Bidwell Lore – The Founding of the City on the Hill, Part II: Roads and Mills

Welcome to week 60 of Bidwell Lore. This week we continue the story of the creation of Township #1, with a look at the planning of the roads and mills.

As part of the Proprietors’ 1737 plan for Township No.1, they made allowance for a network of roads through the township. These roads were to connect the township to the surrounding settlements in Stockbridge and the Upper Parish of Sheffield (later Great Barrington), while also interconnecting the House Lots and the Public Lots—which included the Minister’s Lot, School Lot, and Mill Lot, with the Meeting House at the center. As shown in the annotated copy of the 1753 Plan below, the main through roads (highlighted in red) were oriented in an east-west direction. Each House Lot included an allowance for the right of way of a north-south roadway. These more minor local roads are highlighted in orange.  

1753 Plan for Township Number 1 marked with roads and house lots.

Contrary to the later established patterns of land use, the colonists avoided the valleys and lowlands, and planned their houses, buildings, and roads along the ridges and uplands. The valleys were swampy, shaded by the surrounding mountains, and were considered by the colonists to be “disease-ridden.” It is logical that the early roads would follow the ridges avoiding swamps and river crossings wherever possible. Thus the earliest road through Township No.1 was the Great Trail from Westfield to Sheffield. This road was surveyed prior to 1735, opened as a “cart road” in 1737, and improved as a good sleigh road seven months later. The plan below, dated November 16, 1737, calls it a “Country Road the old way.”

1737 Map of Township Number 1, hand drawn

Another plan shows the route of another “old road” north of Twelve Mile Pond (later Brewers Pond, now named Lake Garfield), which was probably a remnant of an Indian trail. The roads along this route are now named Hupi Road, Beartown Mountain Road, and Brett Road. It intersected the Great Road to Sheffield further west. This route was higher and drier than the “Great Road” and was a very important road, sporting two of the three “taverns” or inns along the route: Chadwick’s and Jackson’s. The third tavern – Brewer’s – was located along the Great Road as shown on the annotated 1753 plan from earlier in this article. This route also passed through the center of the home lots of the original proprietors and the two earliest cemeteries.  This area is now called “Old Center.”

The route of present Highway Route 23 roughly follows the Great Road. Interestingly, in later records, this road was described not as a highway but as the “trod way or path leading to Sheffield.” It is also worth noting that the names of the various features along the Great Road are milestones measuring the distance from the Court House in the shire town (Sheffield/Great Barrington): Three Mile Hill, Six Mile Pond (Lake Buel), Twelve Mile Pond (Lake Garfield), 25 Mile Pond (Big Pond, Otis), etc.

Another main road was laid out running “along the squadron line” east and west from the Meeting House between Lots 17 and 38. This road branched off the Great Road east of 12 Mile Pond and ran over the mountain (Mount Hunger) past the meeting house. This road now includes Mount Hunger Road and Art School Road, and an old abandoned section through the Bidwell House Museum property. In 1744 the road was extended northwesterly along the ridge through Beartown State Forest and “Icy Glen” to Stockbridge. This road later became the Boston and Albany Post Road, an important link to the surrounding towns and beyond. Additional roads were laid out during the 1750s to connect between the center of the town – the Meeting House on the hill – and these two main east-west thoroughfares.

Sepia toned 19th century image of a woodland trail in Monterey Massachusetts

The reality of how the town became settled diverged from the Proprietors’ original 1737 plan in several ways. Almost immediately, it was found that the Mill Lot, Lot #2, did not have sufficient water flow or drop to be a successful mill site. A sawmill and grist mill were essential to the Proprietors’ ability to create a settlement. Several people were invited to build the mills but declined after inspecting the designated Mill Lot along the Loom Brook. In 1738 a committee was appointed to visit the town’s mill site and concluded that “the lott No. 2, which was sequestered for said service… [was] not so accommodated with a [suitable] stream…” They then followed the brook downstream almost two miles past the confluence with Pond Brook (now the Konkapot River) and found a more suitable site with a much larger watershed and a good drop. The new mill lot included the outlet of 12 Mile Pond and the brook where it crossed the Great Road. This mill site is now the village of Monterey. 

The Proprietors set the following conditions for obtaining their Miller: that he agree to “build a Sawmill on said lott compleat by the middle of August next and the Grist Mill as soon as the Proprietors shall think necessary and that the Proprietors bear all the cost of transporting a pair of Mill stones above tens pounds each, and [the miller shall] keep the Saw Mill in good repair, and saw for the Proprietors as cheap as any of the neighboring Mills shall do for fifteen years and maintain the Grist Mill in good repairs with suitable attendance for twenty years, and the said Comitte to agree upon much easier terms as they can for the Proprietors advantage.”

At their meeting in Waltham on June 8, 1739, the Proprietors finally granted the new 75 acre mill lot to Mr. John Brewer of Hopkinton, who agreed to build the Saw Mill within six months and the Grist Mill within two years.

This revised location of the mill significantly changed the settlement pattern of the plan for Township No. 1. The new mill site—which would become the early commercial center—was located over two miles from the Meeting House which was the spiritual and cultural center of the community. The township almost immediately was split into two sections which had to be connected by roads.

At their meeting on March 1, 1751, the Proprietors voted on two important topics:  first, they granted to their newly appointed Minister “the Revd Mr Adonijah Bidwell ye sum of one hundred sixty dollars…for his first years salary beginning at Octr 3d, 1750”; and second, they voted to approve the layout of several roads, including a road “from the Meeting house to the Mills.”  The layout began at the Meeting House – the center of the township – and followed what are now known as Carrington-Battelle Road, Beartown Mountain Road, and the southern leg of Tyringham Road to the intersection with the Great Road at the present village of Monterey.  Thus the center of activity of Township Number 1 began to split into two halves—northerly and southerly. This trend continued as the Hop Brook Valley became developed into the second northerly commercial and cultural center with other mills and commercial activities—and eventually another Meeting House. 

Steep and difficult roads connected the two sections. The rift eventually led to Township No. 1 becoming the two towns of Tyringham and Monterey (South Tyringham).

The Royal Hemlock Road was laid out in 1743 from the Meeting House to the North Tyringham section along Hop Brook. In colonial days, large trees were reserved for His Majesty’s Navy and were sometimes marked with an “R” denoting their Royal status. Tradition has it that a traveler passing along this road in his ox-cart came to this beautiful giant hemlock on which was carved “R H”. This was probably intended to mean Road to Hop Brook. But the man mistook the meaning as Royal Hemlock, and that name has continued to the present. [1]

Next week we’ll delve into the Meeting House and Minister.

[1] This story is cited in A Hinterland Settlement, Tyringham, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, by Eloise Myers.