A lesson in U.S. history right on the streets (and corners) of Great Barrington [COLUMN]

GREAT BARRINGTON —  Earlier this week kids in Berkshire County (minus myself and probably a whole bunch of other homeschoolers like me) got a day off in observance of Veterans Day. A few weeks prior to this national holiday I had the opportunity to think a lot about those who fought and continue to fight for my freedom when I spent the day in Great Barrington giving their new Great Barrington smartphone tour application a test drive.

When Berkshire Family Focus Founder and Editor Kelly Bevan McIlquham asked Mom and me to go on an iPhone app tour of Great Barrington, I was skeptical to say the least. I mean, an app tour?  How fun could that be? As I learned of the amazing history, that was basically in my back yard, I was very enthused to learn more. I mean, who would have thought the two biggest wars in American history — the Civil War and the American Revolutionary War — set their roots right here in Berkshire County at the Great Barrington court house in my home state? (More about that later.)

Great Barrington is a goldmine of history, holding some of the richest landmarks in Massachusetts, and early American history. As the three of us — Mom, Kelly and myself — walked around Great Barrington we realized that there was so much more to the town than what we had first thought. The tour first brought us to the Mason library. The library, filled with interesting books and fun activities was designed in the early 1900 as a testimony to gothic architecture. The narrator from the app told us that this library was featured on the cover of a Sesame Street children’s book. Sadly, after lots of researching I still couldn’t find the book. I also learned that prior to the building of this library, a Cape-Cod style house housed the Great Barrington Free Library, built by Thomas Ingersoll. Laura Ingersoll, the second daughter of Thomas Ingersoll, was a Canadian Heroine in the War of 1812 and is a legend in that country. There is a memorial plaque for her on the Mason Library grounds.

Our second stop on our tour was the Catholic Church (St. Peter’s Church). It first served as a girl’s boarding school in the early 1830’s until 1904.  First meeting at the Town Meeting Hall, private residences and barns and then moving on to a newly built small wood frame Gothic Revival Structure the church soon became the highest attended churches out of all the churches in town, resulting in the beginning of construction on the current structure in 1903.

Next on our agenda was the River Walk. This is a lovely scenic walk along the Housatonic River. There are spots to stop and read about the history of William Stanley who was responsible for creating the DC electrical current and transformers. This allowed the town of Great Barrington to have the first street lights using this DC current technology. Thanks to Stanley, Great Barrington’s Main Street was lit up for the first time on March 20, 1886 to the amazement of all the town’s people.

Walking back on to Main Street the tour took us to Marcus Roger’s first printing building of the Berkshire Courier newspaper. This building was then renovated into a bank. Now it is an organic food shop. It is known as Rubiners Cheesemongers and Grocers. I enjoyed eeing how thick the old bank vault door in the building was which is still in use today.

With our stomachs grumbling at this point we were drawn to the tantalizing aroma of Baba Louie’s sourdough pizza. So in we went. With so many choices on the menu it took us a few minutes to decide. We ended up ordering the pesto, tomato, garlic, fresh mozzarella combination. It was the best pizza I have ever eaten!

With stomachs full of delicious goodness we headed on to the site of the Great Barrington courthouse. Here we learned that this spot was rich with important history. One of the very first steps that led up to the Boston Tea Party was when 1500 townspeople sat in the courthouse to stop the English from becoming the presiding over the Great Barrington courts. It was the first united planned resistance against the British government. This stance by the people helped stopped the English ruling, which eventually led to the Revolutionary War.

The end of slavery started here as well. Elizabeth Freeman, also known as Mum Bett, made her stand for freedom against her slave owner Col.l John Ashley. Here she sued for her freedom and won in August 1781. This stand against slavery was one of the integral parts that led up to the Civil War.

The tour goes on, but we had to head back to North County and just browsed quickly at the other sites on the tour, but I hope you get a chance to do the tour and discover the rich history of Great Barrington and its role in America’s freedom. Oh, and don’t forget to stop at Baba Louie’s while you are there, my mouth is watering just thinking about that pizza.

Jordan is a 13 year old girl who  loves outdoors and has a better appreciation for her states rich history.

The Great Barrington App Tour is a free app available for your smartphone. Just search Great Barrington Tour app, download it and you’re good to go.

Jordan Budaj

Jordan Budaj

Jordan Budaj is a 13-year-old homeschooler from Windsor. She loves skiing, hiking, horseback riding and most outdoors activities, along with a good book, of course!