Bidwell House Museum opens for 25th season

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MONTEREY >> The Bidwell House Museum epitomizes local preservation of Colonial America in Berkshire County

The home of the Rev. Adonijah Bidwell — built in 1750 on a 6-foot-high stone wall foundation — is nestled on a hillside of a 192-acre site along Art School Road.

Bidwell, one of Monterey's first settlers, and his heirs farmed the land for 103 years.

Since the museum's board of trustees assumed control of the Bidwell estate in 1990, the nonprofit volunteer organization has worked to maintain the 18th century house.

Structurally, it hasn't changed and recently historic preservation consultants discovered more original aspects of the 265-year-old homestead.

"They have literarily been crawling around, looking at boards," said board president Robert Hoogs. "They found some original paint and some original shingles."

Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the Bidwell House as a museum, open to the public from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. The celebratory reception featured a whimsical concert by Diane Taraz. The Pittsfield native regaled the intimate gathering with folk songs that made people laugh more than two centuries ago.

Museum officials also feted those who founded the tourist attraction and helped it grow over the years.

Founding member, retired Stockbridge Police Chief Richard Wilcox, is a seventh-generation Bidwell on his father's side who began to appreciate is heritage during his teenage years.

"I remember growing up in Stockbridge I heard a lot of Bidwell stories," Wilcox said. "I felt very rooted to have a family that goes back seven generations just a few miles away [in Monterey.]"

Wilcox is one of 10,000 descendants of John Bidwell, a founder of Hartford, Conn., and grandfather of Adonijah Bidwell.

The Monterey Bidwells farmed their land for 103 years before the property was sold out of the family in 1853.

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The house and 192 acres changed hands numerous times, last owned as a residence by Jack Hargis and David Brush. From 1960 to 1986, the two men carefully refurbished with 18th century and early 19th century items, based on Reverend Bidwell's 1784 estate inventory.

At the request of Hargis and Brush, the house became a museum in 1990 run mostly by volunteers and several executive directors, the position Barbara Palmer has currently held for nearly six years. The museum has 30 core volunteers with another 30 available for staffing special events, such as the 25th anniversary party scheduled for Aug. 15 at a private residence.

During Palmer's reign, The Bidwell House Museum has expanded beyond its seasonal tours to offer a lecture series held on the museum grounds, Tyringham Union Church or Monterey Town Hall.

One of the Berkshire's smallest tourist attractions, Palmer credits word of mouth and the museum's website with boosting attendance in recent years to an annual average of 2,000 visitors.

"People are blown away when they come here — it's a transformative experience," she said.

Walking into the Bidwell House, one is immediately transported back to how rural American's lived more than 200 years ago. The dining room table set for a typical Bidwell family meal, the bedrooms with Colonial American-style furnishings and the four miles of free-standing stone walls that parcelled out the land for farming.

"The house is important, but the land tells the stories," Hoogs noted.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233

What: The Bidwell House Museum

Where: 100 Art School Road, Monterey

When; Seasonal tours Memorial Day to Columbus Day every Thursday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Contact: For more information, including ticket prices and directions, go online at www.bidwellhousemuseum.org


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