Rick Wilcox: Red Lion intersection's long history

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STOCKBRIDGE — The 14th century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham authored the principle now called Occam's Razor: "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate." Latin for "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily," or in today's vernacular, sometimes the simpler solution is the best one. Can it be applied to Stockbridge to provide for more safety at the Red Lion Inn intersection? Certainly a question for those with a more analytic mind than mine and leaving me, then, to share some Main Street history to honor people who are no longer with us. By giving voice to the value of their labors and gifts, which has, over time, become part of that fabric of Stockbridge, making their efforts worthy of inclusion in the on-going debate.

"June 1, 1745 at a Special Town Meeting: Layout of the highways in Stockbridge by Josiah Jones and David Naunauneekaunuck, Surveyors for Highways, to be confirmed and established as follows: ` . And a road laid out from said Square to the grist mill begins and continues to be eight rods wide (132 feet) a few rods east of John Konkapot's barn (North side of Main Street across from Elm Street) then narrowing gradually to the next stakes and there to be six rods wide (99 feet) and continuing to narrow till it comes against the house of Joseph Woodbridge (tennis courts) .'"

While on Main Street with Bonney Hartley, the historic preservation officer for the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, working on a section of the Housatonic Heritage Native American Trail, I had recalled that she is a lineal descendant of Mohican sachem David Naunauneekaunuck. It was a reminder of the hidden history of Main Street, where home lots have not much changed since the mid-1700s. All the house and business lots between the Old Town Hall and the new town offices can be traced back to Stockbridge Mohican owners and the dimensions of a fair number of the lots are the same as when they were first surveyed in June of 1750 and subsequently laid out to members of the Stockbridge Mohican community.

The Red Lion intersection was created in 1745, and by 1870 was referred to in the Laurel Hill Association minutes as "Monument Square." Over the years, South Street was widened to accommodate "Fountain Park," which had acquired the Cat & Dog Fountain during the Civil War, a gift from Mr. Gourley, whose house hugged the corner of South and Main Street. In 1990, CATS magazine writer Phil Maggitti penned a tongue-in-cheek article about Stockbridge's Cat & Dog Fountain, quoting from a 1980 Springfield Republican newspaper article which read, "A 128-year-old landmark stone statute of a cat hissing at a dog, meant to symbolize `progress versus preservation,' was taken out of storage and set back on the corner of Main Street and Route 7 last week."

SOME HISSING AND BARKING

When asked which animal represented progress and which animal represented preservation, well known cat lover Mary V. Flynn replied, "Why isn't preservation progress?"

My grandmother, Grace Bidwell Wilcox, curator of the Stockbridge Library Historical Room from 1938 to 1968, had shared with me that the oral history regarding the fountain suggested it was more about the democratic process in Stockbridge, some hissing and barking, but healthy debate with the best interests of the town at heart. The island, now the "John & Jane Fitzpatrick Park," has shrunk by about half of its original size to accommodate more recent traffic needs.

For 153 years, a cannon has been a silent sentinel guarding the Civil War Monument, even though over time having lost its wheels; it still faithfully continues to watch over the intersection. The island's ornate iron fence was taken down at the suggestion of the Laurel Hill Association many years ago. Even anti-curb Selectman Mary Flynn agreed to have curb installed around the island after repeated assaults by automobiles further eroded its grassy edges.

From a deed of land gifted to the town, "In 1799 Josiah Dwight of Stockbridge in the County of Berkshire Merchant, Sarah Gray of the same Stockbridge Widow, & Barnabas Bidwell Attorney at Law for & in consideration of two dollars paid by Jonathan Patten, Henry Brown & Jahleel Woodbridge each of the same Town Selectmen forever quitclaimed for the purpose of a public common or square never to be built upon or occupied in any other way than as an open common." Bidwell lived in The Elms at the corner of Pine Street and Dwight owned a store on land now part of the front lawn of St Paul's Church, each man shaving off a small piece of their land to form a public common. Sarah Gray who was Bidwell's mother-in-law, didn't own land on either side, but possibly Bidwell wanted to be on her good side.

Ironically, 67 years later, Bidwell's great nephew Lt. Marshall Brewer, age 22, dying at the close of the Civil War, had his name carved on the town's Civil War Monument. Approximately half of the Civil War Island would be lost to the proposed traffic circle. (In the interest of full disclosure I am a sixth generation descendant of Barnabas Bidwell.)

T          he residents of Stockbridge will no doubt reach a consensus, a definition of which was best penned by Abba Eban: "A consensus means that everybody agrees to say collectively what no one believes individually." As the discussion continues, the citizens of Stockbridge, in the spirit of the Cat & Dog Fountain, will likely continue in their healthy debate, hopefully trying to preserve some town history, while balancing that with the need to provide for the safety of drivers and pedestrians in the Red Lion Inn intersection.

An occasional Eagle contributor, Rick Wilcox is the former chief of police in Stockbridge.


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