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 British 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.

Forty years ago one A. H. Morris wrote for the Transcript a series of articles called "Interesting Facts in the Early History of North Adams." One of the [articles] was concerning Fort Massachusetts, its history and traditions concerning it. The article was written with a [lot of passion] of the historical old fort, and an eloquent appreciation of the toil and sacrifice that had reared and sustained it. The article closes with an appeal that a monument might be erected on the site of the fort, and those words written nearly half a century ago are so forceful and timely now in view of the organization of the Fort Massachusetts Historical Society with its laudable purpose of marking in fitting manner this historical spot, that we want to repeat the Transcript's own printed words with their Inspiration for the present cause. "A suitable monument ought to be erected on the site of Fort Massachusetts--a shaft of the marble quarried in town, or some other enduring stone. The fearless hardships there endured, the cool courage manifested, and the glowing patriotism which animated the bosoms of the early pioneers, merits as hearty an acknowledgment from us, who are enjoying the fruits of their toils and sacrifices, as any of the exploits of our revolutionary fathers. But for the frontier fighting of the French and Indian Wars, indeed, there would have been no officers and soldiers trained for the Revolutionary struggle. Fort Massachusetts and other early defenses were primary schools for the troops at Bunker Hill and Bennington. As we learn that there was considerable talk of a monument on the site of Fort Massachusetts, during the ministry of Rev. John Alden in this village--he took a deep interest in the matter. Consent was cheerfully given by the owner of the land; a subscription was started and partially filled up; several drafts of a monument were made--one by Phineas Cone, of Williamstown, now deceased, a very ingenious architect; but the enterprise fell through, we are told, partly in consequence of bitter opposition, to any movement which should tend to invest with glory the subjects of the British government! This was a piece of narrow-mindedness only equaled by the old curmudgeon who refused to give anything after hearing a most eloquent and touching charity sermon, because he belonged in another parish! When monuments and statues are so thickly set up for every important local event and every supposed-to-be great man in our country, the site of old Fort Massachusetts certainly deserves to be marked by something more substantial than a sapling tree, which a mischievous ox or a petty insect may ruin at any time. Let us join together and build there a handsome monument, to point out the glorious spot to the multitude of travelers who shall yet pass it on their railway route via the Hoosac tunnel."

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.

Perry's Elm

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:

During my college course of four years, [Class of 1852] I managed to find out all that anybody here then knew, which was very little indeed, about old Fort Massachusetts and the local events falling in the old French and Indian wars. I made the pleasant acquaintance of the old farmer who then owned the broad meadow along the Hoosac, on which the fort once stood, and who had ploughed over its rude lines time and time again, and whose son had once accidentally thrown off by his ploughshare the flat stone covering the well of the fort, and had looked down for a moment or two upon the rubbish of old utensils and whatnot, with which its depths were more than half filled up. He repeatedly visited the spot with me ; gave me permission to transport to the College [in 1852] the last headstone remaining legible in the little " God's Acre " just to the west of the site of the fort ; and at length, when I wished to set a memorial tree on the very site of the fort itself, he took pains to point out what he believed to be the middle of the parade-ground within the original enclosure or block-house. The large elm now growing there was planted in 1859 by my own hands in the precise spot thus indicated by Clement Harrison.

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."

Israel Jones, son of Colonel Elisha Jones, of Weston, after a short residence in Pittsfield, became the proprietor, in 1766, of the farm, of which the main part was the broad and fertile meadow around Fort Massachusetts. By that time, the wooden fort had fallen into utter decay, and the exterior pickets had mostly rotted otf at the ground, and Farmer Israel Jones began to plough over and around the rude lines, which process he kept up at intervals till his death in 1829. Clement Harrison, then of Williamstown, bought the farm of the Jones heirs, and continued to cultivate the meadow, and to plough down the little terrace, till few indications of the site of the old fort were left, but the print of a small cellar and some horse-radish that had been planted by the soldiers.

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 permanently 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 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 for an inscription to 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 disapproval 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 the 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 is 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.

(Photo courtesy of Wendy Champney)

With the closing of the former Price Chopper in February of 2016, there had been some concern as to the fate of the site. And a few members of the community formed a group to advocate for the preservation of this historic site, called the Friends of Fort Massachusetts. Their vision was to preserve the site as a public park––Fort Massachusetts Memorial Park. The group would later evolve, under new direction, into Save Fort Massachusetts Memorial, Inc., under the umbrella of the North Adams Historical Society.

Then, in 2017, with the joint efforts of all parties, the Golub Corporation donated the site to the City of North Adams. And now that this historic site is back in public hands, it can be revitalized and a renewed interest developed. However, it will take the community, working along with the City, to give the site the attention and care that it deserves.

*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.

***Updated September 2018***