History Of North Adams, Massachusetts

Reminiscences Of Early Settlers.
-Extracts From Old Town Records.-
Its Public Institutions, Industries And Prominent Citizens,
Together With A Roster Of Commissioned Officers In The War Of The Rebellion.
By W. P. Spear.
North Adams, Mass.: Hoosac Valley News Printing House. 1885.


[Transcribed by Dave Swerdfeger]

AMONG the men of this town who were implicated in Shay's rebellion, in 1786-7, and were pardoned on giving up their arms and taking the oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth, were Joshua Read and Trulove Brewster, traders. As nearly as can now be ascertained, Joshua Read was a trader at Adams, and probably Trulove Brewster, also. Read was born on a farm in Cheshire. They are alluded to as the only traders mentioned in the town records prior to 1800, and if they are mentioned as culprits, that only proves their opponents were the strongest. If Shays had succeeded, his movement would have been a "glorious revolution." There was undoubtedly in this region strong sympathy felt for the insurrection, and some of the "first men" were engaged in it.

The first store ever kept within the limits of North Adams, though outside of what are considered village limits, was by Marshall Jones. He commenced in 1793, in a shop previously occupied by Christopher Penniman as a cabinet shop. Penniman was one of the apprentices who came here from Boston with a Mr. Veazie, before 1789. The shop stood a few rods west of Isreal Jones' house, now Mrs. Harrison's. After a few months Mr. Jones removed to a building which stood near Daniel Wells' present residence, and remained there about two years. His father built the house on Robinson hill, with a store near it, opposite Main street bridge, and the son removed down into the village and continued in trade for several years, until he left town. He had kept store about a year when Chad Brown commenced. The house has undergone some alterations since Mr. Jones' time. The store was of a red color, and was torn down some few years ago.

A couple of men—names and date unknown—came this village and opened the first store for the sale of dry goods near the Main street bridge. They did not keep a large stock nor continue business more than a month or two. The Williamstown traders kept a better variety and undersold them. In very early times people walked from this place to Williamstown to purchase groceries or teas. Though the roads were terribly rough, and the river had to be forded more than once, the stalwart boys (and frequently the girls) of those days did not shrink from the trip. Indeed, they enjoyed it. Bounding hearth made severe exercise to our ancestors a pastime. The trade of this town also went to Lanesboro to some extent.

Oliver Parker, Sr., brought grain one season from Greenfield on horseback, by an Indian path over Hoosac mountain, and a part of it was carried to Williamstown to be ground at the "Krigger mills," fording the river three times to get there. These mills had a great reputation.

The first store for the sale of groceries in this village was kept by William Farrand, near his house. He hauled the goods from Boston by ox-teams, and therefore kept but a limited stock, perhaps one or two loads. He sold a bushel of salt to Captain Shippee of Clarksburg for $10 ! To say that a man was "not worth the salt for his porridge" could not be considered in those times a very severe slur, especially if he ate porridge with a wood-chopper's appetite, for the salt was the most expensive ingredient.

Sutton & Wells, in 1795, opened and kept a store for the sale of merchandise, in a shop-like building near or adjoining the Corliss House, now the site of the Richmond House.

Marshall Jones, in 1800, having returned to town, built the house and store (now standing) on the hill west of Main street bridge. This building is now converted into a tenement house. Mr. Jones kept store there for several years. The building is still substantial looking.

Chad Brown sold goods in a small building located about on the corner of Bank and Main streets. Mr. Brown was a man of fair capacity, and was elected Town Clerk in 1802, which office he held for four years. He finally removed to South Adams, which was then the larger and more thriving settlement, and supposed to afford the best field for Yankee shrewdness in bargaining.

A grocery store was kept where the J. H. Adams block now stands, on Main street.

Dr. James Cummings, in 1803, built a house, with store in front, and sold general merchandise on the site of the building, east of L. W. White's jewelry store. This store was afterward occupied by William E. Brayton as the National Express office and flour and grocery store. The old store on this site was kept after Dr. Cummings by Henry Remmington, also by Tinker & Brayton. Dr. Cummings was a man who combined worldly wisdom with religious zeal in such proportions as gave him great influence in the community. He was a conspicuous member of the Baptist church, organized here in 1808.

Captain Carter kept groceries for sale on Eagle street, in the brick building afterward well known as the "brick meat market," which was near the site of the Catholic church.

Dr. Cummings, in 1810, purchased. the house and lot on Church street on the site of S. Blackinton's residence, and soon after built a store in front of the house then located there. The store stood very near the corner. About the year 1826 the store was removed down Main street, and was afterward owned and occupied by James Brolly as a store, though it was completely remodeled in 1858.

W. E. Brayton, in 1822, built a store and carried on the mercantile business. It is the same building now occupied by Dr. H. J. Millard as a drug store on Main street. It is said Mr. Brayton would refuse to take butter into the store at ten cents per pound and pay for the same in goods at a handsome profit, there being no home market for the article and much uncertainty in sending it to the cities.

Edward Richmond, in 1825, erected a store and kept it on the site of where G. & C. W. Billings' store now is on Main street.

Ezra D. Whitaker, in 1825, erected the store, which he still owns, which is occupied by L. Childs, and followed merchandizing therein, opposite the Berkshire House.

J. Q. Robinson & Son, about 1827, built a store on their lot, corner of Main and Marshall streets, and carried on trade for many years. They had previously done an extensive business at South Adams.

The tide of enterprise was now beginning to flow a little more strongly in this part of the town.

About 1816 J. Q. Robinson, Esq., then extensively engaged in merchandizing in Adams, opened a store in what is now the middle of State street, between the Richmond House and Martin block. The building was removed to Marshall street and converted into a shoe shop, now forming a barn in rear of B. F. Robinson's house.

Nehemiah Allen, afterward Judge Allen, kept this store as a clerk for Mr. Robinson, about one year, with a fair stock of goods.

In 1826, Caleb B. Turner built and occupied a brick store at the corner of Eagle and Union streets. This was the first store on Eagle street, and was then the best built one in the village.

From 1778, when Adams was first incorporated, to 1827, nearly half a century, all the stores which had been kept in the village at different times numbered only thirteen. In 1825 there were only five stores, kept by the following persons: Dr. James Cummings, W. E. Brayton, Edward Richmond, Ezra D. Whitaker and Michael Cheesbro.

The early and long-continued scarcity of money necessitated a general system of bartering. The tradesmen and farmers went "swap, swap, swapping," everywhere and in almost everything. Most of the circulation was silver and copper coin, and an old-fashioned "ninepence," now so rarely seen, but then one of the most common pieces, looked nearly as large in the eyes of many persons as the pewter platters from which they ate their frugal meals. Money was most emphatically a "cash article." No bank of issue was in operation nearer than Troy or Northampton, the first bank in Berkshire county, the Agricultural of Pittsfield, not being chartered until 1818, and the Greenfield bank not until 1822. A man with $25 in his pocket was looked upon as a citizen gloriously favored by the goddess of fortune.

The usual resort for many years of those who were compelled to raise so small a sum as $10 for immediate use was to sell a promissory note to one of their more wealthy neighbors at Williamstown. There were no capitalists here. Every man was actively conducting business and making each dollar of his profits earn him another dollar as quickly as possible. He had seldom any money to lend, or rather he considered it more advantageous to invest his small funds in his own business than to loan the same to others, and was therefore apt to be "short." Whether or not it is creditable to own up to such tight squeezes, we are stating nothing but what our old residents will recognize as facts. They deserve to be told for the benefit of many of the present day, who, as they scatter change and display bank notes with a lavish hand, seem apparently to have not the slightest appreciation of the toils, anxiety and self-denial that weighed down the lives of the early settlers.

Capt. Edward Richmond came to this village in the year 1803. Only two stores were then kept here, one by Marshall Jones, on the hill west of Main street bridge, and the other by Dr. Jas. Cummings, in a building he had just erected on the site of where Dr. H. J. Millard's drug store now is.

English calicos were sold at 50 to 75 cents per yard; Bohea tea, 75 cents per pound; molasses, 67 to 75 cents per gallon; cut nails, 12 1/2 to 17 cents per pound. Calicos were sold at an earlier date, also during the war of 1812 and 1815, when importation was stopped, for $1 per yard, the quality not being superior to 10 cent goods of the present day. As late as 1825, English calicos sold from 30 to 42 cents per yard. Only six yards of goods were required in those days to make a lady's dress.

In 1803, and for a number of years after, the wages of a farm laborer were $80 to $100 per year. Mechanics' wages, including board, $1 per day. The ten hour system was not in vogue in those days, and carpenters were obliged to work during the long summer days from as early in the morning as they could see the head of a hammer until as late at night as they could see the head of a nail.

Corn and rye sold from 42 to 50 cents per bushel; oats from 20 to 25; pork from $3.50 to $4; beef, $2.50 to $4 per cwt.; prime cows, in spring, $15 to $20; the best horses, $80.

Mountain land adjacent to the village was not salable; $1 per acre was the highest price asked. About the year 1828 or '30, William Bradford bought 200 acres of valuable wood land on Bald mountain, northwest of the village, for $1 per acre. There were but few owners of real estate in the early settlement of the village, and no particular inducement for speculation either in the fertility of the soil or the rapid development of business.

This was a narrow field for speculators or trading men. The scarcity of cash made swapping, bartering or credit necessary in almost every kind of large transaction, and when real estate changed hands, it was generally by bargains of the above character. As an illustration of this Yankee characteristic may be mentioned George Whitman, an excellent citizen, a kind neighbor, and a man of honor and integrity in his dealings. He was one of our most conspicuous "trading men." Being of rather infirm bodily health, he had to rely on his brains rather than his muscles for a livelihood. His widow related the following curious facts relative to her husband's buying, selling and oftimes removing. From 1807 to 1829 he owned eleven different dwellings and lots, and removed fifteen times. Sometimes she would move into a house, and before getting her goods in and fairly unpacked and settled her husband would make another trade, and the summons would come to remove again!

Mr. Whitman owned at various times four farms, the entire lot of land now forming the Union, large lots of land in Clarksburg and Florida. He traded a farm for the Mansion House in Williamstown, traded that for a saw mill and land, and the last trade before his decease was for the valuablefarm and quarry adjoining this village on the southwest, and now owned by Ivory Witt.

It is believed that up to the year 1825 no man settled here with as much as $2000 cash capital; consequently the growth of the place was exceedingly slow, and even that slow growth was interfered with by the fluctuating tariff policy of the federal government, which knocked about our early manufacturing enterprises like shuttlecocks.


About the year 1708-9, the first cloth dressing was done in North Adams by one Roger Wing from Connecticut. The fulling mill was put into Captain Colgrove's grist mill, and the finishing was done in a small building near where Burlingame Darby's store now is. About 1801 a carding machine was also put into Captain Colgrove's grist mill.

In 1801 David Estes, having constructed a dam across the north branch, erected the first buildings in town for carding wool and dressing cloth. They stood on the site of the Estes factory. Roger Wing carried on the clothier's business successfully in the above named buildings five or six years. He also kept a hotel in the old portion of the "Black tavern." About 1804 he sold the tavern stand to Bethuel Finney, Esq., and removed with his clothier's machinery to Granville, N.Y.

In 1804 Captain J. Colgrove, like a true man of business, not liking to see a vacancy unimproved, erected, for the purpose of wool carding, cloth fulling and dressing, a two-story building—now standing on the east bank of the Hoosac river, the first dwelling north of Hodges' grist mill. He procured new machinery, and a large share of Wing's custom flowed to the establishment. About half of each season, from May to November, was devoted to carding "rolls" for the active, strong-armed housewives to spin, while in the remainder, or winter months of the year, the cloth dressing was fully performed. The business was carried on by Captain Colgrove for fifteen years at this mill. He was subjected to the disadvantage of no previous knowledge of the business. He also had an untiring, close-calculating competitor in David Estes.

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