The Berkshires Massachusetts
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It Happened in the Berkshires #1

Berkshire County has a well-earned reputation for tolerance, enlightenment, and ingenuity. Many great ideas, inventions and literary works were given birth here making it one of the most historically interesting places in the nation. In addition to enjoying its magnificent scenery, visitors can explore its rich and productive past and understand the true meaning of the term "Yankee ingenuity". Read on for some amazing facts.

Business As Usual

The first trolley car was built in Stockbridge in 1880.

IthappenedintheBerkshires1.jpgThe paper used for U.S. paper money during Civil War days was made by hand in the Cranes Paper Mills..

Lee marble was used in the construction of the nation's Capitol, Grant's Tomb and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

The first plate glass in the United States was produced in Cheshire in 1853.

IthappenedintheBerkshires2.jpgNorth Adams native, Hiram Sibley constructed the first transcontinental telegraph system in 1861.

Cyrus West Field from Stockbridge laid the first successful trans-Atlantic cable in 1866.

Hoosac Tunnel in North Adams was the nation's first long-distance tunnel. It cost $12 million and the lives of more than 100 men and opened in February, 1875.

Pittsfield denizen, Marshall Field left for Chicago in 1856 and founded the legendary department store, Marshall Field Co.

Thomas C. Durant from Lee was the major figure in building the Union Pacific, the first continental railroad. He and Governor Leland Stanford of California drove the silver and gold spikes signaling the completion of the railroad in Ogden, Utah on May 10, 1869.

A 10,000,000 volt of artificial lightning (greater than natural lightning) was produced in the General Electric Company lab in Pittsfield in 1932.

Odds & Ins

Journalist Clay Perry coined the term "spelunker" from the Greek spelaion for cave and "unker" from dunking! He spent much of his time exploring the caves and potholes around Lanesboro.

The nation's largest cheese (1,235 pounds) was made in Cheshire in 1801 and presented to President Thomas Jefferson.

The church of Seventh Day Adventists was established by Pittsfield native, William Miller (1782-1849).

The first village improvement society, the Laurel Hill Association, was begun in Stockbridge in 1853 by Mary G. Hopkins. Still in operation, the society hosts a bi-annual Halloween walk known as the Ice Glen Walk. Due to its sheltered position, a cleft in the rocks between Bear and Little mountains retains ice all year long, making it a perfect destination for a candle-lit procession.

IthappenedintheBerkshires3.jpgIs There A Doctor In The House?

The Shakers of Mt. Lebanon were the first in the nation to raise medicinal herbs.

The House of Mercy was the first non-denominational hospital in the country. Its charter was granted on November 24, 1874.

Amariah Brigham from New Marlboro was one of the early advocates for the humane treatment of the insane.

The Berkshire Medical Institution in Pittsfield stole cadavers from the adjoining graveyard for use by medical students.

Sweet Freedom

In 1783, Elizabeth Freeman, after her trial in Great Barrington, was set free. She was the first American slave emancipated by law

ithappenedintheBerkshires4.jpgThe first collegiate anti-slavery society in the nation was founded in Williams College in 1825.

Local Politicos

The first woman to vote in a presidential election was Susan B. Anthony, a native of Adams. Her historic first ballot in 1872 resulted in her arrest and the imposition of a fine.

The first chairman of the Republican National Committee, in 1856, was Edwin D. Morgan from the village of Washington, Berkshire County.

ithappenedintheBerkshires5.jpgLiterary Greats

Catharine Sedgwick: Old Paths, Legends of the New England Border, A New England Tale, Slavery in New England.

Herman Melville: Moby Dick

Edith Wharton: Ethan Frome

Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne met during a climb on Monument Mountain, near Stockbridge in 1850.

ithappenedintheBerkshires6.jpgCollege Life

Williams College's Kappa Alpha was the first Greek letter fraternity house in the world.

The first intercollegiate game of baseball was played in Pittsfield on July 1, 1859, between Amherst and Williams College. Amherst won 66 to 32.

Watch dropping: During commencement, if a watch is dropped from the Williams College chapel tower and breaks, it means good luck to the class.

Editor's note: Information for this section was provided by Berkshire Athenaeum.