Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: Electricity flowed in their veins

Our Berkshires

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GREAT BARRINGTON — When Central Berkshire County was building its network of electric poles and wires, the Pittsfield firm of Beardsley & Martin nabbed some choice commissions. In 1926, the firm bragged of having completed work for Bay State and Old Berkshire mills and the Community House in Dalton, Pontoosuc School in Pittsfield and the residences of Mrs. Merle D. Graves and Allen H. Bagg in Pittsfield, Helen G. Budd in Windsor and Cortlandt Field Bishop in Lenox.

The Graves estate, Gravesleigh, was on Holmes Road near Canoe Meadows. The Bagg home was on Wendell Avenue. The Budd property was called Helenscourt. Bishop's home (of several) was Winter Palace.

The company also wired The Berkshire Eagle's new building on Eagle Street, installing 14 motors in the press room (including the Sextuple and Hoe presses and a freight elevator); 10 in the stereotype room (including the rolling-in table and plate finisher) and 17 in the composing room (eight Linotype and two Intertype machines). It wired lighting in the reporters' room and business and advertising offices.

"Choose the best, we'll do the rest — electrically," was the B&M motto.

Pittsfield, Great Barrington and Lee were early to have electricity, thanks to innovators William A. Whittlesey, William Stanley and George Westinghouse, respectively. Pittsfield Electric Light Co. incorporated in 1883. Pittsfield Illuminating formed in 1887. They merged in 1890 as Pittsfield Electric, Whittlesey treasurer and general manager. Stanley, who demonstrated the viability of an alternating current transformer in Great Barrington in 1886, was for a time president of Pittsfield Illuminating. Westinghouse, who vacationed at Erskine Park near Laurel Lake, built a power plant to light his mansion and grounds and, by underground conduit, sent power to Lenox village in the late 1890s.

Frank Hinckley Beardsley (1872-1945), senior member of the B&M, was born in Clintonvile, N.Y., but settled in Pittsfield in 1902. His first work in Pittsfield was as general superintendent of Berkshire Electric. He partnered with Albert S. Martin in 1910 and they opened an office in the Miller Building at 34 Eagle Street.

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A Republican, Beardsley served on the Common Council in 1916 and 1917 and on the Board of Aldermen in 1918. He was a director of the Berkshire Hills Country Club and was a member of the Lafayette Lodge of Masons and Oneco Lodge of Odd Fellow, both in North Adams. He and his wife, Laura Grinelle, and two children. He belonged to St. Stephen's Church.

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Junior partner Martin (1873-1957) was another New Yorker, born in Plattsburgh. He relocated to Pittsfield in about 1907 and worked for Berkshire Electric until going into business with Beardsley. He and his wife, Myrtle M. Hanor, had three sons. He belonged to First Methodist Church.

Among B&M staff electricians was Wallace J. O'Melia (1899-1957), who worked for the firm until moving with his wife, Florence Lavigne, to Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1944. B&M had a retail store in conjunction with the contracting office. The store in 1937 when the business moved to the Pritchard Building at 63 Eagle Street.

Following Beardsley's death in 1945, Martin sold the firm and hired on to rewire the House of Mercy. He remained with Pittsfield General Hospital as maintenance electrician, retiring in 1953.

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Martin sold the business to Louis Lacatell (1896-1952), who at the time ran a contracting business from his home at 312 First Street. Lacatell had learned his watts and volts while working for Pittsfield Electric. Lacatell was born in Chester and grew up in Pittsfield. He was married to Louis I. Sweener and they had two children.

Lacatell from 1916 to 1932 had been an assistant to Grenville E. Whittlesey in charge of plant and lines of Pittsfield Electric, later a division of Western Massachusetts Electric.

While Lacatell might seem a footnote to the story, he actually received a national honor in 1946: a certificate of appreciation from the United States War Department's Corps of Engineers "for work essential to the production of the atomic bomb ," The Berkshire Eagle reported 25 January 1946. He "received the award for work at the DuPont de Nemours & Company's Deepwater, N.J., plant during his nine-months' employment there in 1943 and 1944."     

The reference is to the Manhattan Project, which DuPont and other corporations participated in. The firm's Organic Chemicals Department and Chambers Works were in Deepwater factory under contract to the U.S. government produce fluoride and uranium products. The place is a hazardous waste cleanup site today.

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


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