What could $2,300 buy back in 1762? For Nathan Jones, about 23 square miles of land. The pioneers who settled here struggled with the rocky soil in what was unglamorously called Township Number One. That would be changed to East Hoosac and in 1778 was renamed again to honor Revolutionary rabble-rouser Samuel Adams.
In short order the settlers of Adams tossed aside their plows and tied their fortunes to the small industries that could be powered by the tumbling waters of the Hoosic River. By the mid-1800s Adams was a humming industrial community, churning out paper and textiles and high grade marble. In 1878 the larger part of town was detached and became the smallest city in Massachusetts, North Adams.
In the 1960s, as was common in most every aging industrial town in the Northeast, urban renewal came calling. Building after building in the town’s commercial center along Center Street was flattened and lost forever. The bulldozers were ready to move over to Park Street when an urban renewal proposal was defeated in town council. So that is where we will concentrate our walking tour and we’ll begin at a visitor center that serves all of the Berkshires...
1 Berkshire Square
Beside the parking lot is Berkshire Mill 1, the first of four constructed by brothers William B. and Charles T. Plunkett in 1889 for their Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company. The seeds for the enterprise were sown decades before by their father William C. Plunkett who founded one of the region’s oldest and most important woolen mills, Plunkett & Wheeler. The mills would be the economic engine in Adams for 70 years until the closing of Mill Number Four, the last cotton mill in western Massachusetts, in 1958. The mill survives today as a renovated apartment building.
Ashuwillticook Rail Trail
3 Hoosac Street
The Pittsfield & North Adams Railroad was organized in 1845 to develop this corridor for the ambitious Housatonic Railroad that sought to come out of Connecticut all the way to Rutland, Vermont. The track went through many masters, evolving as a short haul freight line that operated until 1990. Since that time the line has morphed into an 11.2-mile recreation path that adopted the Indian word for the south branch of the Hoosic River that translates into “the pleasant river in between the hills.” The Berkshires Visitor Center is the northern terminus for the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail; the former depot still stands and houses a restaurant.
WALK SOUTH ALONG THE PAVED RAIL-TRAIL. AT THE DEPOT TURN LEFT AND CROSS OVER TO PLEASANT STREET. TURN RIGHT AND WALK UP TO CENTER STREET
South Adams Savings Bank
2 Center Street
South Adams Savings Bank took its first deposits in 1869, when it was in the southern part of Adams. in 1878 when the northern part of town became its own entity the town rejected the moniker “South Adams” but the bank carried on and has to this day as the oldest continuously operating bank in town. Its Neoclassical headquarters, with Corinthian pilasters parading around to the river side at the head of Center Street once anchored a bustling commercial district that is no more.
BEAR RIGHT ACROSS THE HOOISIC RIVER AS CENTER STREET BECOMES PARK STREET.
Susan B. Anthony Memorial
west side of Park Street at Hoosic River
Susan B. Anthony, founder of the National Women’s Suffrage League and the first real-life woman to appear on a United States coin, was born in Adams on February 15, 1820. Her father Daniel, a cotton manufacturer and Quaker abolitionist, moved the family to New York when Susan was six. The two-story house of her birthplace, constructed in 1818, was located east of town heading out of today’s Center Street and still stands and is open as a museum.
8 Park Street
At this end of Park Street the town’s leading family, the Plunketts, built their homes. This Georgian Revival brick manor house was constructed for Charles T. Plunkett in 1907. In subsequent years the building did duty as an American Legion home and now as offices for the town.
Theodore Plunkett House
30 Park Street
Here is another Plunkett family house, this one built for the third generation. Theodore Plunkett was a State Senator, best remembered for squeezing $200,000 out of the State legislature to construct the Veterans War Memorial tower atop Mt. Greylock.
First Congregational Church
42 Park Street
This handsome meetinghouse on a rise in the center of Park Street was constructed in 1868. the beautifully crafted Italianate building with strong eaves and arched window hoods is the only wooden church in Adams still holding services.
Miss Adams Diner
53 Park Street
Wrapped inside the stone facade is a genuine pre-fabricated diner, brought to this location in 1949. At that time it began life as the Worcester Lunch Car 821.
Old Town Hall
northeast corner of School Street and Park Street
This brick building, resting on the bones of an old school, was erected as the Town Hall after North Adams was cleaved off the town in 1878. A fire in 1949 claimed its peaked roof and tower and precipitated a severe remodeling.
72-74 Park Street
This three-story brick commercial block with an ornate bracketed Italianate cornice is unaltered since its construction in 1890 and harkens back to the days before large ground floor retail display windows.
90 Park Street
A.C. Simmons operated a retail fiefdom at this end of Park Street, the core of which was the family emporium across the street. Years ago “furniture” meant many things- it could mean coffins and furniture stores often doubled as funeral homes. In 1934 the Civilian Conservation Corps carved a championship ski trail on the side of Mount Greylock that they named “Thunderbolt” after a famous roller coaster at Revere Beach near Boston because both gave such a memorable ride. Simmons became an early ski enthusiast and helped promote the sport by allowing fledgling ski cub members to purchase $20 skis for just a dollar down. This quintessential Victorian house, all angles and varied materials and designs, doubled as the Simmons home and more selling space at street level.
southeast corner of East Maple Street and Park Street
The Normans of lore in the Middle Ages would feel quite at home defending this gray stone fortress. It was built in 1914 for National Guard Company M which occupied the building until 2004.
intersection of Columbia & Maple streets at Park Street
William McKinley, 25th President of the United States, is probably best remembered for his assassination in 1901 that led to the ascension of Theodore Roosevelt into the White House and onto Mount Rushmore. One thing McKinley pursued while in office was aggressive protection of American industries in the expanding world economy in the 1890s. This earned him a lot of rich, grateful friends. The result is that there is an unusually long list of memorials outside of his native Ohio to the man. They include America’s highest mountain in Alaska and statues in such far-ranging places as Arcata, California and Reading, Pennsylvania and Adams. McKinley’s friends here were the Plunkett family who owned Berkshire Mill and he visited the town three times, once as governor of Ohio and twice as President. They commissioned Augustus Lukeman, a sculptor noted for his historical monuments, to craft this welcoming figure of William McKinley. Its unveiling ceremony on October 10, 1903 was one of the biggest events in Adams history. The base is surrounded with three scenes of his actions, in the Civil War, in Congress, and as President, with the fourth side bearing a quote from the Pan-American Exposition: “Let us remember that our interest is in concord not conflict, and that our real eminence rests in the victories of peace, not of war.”
Adams Free Library
92 Park Street
President William McKinley was on hand to lower the cornerstone into place for this monumental Beaux Arts-inspired building in 1897. It was constructed to house the town library and serve as a memorial to Civil War veterans, of which, McKinley was one. Indeed he would be the last United States president to have served in the War Between the States. The pale yellow brick is highlighted by marble quarried at the Adams Marble Company.
TURN RIGHT ON COLUMBIA STREET.
The Parish of Pope John Paul the Great
21 Maple Street
This joint parish was established in 1998, welding the Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs Roman Catholic Church and the St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church. Both buildings are still in use. Notre Dame, the traditional home of the town’s French Catholics, was constructed in 1887 and St. Thomas a ways up Columbia Street was dedicated in 1897.
TURN RIGHT ON HOOSAC STREET TO RETRUN TO THE VISITOR CENTER AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.