Welcome to week 76 of Bidwell Lore! This week we stay on the subject of Laurel Cottage in Stockbridge with an article written by local historian Bernard A. Drew.
Laurel Cottage’s Four-Star history
by Bernard A. Drew
This article originally appeared in The Berkshire Eagle, 10 September 2005.
Lightning may seldom strike twice in nature, but it’s known to snap multiple times in local history. Laurel Cottage, for example, which once graced the east end of Stockbridge’s Main Street, had so many associations with fascinating people, it put any other dwelling in town (save the Sedgwick mansion) to shame.
Jahleel Woodbridge built the house some time before the Revolutionary War, according to Grace Bidwell Wilcox, [former] curator of the local history collection at Stockbridge Library, who wrote about the place for this newspaper in September 1953.
Offspring of one of the original four white families in Indian Town, Woodbridge, according to Wilcox, “graduated from Princeton in 1761 and married Lucy Edwards, daughter of Rev. Jonathan Edwards. He became judge of the probate court and state senator and in 1774 was a member of the county convention that met in Stockbridge.” His house, according to a brief history by David M. Wood, was similar in appearance to the Mission House. That is, it was double-chimneyed, double-bayed. Inside walls were vertically planked. Laurel Cottage was recast in the 1880s with a Victorian entrance, porches and bay window.
(see image below)
Woodbridge’s prominence did not go unnoticed by those rebellious farmers, the Shaysites, who in 1787 invaded the premises, grabbed the judge and toted him to Great Barrington during their protest. Woodbridge’s son, the Rev. Timothy Woodbridge, described the incident in his “Autobiography of a Blind Minister,” and novelist Edward Bellamy gave a fictionalized account in his 1879 novel “The Duke of Stockbridge.”
Laurel Cottage’s next owner of note led a more sedate life. The Rev. Caleb Hyde came to Stockbridge in 1833 from Lenox. He held a meeting Feb. 1, 1834, at Laurel Cottage during which St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was organized.
At Hyde’s death in 1838, Harriet Davidson acquired the property. A widow, she met a widower named David Dudley Field Jr. (his wife Lucinda had died birthing a child in 1836), and they married in 1841. The property comprised the eastern portion of Laurel Hill behind Stockbridge Plain School and extended across the Housatonic River and up a mountain top where Field later constructed an observation tower which he named for his daughter-in-law, Laura Belden Field. The estate also included Ice Glen, where Field in 1850 entertained a few literary guests named Melville, Hawthorne, Fields, Duyckinck, Mathews, Headley and Holmes. You’ve probably heard that story. Through Field’s disdain for timber harvest, Ice Glen has been preserved as one of the most accessible, if small, stands of old-growth hemlock and white pine in Berkshire.
Prosperous in his New York law practice, Field in 1864 purchased the old Jones Place on Sergeant Hill, as it was then called, and built a new mansion at Eden Hill. Field and his wife leased Laurel Cottage to St. Paul’s and it served as rectory from 1865 to 1872. When the Rev. Henry Allen lived there, his mother-in-law, Harriet Beecher Stowe, came from Hartford to visit. According to Wilcox, Stowe is believed to have written a new book, Pink and White Tyranny, while in town. [You can read the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Laurel cottage, HERE and HERE]
When the house was rented to Mrs. Frederick W. Whitridge, her father, the English author Matthew Arnold, came for a visit. There survived in “Letters of Matthew Arnold,” eight missives written from Laurel Cottage showing his general disdain for the Berkshire climate but his fondness for several individuals he met here.
In 1885, the Inmans leased Eden Hill for several summers. Displaced but not inconvenienced, Field on his Stockbridge sojourn in 1888 and stayed again at the old Laurel Cottage. Field’s daughter, Jeannie Lucinda, had married Sir Anthony Musgrave, a British diplomat. During a vacation visit to Stockbridge in 1893, Lady Musgrave was at Laurel Cottage as was her father, now-thrice-widowed, and his manservant Watson. One night the notorious gentleman burglar, who preyed on the summer colony, visited Laurel Cottage only to be frightened away. Lady Jeannie yelled at him.
After her father’s death in 1894, Lady Musgrave disposed of the family’s Stockbridge holdings. “My grandfather Charles Augustus Bidwell bought it in 1906 from Lady Musgrave,” said Marie Leuchs of Monterey. “At his death in ’33 it passed to his widow Mary Carter Bidwell and at her death in ’48 to their daughter Helen Bidwell Lukeman, wife of the sculptor Augustus Lukeman.”
The sale, according to an unidentified newspaper clipping from Aug. 28, 1906, included all of Laurel Cottage’s furnishings “except a few pieces of furniture which Lady Musgrave has reserved for herself.”
Bidwell was related by marriage to Lady Musgrave. “His brother Lawson B. Bidwell was married to Henrietta Whitney Brewer, daughter of Rev. Josiah and Emelia Ann Field Brewer [sister of David Dudley Field Jr.]. His nephew James Lawson Karrick was married to Henrietta Louisa Brewer, daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice David J. Brewer and his wife Louisa Landon and granddaughter of Rev. Josiah and Emelia Ann Field,” Leuchs said. “The Brewer wives’ ancestral grandmother was Theodoria Bidwell Brewer, wife of Eliah Brewer Esq. and daughter of Rev. Adonijah Bidwell of Monterey (then Tyringham).”
Leuchs has fond memories of visiting Laurel Cottage and her grandparents twice a week as a youngster. “We roamed the house. And the property included half of Laurel Hill and we children climbed to the top.”
The town of Stockbridge took Laurel Cottage by eminent domain in 1953 to enlarge the Stockbridge Plain School grounds. At the time there still stood a tree which Matthew Arnold had planted in 1886. A second tree on the grounds was an acacia which, according to a marker, grew from seed from a tree which stood at the grave of Napoleon Bonaparte at St. Helena. All were razed — house and trees. There are tennis courts on the site today.