Great Barrington residents uncover their history during inaugural Heritage Day


Photo Gallery | Great Barrington Heritage Day

GREAT BARRINGTON — What one time was, what exists today and what might be tomorrow were all evoked in a daylong slew of events that sent vibrations "radiating through the town" at the inaugural Heritage Day on Saturday.

Hundreds bustled through the town, drawn in by events like guided historical and ecological hikes and walks, tours of the downtown, former campgrounds and famous town sites, a farmers market, old movies on the big screen, live music and more provided entertainment and education.

"We've had some visitors come in specifically for this day and some participants whose families have been here for many generations," Mahaiwe Performing Art Center Executive Director Beryl Jolly said. "So, it was exactly the kind of shared appreciation we were hoping for."

The century-old Mahaiwe took the helm organizing the event, which pulled together organizations and individuals, including Housatonic Valley Association, Indian Line Farm, Housatonic River Walk, local historians and residents with long family histories in the town and more.

During a historical talk at the Mahaiwe, George Church told joined others to tell his family story. His grandfather helped build the Mahaiwe and his father bought a farm and organized the former Great Barrington Milk Producers Association, "stabilizing the price of milk in the Southern Berkshires."

"I was really happy for the opportunity to talk about [my family]," Church said. "I'll be 87 soon and there aren't a whole lot of chances to get into the way things used to be."

He added, "Great Barrington remains a great town, but there's nothing of the present Great Barrington that resembles what used to be. It was a sweet little town. We knew everybody I loved living there."

In the morning, roughly 35 participants jumped in for a 3.5-mile guided Housatonic River watershed walk and subsequent river paddle. Beginning near Lake Mansfield, the walk touched on the ecology of the watershed and its history.

Great Barrington's culture emerged as participants read passages of W.E.B. Du Bois while passing the infamous activist, historian and sociologist's homestead, while the history of town industry came in stories of William Stanley and his successes in bringing electricity and the modern transformer to the town in the late 1800s.

"There's all kinds of stories to be told when you look at a town through different aspects of its heritage — history, natural resources, industry, community efforts, culture," Rachel Fletcher, founder and administrator of Housatonic River Walk, said. "This truly was a heritage day."

Of the participating organizations, she added, "It was really a great mix and partnership of a lot of interesting groups who normally wouldn't get together."

Participants also could see "Snow White," "King Kong" and "Pretty Poison" on the big screen at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center during the course of the day.

Elsewhere, a downtown scavenger hunt for children, a guided walk of the downtown focusing on its trees and a second guided walk of the former Great Barrington Fairground and live music proved attractions.

Next year, Jolly wants to incorporate aspects of the history of the Mahican Indians who inhabited the town before the settlers arrived and continued to live and work there long after. More ideas are also invited, she said.

"We welcome input and suggestions for future years," Jolly said. "All of us share this commitment to preserve and celebrate the special aspects of our region. Connecting around the pride of place is an important part of living in Berkshire County."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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