Hen’s maple molasses, and go home the same way you came, and if you don’t feel that Lake Garfield is a good place to visit, just look about for a better one, and when you find it let us know by return mail.”
The town celebrated Memorial Day and July 4th at the grove. Fishing and hiking parties were treated to special meals on occasion, such as an 1877 menu: “Soup/roasts/coon/vegetables/baked sweet potatoes/boiled fish/steamed tomatoes/steamed onions/raw onions/baked sweet corn/apple fritters/peach shortcake/coffee/pony brandy.”
The Grove was split up by heirs after Henry’s death. The camp closed after 50 years. Happy 175th birthday, Monterey!