The Historic Beauty of North Egremont
The Egremont Historical Commission welcomes you to North Egremont, one of two historic villages that comprise Egremont, Massachusetts.
This 1.4-mile-long tour, with a 0.06-mile extension, covers 26 buildings and sites in historic North Egremont along Egremont Plain Road (Rt. 71) and Prospect Lake Road. The 0.6-mile extension will allow a visit to two additional significant properties on Mill Road. Street addresses and Massachusetts Historical Commission reference numbers are given for each site. Should additional information about a site be desired, copies of MHC historic inventory forms (EGR-xx) can be viewed in the town’s Archives Room on the second floor of the Egremont Free Library at 1 Button Ball Lane in South Egremont village, or accessed on our website, www.egremonthistory.org.
Thank you for your interest in our town and its North Egremont Historic District.
Colonial-era North Egremont, sometimes called “Little York,” was settled by a mixture of New Englanders and New Yorkers during the 1730s on disputed land claimed by both New York State and Massachusetts. In 1765, troops supporting New York’s land claims invaded the village; only in 1787 was the boundary line definitively settled, enabling the population once again to focus its attention on agriculture.
Although North Egremont is considered by many as off the beaten path, it has a historic past and a history of political activism. In 1776, General Henry Knox marched through the village, transporting to Boston the military ordnance captured at Ft. Ticonderoga, as ordered by George Washington, who hoped to drive the British from Boston. North Egremont’s place along what became known as the Knox Trail is well documented and honored with a national monument (see #20). Village opinion about Shay’s Rebellion (1786), the new country’s first tax uprising, was split: residents hotly took sides, and North Egremont lost a minister and had to close its church doors.
As the nineteenth century dawned, North Egremont became an important inland route for commercial traffic between Hartford and Albany. Seizing on the opportunity to make money, a group of local citizens petitioned the State to erect two toll roads, or turnpikes, in North Egremont: the Alford and Egremont Turnpike (1805), and the Great Barrington and Alford turnpike (1811). Shun Toll Road in North Egremont was created and named for its role as a bypass route by people seeking to avoid the turnpike tolls.
Life in North Egremont has historically centered on farming, the building trades, community, church, and seasonal recreational activities on and around Prospect Lake. By 1858, the village held thirty-eight buildings, including a grist mill, a saw mill, the original Baptist church and its horse sheds, a hotel, three stores, a post office, boot shop, two wagon and wheel shops, and a cabinet shop. Two later atlases of Berkshire county (1876 and 1904) show modest additions to this list: a Methodist church and parsonage, plus a new Baptist church.
Since 1877, Prospect Lake has been attracting summer tourists eager to trade city life for its rural pleasures. The lake’s modern campsites and amenities seasonally swell the village’s population as travelers from far and near come to enjoy the beautiful countryside that North Egremont residents are fortunate to call home.
Park your car in the parking lot at French Park on Prospect Lake Road. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with this beautiful place, which plays an active role in community life in Egremont.
In 1965, Mabel French Champion, a wealthy and religious widow from Great Barrington, bequeathed one hundred forty-four acres of land to the town for recreational purposes. She had begun acquiring North Egremont property in the mid 1920s, and she built a stucco and wooden meditation chapel in the woods near Prospect Lake for her private use. It was composed of stained glass windows, statuary, a garden patio, arched doors, a slate roof, and a large fireplace. Mrs. Champion made regular afternoon visits to this retreat during the summers, arriving in her chauffeur-driven Pierce-Arrow limousine. According to a 1950s newspaper article, her driver Mr. Hollis was one of the last men in the southern Berkshires to be so employed. Plans to turn the chapel into a nature reserve never materialized, and the severely vandalized structure was destroyed in 1986, to the chagrin of local youths and their girlfriends. The remains of its fireplace, still hidden in the woods, are all that is left of Mrs. Champion’s meditation retreat.
After you have finished your exploration of French Park, turn right on Prospect Lake Road and continue down the hill. Our first historic location is #11 Prospect Lake Road.
(#1) 11 Prospect Lake Road
Continue down the hill, stopping in front of an unnumbered barn across from #12 Prospect Lake Road.
(#2) W. E. Sabine Blacksmith shop (EGR-67)
This building was built to house W. E Sabine’s 2.5-story blacksmith shop about 1879. The 1904 map of the village shows him still at his trade here. The purpose-built structure has a vertical batten-board exterior, sliding barn doors, and a hayloft on the upper story.
(#3) 5 Prospect Lake Road (EGR-68)
This ca. 1845 Greek Revival–style home has 2.5 stories, a recessed vented attic window, pediment, cornices, and corner boards on an asymmetrical clapboarded front façade with typical nineteenth-century 6-over-6 double-sash windows.
(#4) 1 Prospect Lake Road (EGR-79), Seymour B. Dewey house/Inn at Sweetwater Farm
What is now the Inn at Sweetwater Farm was built around 1820 by Seymour B. Dewey, who was the Justice of the Peace, the postmaster, and a grocer. Because of its distinctive window, known as an Egremont fan light, on the attic-level frieze, it is thought that the building’s architect was Nicholas Scribner from Alford, whose design signature that was. According to the 1904 map, the Dewey family still resided here nearly a century later.
At the end of the road, make a right onto eastbound Route 71 (Egremont Plain Road) and walk to our next stop at 221 Egremont Plain Road.
(#5) 221 Egremont Plain Road, (EGR-80), Jesse Squires house
Construction in this part of town was booming in the early 1820s, when Jesse Squires built this house on a marble foundation. It is a square-framed, 2.5 story Federal-style building graced with an elegant side-lighted front door surrounded with pilasters. Its gable ends have frieze decorations; a 1.5 story kitchen ell extends off the back. The Queen Ann-style porch is a relatively recent addition. Because Squires was a single man, we speculate it was most probably built as a Rooming House. It was eventually bought by Mr. N. Joyner, whose store was destroyed by fire. Afterwards, the family moved into the southeast room of the building and renovated the front façade with a large store window. The space eventually became a dress shop. In 1980 the property still held a barn and carriage house.
(#6) 217 Egremont Plain Road, (EGR-81), No historic name
Built in 1835 by Mr. W. N. Stillman, this 2.5-story Greek Revival–style home has an asymmetrical front façade, cornices, cornerboards, and pilasters. In 1876, it was owned by Mrs. Diantha Loomis Newman; by 1904, its owner was Peter Kisselbrack, a seller of groceries and peddler of notions. Since 1946, it has been called Strawberry Hill Farm. Note the historic barn at the back of the property.
(#7) 215 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-87), Mason Kline house
This ca. 1825 house is a 1.5-story, five-bay Federal Cape, which over time has been a residence, a shoe shop (per the 1858 map), and the village Post Office. Its dormer was a modernization done about 1900.
(#8) 213 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-88), George W. Karner house
Mr. G. S. Nooney built this 2.5-story Greek Revival–style house around 1830 and sited it into a bank of land. A series of eyebrow windows help light the upper floor. A small ell connecting the house and road was at one time used for a shop. Mr. Nooney still owned the house in 1858, but by 1876 it had become the property of Mrs. Karner. George Karner was a house and carriage painter. The 1904 owner was a Mr. G. Palmer.
(#9) 211 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-89), A. Derrick house
We know that this modest 1.5-story Greek Revival cottage was built by Mr. A. Derrick sometime after 1858, as it does not appear on that year’s town map. Each side has three eyebrow windows; the double-hung wooden front windows are typical 6-over-6 lights. Conrad Derrick served as village Postmaster from February 1886 until April 1889. Mr. Derrick is shown as owner of record in 1876; by 1904 the house was owned by Mr. T. Barns.
(#10) 209 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-90), Old Baptist Parsonage
Built sometime in the late 1840s, this simple but elegant 2.5-story Greek Revival house was the village’s second Baptist Parsonage until sometime after 1904. In 1858, Rev. C. Pasco Parsons lived here. The attic interior has wide plank flooring and unpeeled pole roof rafters; its foundation is marble. Gable-end twin chimneys were built to accommodate wood stoves; the house has no fireplaces.
(#11) 207 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-91), Egremont Baptist Church
In 1887, when the village’s Baptist congregation built a new church to replace their large, cold original church (see #24), they placed the building on the village’s main street rather than up the hill on what is now Prospect Lake Road. This building has two massive clear-glass windows and a stained glass rose on the symmetrical shingled façade; the belfry has stained glass windows. It is decorated with carpenter’s Gothic trim and brackets. The Parish Hall is attached at the rear. For many years since 1943, with the exception of 1950 to 1953, the church shared pastors with the First Congregational Church of South Egremont.
(#12) 205 Egremont Plain Road (no EGR number), Miss Edna Brewer’s house
Noted on the 1858 map of town, this building is also shown on some of the earliest streetscapes of the village because of its proximity to the Baptist Church next door. The original wooden clapboards still cover the building. They were revealed when the current homeowner removed its 1940s-era transite tiles in a recent renovation…which is why the house’s appealing look is not too different from its nineteenth century appearance.
Carefully cross busy Route 71, and continue northwest back toward the village center.
(#13) 212 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-86), Methodist Parsonage
(#14) 214 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-85), Egremont Methodist Church
In 1830, the town’s first Methodist church was built by the Methodist Episcopal Society in Egremont’s southern Guilder Hollow area, about three miles away. It remained active as a house of worship until 1859, when the building was sold, moved, and converted to a horse shed. Soon, North Egremont’s growing population included many Methodist families, and on June 2, 1860, at a meeting held at Dr. Richard Beebe’s inn (see #18), it was decided to establish a church in the village. Within two weeks, newly appointed Trustees William Makeley, B. N. Clark, Ira Newman, D. C. Millard, and James Rowley and their committee had purchased 102 rods (about 0.6 acres) of land in the village center from William Hollenbeck. The wooden church that was then built for $4,000 was dedicated on December 18, 1861, and became known for its cathedral windows, large bell, and red interior carpeting.
In 1932, a group of men headed by local author William Douglas Coxey purchased the building from William E. Boice, and there established the Egremont Men’s Club. Today it is a private residence.
(#15) 216 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-84), first Post Office
This 2.5-story wood-shingled home, originally owned by Daniel Messinger, was North Egremont’s second Post Office, but it was the first located in the village. It was built in the mid nineteenth century.
Continue northwest on Route 71, stopping at the southeast corner of Boice Road to view what was once one of the most important landholdings in the area, the Spoor property.
(#16) 2 Boice Road (southeast corner of Rt. 71) (EGR-77), Captain John Spoor house
By the early eighteenth century, Captain John Spoor, one of Egremont’s earliest and most prominent citizens, had built a house on his 600-acre grant of land, as recorded on Timothy Dwight’s 1736 map of the Old Spoor Grant. That building, one of the town’s oldest structures, was a 2.5-story Federal-style structure built into a bank of land. It had a three-bay western façade and a symmetrical two-level southern façade. Portions of the original house may have been incorporated into the house that still stands, which housed Mr. Messinger’s boot shop in 1858.
Behind Capt. Spoor’s dwelling is a smokehouse once used by Abraham Boice, a commercial butcher and meat dealer. Boice delivered his product weekly via horse and wagon to regional customers. The smokehouse was built by him in about 1840, and it was in use until the twentieth century. You can see the stone structure from the back of the property.
Continue north on Rt. 71
(#17) Riverside Cemetery (EGR-804)
The original section of this pre-Revolutionary cemetery, which was named for the adjacent Green River, contains the graves of several colonial proprietors, Egremont’s first European landowners. It is also the final resting place of the victims of a 1770s smallpox epidemic, which ravaged the population. Many prominent local names can be found on the tombstones: Baldwin, Hollenbeck, Race, Spoor. Ebenezer Baldwin gave his name to Baldwin Hill, which provides one of the area’s most stunning views; his apple orchard was said to contain 999 trees.
One modest tombstone commemorates the life of Stella Newman, a young woman who succumbed to spinal meningitis and was buried in 1879. According to an 1884 newspaper article, she was disinterred, was resuscitated at Albany Medical College, and was living in New York City. Full details of this ghoulish story can be found in Gary Leveille’s book, Eye of Shawenon.
Local tradition holds that “no Tory was suffered to remain in town” during the American Revolution of 1776. When a Tory party from Livingston Manor, New York, encamped near this cemetery, a skirmish ensued and a Tory named Fields was captured. As he had a British Lieutenant’s commission on his person, he was sent to West Point as a prisoner of war.
Further northward along Route 71 is Shun Toll Road, originally part of the Indian Fur Trail, which extended from modern-day Kinderhook, New York, through Great Barrington and into the Connecticut River valley. This road was the way nineteenth-century inhabitants avoided paying turnpike fees—hence its current name.
Retrace your steps southward on Route 71 to return to the village center. You may wish to stop at the village store for refreshment and a rest before finishing the tour.
(#18) 227 Egremont Plain Road (EGR-75), Tullar Tavern/Elm Court Inn
In 1790, prominent citizen John Tullar III, whose father built Egremont’s oldest surviving house on its Sheffield border, built this structure to house his tavern, which for many years was an active center of village life. Grange meetings were held here, and in 1824 it became a Post Office and tavern called the Elm Court Inn. Over the years, the building has had many locally important owners and innkeepers: Joshua L. Millard; George N. Lester; and Dr. Richard Beebe. In 1885, Lyman Brusie bought the tavern from Dr. Beebe and ran a cider mill and livery stables here. The Ayre family bought the Inn in 1945 and turned it into one of the most popular places in the county. For many years during the 1990s and 2000s, it was the site of the popular Elm Court Restaurant. Today it is a private residence.
(#19) 223-A Egremont Plain Road (EGR-76), North Egremont Store
This wooden clapboard building, built in 1848-49 by Mr. N. Joyner, houses North Egremont’s village store. Since 1814, when Daniel Messinger’s mercantile business opened, this spot adjacent to North Egremont’s small village green has been a popular place for citizens and visitors alike. The site was also the location of Egremont’s original Town Meeting Hall. Unfortunately, the multi-use building held town records, because in 1848, a fire after a town meeting destroyed the building and everything in it. When it was rebuilt, it housed the Post Office and a store. By 1876, it was the location of N. Joyner and Sons’ store. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Elliott purchased the store in 1936 and took over the village’s Post Office duties, a job which is retained even today.
(#20) General Knox Memorial
In front of the North Egremont store is a memorial to General Henry Knox, who made his historic passage through town in January 1776. Taking a route roughly parallel to Route 71, Knox, at George Washington’s request, carried 60 tons of captured military ordnance from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston’s patriotic army. Involving boats and an armed guard, and using 80 yoke of oxen and 42 strong, horse-drawn sleds, the 300-mile journey was completed in 56 days, much longer than anticipated because of poor roads and snowy conditions. Nevertheless, Knox met no resistance from British troops or loyalist Tories, partly because of the poor communication systems of the time. The cannons, placed in a heavily fortified position overlooking Boston, helped force British troops out of the city.
Make a right onto Prospect Lake Road and proceed up the hill.
(#21) 8 Prospect Lake Road (EGR-70), Benjamin Race dressmaker’s shop
Even though the early history of this 1840s Federal Cape–style house was commercial, the building was graced with a marble foundation. That material was very often used locally because of its abundance in the area. Marble was easily and cheaply available to builders in Egremont during the mid to late 1800s—especially if the Egremont Marble Company (in South Egremont) had second-rate cuttings, or if a carving error was made on a gravestone. In 1858, Mr. R. Race’s store was located here; by 1876, it became a dressmaker’s shop run by Mrs. J. Robbins. The activity was taken over by Mrs. Amy Miller, who is noted as owner on the 1904 map of the Town. In 1980, one longtime resident still remembered being brought there as a child to have a dress made.
(#22) 10 Prospect Lake Road (EGR-69), James Kelsey house
On March 23, 1829, James Kelsey, a wagon maker, bought ½ acre of land from Henry D. Chapman for $500, and soon built a 1.5-story Greek Revival clapboarded home on it. The structure is therefore a bit older than its neighbors. Note its step-width boot-scraper on the marble steps, its corner blocks, its molded door frame, and its five-bay front. Kelsey’s land holdings were expanded in 1862 when Abigail Kelsey bought an additional half acre and outbuildings for $1000.
(#23) 12 Prospect Lake Road (EGR-66), W. E. Sabine house and shop
Mr. Sabine lived across the street from his workshop in a ca. 1830 2.5-story Federal-style clapboard home. The structure, built into the hill behind the house, has a side-lighted front door in a Greek Revival–style entry, over which a portico has more recently been added.
(#24) 14 Prospect Lake Road (EGR-65), Original North Egremont Baptist Church
A large Baptist community, composed of members from Egremont and from the neighboring towns of Alford, Great Barrington, Sheffield, West Stockbridge, Austerlitz, and Hillsdale, has been present in Egremont since 1787. Early meetings were held in barns, or in member residences. By 1789, the unwieldy size of the group forced a smaller society to split off, but it was not until 1808 that a church was incorporated under the name of Baptist Society in Egremont. Many conversion baptisms were held in the Green River, which passes through North Egremont. In 1817, the Society began to construct a rude 2-story meeting house on a knoll overlooking town, with unfinished wooden walls and exposed rafters. The five-bay building and its horse sheds (built to shelter the congregants’ mode of transport during services), was completed in 1832. It boasted a raised pulpit and straight-backed enclosed pews, and 12-over-12 windows to provide adequate interior light—but as no provision was made for internal heating, winter services were held in the school house. By 1887, the congregation, tired of its uncomfortable interior, decided to build a new structure more conducive to worship (see #11). The original church was moved to its present location, placed atop a new ground floor, and converted into a boarding house.
During the 1960s and 1970s, this building was a student dormitory, housing young people who attended a private school that was located on Route 71, on the site of the current Town Hall.
Continue walking up Prospect Lake Road (southwest) for about 1/8 mile, passing General Knox Lane and several newer homes. You’ve come about 1.4 miles so far, so if you are tired, your car can be your final destination. If you have the energy, a short 0.6-mile extension will be worth the effort. Continue farther up the hill, and make a right onto Mill Road.
Proceed northward about 1/8 mile down Mill Road, which was named for two mills built in 1794 by Moses Church. On the left, at what once was #1 Mill Road, stood a 2.5-story Greek Revival home, built in 1845 for Thomas Wood. During the 1950s and 1960s, Wood’s home was the headquarters for Camp Thunderbird, one of Prospect Lake’s vacation options for young people. The severely deteriorated building was deliberately burned to the ground in 1986 by the Egremont Fire Department, in a training exercise.
(#25) 9 Mill Road (EGR-72), Daniel Winchell mill
Now greatly altered and expanded, a portion of this structure was built about 1794 by Moses Church, who used it as a grist mill. From 1855 to about 1885, Thomas Wood was operating a saw mill and a grist mill on the property, selling most of his flour and feed to eastern Berkshire county. He also exchanged some for hemlock timber, which was sold to meet home construction needs in nearby Columbia County. The grist mill remained active until well into the twentieth century.
(#26) 15 Mill Road (EGR-71), Millard-Race complex/Shawenon Farm
This elegant 1.5-story, twin chimney–end Federal-style residence has rectangular attic vent windows on gabled ends, wide-board cornices, returns, and pilasters. It was built in 1810, possibly on the site of a still operated by Peter Millard, an early settler who was still the owner of record in 1858. According to local maps, R. Race owned the complex of buildings in 1876, and J. S. Frazee owned them by 1904. But the property’s most prominent owner was Edward Duff Balken, a wealthy American folk art collector who bought it in 1912. To accommodate his need for privacy and space, Balken had well-known Pittsfield architect Joseph McArthur Vance build a new Colonial Revival–style home on a ridge across the street and farther away from the road, which he named Shawenon Farm after the Mohican Indian who helped the first European settlers negotiate their land purchase. Balken’s role as an early pioneer of American folk art received especially widespread attention after a major exhibition of his collection was launched at Princeton University in 2000. In 2011, his grandson continued to maintain an art studio on part of the property, which since his grandfather’s time had been divided and sold.
Retrace your steps back to Prospect Lake Road, making a left toward your car at French Park. Or, if you have time, turn right up Prospect Lake Road to enjoy the vista over the lake, which was known to the European settler’s as Spoor’s Pond. From 1877 onward, summer diversions on Prospect Lake enticed many tourists. The lake’s rich history would be a great topic for a future tour. But for now, we hope you enjoyed this tour. Again, thank you for your interest in our town.
Many thanks to the North Egremont Walking Tour Committee for the time and research: Nic Cooper, Bernhard Haeckel, Jerry Johnson, Bill Tynan, and Marj Wexler. We wish to especially acknowledge the assistance of Gary Leveille, whose book Eye of Shawenon was a valuable source of information for this tour.