Egremont’s Historic Citizens

Many men and women have helped to shape Egremont’s history over the last three centuries: pioneers that found their way through the wilderness in search of land  and settled here with the local Indians; 19th century entrepreneurs who harnessed Egremont’s natural resources to build their fortunes; and the many citizens who were born and raised here and went on to do great things for their community and the world beyond. Here are a few, and their stories:

The Baldwin Brothers & The Baldwin Chair Factory:
I.D.W. Baldwin (1815-1889) & Orrin Baldwin (1829-1889)

Irwin (I.D.W.) and his brother Orrin Baldwin were born in South Tyringham (now Monterey), later moving to Van Deusenville in Great Barrington to ply their trade as artisans — “makers of chairs, tables, cabinets and anything else the housewife might need.” In 1843, the brothers purchased a farm from the heirs of David Wheeler, located about a mile west of South Egremont Village on Route 23. There they erected a building three stories high and sixty feet long on the site of the old stone saw mill and established The Baldwin Chair Factory (1843-1905). The factory used power generated by a water wheel installed in [Joyner’s] Marsh Brook. In 1849, the brothers purchased the old meeting house from the town for 76 dollars and moved it to their property for use as a storage shed. The siblings died weeks apart in 1889: Orin on April 5, 1889, and I.D.W. of consumption on April 20. His obituary in the Berkshire Courier, however, describes I.D.W. as “a strict temperance man” who was elected in 1871 on the Democratic ticket as a representative to the general court by the votes of the temperance men [of Egremont] in both parties. Both brothers are buried in Mount Everett Cemetery.

Col. Joseph Curtis, 1756 –1810

Joseph Curtis of Newington, CT was a Private in Captain Timothy Bigelow’s Company Colony Service of Minutemen, who answered the alarm of April 19, 1775 to fight the 700 British soldiers order by King George III through the royal governor of Massachusetts, General Thomas Gage, to seize the colonists’ military stores in Concord, some 20 miles west of Boston. Although Captain Bigelow’s company took no part in the battles of Lexington and Concord, they became a part of General Artemas Ward’s forces at Cambridge. Joseph Curtis was 19 years old during his 7-day tour of service.

According to the history of Egremont as told in Beer’s History of Berkshire County, “Colonel Joseph Curtis came with his wife and child, Jasper, on horseback from Newington, Conn. in 1780, and purchased a large tract of land where the village of South Egremont now stands.”

On his early land deeds, Joseph Curtis is identified as a yeoman (1783), and then later, Gentleman (1789), and Esquire (1808), an indication of his increasing wealth accumulated through land speculation.

The first deed on record for Joseph Curtis in Egremont dates back to March 8, 1781. It is for “23 acres and twenty eight rods of land, with a dwelling house and barn on said land and a shop standing in the highway.” Curtis purchased this land from Jonathan Darby in consideration of the sum of fifty pounds silver money in hand. In the deed, he is identified as Joseph Curtis of Wethersfield in the County of Hartford and State of Connecticut Yeoman. Two years later, Joseph sells the property to Amos Carter for “50 pounds lawful money and uses the money to buy more farmland and investment property.

A history of Joseph Curtis’ investments from the Great Barrington Registry of Deeds Office show that as early as 1798 until 1809, a year before his death, deeds recorded in his name for the purchase and sale of land extending partly into and bordering Gt. Barrington, Alford, and Sheffield, MA and Hillsdale, New York. From these he carved out 150 acres for his personal homestead in South Egremont, situated conveniently on the County Road extension from Great Barrington to South Egremont, and the Alford & Egremont Turnpike. The intersection of these two roadways is identified on maps of the area from the late 1700s and early 1800s as ‘Curtis Corners.’

In 1797, Col Joseph Curtis, along with Joseph Benjamin, Seneca Trullar, William Brunson, and Nicholas Race were appointed to investigate a petition to expand the County Road leading from Great Barrington to Sheffield, beginning at the County Road leading from Great Barrington to New Marlboro. The County Road was altered and expanded in Great Barrington to S. Egremont in October 12, 1801, from Simeon Cooper’s Tavern in Great Barrington to Hooker Hubbard’s Mill, cutting through Col. Curtis’ corner. Once the road was complete, the Registry of Deeds records a flurry of activity as Col. Curtis sells off much of the farmland he purchased [speculatively] coming into town along the new route. In 1803, he teamed up again with his neighbors and petitioned the state to construct the Egremont-Alford Toll Road, connecting North Egremont to Alford as a gateway into New York.

Circa 1786, Joseph built a one and a half story, one-room deep cape style house as kitchen on the property today known as the Weathervane Inn on Route 23 (17 Main Street). Here, Joseph and Rebeckah Deming (now styled Rebecca) raised their five children: Jasper, Wilber, Nancy (Winegar), Rhoda (Hare), and Hervey. The 1790 census records Joseph Curtis’ household consisted of “2 Free White Males 16 & Over”, “2 Free White Males Under 16” and “3 Free White Females.” There is no indication he owned any slaves or that “others” were living in the household at that time.

In February 1808, Joseph Curtis was christened in the Congregational Church in Sheffield. Two years later he died at the age of 54. Col. Curtis, his wife Rebecca (who remarried after her husbands death, and all five Curtis children, their spouses, and most of their children are buried in Mount Everett Cemetery.

Hon. Wilber Curtis, 1785-1862

The Honorable Wilber Curtis was born in South Egremont to Col. Joseph and Rebecca Curtis. At the time Wilber takes possession of the family farmstead (upon his mother Rebeckah’s death in 1823), he is a married man of inherited wealth with a growing family, whose aspirations extend beyond the family farm. Over the course of his lifetime, Wilber Curtis became actively involved in state politics (as a member of both branches of the Massachusetts Legislature and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1853), business (as founder and the first president of the Mahaiwe Bank in Gt. Barrington), local government (as Magistrate and Justice of the Peace in Gt. Barrington) and philanthropy (as founder and trustee of the Egremont Academy, a high school located in S. Egremont, and the Congregational Church of Christ in S. Egremont).

By an act of Legislature in 1834, Wilber Curtis, along with Andrew Bacon, Chester Goodale, and Levi Hare (Wilber’s brother in-law), established the Congregational Society of Egremont. Wilber Curtis was a Magistrate in Egremont, as well as a trustee, shareholder (with 18 shares) and founder of the Egremont Academy, a high school built in 1850, where the Egremont Free Library stands today.

Wilber and his wife, Maria, had six children together: Joseph Wilbur Curtis, MD; Wilber; Harvey; Webster; Josephine Rebecca Eliza (Goodale); and Irene Adeline (Dinegar). Wilber died at his residence in Egremont in 1862, baptized at the time of his death at the Congregational Church of Christ in Egremont.

His obituary in The Berkshire Courier reads: “Member of both branches of our Legislature and of the Constitutional Convention of 1853. Upon the organization of the Mahaiwe Bank he was chosen Director and President and held those offices many years and under his administration, not only the responsibility and reputation in every aspect of that institution was admirably sustained. He was a man of proverbial integrity, and of great kindness of heart, fond of contributing favors upon his fellow citizens, which his ample fortune enabled him to do.”

David Dalzell & Dalzell Axle Company

Brought to America in the early 1800s by his mother when he was a young boy, David Dalzell was an American success story. David was apprenticed to James Robinson of Albany, NY to learn the “art, trade, and mystery” of coach trimming. After completing his term, he was under contract to James Gould to trim the first six coaches used with the famous locomotive, DeWitt Clinton, of the Albany-Schenectady Railroad. Next, David moved to Hudson where he engaged in carriage building. In 1845, he moved his carriage factory to S. Egremont. In 1868, David brought his two sons, David Jr. and William C., into the business, enlarged the plant, and renamed the company D. Dalzell and Sons. Ten years later, in 1878, David Jr. died, followed in 1879 by David Sr. The surviving son, William C. Dalzell, took on Roscoe Taft as his partner and in 1880 the firm became Dalzell  & Company. In 1884, it was renamed again as Dalzell Axle Company.

David Dalzell introduced a method of forging his axles and collars from a solid metal bar instead of using welded collars, which was the process at the time. He introduced the “Centennial Axle” at the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia, and was awarded a medal for the finest exhibit and a diploma of merit for superiority. So well-known did these products of the factory become outside of Egremont that the leading carriage builders of New York, Philadelphia, New Haven, Cleveland, Springfield, and beyond used Dalzell axles on their coaches.

By the early 20th century, the new-fangled automobile was taking over the roads from horse-drawn carriages. Although some automobiles did use Dalzell components, the directors of the company, heretofore willing to invest in the latest technology, were not sufficiently foresighted to recognize the growing popularity of the motor car. By 1909, the directors decided that the business could no longer generate a profit and voted to cease manufacturing.

David Dalzell and his company contributed greatly to Egremont’s social history and the re-shaping of Downtown South Egremont. His children married into prominent Colonial Egremont families (Karners, Goodales), and a number of new homes and buildings were constructed along Route 23 and Baldwin Hill to house his factory workers, managers, and his growing family.

Chester Goodale, 1798-1879

Chester Goodale arrived in Egremont in 1812 at the age of 14 years old as an apprentice to a tanner and shoe maker from Richmond, MA. The story goes that at 21 he borrowed $50, bought himself a cobbler’s kit, and set up shop in a small building at the rear of Hare’s Tavern (Egremont Inn). He did so well that he bought a triangle of land down the road from Hare’s Tavern from Wilber Curtis and Levi Hare, and about 1820 built on it a home for his new family (on May 9, 1821 he married Sophia Bushnell), and his business (house is located at #1 Village Green). Goodale lived in this house until his death. The brook was dammed to power his shoe shop and tannery; access to these was via the west-side cellar door. These businesses became successful and eventually employed several local men. It is believed that Goodale was one of the state’s first shoe manufacturers to produce stock-sized (or “store bought,” rather than custom-sized) boots and shoes, selling them as far a-field as Canada.

In 1836, Chester left the shoe business and became Philo Upson’s partner in several local marble quarries. These were located mostly in Sheffield, although the finishing of the stone was done on Hubbard Brook, probably in Egremont. Goodale assumed full control of the business after Upson died in a steamer accident on Long Island Sound, and re-named the business, Goodale White Marble Company. His company supplied marble for many important buildings, including Girard College in Philadelphia, The Customs House in Boston, and Hartford’s State Capital. Twenty yoke of oxen moved his product over Molasses Hill (Route 23 near Catamount) to a steamer berthed in Hudson, NY. In the History of Western Massachusetts, published in 1855, Goodale’s white marble is described as “very fine and white, and is quite translucent in thin pieces, resembling, in this respect, the cheaper varieties of alabaster….The marble from these quarries, as a building material, is still unsurpassed, and the demand is still constant, and slightly on the increase.”

Goodale’s contributions to Egremont’s local economy, social history, and vernacular landscape were many. He is credited with building at least nine houses in the village on land purchased of Wilber Curtis and Levi Hare, and being a leading promoter of the Church, the Academy, the Mahaiwe Bank, and town beautification projects such as lining Button Ball Lane in South Egremont with Buttonball trees. In 1853, Chester purchased the “The Egremont Inn” from Sanford Karner and radically reconstructed and enlarged it, transforming it from a country Tavern into a summer Hotel. He re-named it “The Mount Everett House.”

One September night in 1879, Chester went out to his barn to check on his horses and was found hours later by his family, “dead in his stable after being assaulted, beaten, and robbed by tramps.” In his New York Times obituary, Chester Goodale is noted as one of the wealthiest residents of Berkshire County.

Grosvenor P. Lowrey (1831-1893)

Grosvenor P. Lowrey (1831-1893) was born and raised in North Egremont, Massachusetts. His ancestors were of Dutch ancestry from Claverack NY. Lowrey graduated from Lafayette College and was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1854. His mentor at the bar, Andrew Reeder, was appointed Territorial Governor for Kansas in 1855, and Lowrey accompanied Reeder as his personal secretary. During a dispute between free-state advocates and pro-slavery residents, Reed was dismissed as governor and violence ensued. Lowrey helped his boss escape from Kansas by drawing Reeder’s pursuers off to chase him instead.

Lowrey continued as free-state spokesman in Kansas, but after further turmoil, he returned to the East, practicing law in New York City and working for the election of John C. Fremont, the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for president of the U.S.

Lowrey often represented the Federal Government in Customs cases and he was employed to help the Secretary of the Treasury codify Custom Regulations early in President Lincoln’s administration. During the Civil War, Lowrey wrote and published pamphlets defending Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and justifying Lincoln’s extraordinary use of executive power in wartime. He also cited England for violations of international law in its trade with the Confederacy. His highly successful legal practice included many high-profile cases, including his representation of Thomas Edison in his claims for invention of the quadruplex telegraph and the incandescent electric light. He also served for fifteen years as General Counsel of the Western Union Company. Lowrey was legal adviser in many of the large railroad and utility mergers of the 1880s, and represented major banks and many prominent citizens of New York.1

Col. Hugh Smiley, and the Olde Egremont Association

Major Hugh Smiley arrived in Egremont around 1925, and in May of that year purchased the Bradford Farm and, shortly after, Stony Brook Farm. After the barns at Stony Brook burned, Smiley erected a barn for raising blooded Holsteins. When the project failed due to the economic depression, he converted the farms into a recreation center called Jug End Barn.

All told, along with a group of local investors who collectively formed the Olde Egremont Association (Smiley was the first president), Smiley amassed over 3,000 acres of undeveloped land, farmsteads, and properties in South Egremont Village with the intent to put Egremont on the map as a seasonal destination spot and resort community. The Olde Egremont Association promoted “Olde Egremont” to travelers, seasonal guests, and second homeowners as the “land of yesterday; settled 1730, restored 1930” The Association restored a number of historic properties in and around “Olde Egremont,” including the Egremont Inn, General Store (today Farshaw Books), and Olde Egremont Tavern (today Kenver’s), fabricating a new history for these buildings to aggrandize the Town’s historic roots. The Association also ‘built for spec’ log cabins “with the charm of yesteryear and the modern conveniences of today,” and carved out new housing developments. They also embarked on a plan of beautification and economic development. The Association offered Membership Certificates in the Association “for a nominal fee” “to all owners of property in “Olde Egremont…whether he be a cabineer, a cottager, or owner of a large country house.” A Membership Certificate entitled the holder to the liberties of the Association’s properties, “comprising some 3000 acres of land, a splendid trout brook, membership in the Mt. Everett Golf Club, miles of horseback trails winding along the foot of Mt. Everett, free use of the ‘Ole Swimmin Hole’, and substantial discount on all purchases at the General Store, Tavern, Egremont Inn, and other units of the Olde Egremont Association.” As a marketing tool to sell its “furnished cottages, real log cabins, Colonial cottages, half timbered houses, and little farms for season rent,” the Association began publishing a quarterly pamphlet in 1932 entitled, The Olde Egremont Herald, which contained promotional information about the Association’s businesses and properties, promoted the historic and natural beauty of the town and environs, and provided the comings and goings of town residents and their guests.

In the end, the Depression put an end to the ambitious plans of the Olde Egremont Association, but not Smiley’s vision for Egremont as a seasonal destination spot and desirable community. In the aftermath of the Depression, Smiley unloaded practically all of his South Berkshire holdings and eventually moved to Henniker, NH, where died in 1955.

Roscoe C. Taft

A successful New York businessman, Roscoe Taft had been with the Dalzell Axle Company since 1868 when David Dalzell brought his two sons, David Jr. and William C., into the business, enlarged the plant, and renamed the company D. Dalzell and Sons. When David Sr. and David Jr. died, the remaining son, William, took Roscoe Taft in as a partner. Roscoe’s wife died the same year as David Jr., and he went on to marry Martha Goodale Dalzell, David Jr.’s widow and Chester Goodale Jr.’s youngest daughter. Together they moved into the Chester Goodale house (#26 on the South Egremont History Tour) and built the carriage house next door in what today is known as the Red Top house (#6 on the South Egremont History Tour), where they lived once it was complete.

John Tuller

John Tuller came to Egremont from Simsbury, CT about 1736, and by 1758 was wealthy enough to purchase a farm of 300 acres. Construction of the first floor of his house – built with brick made onsite – was done when he left for service in the French & Indian War. A temporary roof kept his family housed for the year of his absence. Profits made from transporting provisions into Canada allowed him to complete a very well-built structure in 1761. Its celebrated northern gable end is decorated with a heart connecting the letters I (for John), A (for his wife Anna Karner) and T (for Tuller). In the 1890s, a wooden ell was added, along with dormers. Near the southeast corner of this 14-room farmhouse stands the oldest and largest black walnut tree in Massachusetts. Tuller’s farm lay within Sheffield until 1790, when the town lines were changed and brought it into Egremont.

Yvonne Twining (Humber), 1907-2004

Yvonne Twining was born Frances Yvonne Twining on December 5, 1907 in New York City to Harry Esmond Twining, a businessman and gifted amateur watercolorist (his family was prominent in the tea importing trade in England), and Emma Potts Twining, a classical musician who sang with the Paris Grand Opera under the name Madame d’Egremont. After her father’s death in 1917, Yvonne and her mother returned from Paris to South Egremont, Emma Potts’ hometown. Yvonne received her first art instruction from neighbors Charles and Katherine Almond Hulbert, well-known American Impressionists. She then studied at the National Academy of Design in New York from 1925-1931, the Art Students League, 1928-1931, and with Charles Hawthorne at his informal art school in Provincetown, MA from 1928-1930.

In the 1930s, Yvonne worked as a commercial artist in South Egremont, drawing scenes of the Town and working as a staff artist for the local newspaper, The Berkshire Courier.

From 1935 to 1943 she was employed by the WPA as an easel painter in Boston, MA. It was during her period on the WPA that she established a national reputation for her remarkable urban subjects and rural landscapes. Her paintings were often singled out by critics who praised her unique, personal style, and they were often reproduced in newspapers and art publications of the period.

Following her 1943 marriage to Irving Humber, she relocated to Seattle where Mr. Humber owned a wholesale business. She quickly established herself in Seattle’s art community.

In addition to her own artistic accomplishments, she endowed the Twining-Humber Award for Lifetime Achievement through Seattle’s Artist Trust which comes with a $10,000 prize. She understood the challenges most women artists face in pursuing their art in balance with family and societal expectations and she wanted achievements acknowledged and celebrated.

Philo Upson

In October 1835, Philo Upson, a native of Otis, MA, bought 42 rods of land from Wilber Curtis and built a compact Federal cottage (today, 37 Main Street) for his wife Sarah Curtiss (they married on April 11, 1818 in Sheffield), and children Sarah Eliza, Lucy, and Theodosia.

Philo went into business with Chester Goodale and opened up a marble quarry just over the line in Sheffield.

On the night of January 13, 1840, the 488-ton steamer Lexington was en route from New York City to Stonington, Connecticut, with about 160 people aboard and a cargo of about 150 bales of cotton. She caught fire at sea in sub-zero weather, and in the ensuing tragedy all but four people died. Philo Upson died at the age of 37. He is buried in Mount Everett Cemetery.

Will Mason Willcox

In June of 1905, Will, wife Mabel and son Russell, arrived in Egremont from Oxford, New York and purchased the Egremont Store (J. G. O’Neil Store) from Roy E. Humphrey of Great Barrington, which was being run by Bill Dooley. Will expanded the store, which had a small soda fountain, into an ice cream parlor that developed regional acclaim. Will’s son Russell Willcox (a noted archer, 1902-1976) relayed in the Town’s Centennial book that his mother was given a recipe for ice cream with the promise never to reveal it. “It was the best ice cream because of the low air content and the fact that it was made from whole milk boiled custard and whole cream added along with the flavoring.” In all, Mrs. Willcox made 36 different kinds of ice cream, with as many as 12 kinds listed on the board at once. “People would drive from as far as Hartford or Albany for some of Willcox’s Home Made Ice Cream.” The store was open from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day, year round, and also sold smoking tobacco, cigars, candy, notions, and post cards. Willcox also supplied ice cream on demand to the Blue Bird Tea Room next door.