Fort Massachusetts Memorialized
There is no other historic site in the Northern Berkshires more worthy of preservation than that of the site of Fort Massachusetts. The first English settlers in this area were the soldiers and their families from the fort, and they helped to clear the way for further European settlement into this region.
For a Fort Massachusetts Monument––160 Years Ago
Below is an article from the local newspaper, The North Adams Transcript, dated 1896.
The idea for a suitable monument for the site of Fort Massachusetts in 1856 would never materialize. However, by 1858, an elm tree was planted as a memorial to the site by Williams College students. Although the writer had a point regarding its mortality, for the sapling tree didn't survive the year, I feel that he was unfair to disregard its significance. A new elm was planted the following year, and flourished for over a hundred years. The planting of this sapling was responsible not only for being the first way to memorialize this site, but was also, through the research and fieldwork involved, the result of actually locating the site of Fort Massachusetts. And no one knew this better than Arthur Latham Perry (February 27, 1830 – July 9, 1905), a prominent economist in his day, professor of history and political economy at Williams College, and a local historian.
It all began with "Perry's Elm". A group of Williams College students joined Professors Hopkins and Perry in 1858 and planted a sapling elm, although it hadn't survived the winter and died, as did the second elm planted in 1859. Professor Perry later transplanted an elm from the river bank. It survived. And has since been known as “Perry's Elm”.
Taken from his book, "Origins in Williamstown," published in 1894, he wrote:
Picture postcard featuring "Perry's Elm"
(Image courtesy of C.A. Chicoine.)
After Fort Massachusetts was decommissioned in 1759, a few of the otherwise homeless soldiers continued to linger around the old fort for some years. In 1762, the General Court sold at auction the entire township of East Hoosac, and Colonel Elisha Jones became one of the four proprietors, by an arrangement with Nathan Jones. The rest follows, taken, again, from Perry's book, "Origins in Williamstown."
Fort Massachusetts Historical Society
The Fort Massachusetts Historical Society grew primarily out of the effort of Mrs. Jennie Paul Goodrich, and the ladies whom she associated with, in 1895, for the patriotic purpose of preserving the identity of the site of Fort Massachusetts.
The owner of the land––Mr. Clement Harrison’s heirs––purposed dividing the tract into building sites. Mrs. Goodrich's proposal to purchase that portion, which was of historic worth, met with a cordial response from the women of North Adams. In order to obtain the funds needed, they contributed essays and other writings to a special issue of the Hoosac Valley News––through the generous cooperation of its proprietor, Edward A. McMillin––while they also secured, through their own efforts, a very large advertising patronage. The issue, which comprised of twenty-four pages, and of which five thousand copies were printed, was published on November 23, 1895.
One of the articles, written by Annie W. McMillin––daughter of Edward A. McMillin––was a poem, titled “Captivity”, featured below.
by Annie W. McMillin
Fort Massachusetts! At the name
Rise pictures set in emerald frame.
A valley in a golden sheen
Of August sun, with mountains green,
With humane thought and willing hand,
On every side that guard it well,
Each peak a lofty sentinel.
A stream that thro’ the valley flows,
And many a graceful winding knows,
And the rude fort made firm and strong
By arts to which the time belong
—Nor does imagination fail
To find the hidden Mohawk Trail.
No peace did that green valley know
That August day so long ago.
In fancy the war-whoop I hear
That blanched the manliest cheek with fear,
See the unequal strife begun,
And the glorious victory won.
I see the lillied flag of France
Borne high amid a savage dance,
I see the blazing torch applied
And through the fort the flames spread wide.
And then, with moistened eyes, I see
A little captive company.
Now God be praised that here should be
No sight of barbarous cruelty,
No agony of black despair,
But hearts sustained by fervent prayer.
Full patiently the path they trod,
And their mercies still thanked God.
With humane thought and willing hand,
A litter rude the captors planned,
So bore the woman who that day
Must else have fainted on the way.
Strange in this wilderness to see
This touch of fine French chivalry.
But when they came on weary feet
Near where the Hoosac rivers meet,
A new life fluttered down to earth,
For here a little child had birth,
And new care on that hour of need,
Came on to John and Mary Smead.
But they were brave—they looked above--
And welcomed her with tenderest love--
Turned to their chaplain and thanked Heaven
That Christian baptism could be given,
Crushed down their longing to be free,
And named their child “Captivity.”
Well for that mother that there lies
A heaven in a baby’s eyes,
Well for that child that she could rest
So sweetly on a mother’s breast,
For days were hard and full of fear
And Canada was cold and drear.
For nine dark months did Mary Smead
The hard life of a captive lead.
Then twice the faithful chaplain said
The simple service o’er the dead,
Rose a new dawn celestial—free,
For her and for Captivity.
O Country dear! O Promised Land
Where Faith and Hope unchallenged stand,
Made rich not only by the flood
Poured over thee of heroes’ blood,
But often in these earliest years
By precious drops of mothers’ tears!
O never tender little child
On thy stern struggle looked and smiled,
And then went back to grow in grace
Before the Heavenly Father’s face,
But sent an added blessing down
Thy strife for liberty to crown.
And as we keep, as is but right,
Fort Massachusetts’ sunny site,
And honor, through the coming years,
All these—our history’s pioneers,
Sometimes in tender thought will we
Remember sweet Captivity.
This fundraising effort afforded the Society to purchase a portion of the land desired. The group met on October 14, 1896, in St. John's Parish House, to establish the organization of the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society, "the purpose for which this corporation is formed is to purchase, preserve and improve the site of Fort Massachusetts," with the intention of erecting a permanent monument to mark the historic site of Fort Massachusetts. And they continued their fundraising efforts through their meetings, which usually featured speakers and a band––Clapp's Military Band. Through that, and with membership contributions, they were able to raise the money and, accordingly, purchased the one and a half acres.
In 1897, a flagstaff was raised upon the site by the Society, and from it was displayed on October 23d of that year, a beautiful national flag, the gift of Mrs. Hiram Sibley, a former resident of North Adams. The flag was drawn to its place by Professor Lewis Perry, of Williams College, son of Professor Arthur Perry, who forty years before had planted the commemorative elm. The Daughters of the American Revolution, Fort Massachusetts Chapter, provided a pennant for the flagstaff.
It had been suggested at the time, by T. W. Richmond––a prominent coal dealer in North Adams––who donated a flag to be permaneatly flown at the site, while the one donated by Mrs. Sibley was folded away to be used on special occasions, that a marker bearing an inscription of the the site's history be erected between the flagstaff and the elm tree for the benefit of those who visit the spot. This marker may be of wood, iron or stone. There was an opinion that the most appropriate marker would be a large boulder rolled down from the hillside to the north of the site. The stone would be selected with a side that was comparatively smooth and on that side any inscription thought proper could be made. However, it would not come to pass in that century.
"Perry's Elm" with the flagstaff. circa 1912
(Image from Niles' book, "The Hoosac Valley : Its Legends and Its History".)
Mr. A. C. Houghton, then first mayor of the city of North Adams, in 1897, donated to the city a building for a public library. In his deed of gift he reserved two rooms for the use of the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society. In these rooms were contained a valuable collection of portraits of early pioneers, manuscripts, maps, prints, engravings, together with domestic utensils, weapons, agricultural implements, and other relics of the pioneer days, all possessing peculiar historical interest, and which will have an ever increasing value as the years go by.
The Society began raising funds to reconstruct the fort as a memorial site. The new fort was erected by WPA workers during the depression, and was dedicated in 1933. It operated as a historical tourist site into the 1950's. The headstone of Elisha Nims, a soldier killed at Fort Massachusetts, was made part of the memorial––being set into a fieldstone cairn, and placed within the replica of the fort. The walls of the fort enclosed "Perry's Elm", as can be seen in the picture postcards below.
Note the three flags; the fleur-de-lis of France, the United States 'Stars and Stripes', and the British 'Union Jack'.
(Postcard courtesy of Jason Campbell, via Shirley Bruso's archives.)
The headstone of Elisha Nims
(Photo courtesy of Paul Marino)
Members of Frank R. Stiles Post of North Adams, Massachusetts, dug at the site of the pre-Revolutionary War Fort Massachusetts and unearthed two rusty cannon balls, and various other relics to help furnish a replica of the fort built for the Massachusetts Tercentenary. (Image from The American Legion Monthly, Volume 10, No. 4, April 1931. Permission Pending.)
(Photo courtesy of the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, Massachusetts.)
North Adams' most famous historical landmark has been sold to private interests
In 1952, the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society sold the property––despite the disproval of the Daughters of the American Revolution––to Herbert J. Mausert and Arthur C. Mausert, operators of Mausert's Ice Cream Company, Inc. The replica of the fort would be reopened as a restaurant––Fort Massachusetts Restaurant. The Fort Massachusetts Historical Society was forced to sell the property because of inability of the society to maintain the stockade and its garrison house. The society reopened the historical room on the third floor of the North Adams Public Library building, after vandals entered the fort replica and smashed all the glass showcases and destroyed many valuable relics in 1942. The collection of articles of historical interest, which comprised a large exhibit when the fort was open as a public museum, were all moved to the library. And since that time, they have merely been in storage there, with the room closed to the public. Through an agreement between the historical society and the Mauserts, space was reserved in the restaurant for a small historical exhibit. They operated the restaurant for several years afterward, up until its last few years when the property remained idle because flood control bridge and road work depleted the traffic flow on State Road in the late 1950's.
In 1960, Central City Markets, Inc.* ––the Golub Corporation––bought the property. William Golub, president of the Central chain, said that every effort would be made to preserve the memory of Fort Massachusetts. Though the replica of the fort would be cleared away, Mr. Golub said it was planned to keep the large elm tree on the north-eastern end of the property and also the small monument near the front of the fort. The monument, however, was relocated. The monument referred to here is of the headstone of Elisha Nims, mentioned above. It has since been removed.
In 1976, the Fort Massachusetts Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution set a boulder on the site with a bronze tablet commemorating the fort and its defenders.
(Photo courtesy of C.A. Chicoine)
The memorial sits beside the tall fireplace and chimney left over from the Fort Massachusetts replica. That is all that remains of the memorials to this hallowed site. Perry's Elm fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease. The headstone of Elisha Nims went missing. Most of the items that were stored in the historical room of the North Adams Library were auctioned off. And now, the site itself faces an uncertain future, as its current owner closed its store at this location.
(Photo courtesy of Wendy Champney)
*Central City Markets, Inc. is owned by the Golub Corporation. They changed its name to Price Chopper in 1973. And, in 2014, they announced that the chain would be changing its name to Market 32.
"Fort Massachusetts Memorialized" was compiled and edited by C.A. Chicoine.