Bernard A. Drew | Our Berkshires: Your local historians are hard at work

Our Berkshires


GREAT BARRINGTON — It's creeping close to time to build a new shelf, so many parsers of Berkshires past have new books. Here are several:

Maynard Seider's "The Gritty Berkshires: A People's History From the Hoosac Tunnel to Mass MoCA" (2019) is a remarkably deep survey of labor issues at textile, woolen, paper, shoe and electronic factories in Adams, North Adams and Williamstown. Business and industry histories most often concentrate on the innovations, the construction, the marketing, the powering, the challenges of running mills. Seider reminds us whose blood and sweat made these businesses. Management wants to make its product at the lowest expense in order to compete. Investors want to make money. Labor wants to have a fair wage, a safe work environment and a comfortable way of life.

In a time when political forces are harder than ever against labor unions, Seider explains with details how things went in the past.

Regarding the electronics manufacture, this book contrasts with Frederick Dalzell's instructive "Engineering Invention: Frank J. Sprague and the U.S., Electrical Industry" (2009), which looks at a factory's rise and fall from the point of view of its innovative founder.

On another story covered by Seider, emergency room physician Paul Donovan has put together a history of North Adams Regional Hospital covering its inception (1882-1910), its dynamic years (1910-1956) and its demise (1956-2014). Donovan worked at the hospital for 14 years.

Seider's work is a much-needed refresher on labor-management disputes. It's an urban story. For rural comparison, Lorraine J. German's "Soil and Shul in the Berkshires: The Untold Story of Sandisfield`s Jewish Farm Colony" (2018) shows working for oneself is no guarantee of success. The book weaves family stories into a case history of sorts of the Baron de Hersh fund that brought so many folks to Sandisfield, Otis and environs.


Seider includes a somber honor roll of laborers who died during the construction of a certain railroading landmark in North Berkshire. Cliff Schenayder gives hours of reading on the subject in "Builders of the Hoosac Tunnel" (2015). I'm particularly intrigued by the engineering procedures used to assure the tunnel's two ends met perfectly in the middle.

For a broad industrial view, John S. Dickson's "Berkshire County's Industrial Heritage" (2017) offers succinct profiles and interesting photos.

Article Continues After These Ads

I often think our electrical inventor William Stanley gets short shrift by Nikola Tesla idolators, but Nigel Cawthorne's "Tesla Vs. Edison: The Life-Long Feud that Electrified the World" (2016) gives Stanley a deserved nod and the bibliography even cites a booklet my Our Berkshires predecessor Gerard Chapman and I wrote in 1985.

Few Berkshire resorts had the local visibility George Bisacca's Eastover did: the booming cannon fire to conclude the "1812 Overture" at Tanglewood; the huge train or showboat floats in the annual July 4 parades in Pittsfield; or the roadside opportunities to see American bison roam. My class at Crane Community School in Windsor made a memorable field trip there to see the history displays and enjoy a picnic. Steve Crowe brings it all to life in "George Bisacca: His Life, His Way" (2018).

Jeremy K. Davis slaloms the steep slopes in "Lost Ski Areas of the Berkshires" (2018), an illustrated overview of how the sport grew from the Civilian Conservation Corps' creation of downhill trails and the arrival of the first ski trains from New York in the 1930s to the gradual reduction to a handful of survivors today. I only wish he'd had room to include the ski jumps, which drew large fan audiences in their day.

Gary T. Leveille of Great Barrington has never found a historical photo he didn't like. He shares several dozen in "Southern Berkshires Through Time" (2018). He includes years-ago and modern-day photos with concise backgrounds. Sadly, some old landmarks are gone — and you'll be surprised what's there instead.

There's a new book out about a particular Stockbridge sculptor. Harold Holzer's "Monument Man: The Life and Art of Daniel Chester French" (2019). I look forward to reading it.


Speaking of sculptors, the full-size bronze of Scottish poet Robert Burns and his doggie, Luath, created by Tyringham's Henry H. Kitson, once cast its gaze on the Back Bay Fens in Boston. It was moved in 1975 to Winthrop Square for a new development. Now a newer development is in progress, so, The Boston Globe recently reported, the bard and pup are on their way back to the fens. Anyway, we need a bio of the Tyringham rival to French — rival as in French's Minute Man is in Concord, Kitson's is in Lexington.

I read Linda Pendleton's "The Executioner: Don Pendleton Creates Mack Bolan" (2019) in vain, hoping to learn why the millions-selling paperback action/adventurer writer's paperback series hero beginning with "War Against the Mob" (1969) was said to have been born and raised in Pittsfield and sometimes renewed old Pittsfield friendships. Pendleton just liked the city, apparently. The synopsis for the first book, circulated to prospective publishers, said he was from Pittsburgh.

While I'm at it, I might as well tell you about my next book, which uh-oh, ran out of space, didn't I?

Bernard A. Drew is a regular Eagle contributor.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions