Bidwell Lore – The Founding of the City on the Hill, Part I

Welcome to week 59 of Bidwell Lore. This week we begin the story of the creation of Township #1, which later became Tyringham and was finally divided in the 19th century into Monterey and Tyringham.

The Founding of the City on the Hill, Part I
by Rob Hoogs

For the past few weeks, we have briefly outlined the Mohican lifeways and culture in the surrounding hills and valleys of Ousatonnuck – “the place beyond the mountain” – which was further from their ancestral hearths along the “Mahicannituck” (Hudson’s River). As described, the natives tried to adapt to the coming of the European Colonists in the 1600s and the intense pressure this put on the natives for their land. 

English and Dutch “Colonists”
The disruptions described in the previous Bidwell Lore played out in the Housatonic River valley and directly affected the “settlement” of the Berkshires and Township Number 1. In the mid-late 1600s, fur trading routes followed old Indian Paths between Springfield and Albany, with many side trails. Several small trading posts had been established. In the early decades of the 18th century, a few Dutch “settlers” began to move over the mountain from the Hudson River Valley, and a few English moved up the Housatonic River from Connecticut and began to build more permanent habitations. Some land was “purchased” from the Indians by a few Dutch who had moved from the New York side of the mountain.  

In the early 18th century, the English Crown and the merchants/investors back in England were getting rich from the colonies. But they wanted more, so the Governor, along with the Great and General Court of the Colony of Massachusetts in the Province of New England, felt the need to consolidate its claims against the Dutch patroons to the south and the west, and the French to the north. They ordered the building of a new road–the Great Road–to connect from Westfield via the new town of Blandford, through what they perceived as primal forest, over the great barrier of mountains to the settlements at Sheffield established in 1724. The road would follow along the old Indian Path that had been widened by fur traders and travelers between Springfield and Albany, crossing the fordway in Upper Sheffield (now Great Barrington). By all accounts, the road was rough and forbidding, through what the English settlers called a “hideous, howling wilderness.” 

The General Court, on January 15, 1735, authorized the establishment of four new Townships at Housatonnuck as part of the “Greenwoods” grant. The Proprietors would receive the land within the Townships as compensation for the expense of opening the Great Road and establishing the settlements. Each township was to be 6 miles square and the Court’s charter required the Proprietors to lay out 63 house lots, plus lots for the first and second settled ministers and a school. They also had to erect a meeting house and obtain a gospel-teaching minister. And, of necessity, there had to be a good site for a mill for both grain and lumber.

But first, the Proprietors were required to obtain a deed from the Natives. In June 1737 John Popnehounowwah, known as “Chief Konkapot,” and ten other members of the tribe, in consideration of 300 pounds, conveyed the land for the establishment of the four new townships. Township Number 1 became Tyringham (and later, Monterey); Number 2: New Marlborough; Number 3: Sandisfield; and Number 4: Becket. Unincorporated and Equivalent lands later became Otis. The charter also required that the settlers of the lots each give his bond of £40 to the General Court, plus agree to “build and furnish a dwelling house upon his lot 18 foot square X 7 foot stud at least”, and “to improve five acres either by plowing or mowing or planting same with English grass.”  They had to complete these improvements within five years, and they were required to actually live on the lot to validate their title. Most of the Proprietors were wealthy landowners and speculators from the eastern part of Massachusetts and many never lived on their land, but rather sold it to other colonists.

On March 10, 1736/37 and July 25, 1737, the “Proprietors” of Township Number 1 met to select a committee of five persons (with a surveyor) to “make a pitch of sixty house lotts & three publick lotts in the most regular and defensible manner the land will admit…”. The first recorded Proprietors’ Meeting was held 6 October 1737 in Watertown, to act on the report of the committee, Samuel Livermore, Jonas Smith, John Jackson, Andrew White, and Ebenezer Cutler. They had surveyed out about forty lots and prepared a plan of the “lotts” which was “agreeable to the Proprietors [to] be laid before the Honorable General Courts Committee for their approbation…” The General Courts Committee approved the plan with the proviso that the remaining 20 or so lots be laid out within two months, and the three “Publick lotts” and the mill lot(s) be designated. On 15 November 1737, the Proprietors voted that “ye lott No. 25 be set apart for the first settled minister.” This is the lot on which Reverend Adonijah Bidwell later built the Bidwell House. Lot 20 was reserved for the second settled minister and Lot 21 was for the school. Lot No. 2 was “sequestered … for the building of a saw mill and grist mill…” along what is now called Loom Brook.  (There will be more about the mill in another installment of this series.)

The current Bidwell House Museum property includes 193 acres of land at the original center of Township Number 1. The property is bisected by the Old Boston and Albany Post Road that ran to Stockbridge, the second of the two main roads in the town. The property includes the site of the first Meeting House (on Lot #1), the First Settled Minister’s Lot (#25, which became Adonijah Bidwell’s house lot when he was ordained the township’s first minister in 1750), part of the Second Settled Minister’s Lot (#20), and part of the lot originally sequestered for the Mill Lot (#2). The school lot (#21) was laid out immediately adjacent to the east of the Second Minister’s  Lot. 

Annotated portion of the Plan of Township No. 1 showing the center of the Township circa 1760.

The Old Boston and Albany Post Road that was the main axis of the township’s layout still exists today, including the length of Mount Hunger Road and Art School Road. The old road continued straight across the intersection of Art School Road and Carrington-Battelle Road through the Bidwell House Museum property, across Loom Brook and Beartown Road, and through what is now Beartown State Forest. The section of the old highway through the state forest was discontinued in the early 1800s and shifted ½ mile north to the flatter, easier route that is still in use today. But the evidence of the old road through the woods is still evident by the stone walls and numerous cellar holes and stone-lined wells in the woods. As shown on the image above, the Post Road continued all the way over the Burgoyne Pass down to what is now Ice Glen Road in Stockbridge. The section of the old road through the Bidwell House Museum property was abandoned in the late 1790s after the second Meeting House was built ½ mile south along Beartown Mountain Road, the area now called “Old Center.” But the remnants of the road are still to be found as it continues in a perfectly straight line northwesterly through the museum property. The road is defined by stone walls on both sides sixty-six feet (four rods) apart. Some old wheel ruts remain that have now formed small rivulets. 

Bidwell Lore will be taking a break next week, but on June 29 we’ll look in more detail at the mills and the roads in and through Township No. 1.