Rescue of African American home in Dalton wins state honor

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DALTON — The latest winners of state preservation awards include grand public structures — the Longfellow Bridge across the Charles River, the Plymouth post office and the Senate Chamber at the Statehouse.

"And then there's our little Hoose house," said Louisa Horth, vice chair of the Dalton Historical Commission.

Fifteen years after taking steps to save the last remaining home of Dalton's early African American residents, the all-volunteer Dalton commission will be honored next month by the Massachusetts Historical Commission.

The Fitch-Hoose House is one of 11 preservation projects saluted by the state group for "significant achievement." Debra O'Malley, a spokeswoman for the state historical commission, said the winners in the rehabilitation and restoration category were selected from among 21 nominations.

The last members of the Hoose family were still living in the tiny 6 Gulf Road home on the north side of town when the state commission began honoring preservation projects 41 years ago. But the house fell into disrepair and was at risk of being condemned.

By 2010, the modest structure not much bigger than a shed had won a place on both the state and federal registers of historic places, setting it up to be a candidate for what became at least $200,000 in state backing.

It took another eight years, though, to complete a restoration project that involved an archaeological dig, study of the building's architectural history and eventually reconstruction. White says he marveled over the thrift and ingenuity that occupants used over the years to maintain the home.

"All we did was stabilize it," he said in an earlier interview. "I can't get over how square it is. It's unbelievable."

The house opened to the public last August, drawing a steady stream of visitors, Horth says, including relatives of the Hoose family from as far away as Maine and the Carolinas.

"They've been so receptive to this," she said of Hoose relatives. "Seeing their family history and enjoying the house."

Members of the Dalton Historical Commission plan to attend a June 6 awards ceremony at the Massachusetts State Archives Building in Boston.

"There are 10 of us going down," said George White, the panel's chairman, who credited Horth with shaping a successful application.

"I'm thrilled about it," Horth said of the award. She is especially pleased that preservation of the former home of African Americans was deemed to be significant, amid awards to mansions and mills and examples of grand public architecture.

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The Fitch-Hoose house was built by a cotton mill owner in 1846, according to a history submitted in support of the home's inclusion on historic registers. It was sold that year to Henry Fitch, an African American farmer in his 70s. Ownership shifted to members of the Hoose family in 1868, who owned the property until the town took ownership in 2004.

Scores of Hoose family members called it home. Records found by the local commission showed that two grandchildren of Charles A. Hoose, Charlyne and Jean, lived in the house in 1988, 120 years after the patriarch paid $150 for the property.

At that point, it was the only surviving dwelling in Dalton of the dozens of African Americans who had made the wooded Gulf area home since the late 1700s.

The community that formed lay close to a route of the Underground Railroad. The area became home to both free blacks and those who had escaped slavery, including bondage in New York state. Massachusetts was the first state to abolish slavery, in 1783.

Art exhibit

On June 8, the house will reopen for the season to visitors, with a special one-day exhibit that Saturday of art works created by three members of the Hoose family.

As many as 10 pieces will be shown in a tent on the home's lawn, starting at 1 p.m. The show will feature paintings by the late George Hoose, as well as a reproduction of work by Charles Hoose and a watercolor by Gertrude Hoose.

"He was quite an artist," White said of George Hoose, a self-taught amateur whose work at one time sold in the region and was exhibited locally.

Yet another piece to be shown, a pencil drawing, is unsigned. It was removed from a wall inside the house and framed. It depicts a view of the street outside, as seen through a nearby window.

Horth said the state award celebrates local dedication to keeping an important story alive in Dalton.

"I think the Hoose house sells itself, basically because it's such a part of our history. Luckily, we were able to save this one," she said.

This spring, the Dalton Select Board approved a request to erect a new sign for the property at the corner of Main Street and Park Avenue.

"We need to be able to show people where this place is," Horth said. "I think the town really enjoys the history of it."

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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