Berkshire County Massachusetts, 1890
Berkshire County, originally a part of Hampshire County, was incorporated April 24, 1761, and named from Berkshire County in England. It occupies the western extremity of the State, and is bounded on the north by Vermont, on the east by Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties, on the south by Connecticut, and on the west by New York. It has an area of about 1,000 square miles, – not including water surfaces. Of this territory 104,225 acres is forest. The population, by the census of 1885, is 73,828 ; and the valuation of 1888 (which is the basis of State allotments for the present year) was 441,732,690. There were assessed in the latter year, 13,519 dwelling houses, 30,604 neat cattle, 15,802 sheep, 3,048 swine, and 11,051 horses.
The Taconic and the Green Mountain ranges extend through the county from north to south, presenting many scenes of wild and picturesque beauty. The elevation in the northwest part, of which Graylock is the most eminent peak, is the highest land in the State. The county is drained by the Hoosac, Housatonic, Westfield and Deerfield rivers ; which, with their various tributaries, afford a vast hydraulic power. The valleys through which these rivers run are very fertile, and present inducements and facilities for the construction of railroads in the various sections of the county. The principal lines already built are the Boston and Albany, and its adjuncts, the Pittsfield and North Adams Line, together with the Housatonic Rail road, and the Troy and Greenfield,— the latter now belonging to the Fitchburg Railroad line. The latter road in the northern part of the county passes for upwards of four miles under the Hoosac Mountain through a tunnel constructed by the State at an expense of very near $24,000,000 ; and by this a new and important route has been opened between Boston and the West.
The geological formation consists of calcareous gneiss, Levis limestone, Lauzon schists, and Potsdam sandstone. The marble, iron, sand and limestone quarries constitute an inexhaustible source of revenue. The soil of the county is moist and strong, though better adapted to grazing than tillage ; and much attention is given to raising neat cattle and sheep.
The county embraces 32 towns, which are Adams, Alford, Becket, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Dalton, Egremont, Florida, Great Barrington, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Lee, Lenox, Monterey, Mount Washington, New Ashford, New Marlborough, North Adams, Otis, Penn, Pittsfield, Richmond, Sandisfield, Savoy, Sheffield, Stockbridge, Tyringham, Washington, West Stockbridge, Williamstown and Windsor. Pittsfield, on the Housatonic River, is the seat of justice for the county, and contains a court-house and jail. In connection with Hampshire County and three towns of Hampden, this county is entitled to two State senators ; and of itself it has nine representatives.
The following description of the natural scenery of this beautiful county is from the elegant pen of Miss Catharine Maria Sedgwick : —
"Berkshire lies midway between the Connecticut and Hudson. After leaving the wide meadows of the Connecticut basking in their rich inheritance of alluvial soil and sunshine, you wind through the narrow valleys of the Westfield River, with masses of mountains before you, and woodland heights crowding in upon you; so that, at every puff of the engine, the passage visibly contracts. The alpine character of the river strikes you. The huge stones in its wide channel, which have been torn up, rolled down by the sweeping torrents of spring and autumn, lie bared and whitening in the summer's sun. You cross and recross it, as, in its deviations, it leaves space on one side or the other for a practicable road. At Chester Factories you begin an ascent of eighty feet in a mile for thirteen miles. The stream between you and the precipitous hillside, cramped into its rocky bed, is the Pontoosuc, a tributary of the Westfield. As you trace it to its home, it dashes along beside you with the recklessness of childhood; it leaps down precipices; runs forth laughing in the dimpling sunshine ; and, shy as a mountain-nymph, it dodges behind a knotty copse of evergreen. In approaching the summit-level, you travel bridges built a hundred feet above other mountain-streams, tearing along their deep-worn beds : at the deep cut your passage is hewn through solid rocks, whose mighty walls frown over you. . . . We have entered Berkshire by a road far superior to the Appian Way. On every side are rich valleys and smiling hillsides; and, deep set in their hollows, lovely lakes sparkle like gems. From one of these, a modest sheet of water in Lanesborough, flows out the Housatonic, the minister of God's bounty, bringing to the meadows along its course a yearly renewal of fertility, and the ever-changing, ever-present beauty that marks God's choicest works. It is the most judicious of rivers. Like a discreet rural beauty, it bears its burdens and does its work out of sight. Its water-privileges for mills, furnaces and factories, are aside from the villages. When it comes near to them, as in Stockbridge, it lingers like a lover, turns, and returns, and, when fairly off, flies past rolling wheels and dinning factories, till, reaching the lovely meadows of Barrington, it again disports itself at leisure. The mere summer visitors to Berkshire know little of the various beauties of the Housatonic : to them it is a mere chance acquaintance, seen, perchance admired, and forgotten ; but we who have lived in its companionship feel, too, that
"‘Loveliest there the spring-days come,
With blossoms and birds and wild bees' hum :
The flowers of summer ate fairest there,
And freshest the breath of the summer's air ;
And sweetest the golden autumn-day
In silent sunshine glides away.’"
By act of General Court in 1733, the Lower Housatonic Township, eight miles long on the river, and wide enough to make its extent equivalent to ten miles square, was incorporated as the town of Sheffield. The first town meeting – the first west of Connecticut valley— was held at the house of Obadiah Noble, January 16, 1734 (new style). In the summer of that year the people built a meeting-house ; and the first church was organized October 22, 1735,— Jonathan Hubbard being ordained as pastor the same day.
This Berkshire region was the hunting-ground of the Mohegan Indians. John Konkapot, the principal among them, lived in the southern part of the present town of Stockbridge, and near a small brook which still bears his name. In 1724, he, together with about twenty heads of families in the tribe, conveyed to the Commissioners of Massachusetts the two townships of Stockbridge and Westfield, which contained what are now the towns of Sheffield, Great Barrington, Mount Washington, Egremont, and Alford, the larger part of Stockbridge and West Stockbridge, and a great portion of Lee, for £450 in money, three barrels of cider, and thirty quarts of rum. Sufficient of this land was reserved for their dwellings. Small villages existed at about this time in the present limits of Great Barrington, Sheffield, Stockbridge, New Marlborough, Tyringham, Pittsfield and Dalton.
In 1735, with the approval of the leading Indians, Mr. John Sargent, who had been a tutor in Yale College, but preferred this work, was ordained as missionary to the Housatonic Indians ; and before the close of the year, forty of them, including two chiefs, had received the rite of baptism. Mr. David Dudley Field, in 1878, marked the spot of their first meeting-house, on what is now the village green in Stockbridge, by the erection of an ornamental stone tower 75 feet in height, with provision for a chime of bells. The remnant of these Indians, after various removes, found a residence in Minnesota.
pp. 65-67 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890