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Pittsfield Schools - Interesting Information

My ancestors first came to Pittsfield in ~1848 and that has lead to much “research” into their lives and has revealed many interesting facts about Pittsfield’s past. Here is a compilation of articles related to schools in Pittsfield written for the 250 anniversary celebration in 2011. While not written in great depth, they are very interesting!

http://www.iavbbs.com/danji/ap14gf.jpg
1908 post card “Pittsfield in the near Future
Pittsfield High School Class Reunion
Pittsfield Massachusetts High School Class Reunion
PHS Class Reunion
Pittsfield MA Massachusetts

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Pittsfield Schools History

Pittsfield Schools in 1901 here

 

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Articles from:

http://www.berkshireeagle.com/Pittsfield250

Days 11, 12, 25, 31, 32, 57, 64, 66, 95, 100, 101, 105, 118, 125

 

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Day 11: Henry Childs

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 01/11/2011 10:04:54 AM EST

Tuesday January 11, 2011

 

Henry Childs had very liberal views in politics, and his rhetoric ruffled those who might otherwise have enjoyed his company. But he was a medical doctor and earned plenty of respect in Pittsfield by the sheer nature of his profession, especially early in the 19th century, when disease was high and life expectancy wasn't.

 

Several private schools flourished in Pittsfield in the first half of the century. One of them was the Berkshire Medical Institution, which was chartered in 1823, largely through Childs' financial efforts and energy.

 

You want to be a doctor? Well, sign up. The school initially was based at the former three-story Pittsfield Hotel on North Street. Tuition was $40 a year, while room, board and laundry was a separate line item at $1.75 a week.

 

The building was destroyed by fire in 1850, but the state awarded a $10,000 grant to Childs, and the citizens of Pittsfield rallied for another $5,000.

 

Before you could say "ahhhhh," another school was built on South Street.

 

Enrollment peaked at about 140 in 1846, but then declined. In 1869, the school closed and was sold to the city, which remodeled it and turned it into the first Pittsfield High School.

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Day 12, Nancy Hinsdale

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 01/12/2011 07:03:41 AM EST

Wednesday January 12, 2011

 

The history of Miss Hall's School dates to almost 1800, when Nancy Hinsdale founded Pittsfield's first educational institution for young women. Hinsdale was the sister of William Hinsdale, for whom the town to the east is named.

 

Miss Hall's incorporated in 1806 and became the first boarding school for young women in the state. At that point, Hinsdale had recruited a student body of 41. When she retired in 1813, enrollment had jumped to more than 100.

 

Nancy wasn't the last Hinsdale to have a hand in the school, however. In 1871, Miss Mary Salisbury took over leadership. In 1898, Miss Mira Hinsdale Hall, a descendant of Nancy Hinsdale, oversaw the institution.

 

In its early days, the school was housed on the corner of South and Reed streets before moving in 1902 to the Elmwood Court mansion on Bartlett Avenue. In 1908, the school moved to the luxurious Cutting estate on Holmes Road, where it is located now.

 

Miss Hall's wasn't the only all-girls school of note in Pittsfield, however. In 1930, despite years of popularity, Miss Mills' School for Girls ceased to exist. It was founded by Ruth Mills in 1904 on Appleton Avenue before moving to Wendell Avenue.

 

Mills left Pittsfield to teach first in Great Barrington at the Taconic School, and later in Philadelphia. She died in 1951 and was buried in Pittsfield.

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Day 25, Calvin Martin

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 01/25/2011 11:26:27 AM EST

Tuesday January 25, 2011

 

Calvin Martin was the type of person around which a city can grow. And Pittsfield benefited greatly from his efforts in public and private life.

Born in Hancock on Aug. 7, 1787, Martin carved out his life in Pittsfield as a lawyer, serving on the Berkshire bar for 53 years. During that time he served as president of Agricultural Bank -- one of the first such institutions in the city -- and was the first president of the cemetery corporation, a board that later became the Cemetery Commission.

 

His impressive resume aside, Martin's passion was popular education, a term now known as public education. The hows and whys of Martin's early years are vague, but we know he became a well-respected attorney even though he never attended college. He used his intelligence and sophistication to carry himself with the style normally associated with a college diploma.

 

Martin qualified under the three P's of citizenry; he was prominent, prosperous and public-spirited. Williams College was so impressed with him that it bestowed him with a Master of Arts honorary degree in 1847.

 

Martin had a vision for a learning library for Pittsfield and shared that idea with Thomas Plunkett and Thomas Allen, two other prominent citizens of the city. It was Martin who learned that the building on Bank Row owned by the Agricultural National Bank was available for $8,000.

 

The trio formed a corporation, and Martin put up $5,000, while Plunkett and Allen contributed $1,900 apiece.

 

There was a snag in the sale, and the trio formed a trust that prevented any use of the $8,800 for any project other than the purchase of a building for purposes of constructing a library.

 

Martin died in 1867 ast age 80; he never saw the purchase and the benefits that would result.

But the library wasn't Martin's only foray into education, By the 1840s, Pittsfield's school system was fragmented into 15 districts, each being responsible for cost and maintenance of its own school.

 

At a town meeting in 1849, a referendum was passed that called for Pittsfield to build new schoolhouses and thus bear the expense of the project. The matter was referred to a subcommittee made up of Martin, Abel West and James H. Dunham.

 

With Martin's guidance, it was decided that two new "houses" would be built each year using the same blueprint, with the only change being the size of each structure. Where to begin, Martin said, would be based on need.

 

The state Board of Education was strongly urging towns to dismiss the district system, and with Martin's help Pittsfield segued into a system that remains pretty much in place now.

 

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Day 31: William Cox Redfield

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 01/31/2011 11:45:32 AM EST

Monday January 31, 2011

 

By all accounts, William Cox Redfield was far from being an electric personality. But President Woodrow Wilson didn't bring Redfield into the fold because he told good jokes around the fireplace.

 

Redfield, born in Albany, N.Y., on June 18, 1858, was the first Secretary of Commerce, serving in that role from March 1913 through November 1919, when he resigned and went to New York City to engage in the matters of banking and insurance.

 

Redfield' was 9 when his family moved to Pittsfield. A product of local education, the Redfield family complemented his education in local schools with a stringent academic plan at home,

 

Redfield busied himself as a young man with jobs that included a stint at the Pittsfield Post Office and work in a local stationery and printing plant. He also hoofed it as a traveling salesman for a time.

 

If nothing else, Redfield was laying down a sturdy base of economic knowledge that would serve him well in years to come.

 

Reaching his early 20s, Redfield sought bigger game and moved to New York City where he became connected with a company that manufactured steel and iron forgings in Brooklyn.

 

Redfield expanded his horizon in the late 1800s when he began to dabble in politics. He failed in his first attempt at a seat in Congress, when he was defeated in 1896 as a member of the Gold Democrat Party.

 

Redfield stayed in Brooklyn and became the boroughs commissioner of public works and stayed in that position for two years before winning a congressional seat in 1911. Redfield hoped to be Wilson's vice-presidential candidate in 1912, but failed to earn that nomination from the Democratic party.

 

Wilson, though, rewarded Redfield with the Secretary of Commerce position. That post had previously been Commerce and Labor, but had been separated by the time Wilson won his presidential bid.

 

Redfield died in New York City 1n 1932 and was buried in Albany, the place of his birth.

 

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Day 32: Senator Henry Dawes

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 02/01/2011 12:08:48 AM EST

Tuesday February 1, 2011

 

He made Sitting Bull stand.

 

Henry Dawes was described by many as a "tireless friend of the Indian." That meant little to the great Indian chief Sitting Bull, who during a meeting with then-Sen. Dawes concerning the appropriation and division of Indian land in Oklahoma walked out abruptly when Dawes told Sitting Bull that his rank wasn’t relevant to the discussion.

 

Dawes was trying to make the point that he and the U.S. government were intent on treating all tribes equally. Sitting Bull, however, did anything but sit upon hearing that news.

 

Nonetheless, Dawes, a three-term U.S. senator from Pittsfield, made his mark in Congress by sponsoring the General Allotment Act of 1887 -- also known as the Dawes Act -- which authorized the president to survey Indian land and parcel it for Indians on an individual basis.

Sitting Bull and other Indian leaders had only known a more communal approach to land ownership, and Dawes spent much of his political career helping Indian tribes segue into a new vision of land ownership.

 

A Republican in the Senate, Dawes was born in Cummington in October 1816. A graduate of Yale, he taught for a while and also served as an editor at The Greenfield Gazette. He was admitted to the bar in 1842 and began a law practice in North Adams, where for a time he edited The Transcript newspaper. He took his law practice to Pittsfield shortly afterward and lived in a house at 15 Elm St.

 

Dawes served in the state House of Representatives for three years in the mid-1800s and in the state Senate for one year. From 1853 through 1857 he served as district attorney for the western region of the state. From 1857 through 1875 he was in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1875, he was voted into the U.S. Senate at age 58 and began the first of his three terms.

 

During his years in Congress he was active in the anti-slavery movement while providing a loud voice in favor of Reconstruction after the Civil War.

 

While serving in the Senate, he was viewed by his Democratic rivals to be "one shrewd Yankee." With his high cheekbones and gray beard, he spoke in a New England style that cut directly to the point.

 

When Dawes retired from politics after his third term in the Senate, the Boston Herald called him "a man of integrity.’’

 

He died in 1903 at the age of 86.

 

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Day 41: Judge Charles L. Hibbard

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 02/10/2011 10:59:10 AM EST

Thursday February 10, 2011

 

Charles L. Hibbard was the blueprint of what a good judge should be.

 

Hibbard, who presided over Central Berkshire District Court for 34 years, including until the day he died suddenly in 1947, was best known for the "judicial dignity with which he graced the bench as the guardian and protector of the communities' morals."

 

Those kind and respectful words -- printed in a Berkshire Eagle editorial days after his passing -- were evidence of his long tenure and his focus on the efficiency of how the judicial agenda was carried out in Massachusetts. And while the broader affairs of the state concerned him greatly, Hibbard's first love was his own court and the respect he helped it earn.

 

Hibbard's court was best described as patient, with a desire to give a fair hearing compounded with mercy and common sense.

 

His two immediate predecessors -- Judge Charles E. Burke and Judge Joseph Tucker -- also died while still in charge of the court. The former Hibbard Elementary School and later the Hibbard alternate school were named after him, and like so many of Pittsfield's original schools that have closed, a part of history has been lost in the process.

 

Hibbard, meanwhile, thought in later years that his experience went hand in hand with his high sense of public duty.

 

His attitude until he died, at age 76, was that he brought a sure and even hand to his court.

 

Few, if any, could disagree.

 

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Day 57: Charles E. Hibbard

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 02/28/2011 11:08:51 AM EST

Monday February 28, 2011

 

Growing pains can be somewhat ... painful. And New England, especially Pittsfield, hasn't exactly been known as a population willing to take a chance.

 

Charles E. Hibbard, Pittsfield's first mayor and a respected lawyer and district attorney, was the city's choice to lead its residents into a new world of politics. He served a one-year term but remained watchful over the progress of the new era of running a city.

 

It was Hibbard, in fact -- when the city was celebrating its 25th anniversary -- who was the main speaker at a public forum. In so many words, he expressed frustration with the system and how it delegated power.

 

Said Hibbard about the charter: "It is out of date and wholly inadequate."

 

When Pittsfield incorporated as a city on Jan. 5, 1891, it did so by the slimmest of margins. The "town" vote showed a majority of just 146 when the final ballot was reviewed.

 

The old system of three Selectmen dividing municipal matters among themselves with votes on issues taken at a town meeting was held to be a true and safe agenda by many Pittsfield citizens.

 

Change, though, was going to happen sooner or later.

 

So what did Hibbard inherit? The position of mayor would be elected annually, and two new legislative bodies were created -- the Common Council and the Board of Aldermen. In theory, it was supposed to provide checks and balances. All it did -- and it didn't take Hibbard 25 years to figure this out -- was cause progress to be stalled.

 

It stayed that way until the charter was revised 40 years later.

 

The initial Board of Aldermen numbered seven, one from each ward. The Common Council was twice that number, with two from each ward. Voters were responsible for selecting members to the School Committee, again with two from each ward.

 

Hibbard was a Democrat, and the town had voted along those lines since 1876. But when the dust settled on the city, the Republicans held a slight edge in city government positions. That fact, and the new charter, were a bit much for the city's old guard to digest.

Said Judge Joseph Tucker, one of the oldest citizens in Pittsfield:

 

"The old town is passing away. Sorrowfully, we wait its last moments. When they come, let us cry with loud acclaim, ‘Long live the city of Pittsfield.' "

 

Somewhat dramatic? Sure. But it was no small change, and it took time to smooth out the bumps.

 

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Day 64: Harry G. West

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 03/05/2011 12:22:53 AM EST

Saturday March 5, 2011

 

Henry G. West was born in the middle of one war an died in the middle of another. In between, he fought several political wars. When West died in February 1942 -- he was born in 1862 -- the family history of contributions to the city was at 142 years and counting.

 

Among the notable Wests -- and yes, West Street was where the family homestead was for many years -- were Abel Jr., Harry’s grandfather, who planted many of the elms that flourished for decades on Park Square, nestled tightly around the huge "Old Elm" that anchored the center of the city.

 

John West, meanwhile, was Harry’s uncle. He served as a selectman for 22 years, 19 of which were spent as chairman.

 

So it was incumbent upon Harry to get involved. And in the grand West tradition, he didn’t fail.

 

Harry was mayor of the city in 1927, when the leader was elected to one-year terms. It is written that his tenure as mayor went beyond anyone else’s who had only 12 months to prove their mettle.

 

It was Harry who actually put together Pittsfield’s first zoning ordinances, and in subsequent years he served on what would become the city’s first zoning board.

 

Another significant achievement for West came before he was named mayor. Filled with patriotic pride after World War I, the city looked to establish a monument to honor those who served, especially those who had died for their country.

 

The original blueprint signed off on by Mayor Michael W. Flynn called for the monument to be placed on East Street between Wendell and Bartlett avenues. It was to be flanked by a new City Hall, considered by city government to be necessary.

 

Money was tight, however, and Flynn’s plan didn’t work. Still hopeful, the mayor tapped West to lead a group of some 15 city men to come up with an acceptable Plan. B.

 

It was West who chose what at the time was called the South Street Common -- it’s actually where the former and first Pittsfield High had been -- and with help from noted sculptor Daniel Chester French of Stockbridge, the plan was hatched and the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial was built.

 

West helped raise the more than $40,000 for the project, while French suggested sculptor Augustus Lukeman for it.

On July 8, 1926, the monument was unveiled between Broad Street and Colt Avenue off of South Street and was dedicated before a reported crowd of 25,000. A parade of 2,000 marchers walked through the main streets of the city in celebration.

 

The inscription read, " ... a tribute to the loyalty and sacrifice of her sons and daughters who [in 1917-18] gloriously defended the liberties won by their fathers."

 

West’s work helped pave the way for his run at mayor, and the monument remains in place on that site to this day.

 

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Day 66: Rev. William J. Dower

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 03/07/2011 06:45:25 AM EST

Monday March 7, 2011

 

With the city and the Catholic community growing, it made sense to add churches to the landscape of the city. With St. Joseph's pretty much bursting at the seams, up sprung St. Charles, which became somewhat organized around 1893.

 

And after engaging in the expected stuttered start, it was Rev. William J. Dower who helped steady the ship during his more than 20 years ministering to the church until his death in 1926. Dower had previously served at St. Ann's in Lenox.

 

Credit Dower with the fundraising effort that eventually led to the building of St. Charles Elementary School, which was located on Lenox Avenue, near to the North End church. The school opened in 1924, with The Sisters of St. Joseph's serving as the initial teachers at the new parochial school which had a student population at the onset of about 300.

 

The church itself was completed under the pastorship of Rev. Charles J. Boylan. The lower section of the Briggs Avenue place of worship was completed in 1894 with the upper part of the church and edifice finally finished in 1901.

 

The Noble House, meanwhile, which was located at the corner of Charles and North streets, was purchased shortly after the church was built and turned into a rectory.

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Day 95: Gertrude Peaslee

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 04/05/2011 11:14:56 AM EDT

Tuesday April 5, 2011

 

Gertrude Peaslee gave her entire life to the youth of Pittsfield, especially the city's young girls. She asked little in return.

 

The national organization of the Camp Fire Girls was founded in Maine in 1910. Peaslee founded the Pittsfield chapter three years later in her role as supervisor of summer activities at Springside Park. The group, which was closely connected to the Girls League, later the Pittsfield Girls Club, was overseen by Dr. Mary Ann Wood of the Girls League, which had Peaslee act as "guardian" of the Camp Fire Girls. Its motto and goal was "to perpetuate the spiritual ideas of the home," and "to stimulate and aid in the formation of habits making for health and character."

 

Peaslee ran the organization until 1928, when the group, because of its growth, needed a full-time director. Peaslee, meanwhile, segued into work at the Girls League and retired in 1936 as executive secretary after 25 years in that position. At that time, there were more than 900 members of the Girls League and another 600 who were "friends and honorees" of the organization. At her retirement dinner, a card was presented to Peaslee with about 1,100 signatures.

 

That response was a small reflection of the respect she had earned and the friendships she had made.

 

Peaslee, however, did anything but shrink from the limelight at that point. She turned her career around quickly and began to teach in Pittsfield Public Schools, retiring again in 1955 from Tucker Elementary School.

 

Again she was feted at a retirement dinner where many spoke about her great work in the school.

 

Peaslee died in 1967 at age 82. She lived at her Orchard Street address for the final 70 years of her life..

 

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Day 100: Lorne B. Hulsman

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 04/11/2011 12:40:02 PM EDT

Sunday April 10, 2011

 

Maybe they did things bigger and better in Melrose during the early years of the 20th century. That might explain why Lorne B. Hulsman made such an immediate impact when he took over as principal of Pittsfield High in 1916.

 

Hulsman, previously a principal in Melrose, replaced Harry E. Pratt, who resigned after a five-year term. Both Hulsman and Pratt agreed on one thing: the current building that housed the high school - the still-familiar edifice that sits on the city Common - was unfit to be a high school at all.

 

Pratt advocated for a new high school, and it was Hulsman who ramped up the pressure on that agenda when he arrived.

 

Hulsman didn't mess around. He would often invite the press to the school and let them check out what he felt were deplorable conditions.

 

And the new principal might have put things in motion but for the beginning of World War I a year later. As it turned out, it would be 14 years before the city would knock down the former home of Henry Longfellow at the corner of Appleton Avenue and East Street and build the still sturdy facility with its well-known dome.

 

Had someone told Hulsman the new school wouldn't be built for 15 years from when he arrived, he might have turned around and returned to Melrose. But he stayed, and would accomplish much during his tenure.

 

Hulsman shook the high school curriculum like an old rug, beating out the past and ushering in the new.

 

He instituted a course in civics and made taking United States history compulsory. Four years of mathematics wasn't mandated, but it was offered.

 

Spanish was added to the academic lineup and commercial courses were extended from two to four years. And just to show the student body that he was an OK guy, Hulsman allowed time during the school day for what had been after-school clubs to meet.

 

Hulsman had his work cut out for him, and he survived admirably. But it's likely that no other Pittsfield High principal ever had to weather such wicked storms.

 

School was delayed in the fall of 1916 by an outbreak of infantile paralysis (a form of polio), and after having been open for a few weeks, was delayed again when the Board of Health closed the doors over issues regarding the state implementation and enforcement of polio vaccine laws. The winter of 1917-18 was perhaps the worst in the city's history. Snow, cold and a lack of fuel resulting from the European conflict forced the school to close for many weeks. Then, in 1918, an influenza epidemic ripped through the city and again forced the schools to close.

 

Born in Nova Scotia, Hulsman worked professionally in the eastern part of the state following his graduation from Boston University.

 

Hulsman, whose four years in charge must have seemed like 40, probably failed to get much sleep during those years. As an administrator, he served gallantly in the face of many obstacles.

 

Editor's note: Pittsfield - incorporated as a town on April 26, 1761 - is celebrating its 250th birthday with a year-long series of events. In honor of that birthday, The Eagle will profile a notable figure in Pittsfield's history each day this year. To read previous profiles, visit www.berkshireeagle.com.

 

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Day 101: Frederick Myers

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 04/11/2011 12:36:01 PM EDT

Monday April 11, 2011

 

Around the end of World War II, the city's student population was growing like weeds. The public clamored not just for new schools, but for schools that were structurally sound and technically up to the times.

 

Public discussion on the matter was said to be "raging," and it wasn't long before the Capital Outlay Committee was formed to help direct the necessary changes.

 

Members of the Planning Board, which included city attorney Frederick M. Myers, the vice president of the City Council and the city auditor made up the panel. It was no easy task they faced.

 

Weighing the educational, political and financial pros and cons, the group made three pointed suggestions in their report. Two flew, one didn't. But the suggestions that took off remain with the city to this day.

 

The first suggestion was to build two separate junior high schools in the north and south sections of the city. They would be appropriately named North Junior High and South Junior High. Until then, junior high students had been placed in expanded elementary schools that were ill equipped to handle the extra load.

 

In later years, North and South were renamed Reid and Herberg, respectively. Crosby Junior High was also built on the West Side, and for a time the student population grew so quickly that the building on the Common that had once been Pittsfield High and later Berkshire Community College was also used as a junior high facility.

 

The recommended $750,000 expansion of Pittsfield High never took place,

 

The third idea that was accepted was the building of three new elementary schools. They would turn out to be Allendale (350 pupils), Egremont (250 people) and Highland (now Capeless, 125 pupils).

 

There was no question about the need. The two accepted projects ended up costing about $2 million.

 

Elementary schools that stood for earlier generations quickly fell off the landscape. Those included Read, Nugent, Peck's Road and Coltsville. Between 1916 and 1953, no fewer than eight of the early elementary schools the city boasted had either been displaced or closed.

Myers, meanwhile, was a solid choice to spark change. Considered by his peers to be a tough but fair foe in the courtroom, the native of Pownal, Vt., and Williams College and Harvard Law School graduate moved his practice from North Adams to Pittsfield in 1913, joining the practice of Clarence F. Niles.

 

Myers was named special justice of Central Berkshire District Court in 1920 by then-Gov. Calvin Coolidge. In civic affairs, Myers was part of the movement that created a nonpartisan charter for the city in 1932. Myers chaired the Planning Board for many years and served on the Pittsfield YMCA board of directors for 22 years.

 

Myers died in August 1963 at age 75.

 

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Day 105: William Plunkett

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Updated: 04/15/2011 01:18:52 PM EDT

Friday April 15, 2011

 

William Plunkett came to Pittsfield in 1836 at the age of 5 and spent the next 64 years shaping and molding Pittsfield the likes of which had never been seen before and arguably has not been seen since. There is little sense in delaying all that Plunkett did.

 

He was:

A lawyer whose opinions and thoughts on matters concerning legal, financial and industrial matters was sought by those who lived in those circles.

President of Berkshire Life Insurance Co. for the final 25 years of his life.

President for 11 years of the Pontoosuc Woolen Manufacturing Co.

A director for 30 years and vice president for five years of the Agricultural National Bank.

Treasurer and sometime manager for 47 years of the Pittsfield Coal Gas Co.

Helpful in guiding the affairs from its inception of the Pittsfield Electric Co. and the Pittsfield Electric Street Railroad Co.

A key contributor and helped segue the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Co. into what soon would be General Electric.

Involved for 27 years in the management of the Ashley waterworks.

Important in the beautification of Park Square so that the Soldiers' Monument could become a reality in 1872.

A representative from Pittsfield at the General Court in Boston for four years.

Nominated by the Democratic party for the position of lieutenant governor.

 

Along with Thomas Allen and others responsible for the city library on Park Square, now the Probate Court building.

 

Educated at Yale and Harvard Law School, Plunkett began his practice in Pittsfield in 1855, the same year he was admitted to the Berkshire bar. He married twice; once to Miss Elizabeth Campbell Kellogg and later to her sister Miss May Kellogg.

 

It was said that people "leaned" on Plunkett, respectful of his ability to see the problem and orchestrate a solution.

 

His obituary in 1903 in the Springfield Republican told more about the man:

"He grew in congenial soil and spread his roots and was open to the sun and rain for nourishment. The vigorous outlook of his youth never changed. He was the adviser and the friend of the young to the last.

 

"There was no more reliable quantity in the city than Mr. Plunkett. With a quiet force that never flagged, he did things and inspired the doing of them."

In Plunkett's younger days, he was a member and director of the fire department and was also a member of the city's "baseball 9." To that end, he might have been the city's first real fan of sports, rarely missing an athletic contest in the city.

 

Plunkett was a fan of children, and they of him. But if he had a symbolic child, it was the library. He deemed it important and took it through many transitory times. He kept it "even" with the needs of Pittsfield.

 

Few like Plunkett have ever graced Pittsfield in its history. The brick building on the corner of Fenn and First streets was built as a school in his honor. Few now can recall the building when it was a school, and sadly, fewer are aware of the man it was named after.

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Day 118: Lebbeus Scott

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Posted: 04/28/2011 12:42:08 AM EDT

Thursday April 28, 2011

The politics in Pittsfield during its first 100 years was contentious and at times downright nasty. Divisions, especially between the Whig and Tory parties, were clearly staked. And in no category did the head-butting become more ferocious than in public education.

At the annual town meeting of 1868, the town instructed the nine-member School Committee to employ for the first time a superintendent of schools.

Lebbeus Scott, said to be a conscientious man, was the board's choice. He was treated poorly in the job that was afforded no salary, and the political ranks were such that no one would take the time to flatter him.

Maybe because of Pittsfield's location in the west -- the town still was considered an outpost at the time -- the evolution of education took longer than in the rest of the state.

Part of Scott's problem was that previously the city was divided into 13 separate districts with 13 district leaders. The idea of one district under the direction of one man failed to amuse the electorate, which at the town meeting in 1869 again voted not to fund the position.

That's about the time Scott announced he'd had enough and the School Committee that year had to devise a plan that basically had no one at the helm.

The town gave in a little in 1871, when it instructed the School Committee to select one of its own to lead the education charge. Dr. John Brewster was the choice, and was a solid one at that. But even he couldn't pacify the citizens.

Understanding that his role required decisive and strong decision-making, Brewster wasn't about to be anyone's puppet. He lasted five years, but they were all frustrating.

Scott, for sure, had a good laugh in the quiet of his home.

The history is both riveting and sad. As far back as 1781, the school question was a Tory-Whig battlefield. The newly constituted state government required towns the size of Pittsfield to maintain a grammar school or face a penalty of indictment or a fine.

Pittsfield's impoverished Whig government in 1781 failed to comply because of a lack of funds. The state might have cut the town a break -- Pittsfield wasn't alone in that regard -- but the Tory political machine pushed hard to have the state both fine and indict the town.

At the town meeting in 1781, the Tories put to vote a question that asked that the town tax its citizens to raise money needed to maintain the grammar school. This further divided the town, and it took more than a century to smooth out most of the bumps.

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Day 125: Helen Rich Hawkins

By Brian Sullivan, Berkshire Eagle Staff

Posted: 05/05/2011 12:09:57 AM EDT

Thursday May 5, 2011

It no doubt was a mix between a public-education classroom and a day-care facility. But the directors who formed the Pittsfield Kindergarten Association in August of 1895 -- it was the city's first free kindergarten -- were so good that the Pittsfield School Department had put it under the city's public school umbrella by 1902.

The Pittsfield Kindergarten Association can be traced to the home that was the base for the Union for House Work on Fenn Street, which provided a room for the kindergarten classes for one year. Membership grew quickly to about 150, and headquarters were moved to a room in the former Russell Elementary School.

That experiment ended quickly -- space again being the issue -- and the city appropriated money for a room on Peck's Road.

Prominent among the women who guided this education project was Helen Rich Hawkins, who served as chief fundraiser. She did that job so well that the organization was able to hire two teachers with a combined stipend of about $1,000 annually.

Duly impressed, the School Committee would adopt kindergarten into its regular public school instruction, and when that happened the Kindergarten Association turned over its physical assets to the city and dissolved.

Helen was a Brooklyn, N.Y., girl who married city lawyer Walter Hawkins. The couple lived on South Street at the time.

It was a brief tenure, but it certainly was a job well done by Helen Hawkins and her staff.

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Interesting people:

Lt. Lloyd Andrews Hamilton didn't just do his duty. He defined what duty truly was in a life cut short when a bullet fired from the ground killed him during a World War I flying mission. His plane, ironically, was never hit.

Lloyd was president of the Pittsfield High School class of 1911 and captain of the track team. He attended Syracuse University, where he graduated summa cum laude. He was in his first year at Harvard Graduate School when the war began.

Hamilton's exploits in the air were described in a War Department memo to the city and his family.

It read in part: "Lieutenant Hamilton was awarded the distinguished-flying cross for extraordinary heroism in action at Varsenare, Belgium, on Aug. 13, 1918.

"Leading a low-bombing attack on a German airdrome, 30 miles behind the lines, he destroyed the hangars on the north side of the airdrome and then attacked a row of enemy machines, setting fire to three of the German planes. He then turned and fired bursts through the window of the chateau in which the German pilots were quartered, 26 of whom were afterward reported killed."

Hamilton was killed two weeks later in Lagincourt, France. A single shot ended the life of one of Pittsfield's most brilliant and brave. His body was brought home, and he was buried in Pittsfield Cemetery.

The Air Corps. station in San Rafael, Calif., later was named Hamilton Field. A letter to Hamilton's parents read: "It is my honor to inform you that the new air corp. station in Marin County, Calif., has been named Hamilton Field in honor of your son. This action is taken in grateful recognition of the valuable service rendered to the Air Force and to his country."

The letter was signed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The base closed in 1985.

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The Pittsfield Public School system changed dramatically after World War II.

In 1945, city residents by a 4-to-1 ratio voted in favor of giving equal pay to male and female teachers. Soon afterward, female teachers who were married no longer were banned from their profession.

(Going back to the 1920s, a female teacher who wed basically was thought to be handing in her resignation.)

Perhaps the biggest signal of change was the hiring in 1949 of Margaret Alexander Hart, the first black teacher ever in the city.

Hart was born in Williamstown in 1911. She was named after her grandmother, Margaret Curry, who came to Williamstown from North Carolina in the 1890s.

Hart never claimed to be a female Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in baseball. But she certainly was strong enough to withstand any prejudice. The oldest and only girl among seven siblings, she had an opportunity early in life to be a role model.

Hart graduated from Williamstown High School in 1930 and became the first black student at North Adams Normal School (which later became North Adams State College and then MCLA). She pursued a teaching career in Virginia before returning to the Berkshires. She has a scholarship at MCLA in her name.

In her high school yearbook, she was voted "Class Optimist" and "Best Natured." Her class quote was "Who will walk with me along life's merry way?"

Hart passed away in 2004 at the age of 92 after a long life in education and a focus on social causes.

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