For most of its existence, transportation has shaped the fortunes of North Adams - although early on not many people were stopping since the Hoosac Valley was not suitable for farming, riddled with rocky soil and dark, impenetrable swamps. The Mohawk Trail, an Indian trade route which connected Atlantic tribes with tribes in Upstate New York and beyond, passed through here. Eventually loggers discovered the richly forested slopes and settlement began in the 1730s and Fort Massachusetts was constructed at the confluence of the two branches of the Hoosic River; a town named for Boston patriot Samuel Adams was established in 1778.
The streams flowing into the valley spawned numerous small-scale industries as Adams became a milltown. there were textile mills and saw mills, sleigh-makers, a marble works and an iron works. Industry in the town soared to a whole new level in 1848 when work was begun on a tunnel through Hoosac Mountain. The project had its beginnings in 1819 as a planned canal to connect Boston with upstate New York. By 1848, however, it was a railroad tunnel. No one could imagine the difficulties ahead.
The tunnel would not be completed until 1875. More than $21 million was spent. It would cost 193 workers’ lives - by comparison there were 112 deaths in building the Hoover Dam and 11 on the Golden Gate Bridge. When it was finished the 4.75-mile Hoosac Tunnel was the second-longest in the world. Only an 8.5-mile tunnel in the French Alps was longer. It would be longest tunnel in North America for another 50 years. Even today it remains the longest active transportation tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains.
The Hoosac Tunnel transformed North Adams. When construction began there were maybe 2,000 people in town; when the tunnel opened there were more than 15,000. in 1878, North Adams was broken off from Adams and in 1895 became its own city - today it is the smallest city in Massachusetts. North Adams charged into the new century with its industry firing on all pistons.
By the 1980s the factories and mills were empty and rotting. Thomas Krens, director of the Williams College Museum of Art, saw the broken glass and scarred brick buildings as gallery space for large-scale modern art. His vision evolved into the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art that spreads over 13-acres and 25 19th century factory buildings. As a result, North Adams has now become a popular stopping point for travelers on the old Mohawk Trail that is now part of Massachusetts Route 2, which was created as one of the United States’ first scenic highways. But there is plenty to see on the outsides of those buildings as well and our walking tour to see what is there will begin at the traditional center of town...
Civil War Soldiers’ Monument
Monument Square, head of Main Street
North Adams provided many more than its share of soldiers to the Union cause in the Civil War and this monument to their contribution was dedicated on the Fourth of July, 1878. It features a marble depiction of a soldier at parade rest standing on a pedestal of brown freestone. One hundred years later as the city prepared to honor the statue’s centennial it was struck by a motorist and shattered. It was put back together for a rededication on July 4, 1981, three years later. From this spot yo can look around and see the seven churches that inspire the moniker “City of Steeples.”
FACING THE SAME DIRECTION AS THE CIVIL WAR SOLDIER, BEGIN WALKING DOWN THE HILL ALONG MAIN STREET. AS YOU WALK DOWN MAIN STREET YOU WILL NOTICE THAT THE SOUTH SIDE OF THE STREET HAS BEEN SWEPT COMPLETELY BY URBAN RENEWAL WHILE THE NORTH SIDE - THE “SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET” RETAINS ITS LOOK OF DECADES PAST.
First Baptist Church
131 Main Street
This is the tallest of the steeples in the “City of Steeples” at 191 feet above the curb. This is the fourth church for the congregation that was organized by Calvin Keyes in 1908 with 22 members. Its predecessor burned on May 4, 1875 in a fire that started in the church organ. The Romanesque-styled church was dedicated in 1880.
First Congregational Church
134 Main Street
The church was organized in 1827 and hit the ground running - their first meetinghouse was ready the next year. It was replaced with this building in 1865, constructed for a cost of $33,000. It is noted for its bell that weighs over two tons that hangs in the tower and its fine stained glass windows.
111 Main Street
The Mohawk Theater, adorned with Art Deco Indian motifs designed by William Luther Mowll and Roger Glade Rand of Boston, screened its first film, Mr. Doodle Goes to Town, on November 5, 1938. Elias M. Loew, head of the Loew’s theater chain, was on hand for the premier. The house was designed as a movie theater with no stage area and a single balcony above a splendid 25-foot wide screen. The Mohawk suffered the fate of most every downtown movie house in America by the 1980s and closed its doors in 1991 but unlike most of its brethren the building escaped demolition.
103 Main Street
Edwin Thayer Barlow, who picked up his architectural degree from Cornell University in 1891 and lived up on Church Street, contributed this six-story, granite-faced Renaissance Revival commercial block to the North Adams streetscape. His crowning achievement was working on the facade of the New York Public Library.
Hoosac Savings Bank Building
93 Main Street
The North Adams Savings Bank was chartered in 1848 and on January 13, 1849 a representative of the Oneco Lodge of Lodge of Odd Fellows walked in and made the first deposit. It was for $44. In 1871 the Hoosac Savings Bank opened on the south side of Main Street and the venture was successful enough to move into this building in 1893. Designed by architect H. Neill Wilson of Pittsfield, the Romanesque-flavored headquarters with fine terra cotta decorations cost $60,000 to build. The two venerable institutions merged into the North Adams Hoosac Savings Bank in 1962, taking the charter of the elder bank and occupying the space of the younger.
55-61 Main Street
The Sullivan Brothers - six of them - built the Empire Theatre in 1901 and hired the leading theater architect of the day, J. B. McElfatrick and Sons, to design their 1,400-seat playhouse in the rear of the Wilson House. The Wilson House, built in 1866, was the grand dame of North Adams hotels. The theater was a great success - Theodore Roosevelt made a campaign speech for the Bull Moose Party during an aborted presidential run in 1912. Months later, on July 2, a fire said to have started in the Wilson’s kitchen, destroyed everything - the hotel, the theater, the Sullivan Brothers’ furniture store and warehouse that was the town’s first six-story building, the four-story Empire apartment house were the main casualties. Damage was estimated at $600,000 and the blaze was big enough to make the New York Times the next day. The Sullivan Brothers rebuilt the theater which became the Paramount in the 1930s. It was demolished in the 1970s but the foyer can still be seen at 55 Main Street.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO HOLDEN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
First Blackinton Block
30 Holden Street
When Sanford Blackinton died in 1885 at the age of 88 his obituary credited him with changing “North Adams from a prosaic farming hamlet to an enterprising manufacturing village.” He accomplished that through a woolen mill he helped start in 1824 and his endeavors as a banker. By the time he commissioned this commercial block in 1873, Blackinton was one of the three richest men in Berkshire County. He hired influential Victorian architect Marcus Fayette Cummings of Troy, New York to design his brick building in an ornate Italianate style.
TURN RIGHT ON CENTER STREET.
Church Street and Eagle Street at Center Street
So-called triangular “flatiron” buildings were common in 19th century American towns where organically created streets formed odd angles. This one was built in 1854 and shows the Italianate style popular at the time in its bracketing at the roofline.
St. Francis of Assisi Church
75 Eagle Street
The first Catholic services in North Adams were held in 1848 and thereafter a pastor from Pittsfield came up once every three months to hold mass in a congregant’s house. During the building of the Hoosac Tunnel missions were set up for the workers on site. The cornerstone for this soaring church edifice was laid in 1867 and the church dedicated two years later.
TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET. TURN LEFT ON EAST MAIN STREET AND BEGIN YOUR TOUR OF THIS NORTH ADAMS RESIDENTIAL AREA WITH ONE OF THE RICHEST COLLECTION OF VICTORIAN ERA HOUSES - QUEEN ANNES, SECOND EMPIRES, GOTHICS, AND ITALIANATES - IN WESTERN MASSACHUSETTS.
The First United Methodist Church
159 East Main Street
The first Methodist church, a wooden structure, was raised on this corner in 1843. it cost $400. It was replaced by a large brick building in 1873. After fire destroyed that sanctuary in 1927 it was followed by this stone English Gothic church that served the congregation for 80 years until it was abandoned due to the burden of maintenance costs.
165 East Main Street
This handsome house with decorative brickwork and French Second Empire detailing was built around 1850 for boot and shoe manufacturer George Millard. Before he purchased the factory that would become George Millard & Sons the entire output of the firm was sold in adjoining towns less than a day’s ride on horseback from North Adams and the pay received was butter, eggs and produce from the local farmers. In turn the workers wages were doled out in like goods.
C.H. Cutting House
181 East Main Street
C.H. Cutting owned a dry goods store in North Adams and another in Adams. His Stick Style house built in 1881 is still resplendent in fine wooden details more than 125 years later.
199 East Main Street
This eclectic brick house trimmed in stone with its profusion of protrusions is another contribution to the North Adams streetscape by Marcus F. Cummings. It was built in 1872.
Notre Dame Du Sacre Coeur
228 East Main Street
The French Catholic congregation in North Adams was established in 1870, freeing the 200 or so French-speaking families in town from worshiping with the Irish Catholics at St. Francis. This East Main Street property was acquired in 1`874 but it took the fledgling parish more than a decade to acquire the funds necessary to complete this fine brick church.
TURN RIGHT ON PLEASANT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON CHURCH STREET, THE STREET OF CHOICE FOR THE MOVERS AND SHAKERS IN NORTH ADAMS DURING THE LATE 1800S AND EARLY 1900S.
A.C. Houghton Mansion172 Church Street
Albert Charles Houghton, the first mayor of North Adams and its largest employer as head of the Arnold Print Works, commissioned the building of this elaborately detailed Neoclassical house in the 1890s. The mansion remained with the Houghton family until 1926 when it was sold to the Freemasons who built a brick addition to the rear. But some say A.C Houghton never left his beloved home at all. In 1914 Houghton bought his first automobile, a Pierce-Arrow seven-passenger touring vehicle and a man in his employ, John Widders, was trained in its operation. On August 1, Widders drove the family to Vermont to visit friends and while in the town of Pownal he maneuvered the Pierce-Arrow around a work crew, hit a soft spot in the shoulder and the car flipped down a steep embankment. One of the family friends and Houghton’s daughter, Mary, were killed. Stricken with guilt, the next morning Widders retired to the basement in the house and shot himself. Although Albert Houghton had not been seriously injured in the mishap, he died ten days later at the age of 70, the cause said to be the proverbial broken heart. Since they have owned the property various Masons have reported strange noises and paranormal activity in the Houghton Mansion and it has earned a reputation as one of New England’s most haunted buildings.
164 Church Street
This was the home of Edward S. Wilkinson, a son-in-law of Albert Houghton and the third mayor of North Adams. Constructed in 1895 of stone, stucco and green wooden trim the house is an early example of the Arts and Crafts movement that came to reject the gratuitous flourishes of the Victorian age. Wilkinson, who was a banker before becoming mayor at age 58 in 1900, died in an Albany hospital two years later after an unsuccessful kidney operation. He remains the only North Adams mayor to die in office.
149 Church Street
This is another house for a Houghton son-in-law, William A. Gallup who was a partner in the Arnold Print Works. H. Neill Wilson of Pittsfield provided the Colonial Revival design, similar to the one he used for the Hoguhton Mansion up the street.
129 Church Street
This well-detailed brick Victorian house with corner tower was constructed for Clinton Q. Richmond of, banker and president and treasurer of the Hoosac Valley Street Railway Company. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
North Adams Public Library
74 Church Street
This most prominent lot in town was purchased in 1863 by Sanford Blackinton, the richest man in town. He employed Troy architect Marcus Fayette Cummings to design his new house, which was started in 1867. It took more than two years and $75,000 to complete the Second Empire style mansion - in an age when a good working wage was about a dollar a day. Blackinton lived here until he died at the age of 88 in 1885; his second wife, Eliza lived out her life here - totally in three downstairs rooms - until 1896. At that point Mayor A.C. Houghton purchased the landmark mansion and donated it to the city for the first permanent home of the North Adams Public Library that had been started in 1884. Renovations to the tune of $19,000 prepared the interior for use as a library but the exterior - a splendid example of the romantic French Renaissance-inspired style with its mansard roof, window hoods and detailing remained intact as it does today, more than a century later.
YOU HAVE NOW REACHED THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN MONUMENT SQUARE.