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]

ONE of the oldest roads in the county is that which now comes over Florida mountain, down Church Hill, forming our Main street and on to Williamstown. This must have been a trail or road previous to the year 1744, as Fort Massachusetts was built in that year, and a road of some kind was an actual necessity to the settlers.

In the grant of 200 acres of land given Captain Williams in 1750, which grant included the fort, one stipulation was that he shall "be required to keep an open highway two rods wide, on the northerly side of said fort, leading towards Albany. In 1746 Samuel Rice petitioned for a grant of 200 acres, on condition that he "build a new and better road over the Hoosac mountain."

The almost insurmountable difficulties which attended the making of the first roads in this town have already been alluded to. Such enormous tree stumps, formidable boulders, rapid running streams and up and down hill routes were enough to discourage any men excepting those who did not know of such a word as "impossible." Most of the roads were built over the hills instead of around them for the reason that the early settlements were on the uplands and the roads must run past the houses.

The meadows on the Hoosac river were frequently overflowed (especially in South Adams and Cheshire) and it was considered unsafe to settle near the stream. The highways were therefore built and maintained with heavy labors and expense, running as they did on unfavorable routes. Stump machines, like those now in use were not then invented, though some of the ingenius mechanics, like Capt. Colgrove and Charles Peck contrived means for "snaking" out ugly stumps, with a moderate expenditure of muscular strength and at a saving of whisky and hard work.

At the first regular town meeting in Adams, March 8, 1779, it was voted to raise £100 to make and repair highways. Eight persons were chosen highway surveyors, and they acted in districts,—the village from Furnace hill to the top of Hoosac mountain forming one district. In 1780 the highway tax was 120 pounds and the number of surveyors was increased to 13 in 1781 the tax went up to 200 pounds.

In 1795, the roads having been built to a convenient extent, the tax for repairing was only £160 and the number of surveyors was 15. Among them was Jeremiah Colegrove, Sr., whose name now appears for the first time in the town records, it being about a year after his arrival in town. He was a most efficient. practical and thorough road worker, and possessed the faculty of inspiring other men with his own industry.

In 1806 the road tax had risen to $1200, or nearly four times as much as the first year. This sum was all paid in labor and materials. Eighty-three cents a day was allowed (in 1770 it was just half as much) for the labor of a man, and the same for a span of horses or a yoke of oxen. The town records contain many surveys of the roads, some in almost every year. July 1. 1782. a town meeting was held for the special purpose of considering certain proposed alterations in the road.

In 1785, no less than twenty-one surveyors of highways were elected, showing that there must have been an uncommon amount of road making. In 1780 the highway surveyors were done away with, for the town "Voted that the Selectmen See to the Laying out the money Voted on the roads to the best Advantage."

In 1704 the main roads leading into and out of the village were the same as now, with three exceptions, as follows:

    First, The road from Eagle street through the Union to Clarksburg, which was opened as far as the Union in 1832 and continued to Clarksburg afterwards. Messrs. Burke, Ingalls and Wells, O. and H. Arnold and Gad Smith offered to build the upper Union bridge if the town would lay the road up there and build the lower bridge. This was done against considerable opposition, some persons saving that the scheming manufacturers would build a mill on some stream and then request the town to make roads and bridges for them; and we shall all be ruined if such policy prevail.

    Second, The old Clay road was the first road to the Union, and must have been opened as early as 1780 to reach the mills of Oliver Parker.

    Third, State street was not laid out from Main south to Ivory Witt's residence until 1833. Previous to this time the west road to the South village passed over the Main street bridge and along the track of the Troy & Boston railroad, over Hickey hill, joining the present road near Mr. Witt's.

No buildings were erected on the old road south of the bridge until 1825, excepting a potashery by Marshall Jones, about the, year 1800, about where George Billings' house now stands.

The main travelled road north from the village in 1794 was over Church hill and out on to Eagle street through North Church.

No street was then open from Main to the north east corner of Centre, comprising what is now the business portion of Eagle street.

About the year 1800, Captain Colgrove, who owned the land, commenced using it as a private way for lumber hauling, etc., and in the course of time he presented it to the town for a public highway.

The first house in the southern part of Eagle street was built in 1806 by Joseph Darby, on the site of George Millard's residence. The street soared aloft at such a rate that at one time she rivaled Main, but the tide turned and Main is and always will be the street of the town.

In 1806, —about which time , Main street was cleared of its unsightly stumps, excepting one that tormented pedestrians up to 1858, —the whole street south of Main, embracing what is now Summer, Quincy and Chestnut streets, was a pasture very much overgrown with brush and it remained exclusively tilling land from 1814 to 1834.

In 1829 the population of the whole town of Adams, both, villages, was about 2500; in 1820 it was 1836. Of North Adams: in 1829 the probable population was 1000. This village then contained three churches, seven factory buildings, seven stores, two taverns, one printing office, one furnace, two blacksmith shops, one tin shop, two cabinet makers shops, six shoe makers, one jewelers shop, three milliners, two tailors, one hatter, two saddlers and harness makers, two wagon makers, three carpenters, four physicians, two lawyers, and sundry mechanics without shops. The number of dwelling houses all told, was 87, occupied by 105 families.

The present road to the Union from Eagle street was laid out in 1832 and in 1833 it was continued through the Beaver to the Clarksburg line. Previous to 1826 there was not a building of any kind in the Union proper. It was a stony, brush pasture.

River street (including Johnson's ground) was laid out in 1832. The first building erected was the stone factory and the dwellings adjoining on the east.

State street was laid out in 1833, Summer street in 1834, most, of the land belonging to the estate of Giles Tinker, Esq., and had been used for farming purposes.

The land was cut up into one-fourth acre lots, the price paid being from $150 to $200. L. W. Stearns erected the first house, the same now occupied by E. R. Tinker, which has been twice remodeled since it was first erected.

Quincy street was laid out in 1842, the land belonging to Captain Richmond. Lots sold from $125 to $150. George Millard built the first house in 1842, the same one greatly enlarged and improved, now owned and occupied by Wm. Burton.

Holden street was laid out in 1844, the land formerly belonging to the estate of Caleb B. Turner. The portion lying north of Center street was purchased by Dr. E. S. Hawks and John Holden, in 1842. Mrs. W. M. Mitchell built the first house in 1843, which is still standing on the north west corner of Centre and Holden.

Chestnut street was laid out in 1849, the land belonging to G. W. Bradford. The lots sold from $200 to $300. Eagle street, from Main to Center, was laid out in 1805, having previous to this been used as a lane.

Center street in 1815, having also been used as a lane by E. Estes, from his residence to Eagle street.

Morris street in 1860, although it had previously been a private way.


The first stage which passed through this village for the conveyance of mails and passengers, was established about the year 1814, by a Mr. Phelps of Greenfield, the citizens of this town subscribing for the enterprise. The stage ran once a week from Greenfield and Albany, via- Williamstown, Hancock and Sand Lake, bringing our people into direct communication with the trade centers.

The first vehicle used was an uncovered two horse wagon, with the body suspended on leather springs. The line proving successful several citizens became interested in the enterprise, the line being owned in sections and introducing better equipages. Col. Wm. Waterman, who for several years owned and kept the Berkshire House, became a large owner in the line, which ere long made two and finally three trips a week, by which it was intended to carry travellers through from Boston to Albany in forty-eight hours. Many changes in ownership occurred up to the year 1825, and in 1827 Arthur Putney of this village became connected for a short time with the line over Hoosac mountain. Jenks Kimbell bought Mr. Putney's interest and became, eventually, the most extensive and successful stage proprietor and livery stable keeper in Berkshire county.

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