Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Pageant of the Cascade

While looking through old newspapers collected and saved by my Grand Aunt and Uncle Crosier, I came across this section from The North Adams Transcript, from June 23, 1938.

It begins, "The Pageant of the Cascade, is a brilliant and colorful spectacle with gorgeous costumes, settings, and lighting effects, given three evening presentations, on June 29, June 30, and July1, at Noel Recreation Field, North Adams, with an estimated cast of 750 people, including over 200 in the band and chorus, under the professional direction of one of the country's leading organizations for the production of large-scale dramatic events. All of the proceeds above the actual cost of production will go toward a public fund for the permanent preservation of the Cascade, one of the beauty spots of the Berkshires." [1]

The Cascade is a breathtaking waterfall found tucked away in a deep gorge in North Adams, Massachusetts, on the north shoulder of Mount Greylock. The falls have also been known as Notch Brook Cascade and The Notch Cascade, though both names date well into the past and are seldom used in the present day. [2]

In 1938, the Cascades were threatened by deforestation because one of the owners of the land surrounding the Cascades wanted to cut down trees to sell for lumber. In response, a group known as the Cascade Group was formed to organize citizens to sign a petition to stop the owner from cutting down trees to sell. These efforts resulted in 1,200 people signing the petition. [3]

The company that organized the event was the John B. Rogers Company, started in 1903 by Mr. John Rogers, an attorney from Fostoria, Ohio, who used the various talents of local actors and musicians to stage his own local dramas and musicals. 

The article continued, " Rich in history and legend, this particular corner of Massachusetts provides an ideal framework on which to construct such a spectacle as that projected in the "Pageant of the Cascade." Combining the beautiful imagery inspired by the region itself with the thrilling and picturesque events that have transpired here down through the decades from the earliest colonial times, the brilliant staging of the panorama that will be unrolled on Noel field in episode after episode, with its special setting and lighting effects, the colorful variety of its gorgeous costuming, its mounted couriers, plodding oxen, rumbling vehicles of olden times, its stirring defense of the old Bay Colony's westernmost outpost, its stealthy Indians and sturdy patriots of the Revolution, its epic part in the construction of one of the world's greatest engineering feats of the period, all presented to the accompaniment of a special musical score rendered by more than 200 vocalists and bandsmen, promises to be a notable event of the 1938 Berkshire season in its own right and on its own merits.

“With the city's civic and social interests widely represented in the hundreds of parts called for by the cast, with the highlights of historic happenings to be portrayed based upon authentic happenings, with costumes from the large wardrobes of the John B. Rogers Producing company said to be faithful to the various periods depicted, and with actual relics of earlier days loaned by local families to be used in the staging of the production, an entire generation that has grown up since the only other undertaking of this nature in the city's history was presented 24 years ago will have a new experience in watching unroll before their eyes a “living movie” of events, personages and scenes that will give them a new conception of the real romance and drama interwoven with their own, everyday surroundings.”  [1]

Alongside these efforts, the Cascade Group planned a three-day “Pageant of the Cascade” from June 29 to July 1, 1938, at Noel Field to raise funds to preserve the area. The pageant included a cast of over 750 costumed performers, including over 200 members of the band and chorus. Scenes included in the performance were reenactments of the Battle of Fort Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1833 visit to North Adams, and Susan B. Anthony’s early days in Adams, Massachusetts. [3]

However, the event ran into some weather-related issues, as mentioned in the July 2nd issue of The North Adams Transcript. But it did not dampen the casts' spirit.


Old North Adams Spirit Flames As Sunday Pageant Goes On

Holiday Plans and Week-End Trips go by the Board as Hundreds in Cast Say “We'll Stick!” in Determination to Uphold City's Traditional Reputation––A Remarkable Demonstration––If Fellow Citizens Respond, Stands Will be Filled for Gala Finale of Largest and Most Beautiful Spectacle in Many Years––Biggest and Only Unanticipated Item of Local Expense is in Souvenir Programs, Which All Are Urged to Buy at Nominal Sum.

Canceling week-end trips, giving up their own holiday plans, even deferring vacation departures, the hundreds of people taking part in the “Pageant of the Cascade” last night demonstrated a spirit which, regardless of the pageant itself, regardless of the purpose for which it was undertaken, is as notable a manifestation of the outstanding characteristic which North Adams, as a community, has exemplified as far back as anybody can remember, as any that have preceded it. 

That characteristic which invariably comes to the fore whenever an emergency makes it necessary, is the determination not to permit any public undertaking, once started, to fail.

And if the fellow citizens of those who are making, in many cases, a genuine sacrifice to uphold the city s traditional record in all such emergencies reflect the same cooperative spirit, tomorrow evening will see every seat on Noel field filled for the special presentation of the Pageant spectacle that, in the face of a 50% loss of anticipated revenue due to circumstances beyond anybody's control, was decided upon when a steady downpour of rain for the second time forced the sounding of the no school signal at 7 o'clock last night, calling off what was to have been the final, and by all precedent the most largely attended of the four Pageant presentations, of which it has been possible to give only two.

No consideration was even given to the Saturday night performance. At the very outset of the plans made for the pageant presentation, the dates of the projected performances were purposely advanced one day so as not to conflict with the annual Briggsville celebration which this year had been set for today and greatly elaborated for the purpose of raising funds for the newly organized fire company. Consequently, when threatening weather again brought the general committee face to face with the question of another postponement, it was a matter of Sunday night or never. 

The possibility––indeed, probability––of the need for this performance, was foreseen yesterday, and numerous members of the cast throughout the afternoon would be willing to go on with it. Practically everybody who was contacted said that if it became necessary, they could be relied upon. And last night, through a systematic telephone canvass, the response was found to be very nearly unanimous.

Many told of the plans that had been formulated with family and friends, but almost invariably wound up with the observation, “Oh, well, it doesn't matter. We can go Monday. All right, count on me.”

The members of the Sons of Italy band said to a man, “Sunday night? Sure! And Monday and Tuesday too, if you want us.”  

And the teamsters and horse handlers so essential to the production did not hesitate at all. “We'll be there” was the answer.

So far, the only comment heard from the hundreds who have taken advantage of the two opportunities to see the production, has been an expression of unqualified praise, and in many cases, of genuine surprise at the magnitude and beauty of some of the scenes.

And the article continued, “One of the heaviest items of loss that will have to be borne locally, aside from that which will be absorbed by the John B. Rogers Producing Company should a loss prove inevitable. Is the cost of printing the souvenir program. The cost was not figured in the incidental expense budget assumed by the local committee, because it was expected to more than liquidate itself through the sale, at a nominal sum, of the programs themselves.” 


Despite a widely praised and well-attended first day, the remaining two days were plagued by torrential downpours and the pageant finished $300 dollars in the red––as The North Adams Transcript reported in their July 5th edition.  [3] [4] [5]

Final Effort Fails To Clear Pageant In Clear

Preliminary Check-up Indicates Books Will Close Still Needing Something Over $300, Despite Fine Demonstration of Community Spirit in Face of Lowering Clouds and Chill Wind Sunday Night––Appearance of Audience Proves Deceptive––Great Majority of Cast Make Cheerful Sacrifice to Retrieve Two Forced Cancellations––No Episode Omitted in Final Performance, Despite Some Unavoidable Thinning of the Ranks.

Despite the lowering clouds and chill wind that closed in on the city Sunday following Saturday's brief and beautiful break in the weather, hundreds of local people in the cast of the Pageant of the Cascade” and other hundreds who exemplified the traditional spirit of the community, made their way to Noel Field on Sunday evening in a final effort to make up for the loss of two performances––the “home folks preview” and the concluding performance that had been scheduled for Friday night––which were rained out.

What a time that must have been. Not only the production but the spirit that was once prevalent in this once great city. That spirit, once so vital to a thriving community, has withered away over the decades. We have lost our sense of community. This is evident not only in our own neighborhoods––where we don't even know or speak to our own neighbors, and have streets and people's yards littered with trash and unused items and appliances––but in the general state of condition of the historic site of Fort Massachusetts: underutilized, overgrown by trees and brush, trashed, and hidden away behind mobile storage units. Certainly, there must still be some breath in that spirit left for us today? 

Below are some photos that were printed in The North Adams Transcript Pageant Section of the newspaper of some of the cast members who performed the Fort Massachusetts reenactment. 

As for the fate of the Cascade, as Melissa Gay summed up in her article, "The Cascades", "Efforts to create a park at the Cascades would remain unfulfilled until the 1970s. In 1974, the city, working with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, received federal funds for 75% of the purchase price and closing costs for the property. The city acquired the rest of the surrounding land by the Cascades through eminent domain and added the property to the city’s yearly budget to maintain the upkeep of the land and to preserve it as a wilderness-only area." [3] 

Researched, compiled, and edited by C.A. Chicoine

Pageant Section from The North Adams Transcript courtesy of the Howard E. Crosier Archives. 


  1. The North Adams Transcript - June 23, 1938, Pageant Section
  2. The Cascade -- World Waterfall Database
  3. The Cascades, by Melissa Gay
  4. The North Adams Transcript - July 2, 1938, p. 11
  5. The North Adams Transcript, July 5, 1938, p. 3  

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Benjamin Simonds: A Colonial Pioneer

Portrait of Col. Benjamin Simonds, by William Jennys in 1796.


Benjamin Simonds (sometimes written Simons, Symons, and Symonds) was among the thirty captives from the siege of Fort Massachusetts in 1746. He was left ill in a hospital in Quebec at the time the surviving captives returned to Boston. He returned later in October of 1747 and was the only former captive to settle in West Hoosac (now Williamstown, MA).

He served in King George's War, the French and Indian War, and the American Revolutionary War. And he was an important figure in the original settlement and early history of Williamstown, Massachusetts.


Benjamin Simonds' great-grandfather, William Simonds, migrated from England to New England during the Puritan Great Migration (1620-1640), around 1639, where he first settled at Charlestown, Massachusetts, then at Woburn, Massachusetts, (when it separated from Charlestown in 1642) around 1643. In 1666, he was chosen an officer "For Swine and Fences". In 1668 he was chosen a surveyor. William Simonds also owned property in Cambridge Farms which he and Michael Bacon purchased in 1648 from Roger Shaw. A part of that land eventually became the property of his son Joseph Simonds.

Benjamin Simonds' grandfather, Joseph Simonds, and his grand-uncle, James Simonds, both fought in King Philip's War, in 1676. Joseph Simonds became one of the most well to do residents in the part of Cambridge, Massachusetts called Cambridge Farms that would later become the town of Lexington. He was chosen a "survayor for ye high ways" and for "ye farmes." And later, he held other elected positions––"Constable for ye farmes", tithingman, and selectman. After Lexington was incorporated as a town on 20 March 1712/13, he was one of the first five people to be elected a selectman for the new town.

Benjamin Simonds' father, Joseph Simonds Jr., was born in Cambridge Farms. By around 1719, he moved and would become one of the first settlers of the town of Londonderry, New Hampshire––originally settled by Scotch-Irish settlers in a place near Haverhill called Nutfield (because of the many chestnut, butternut, and walnut trees), that would later be renamed Londonderry. He played an active part in the affairs of the new town, having been one of the four men who built the town's first saw-mill. Although Joseph Simonds Jr. apparently had no Scotch-Irish blood, he was assigned the No. 1 lot in the so-called English Range. Shortly after this, about 1723, he moved to the northern part of the town of Killingly, Connecticut, where he settled in an area called Putnam Heights, that would later become the town of Putnam.

Benjamin Simonds was born and baptized in Killingly, Connecticut, on February 23, 1726. His mother, Rachel, died when he was three years old. Around 1740, he and his family––father, brother, and stepmother––relocated to Ware River (now Ware) in Massachusetts. 

Benjamin Simonds appeared to have shared some of the same characteristics as his father, his father before him, and his father's father before him, as you will further read. 

~King George's War~

Benjamin Simonds was in the military from his teens until his later years. He first enlisted as a “centinel” from "Ware River" for service in the northern line of colonial forts (Fort Shirley, Fort Pelham, and Fort Massachusetts), built under Governor William Shirley's direction to guard against the French and their Indian allies, during King George's War. The forts extended from the Connecticut River, over the Hoosac Mountain, to the western frontier of the townships of East and West Hoosac (now North Adams/Adams, and Williamstown, respectively). The forts were under the command of Captain Ephraim Williams, Jr. It seems likely that Benjamin Simonds had been transferred from Fort Shirley to Fort Massachusetts in June 1746.

During his time at Fort Massachusetts, he was among the thirty captives from the Siege of 1746. They were captured there on August 20, 1746, and carried off to Canada by the French and their Indian allies. The events of the siege and capture––and of the captivity that followed––were recorded by the Reverend John Norton, himself among them, in his book, "The Redeemed Captive: Being a Narrative of the Taking and Carrying Into Captivity."

Following up to the siege, Reverend Norton commented on the condition of the soldiers and the fort. He wrote:
The doctor [Captain Ephraim Williams, Jr.'s brother, Dr. Thomas Williams] with fourteen men went off for Deerfield [Massachusetts], and left in the fort Sergeant John Hawks with twenty soldiers [And eight women and children––families of some of the soldiers––were there as well.], about half of them sick with bloody flux. Mr. Hawks sent a letter by the doctor to the captain, supposing that he was then at Deerfield, desiring that he would speedily send up some stores to the fort, being very short on it for ammunition, and having discovered some signs of the enemy; but the letter did not get to the captain seasonably. This day also, two of our men being out a few miles distant from the fort discovered the tracks of some of the enemy.
Three days later, the French and their Indian allies had launched their attack. Yet, despite the state of the fort and its inhabitants, the soldiers put up a stubborn fight for thirty hours. The French commander, Monsieur Rigaud de Vaudreuil, asked for a parley. The fort had only three or four pounds of powder left, and “prayers to God for wisdom and direction, we considered our case.”

Again, in Norton's words, their case was this:
Had we all been in health, or had there been only those eight of us that were in health, I believe every man would willingly have stood it out to the last. For my part I should; but we heard that if we were taken by violence, the sick, the wounded, and the women would most, if not all of them, die by the hands of the savages; therefore our officer concluded to surrender on the best terms he could get …
Those terms were as follows:
I. That we should be all prisoners to the French; the General promising
that the savages should have nothing to do with any of us.
II. That the children should all live with their parents during the time of
their captivity.
III. That we should all have the privileges of being exchanged the first
opportunity that presented.
Vaudreuil also promised, “that those who were weak and unable to travel should be carried in their journey.” This was a bit of good luck for Benjamin Simonds because he was incapacitated with dysentery.

The weary journey of the captives had begun mainly under the charge of the Indians, for Vaudreuil could not or did not strictly enforce the first article of his promises. Yet, both the French and the Indians proved to be unexpectedly considerate. Benjamin Simonds, John Aldrich (who was shot through the foot during the fighting), and John Perry's wife (who was in her last month of pregnancy), not having the ability to effectively walk, were transported down the Hoosac River in a canoe at what is now the "River Bend Farm'' in Williamstown, the point farthest up the Hoosac to which any boats were brought in this expedition. It was at this point that the band of captives rested for a while about noon of the first day's march to Canada. "We went about four miles to the place where the army encamped the night before they came upon us," Norton wrote in his book. "Next to Josiah Read, who died a few miles down the river a few hours later, the sickest of the captives was a lad named Benjamin Simonds, then twenty years old, who lived to own the broad meadow, and to build upon it the stately house still standing." [More on that later.]

Norton continues:
Here we sat down for a considerable time. My heart was filled with sorrow, expecting that many of our weak and feeble people would fall by the merciless hands of the enemy. And as I frequently heard the savages shouting and yelling, trembled, concluding that they then murdered some of our people. And this was my only comfort, that they could do nothing against us, but what God in his holy Providence permitted them; but was filled with admiration when I saw all the prisoners come up with us, and John Aldrich carried upon the back of his Indian master.
By their third day's march, the Indians found horses for Benjamin Simonds and John Aldrich.

Finally arriving in Quebec on September 15th, the captives were transferred to a guard-house in the lower town where there were already about seventy-five other prisoners of war. But in November “a very mortal epidemical fever”, that originated on-board a French man-of-war, reached the guard-house. More than half of the Massachusetts party died. At the end of July, the survivors sailed for Boston under a flag of truce on the ship Vierge-de-Grace, and arriving on August 16, 1747, exactly thirty years before the Battle of Bennington. [More on that later, also.]

Benjamin Simonds and John Aldrich*, however, too sick to be moved, were left behind in the hospital at Quebec. Mr. Simonds returned later in October of 1747.

"John [Aldrich] was taken by Indians to Canada from the Fort at Hoosac which after a battle of 25 hours with 800 French and Indians surrendered on capitulation prisoners of war in the summer or fall of 1746. He was brought in the 5th of Oct., near Quebec, taken from Nehemiah Howes captivity. How long he remained a prisoner with the Indians cannot be ascertained. Later he was befriended by an old Indian and returned home to Northbridge, MA."- George Aldrich Genealogy, Vol. 1, p. 62.

~Settling in West Hoosac~

With the close of King George's War in late 1748, it allowed for the opportunity to establish townships. After the boundaries of the two townships had been surveyed in April of 1749, then designated as "East Hoosac" and "West Hoosac", village lots were then established the following year by a committee appointed by the General Court, "for admitting settlers in the West New Township of Hoosuck".

Although his father had given him a farm of seventy acres on "Muddy Brook" in Ware, Massachusetts, after his return, Benjamin Simonds chose to return to the Hoosac Valley. Fort Massachusetts had been rebuilt, and it needed to be fully garrisoned. Perhaps he also knew of an opportunity of settling on the nearby land.

In West Hoosac, the committee was required, by law, to reserve three house lots, "one for the first-settled minister, one for the ministry, and one for the school, as near the centre of the township as may be with convenience." Each proprietor was required to build a dwelling eighteen by fifteen feet with a seven-foot stud height; clear, plow, and sow five acres of his house-lot with English grass or corn within two years after purchase. A good example of such a dwelling is the 1753 House, a replica of a regulation settler’s home, located in the center of the Route 2 roundabout in Williamstown––very near where Benjamin Simonds built the town's first tavern. Chance, determined by the number drawn, determined the location of each man's purchase. Benjamin Simonds name is seventh on the list of thirteen buyers among the fort's men. And he was one of the first to clear his house-lot, No. 22, at the west end of the future village. It was across Hemlock Brook and a few rods up Buxton Hill, on the south side of the road.

In the spring of 1752, at the age of twenty-six, he married Miss Mary Davis, of Northampton, Massachusetts. They had a daughter who was the first child of European descent to be born in West Hoosac, on April 8, 1753, named Rachel––presumably named after his mother.

~The French and Indian War~

It wasn't long before tensions rose once again between the two nations. And, in the spring of 1754, the French and Indian War had begun––pitting the colonies of British America against those of New France.

From late winter of 1754 into the spring of 1755, Colonel Ephraim Williams Jr. (having been appointed colonel of his regiment for this expedition) proceeded to carry out the desires of the governor in respect to the enlistment of men for what was called "Shirley's own Regiment," (formally called the 50th Regiment of Foot) for the Crown Point expedition––one of three great offensive expeditions against the French. And, on May 31st, Governor Shirley ordered Colonel Williams to proceed with his regiment to the "General Rendezvous at Albany, and on their arrival there to follow such orders and directions as they shall receive from Major General William Johnson, Commander in Chief of the Forces raised within the several Provinces and Colonies, for the intended expedition to erect a Fort or Forts on his Majesty's lands near Crown Point, and for the removal of such encroachments as have already been made there by the French." Shortly after arriving at the military rendezvous in Albany, he had his last will and testament drawn, signed, and sealed. In his will, he included a bequest to support and maintain a free school to be established in the town of West Hoosac, provided the town change its name to Williamstown.

Seven weeks later, Colonel Ephraim Williams Jr. was shot and killed during an ambush by the French and their Indian allies in the Battle of Lake George, in an engagement known as "The Bloody Morning Scout", on September 8, 1755.

In January of 1756, a proposal was sent to the General Court of Massachusetts for aid to erect a blockhouse in West Hoosac. Benjamin Simonds, and a few other capable ax-men, built the new block-house in one month. It was referred to as 'West Hoosac Fort'. It stood very near the present Williams Inn. Benjamin Simonds served as garrison soldier and member of the Council of Public Safety until the fort was abandoned in 1761.

Fort Massachusetts was decommissioned following the Battle of Quebec in 1759. And by the close of the French and Indian War, in 1760, most of the fighting had ended in North America. The war in North America officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 10, 1763.

The outcome of the French and Indian War established British control of North America and gave birth to the British Empire. And it also triggered the movement towards independence for the British colonists in America.

~Laying the Foundations~

Benjamin Simonds was laying the foundations in his increasing property, in his general enterprise and public spirit, and in his broadening acquaintance as a tavern-keeper.

In 1764, Mr. Simonds purchased Lot No. 3 from Timothy Woodbridge, and built and operated the first tavern in town there, on or near the site now occupied by the David & Joyce Milne Public Library. A tavern provided rudimentary lodging, food, and drinks for travelers, and also provided a meeting place for the settlers. By 1765, he owned six other house lots close by, on both sides of Hemlock Brook, including No. 22, his original purchase and on which he built his first house. And he built the River Bend Tavern a mile north of The Square in the White Oaks neighborhood, in 1769. This was the same location where he, and his fellow captives from Fort Massachusetts, in 1746, rested for a while on their first day's march to Canada. The "Col. Benjamin Simond House" was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and now houses a bed and breakfast.

~The Founding of Williamstown~

In Colonel Ephraim Williams Jr's. last will and testament, he included a bequest to support and maintain a free school to be established in the town of West Hoosac, provided the town change its name to Williamstown.

At a proprietors' meeting held May 21, 1765, Benjamin Simonds was appointed to get a copy of Ephraim Williams's last will and testament. The first town-meeting was held July 15, 1765, and West Hoosac was incorporated as Williamstown, in compliance with the will.

The original grant to the Proprietors of West Hoosac was conditional upon their providing, within five years, a church meeting house, and engaging a suitable minister. When the proprietors decided in 1766 (or 1768)  to build a church, Mr. Simonds was on the committee to choose the site. They chose The Square as the site, where North and South Streets cross Main Street. In that same year, he was appointed to a committee to choose a new burial-ground. They reported in favor of a lot on the north side of the end of Main Street, beyond Hemlock Brook and opposite the original house of Mr. Simonds, that became known as the Westlawn Cemetery––where his mortal remains were laid to rest.

~The American Revolutionary War~

The War of the Revolution again aroused the patriotic spirit of Benjamin Simonds, and he joined the ranks in defense of his country and bravely fought in the American Revolutionary War. The American War of Independence––the war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and its former 13 united British colonies in North American––was fought from 1775 to 1783.

He was commissioned colonel of the of the 2nd Berkshire County Regiment of Massachusetts Militia, of about five hundred men known as the "Berkshire Boys" between 1775 and 1777, while Colonel Mark Hopkins was commissioned colonel of the 1st Berkshire County Regiment. Colonel Simonds's regiment was involved in a number of battles, raids, skirmishes, and expeditions, of which only a few will be mentioned in this article.

In the summer of 1776, Major General Horatio Gates, and Generals Philip Schuyler, and Benjamin Lincoln were corresponding directly with Colonel Simonds concerning the defense of upper New York State against the rumored advance of the British from Montreal. By October, both Berkshire regiments were ordered to join Washington's forces at White Plains, where they fought in the fatal Battle of White Plains––Colonel Mark Hopkins was taken sick with a fever at White Plains and died there, October 26th, only two days before the memorable battle took place. 

Simonds's Regiment was then ordered north to Fort Ticonderoga and was stationed there from December 16, 1776, to March 22, 1777. The winter of 1776-1777 was a brutal one. Men nearly froze to death in the unheated stone buildings and log huts and tents around the fort. And with four weakened regiments––totaling twelve hundred men and boys, of whom three hundred were due to depart––their commander could do little more than mount guards, send out scouts, and scavenge for firewood.

In April, both Berkshire regiments (the 1st Berkshire County Regiment led by Captain John Spoor, who replaced Colonel Mark Hopkins) marched by orders of Major General Gates, to assist General Schuyler in Saratoga in what would become known as the Saratoga Campaign––an attempt by the British to gain control over the advantageous Hudson River Valley, and isolate New England from the rest of the colonies.

On August 13, 1777, Colonel Simonds met with General John Stark and Colonel Seth Warner in a council of war at the "Catamount Tavern" before fighting in his most momentous of engagements, and one of the early pivotal battles of the American Revolutionary War––the Battle of Bennington.

For two months, General John Burgoyne led his army down Lake Champlain and the Hudson River toward Albany, New York––and was initially a success for the British. However, he found his army was in desperate need of some provisions and horses. So he sent a mixed force of about 800 Canadians, Loyalists, Indians, British, and Hessian (German) mercenaries, under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Friedrich Baum, on a foraging expedition to Manchester, Vermont. However, at the last moment, Burgoyne ordered him to not march on Manchester, but on Bennington. The Lieutenant-General had just learned from one of his Tory captains that there was an important magazine of rebel supplies, live cattle, horses, and flour, that were lightly guarded by three or four hundred militia in Bennington.

On the afternoon of August 16, the fighting broke out, and Baum's position was immediately surrounded by gunfire, which Stark described as "the hottest engagement I have ever witnessed, resembling a continual clap of thunder."

By the end of the day, the British foraging expedition force was essentially annihilated, reducing Burgoyne's army by almost 1,000 men. The defeat at Bennington greatly discouraged Burgoyne's uneasy Indian allies, who largely abandoned him, and deprived him of supplies, leaving him in a more dangerous position than before.

Three months later, Colonel Simonds's regiment would continue on to the Battle of Bemis Heights. And on October 17th, Gen. Burgoyne surrendered his entire army following his humiliating defeat at the decisive Battle of Saratoga

In October of 1781, the American Revolutionary War had come to an end with the Siege of Yorktown. And two years later, the Treaty of Paris was signed and made it official: the United States of America had become a free, independent, and sovereign nation.

The Bennington Monument and marker in Bennington, Vermont --
the marker recognizing Col. Benjamin "Symonds".
Photo by C.A. Chicoine
Bas-relief of the Battle of Bennington, at the Bennington Battleground Historic Site in New York Sculpture by William Gordon Huff.  

Photo by C.A. Chicoine
The four leaders shown in the foreground are Parson Thos. Allen, Col. Joab Stafford, Col. Benj. Simonds, and Col. David Rossiter. The artist chose as a model for the face and figure of Benjamin Simonds his great-great-grandson, Perry Smedley of Williamstown. 

~The Founding of Williams College~

Benjamin Simonds was instrumental in the founding of the school that would later become Williams College. He was called upon in 1790, when he was sixty-four, for one more notable service to the community. This time it was nothing less than to see that the school was actually built. It took ten years to change the name of the town, and another twenty to settle Williams's estate. Finally, a charter for the Free School was granted, with a board of nine trustees whose first duty was to erect a building. Benjamin Simonds was the only man in town who had known Ephraim Williams Jr. intimately in the old days. "His new task was an obligation of ancient friendship, as well as a duty towards the younger generation coming on." The trustees voted that "Colonel Benjamin Simonds be requested to join said committee in the discharge of their appointment, and that the President be desired to inform the gentleman of this request." Such an appeal by the trustees can only be regarded as an acknowledgment of the Colonel's organizational skills and his reputation for completing any job undertaken.

Professor Arthur Perry, in his book, "Williamstown and Williams College," put it best. He wrote:
. . . As the Free School was conceived of by Colonel Ephraim Williams and described in terms in his will drawn and probated in 1755, it was designed for the direct benefit of the children of the soldiers, who had served under him in one or other of the forts of the old French line. Simonds had two children born to him in West Hoosac while Colonel Williams was still in command of the line of forts, and before he had set his face toward the fatal field of Lake George. It is perhaps more than likely that Colonel Williams had spoken at one time or another to his well-known subordinate and fellow-proprietor in West Hoosac (their house-lots were in plain sight of each other on either side of Hemlock Brook) of his intention to do something handsome for the children of the hamlet, inasmuch as he himself was a barren stock. At all events, now that Colonel Williams had been thirty-five years in his grave by the lakeside, and his benefaction was just coming into efficacy on behalf of somebody's children, how natural it was for the trustees to put themselves into practical consultation with the only man then living in Williamstown who had known the donor personally and perhaps even intimately.  
Aside from the fact that Colonel Simonds seemed to represent directly and personally those whom Colonel Williams had in mind to benefit a whole generation before, he seemed also to represent better than anybody else present the entire inhabitants of the borough, as the benevolence of the founder was beginning to be displayed before their eyes. It was primarily a local benefaction; it should, therefore, be adapted to the local wants and habits, as they should judge these to be who were most familiar with the past and present of the little village and with the prejudices and opinions of the people.
The building of what is now referred to as "West College" began in the early summer of 1790 and was more or less finished by the winter of 1790-91. The school opened on October 20, 1791, and was named the “Free School”.

Not long after its founding, the school's trustees petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to convert the free school to a tuition-based college. The legislature agreed, and on June 22, 1793, Williams College was chartered. It was the second college to be founded in Massachusetts. And Williams College is regarded as a leading institution of higher education in the United States.

Although Benjamin Simonds's children had not attended the school, a number of his descendants have.
~Beyond the River Bend~ 

Benjamin Simonds moved from the River Bend Tavern and bought a house just a stone's throw away––Pine lot No. 1, at the junction of the North Hoosac Road with the Simonds Road––built in 1773 by Robert Hawkins. Colonel Simonds lived in it during the last ten years of his life with his second wife, Anna. His daughter, Rachel and her second husband, Benjamin Skinner, whom she had married after the death of her first husband, Thomas Train, took charge of the tavern.

As it looked in the 1880s.

Benjamin and Mary (Davis) Simonds had seven daughters and three sons, all born in Williamstown, Massachusetts. She died in June of 1798. He later married Anna (Collins) Putnam, of Brimfield, Massachusetts, widow of Asa Putnam, in November of 1798, bringing her children into his family (at the time, her three youngest, while her oldest son was already settled in Williamstown.) They did not have any children together. She died on April 3, 1807. Colonel Benjamin Simonds died a week later.

Sylvia Putnam Hamilton, who was seventeen years old when both her mother and the Colonel died, recollected—in her old age—that the Colonel did not care to live after her mother died. 

Professor Arthur Perry, in his book, "Origins in Williamstown," wrote;  
Mrs. Hamilton [Benjamin Simonds's step-daughter] communicated other pleasant recollections of Colonel Simonds in her girlhood: such as, for example, he always wore
his military costume more or less complete till the last, as it appears in his portrait, — the cocked hat and powdered wig, the white neck-kerchief and frilled shirt-bosom, the regimental coat and buttons, and also the short-clothes and knee-buckles; he always
went to church in full costume; and he occasionally offered family prayers, standing by the back of his chair. The late Dr. Morgan, of Bennington, told the writer that when he was a small boy riding past with his father, he had repeatedly seen the Colonel sitting in
summer in his front doorway in his military toggery, being saluted by, and saluting in turn, the passers-by. 
The section of route 7, in Williamstown, stretching straight from the bridge, past his house, to the Pownal, Vermont line, is named "Simonds Road" in his memory.

And also, one of the tall peaks that surround Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, was named in his honour—"Simonds Peak". 


Benjamin Simonds was assuredly a man of sound judgment and executive ability, as demonstrated through both his military service and community involvement. And, like his great-grandfather, William Simonds, and his grandfather, Joseph Simonds Sr., and his father, Joseph Simonds Jr., before him, he too was a pioneer.

As far as I know, he kept no diary. So we don't know what his daily routine was on a given day, or what he thought about this or that. We do have a fine portrait of the Colonel (featured at the beginning of this article), that was painted in 1796 when he was seventy years old. But can you accurately assess a person's character or personality based on their facial features from a portrait painting? "Any revelation to be found came through action; all else have perished."

I'll close with the following taken from Bliss Perry's [Benjamin Simonds's great-great-great-grandson] book, “Colonel Benjamin Simonds, 1726-1807”. He wrote:
Fictionalized biography of the present day tries to make us see what was in the mind of their personages in the closing years or hours of life. The last chapter of Lytton Strachey's Queen Vistoria is a well known example of this "stream of consciousness" technique. But I question whether either Stachey or Virginia Woolf could have persuaded us to believe what really passed through the Colonel's mind as he sat there, reviewing his career. Was it the tomahawks of his Indian captors? The French grandees at Quebec? That first cabin with Mary Davis beyond Hemlock Brook? Washington's impassive face as he retreated at White Plains? The stolid Hessians in the Tory redoubt? Building a church of which he was not a member, or a West College which a grandson might some day enter? Rum at two shillings a gallon? The answer is that no one knows or can possibly know.
. . . . 
The tombstone of Benjamin Simonds is in the West [Lawn] Cemetery, across Hemlock Brook, and nearly opposite the site of his first cabin. The dates of birth and death are given, and then the midest and proud words: "A firm suppoorter of his country's independence." More than one man, not of the Colonel's blood, has made a pilgrimage to the West [Lawn] Cemetery simply to read that inscription, and to restore his soul.    

~In Memoriam~

Photo by C.A. Chicoine
Headstone of Benjamin Simonds, at West Lawn Cemetery, Williamstown, MA

The epitaph of Benjamin Simonds is as follows: —

This monument erected 
in memory of Col.
one of the first settlers in 
Williamstown, and a firm sup
porter of his Country's indepen
dence. He was born Feb. 23rd
1726, and died April 11th 1807.

“What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall 
he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?” Psalm 89:48

This article was researched, compiled, and edited by C.A. Chicoine -- October 2018.

Related Links:

  • "Genealogical Sketch of William Simonds," by Edward Johnson, 1889
  • "Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs.  Relating to the Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts," by William Richard Cutter 1908
  • "The Records of the Town of Cambridge (Formerly Newtowne) Massachusetts, 1630-1703: The Records of the Town Meetings, and of the selectmen, comprising all of the First Volume of Records, and being Volume II of the Printed Records of the Town." 1901
  • "The Redeemed Captive: Being a Narrative of the Taking and Carrying Into Captivity," by the Reverend Mr. John Norton -- Published 1870 (Originally published in 1748)
  • "Origins in Williamstown," by Arthur Latham Perry -- Published 1894
  • "Williamstown and Williams College," by Arthur Latham Perry -- Published 1899
  • Colonel Benjamin Simonds, 1726-1807,” by Bliss Perry [Benjamin Simonds' great-great-great-grandson], 1944 (privately printed)
  • "A Narrative of the Captivity of Nehemiah How in 1745-1747," by Nehemiah How -- Published 1904 (Originally published in 1748)
  • "General Register of the Society of Colonial Wars, 1899-1902: Constitution of the General Society", General Society of Colonial Wars (U.S.) H. K. Brewer & Company, 1902 - United States 
  • "Scotch-Irish in New England," by Arthur Latham Perry, J.S. Cushing & Company, 1891 - New England 
  • "Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America," by Charles Knowles Bolton, Read Books Ltd, Apr 16, 2013 
  • "The Barbour Collection of Connecticut Town Vital Records, vol. 20, Huntington (1789-1850), Kent (1739-1852), and Killingly (1708-1850)," (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1999), 357 (Vol. 1, p. 15 in the original vital records for Killingly, CT). Lorraine Cook White, ed. 
  • Colonel Benjamin Simonds: The Battle of White Plains, October 28, 1776,” by Harriet Osborne Putnam [Benjamin Simonds' step-great-great-granddaughter]. The American Monthly Magazine by Daughters of the American Revolution, Volume 3, R.R. Bowker Company, 1893
  • "The works of Samuel Hopkins: A Memoir of His Life and Character, Volume 1," by Samuel Hopkins, Edwards Amasa Park, Doctrinal Tract and Book Society, 1854 
  • "Fort Ticonderoga: A Short History," Compiled from Contemporary Sources by S. H. P. Pell, Reprinted for the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 1966
  • "Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution," by Christopher S. Wren, Simon and Schuster, May 8, 2018
  • "The Incorporation of the Town of Mount Washington & its Soldiers of the Revolutionary War," by Michele (Patterson) Valenzano February 2007
  • "The Turning Point of the Revolution," by Hoffman Nickerson, Port Washington, N.Y., Kennikat Press, 1928
  • "Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War," A compilation from the archives," (Volume 14), Prepared and published by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., State Printers. 1906
  • "Williamstown the First 250 Years 1753 - 2003," by Robert R. R. Brooks (Editor), 2005 Williamstown House of Local History.
  • "The Hoosac Valley: Its Legends and Its History," by Grace Greylock Niles -- Published 1912
  • U.S. News & World Report: Best Colleges––Williams College

Photo credits:
  • Portrait of Col. Benjamin Simonds, by William Jennys in 1796. It is part of the Williams College Portrait Collection of the Williams College Museum of Art.
  • Benjamin Simonds original house on Lot 22, by Noyes, from the book, "Origins in Williamstown," by Arthur Latham Perry -- Published 1894
  • Benjamin Simonds' River Bend Tavern/home was taken, with kind permission, from the River Bend Farm website
  • The Hawkins House, by R.H.N. Sc., from the book, "Williamstown and Williams College," by Arthur Latham Perry -- Published 1899
  • Bennington Monument marker, in Bennington, Vermont, was taken by Michael Herrick, August 13, 2006. 
  • Bas-relief of the Battle of Bennington, at the Bennington Battleground Historic Site in Walloomsac, New York was taken by C.A. Chicoine, October 2018.
  • Headstone of Benjamin Simonds, at West Lawn Cemetery, Williamstown, Massachusetts, was taken by C.A. Chicoine, October 2018.

Monday, October 1, 2018

On This Day -- Petrus Bovie Taken Captive

"October 1st, 1747, Peter Boovee, a Soldier at Hoosuck or Massachusetts Fort, went out a-Hunting; a Party of the Enemy discovering him, took him Captive, and carried him to Canada. He is since returned." 1

In the earliest texts, Fort Massachusetts was also referred to as Hoosuck Fort (not to be confused with West Hoosac Fort, a blockhouse built in West Hoosac––now Williamstown––later in 1756).

There is a bit of a mystery surrounding this incident. First, the spelling of his name varies throughout the records; his first name being either Petrus or Peter. Various spellings of his last name are Boovee, Bovee, Bovie, and Burvee. And secondly, a number of sources document that "Peter Bovee" was killed. And another saying that he was mustered from Dec. 11, 1749, to June 3, 1750, at Fort Shirley. Looking at the genealogy of the Bovie/Bovee family in the area that he was from (North Pownal, VT), there was no other Peter at that time. However, Petrus showed up again in the records later during the American Revolutionary War.

The one fact that all the sources agree on is that Mr. Bovie was indeed captured on this day.


Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Origin of Our Community, Revisited

The Origin of Our Community, Revisited
by C.A. Chicoine

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the City of North Adams, North Adams Historical Society, or Save Fort Massachusetts Memorial.


Halfway between Williamstown and North Adams, Massachusetts, there lies hidden and long forgotten, a vague marker on a small boulder, at the back end of a nearly vacant parking lot, commemorating Fort Massachusetts and its defenders. There is nothing there telling us what war this fort was built for. And nothing telling us what had actually taken place on this site––only that there must have been some conflict between the fort's inhabitants and, presumably, their enemy: a “scene of their struggle in the wilderness,” as the plaque indicates. But nowhere does it tell us what that struggle was.

To the left of this commemorative boulder, there is a fireplace and chimney. It is what remains from a replica fort that was built there in the 1930's, by the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society. On what would be the outside of it, there was once a small sign that read, “Fort Massachusetts 1745”––that would have shed some light on the fort's construction date. However, in 2016, even that minuscule clue would be denied to present-day visitors to the site because that sign had been stolen.

What the boulder's plaque commemorates is the siege that took place there during the French and Indian Wars––in observance of the thirty brave individuals' trials and tribulations during the siege and captivity of the fort's inhabitants by the French and their Native American allies in 1746.

Fort Massachusetts Helped Clear the Way 
for Further European Settlement in the Region
But there was much more to Fort Massachusetts than the Siege of 1746. There were ambushes, brief firefights, and one more attack where they successfully defended the fort and succeeded in driving off the enemy. 

The first British Settlers in this area were the soldiers and their families, helping to clear the way for further European settlement into this region. In fact, in the spring of 1746, one of the soldiers, John Perry––a carpenter by trade, who helped construct this and other nearby forts––picked himself out a plot of land west of the fort, further along the Indian trail, and built a house on it for he and his wife. After the siege, it was pillaged and burned to the ground along with the fort. 

Some of the original proprietors of the township of West Hoosac––now Williamstown––were soldiers of the fort.

God's Acre–the burial ground for the soldiers and their families who died while stationed
there at Fort Massachusetts––was the first cemetery in the northern Berkshires.

Guardian of New England's Thermopylae

Fort Massachusetts was located in the western frontier of Massachusetts Bay, in the 
township of East Hoosac, upon a meadow of the Hoosac River, in current day North Adams. It was the westernmost bastion in the northern line of colonial forts, extending from the Connecticut River, over the Hoosac Mountain, to this western frontier during King George's War (1744-1748), in 1745, against the French and their Indian allies. It was also built to prevent Dutch settlers in New York from encroaching upon Massachusetts territory from the west. The Williams family were the creators and maintainers of the line of forts, with Ephraim Williams Jr. in command.

The fort remained active throughout much of the French and Indian War (1754–1763), until 1759, when it was decommissioned following the Battle of Quebec.

The Establishment of the Townships

After the boundaries of the two townships had been surveyed in April of 1749, then designated as "East Hoosac" and "West Hoosac", village lots were then established the following year by a committee appointed by the General Court
The great water power of the Hoosac River—the river was much deeper and swifter than now—attracted settlers to East Hoosac. In the year 1750, the General Court granted Ephraim Williams Jr., 200 acres of land in East Hoosac on the condition that he would reserve ten acres of the meadow around Fort Massachusetts for the use of that fort, and also to build a grist and saw mill within two years on the Hoosac River. The dam for these mills was just above the Main Street bridge. The grist mill was to the west and the sawmill upon the east side of the river. An old-fashioned trestle bridge, uncovered, with no railing except a huge log on each side, but supported by strong abutments, spanned the river just below the mills. The dam and mills were erected by a Mr. Jedediah Hurd, undoubtedly according to some arrangement made by Captain Williams with him. Although no data can be ascertained as of the time of its erection, it is reasonable to suppose that it was as early as 1752, in order to conform to the requirements of the grant. ["History of North Adams, Mass., 1749-1885," by W. F. Spear]

In West Hoosac, the committee was required, by law, to reserve three house lots, "one for the first-settled minister, one for the ministry, and one for the school, as near the centre of the township as may be with convenience." Chance, determined by the number drawn, determined the location of each man's purchase. The first actual settlers upon any of these lots, who were also original proprietors of the same, were soldiers at Fort Massachusetts.

In Colonel Ephraim Williams Jr's. will, he included a bequest to support and maintain a free school to be established in the town of West Hoosac, provided the town change its name to Williamstown. Not long after its founding, the school's trustees petitioned the Massachusetts legislature to convert the free school to a tuition-based college. The legislature agreed, and on June 22, 1793, Williams College was chartered. It was the second college to be
founded in Massachusetts. And Williams College is regarded as a leading institution of higher education in the United States.

After the War

Ephraim Williams Jr. resigned his command at Fort Massachusetts in 1755, and Isaac Wyman was
at once appointed to succeed him. When the fort was decommissioned, following the Battle of Quebec in 1759, Captain Isaac Wyman is known to have lived in the house within the pickets and to have occupied the land. 

Then, in 1762, the General Court sold at auction the entire township of East Hoosac to Nathan Jones, who had become one of its three proprietors (the others being Colonel Elisha Jones and John Murray). Israel Jones, son of Colonel Elisha Jones, became the proprietor of the farm in 1766, where he remained until his death in 1829. 

Clement Harrison, then of Williamstown, bought the farm from Jones' heirs in 1830 and 
continued to cultivate the hallowed meadow.

Fort Massachusetts Memorialized

Although it had been brought up in the early eighteen hundreds, it wasn't until 1859 that the site was properly acknowledged with the planting of a memorial tree, an elm tree, by Professor
Arthur Perry of Williams College––aptly referred to as Perry's Elm. It was planted in what was the middle of the parade-ground within the original fort.

In 1896, the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society was formed for the purpose of preserving the identity of the site of Fort Massachusetts. And, having learned that Mr. Clement Harrison's heirs were selling the land, they raised the funds to purchase the portion of the site where the fort once stood, the following year.

In 1897, a flagstaff was raised upon the site by the Society. The flag was drawn to its place by Professor Lewis Perry, of Williams College, son of Professor Arthur Perry, who forty years before had planted the commemorative elm. The Daughters of the American Revolution, Fort Massachusetts Chapter, provided a pennant for the flagstaff.

The Society then began raising funds to reconstruct a replica fort as a memorial to the site. The new fort was erected by WPA workers during the Great Depression and was dedicated in 1933. It operated as a historical tourist site into the 1950's. It featured the headstone of Elisha Nims, a soldier killed at Fort Massachusetts, set into a fieldstone cairn, and placed within the replica of the fort. The walls of the fort enclosed Perry's Elm––by then a stately, majestic tree.

But, in 1952, the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society was forced to sell the property because of its inability to maintain the stockade and its garrison house––despite the disapproval of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The replica of the fort would serve as a restaurant––Fort Massachusetts Restaurant. 

In 1960, the Golub Corporation bought the property. William Golub, president of the Central chain, said that every effort would be made to preserve the memory of Fort Massachusetts. Though the replica of the fort would be cleared away, Perry's Elm remained along with Elisha Nims' cairn. However, at some point prior to 1976, the cairn was relocated. The headstone has since been removed.

In 1976, the Fort Massachusetts Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution set a boulder on the site with a bronze tablet commemorating the fort and its defenders. The memorial sits
beside the tall fireplace and chimney left over from the Fort Massachusetts replica. 

Gradually, the site fell into ruin. And Perry's Elm fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease

With the closing of the former Price Chopper in February of 2016, there had been some concern as to the fate of the site. And, once again, a few members of the community formed a group to advocate for the preservation of this historic site, called the Friends of Fort Massachusetts. Their vision was to preserve the site as a public park––The Fort Massachusetts Memorial Park. The group would later evolve, under new direction, into Save Fort Massachusetts Memorial, Inc., under the umbrella of the North Adams Historical Society

Then, in 2017, with the joint efforts of all parties, the Golub Corporation donated the site to the City of North Adams.

All But Forgotten

The site of Fort Massachusetts may have been well chosen for the ends for which it was built, but as the area was developed––a railroad line was laid through the property and businesses filled in around it, ultimately consuming it––prospects for preserving the identity of the site looked bleak. And no formal preservation plans or policies were implemented to protect this historic site since it had been privately owned.

We are fortunate to have had the previous owner preserve this site, allowing for a small marker to be placed there, and the annual ceremony, commemorating the siege of 1746 (although, the ceremony was not always performed at the site, as in the last few years). Despite this, the fort has been all but forgotten.

There is any number of reasons why this site has been neglected, but to dwell on them would be a waste of time and energy, which could be better spent exploring some of the many possibilities and opportunities to help generate a renewed interest in the revitalization of this historic site.

Prospects for Its Preservation and Revitalization

There are just as many opportunities as there are challenges for this park to receive the care and attention that it deserves. 

Some of the challenges:

It is too far from any tourist attraction to be traveled to by foot.  

Finding the site has also been an issue for a number of visitors since there are no street signs directing them to the site––nor is it on any current tourist or cultural maps. 

Once the visitor does find the site, there is no informational sign describing the history of Fort Massachusetts. 

t needs to be designed as a park. Being tucked away between a parking lot and businesses, the view from the site isn't exactly picturesque. At present, it looks more like an abandoned site. 

Some of the solutions:

Bicycle and Pedestrian Path -- In 2007, Williams College students conducted a Mohawk Bicycle and Pedestrian Path: A Roadway Feasibility Study, for Lauren Gaherty, the Senior Planner with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Such a project would create an opportunity for a recreational commute between North Adams and Williamstown, connecting such attractions as the Clark Art Institute, and the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams.

Finding the Site -- In a dissertation written by Kate Kachovec submitted to the Faculty of the Historic Preservation Program of the University of Maryland, College Park, titled "Historic Sites & Signage: Commemorating Lost and Intangible History," she wrote: "Historic markers are one of the oldest approaches to recognizing and interpreting a historical personage, site, or event at a specific location. However, a particular challenge exists when the person, site, or event is no longer represented by a physical resource. In these cases, the marker or signage must literally stand in for the original.... The success of these types of projects is critical in that they inform the community about a past that otherwise would become lost. Historic sites that have no physical representation are arguably the most important sites to mark and commemorate because they are at the greatest risk of being forgotten or lost. Without these intangible historic sites, communities lose an important sense of place that enhances the environment."

Information Board -- There needs to be an information board center at the site, briefly describing the site's history. And it should utilize technologies available to us, such as the Open Heritage project, QR codes, or apps such as OnCell,––just to name a few––to be included with the information to help visitors engage in its history in a way not possible in the past.

Make it Look Like a Park -- Create an open space, extending from the area around the memorial, and in the front portion of the lot. Remove deadwood, and prune trees and brush. And install a couple of park benches and a picnic table (Inground / Surface Mount.). Include some additional signage stating that smoking, and littering, are prohibited. And have a Carry-in/Carry-out policy. In addition to the annual commemorative ceremony on the anniversary of the siege of Fort Massachusetts held in mid-August, create other annual events, like a spring clean-up day, "Fort Day" (a family summer event, featuring period costumes, a musket demonstration, storytelling, live period (folk) music, etc.), fall clean-up day, and perhaps a "Snow Sculpting in the Park Day," in the winter.

Links and Social Shares -- Add any future associated website link (whether that be through the North Adams Historical Society or one created by the Save Fort Massachusetts Memorial) to such websites as the North Adams Chamber of Commerce's website, to be included in the Historical category of their website, since the historical society is a member. (The Massachusetts Cultural Commission awarded North Adams the prestigious Cultural District designation last year, and are thus linked statewide.) And connect with other historical societies and related social media sites.

Some of the opportunities:

Local Historical Societies -- Partner with other local historical societies, such as the Williamstown Historical Museum, the Adams Historical Society, and the Berkshire Historical Society on events and lectures. 
And with the Heath Historical Society (Fort Shirley), and the Rowe Historical Society (Fort Pelham).

Local Historic Sites -- Partner with other related historic sites. For example, with the Natural Bridge State Park, with the brook that flows through its gorge named after one of the soldiers of Fort Massachusetts; the ties with the historic site of the West Hoosac Fort blockhouse, erected in 1756, in Williamstown. And connect with the Hoosic River Watershed Association, dedicated to the restoration, conservation, and enjoyment of the Hoosic River and its watershed, through education, research, and advocacy. And work with other forts from that time period, such as with the Fort at Number 4, in New Hampshire.

The Descendants of the Soldiers -- Reach out to the descendants of the soldiers once stationed at the fort (for example, The Nims Family Association) and share their stories.

Treasure Hunting with GeoCache -- Geocaching is a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting
game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location. There once was a cache placement on the site. As a matter of fact, it's what spear-headed a major clean-up of the site in 2012, trail-blazing the way to help preserve the site as a park. After a former employee of Price Chopper discovered the placement of a geocache within the forested portion of the site and saw what seemed like decades worth of trash and overgrown foliage, there was only one thing that she could do. You can read all about it HERE.

Public Art -- Partner with MASS MoCA to commission an appropriate, site-specific art installation for the site. Maybe an installation that could also serve as an informational board? It's certainly something to look into.

Farmer's Market or Craft Fair -- Hold a farmer's market or craft fair at the site. As an 
example, the Fort Brewerton Historical Society, in Brewerton, NY, oversees a farmer's market every Friday. 

Wayfinding -- Partner with other historical societies and organizations in the county to create a wayfinding” program whose aim is to install signs and pedestrian kiosks to direct visitors and residents throughout the northern Berkshires to distinctive recreational, cultural, and historical attractions.

Ideas for further consideration:

Site excavation -- Consider having the site excavated (for example, by the Archaeological Services at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Department of Anthropology.).

God's Acre -- There are at least fifteen people documented that were buried there (Elisha Nim's remains were reinterred in Hillside Cemetery.) In an article titled, "The “Bone Finder”, ground-penetrating radar was used to locate lost graves. Robert Perry located 2,700 unmarked graves and buried headstones on the grounds of Washington’s Historic Congressional Cemetery, in Washington, D.C. His services would be most helpful in locating the soldier's remains.

Funding -- Funding for these projects can be made by donations, fund-raising efforts, and through other funding and grant sources allotted to the preservation of historic sites, such as the Preservation Massachusetts, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, just to name a few. Funding resources for public art can be found at the Mass Cultural CouncilMASS Creative, and Americans for the Arts, again, just to name a few.   

The Origin of Our Community

Every historical site has an important story to tell. The story of Fort Massachusetts is a compelling, suspenseful, and inspiring story. It speaks of hope, and courage, and maintaining one's integrity in the face of adversity. It's a story of life and death and the human spirit. And it was a safe haven for the early settlers of East and West Hoosac. Despite the sickness, skirmishes, and the siege, capture and, ultimately, destruction of the first fort, they did not give up. They rebuilt. And they settled the land. 

European settlement into the northern Berkshires––the western frontier––was inevitable. Where Fort Massachusetts was built is where it all began for us. The communities of Williamstown, North Adams, and Adams owe their origin to the erection of this fort.

Now that this historic site is back in public hands––the City of North Adams––it can be revitalized and a renewed interest developed. And, just as important, it will take the community, working along with the City, to give the site the attention and care that it deserves.  

We must strive to preserve our historic sites, for they are some of our most tangible, authentic links to our past. There is no other historic site in the northern Berkshires more worthy of preservation than that of the site of Fort Massachusetts––the origin of our community.

~C.A. Chicoine | September 2018

To learn more about the history of Fort Massachusetts, please visit the website of Friends of Fort Massachusetts → FriendsofFortMass.org