Long-time residents rarely leave this town


Tuesday, March 20
For some, Hinsdale is an unspoiled, rural bedroom community — nearly all the town's working residents commute to Pittsfield or other destinations.

For others, it has been home to generation after generation — long-time residents seldom leave, despite the relative isolation and harsh winter climate imposed by the high elevation.

Townspeople are especially infused with community spirit, as reflected by the colorful Hinsdale bicentennial extravaganza two years ago. Youngsters benefit from an extensive recreational calendar, and senior citizens enjoy a wide range of activities at the community center.

Summer residents, who gravitate toward homes on Lake Ashmere and Plunkett Lake, help triple the town's population. Camp Emerson, Romaca and Taconic also stimulate the seasonal economy.

The town was not incorporated until 1804 — one of the last Berkshire County communities to gain that status.

It had been settled in 1763, and for four decades formed the Western Parish of Partridgefield; the Eastern Parish included the settlement that became the town of Peru.

Ties to Paul Revere

Earliest settlers — the Millers, Watsons, Torreys and Starrs — farmed the plains area east of the town's current business center along Route 143. During the 19th century, there was a westward shift to the banks of the Housatonic in order to harness water power. Sawmills were followed by thriving textile mills, notably the Hinsdale Brothers Woolen Mill, which opened in 1836 and was the town's leading industry and source of employment for a century. After the mill failed during the Great Depression, no other major source of local employment surfaced.

Local farmer Israel Bissell had played a key role in the first days of the American Revolution. According to authenticated records, he was one of the three post riders, led by Paul Revere and accompanied by William Dawes, who warned eastern Massachusetts citizens of the British march on Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775.

Although Revere was captured briefly by the British, Bissell made his way from Watertown, near Boston, to Waterbury, Conn., and then Philadelphia, where he reached the Continental Congress after a marathon five-day ride.

He spent the rest of his life in Hinsdale and was buried at the town cemetery on Maple Street. His exploits were chronicled in magazines, newspaper accounts (including narratives by Eagle columnists Gerard Chapman and Clay Perry), and in an anthology of Revolutionary era documents published during the U.S. Bicentennial celebration in 1976.

Bissell was first honored in the Berkshires by Hinsdale historian Marion Ransford, who died in 1990 at the age of 96; she drew upon historic documents in the archives of Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland. At the behest of Mrs. Ransford, the Daughters of the American Revolution installed a special marker at Bissell's grave. Realtor Isadore Goodman donated the Bissell homestead site on Plunkett Lake Road to the town in 1972.

'Feeling a bit squeezed'

Select Board Chairman Bruce Marshall's family has been in Hinsdale for three generations; his grandfather and father both served as selectmen and chief of police. Marshall has been a selectman for 30 years, serving as chairman on and off for 22 years; he has also been a deputy police chief.

School budgets and declining state aid are his principal concerns these days, though he expressed a pragmatic, upbeat outlook during a recent interview.

Marshall acknowledged that the town is "feeling a bit squeezed" by assessments from the Central Berkshire Regional School District.

"But they're trying to do the best they can," he maintained, adding that communication from the school board to the town has improved.

"We're pro-education," he declared, "but it's costing us a lot of money, which is OK as long as I know where the money is going."

School spending accounts for the major part of the town's budget, according to Marshall. But, in his opinion, the school district's upcoming budget, with its increase of just more than 6 percent, "will fly" in Hinsdale.

Marshall complained, in his good-natured fashion, that the level of state aid is "way off."

"They probably spend it all at the other end of the state, on the Big Dig," he noted wryly.

But so far, the town is keeping its finances in order by dipping into free cash and stabilization funds.

"The town is pretty solid, we don't waste money, but one of these years it's going to be gone," he predicted. "Town employees get only 3 percent raises, the whole town is way underpaid."

Somewhat fewer road improvement projects are being funded under the circumstances, he said.

As for the property tax burden, well below the state and county averages, Marshall says he and the people he knows have "no problem," but he does hear complaints from newcomers, especially those owning lakefront property.

A changing community

The town's police department was tarnished following the indictment of five police officers involved in a scandal instigated by former Chief Mark Green. The officers were accused of defrauding the town by submitting false pay slips at Green's instigation. The case was closed in Berkshire Superior Court last October following a 30-month investigation by state police detectives assigned to the Berkshire County District Attorney's office. Green was sentenced to three months in jail and three years' probation following his guilty plea; he agreed to pay the town $12,000 in restitution.

The five officers also agreed to pay restitution; three pleaded guilty and were sentenced to probation while the other two had their cases continued without a finding because of their "minimal involvement."

Marshall says the police department is now in good hands under Chief Christopher Powell, and full-time daytime officer Kenneth Kirchener. There are also six part-time officers.

The town's volunteer firefighters are active in community events, including the annual muster. EMTs are harder to find, Marshall says, but he's hoping the town can afford to hire a full-time jack-of-all-trades with EMT qualifications and firefighting skills who's also willing to fill whatever other functions are needed by the town, "including lawn-mowing."

Marshall, who retired from GE in 1998 and works part-time in the post office, acknowledges some changes he's seen in the tight-knit community over the past 40 years.

"There was a day when I knew everybody in this town and what kind of car they drove; now, there are so many new people here, with more new homes and apartment houses. At the post office, I see a lot of faces I don't recognize," he said.

But, typifying the upbeat spirit commonly encountered among Hinsdalians, Marshall finds that "everything's happening for the best here. All my life, I've loved this little town and wanted to be a part of it."


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