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It Happened In The Berkshires #2

American flagBerkshire 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.


John Thompson (1802-1891), a native of Peru, founded and was president of the First National Bank of New York City. At age 75, with his two sons, he founded the Case National Bank.

The inventor of the first electric transformer, which made possible the transmission of electric power over long distance, was Great Barrington native William Stanley (1858-1916).

The first yard of fine broadcloth was made in America in 1804 fashioned from the fleece of merino sheep bred in the Berkshires and produced on machinery in Pittsfield by Arthur Scholfield.

A book entitled "Historical Memoirs of the Housatonic Indians" by Rev. Samuel Hopkins and dated 1753 is the first record of maple sugar being made in this country.

Marshall Field, founder of the Chicago store of the same name, acquired his business experience in Pittsfield where he worked in the mercantile business for five years.

The McKay machine, which was used by shoemakers in the 1800s to sew shoes to uppers, was named for Pittsfield manufacturer Gordon McKay.

The first issue of the New York Tribune was printed on paper supplied to Horace Greeley from a mill at Lee in 1841.

Those Were The Years

County Milestones

  • 1733 First incorporated town, Sheffield.
  • 1734 First mission house, Stockbridge.
  • 1735 First house still standing, the Col. Ashley House in Sheffield.
  • 1784 First county courthouse, Lenox.
  • 1801 First wool carding mill, Pittsfield.
  • 1808 First fine broadcloth, Pittsfield.
  • 1857 Tallest timber frame structure, Lee.
  • 1875 Longest tunnel in the U.S., North Adams.
  • 1895 Largest house in the U.S., Lenox.
  • 1916 First Berkshire thatch roof construction attempted, which evolved into an 80-ton handcut asphalt-shingled sculptural landmark, Santarella Museum & Gardens.

Politics As Usual

  • 1773 First Declaration of Rights and Grievances, Sheffield.
  • 1774 First open resistance to the Crown Courts, Great Barrington.
  • 1781 First emancipated slave in Massachusetts, Sheffield/Stockbridge/Great Barrington.
  • 1801 Foremost tribute to a president, Cheshire.
  • 1815 First woman in Berkshire County to enter masculine employment, Pittsfield.
  • 1820 Founder of women's suffrage movement, Adams.
  • 1823 First anti-slavery society, Williamstown.
  • 1868 Founder of NAACP, born in Great Barrington.

Out on The Farm

  • 1808 First agriculture fair, Pittsfield.
  • 1818 Outstanding breeding records for dairy farming, Lenox/Lee.
  • 1827 Oldest established rake factory, Tyringham.

Factory Facts

  • 1844 Foremost production of currency paper, Dalton.
  • 1854 First manufacture of plate glass, Cheshire.
  • 1867 First U.S. production of wood pulp, Stockbridge.
  • 1867 First wood pulp paper (newsprint), Lee.
  • 1875 (circa) First practical manufacture and transport of nitroglycerin, North Adams.
  • 1880 First publicly operated trolley car, Stockbridge.
  • 1886 First lighting of a town using alternating current, Great Barrington.Statue of newsboy.
  • 1890 First home lit with underground electricity, Lenox/Lee.
  • 1895 First statue dedicated to newsboys, Great Barrington.
  • 1932 First artificial lighting, Pittsfield.

Join The Club

  • 1806 First organization for foreign missions, Williamstown.
  • 1853 First village improvement society, Stockbridge.
  • 1863 First mountain climbing organization, Williamstown.
  • 1875 First Agassiz Society meeting for the study of nature, Lenox.

Book Learning

  • 1815 First law library in Massachusetts, Lenox.
  • 1838 Oldest standing astronomical observatory, Williamstown.
  • 1844 First journal for psychiatry, New Marlborough.
  • 1859 First intercollegiate baseball game, Pittsfield.
  • 1920 First test of a new educational system, Dalton.
  • 1931 First dance theater and festival to teach dance, Becket.

City Folks

  • Families as far away as New Orleans began building country homes at Lenox during the middle 1800s.

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