Built circa 1750 for
the first minister of Township No. 1, the Reverend Adonijah Bidwell,
the Bidwell House is a gracious two-story post-and-beam Georgian
saltbox. Rev. Bidwell arrived in 1750 to be the first minister
of this frontier region, which eventually became the towns of
Monterey and Tyringham.
Bidwell built an imposing residence, with six large, paneled rooms,
four fireplaces, two beehive ovens, and three closets. His 1784
death inventory, which is preserved and displayed in the museum,
tells of a well-furnished house for the time and location. He
owned a significant collection of pewter, three high chests, six
beds, numerous chests and tables, a large library, and an amazing
48 chairs! Perhaps his large furniture collection came as a result
of his three marriages, as women often brought furniture as part
of their dowry.
The high rate of mortality for women in the 1700s meant that more
than one wife was common, and indeed this was the case for Rev.
Bidwell. Once the house was completed and he was settled into
his position, Rev. Bidwell married his first wife, Theodosia Colton,
in 1752. She was the daughter of his tutor at Yale College, Rev.
Benjamin Colton. Known to be a poet, Theodosia’s work is
unfortunately lost. To commemorate his marriage to his “college
sweetheart,” Rev. Bidwell carved two perfect hearts in the
parlor door, a local tradition found in a number of 18th century
houses in Monterey.
Theodosia died childless of an unknown cause in 1759. One year
later Rev. Bidwell married Theodosia’s first cousin, Jemima
Devotion, also the daughter of a prominent Connecticut minister.
Jemima lived for ten short years as Mrs. Bidwell, bearing all
of his children, two boys and two girls, before she died. Having
young children to raise, Rev. Bidwell lost no time in marrying
his third and final wife, Ruth Kent, in 1772. Not all women died
young. Ruth lived to be a healthy 85.
The location of the house was the first town center of what was
originally known as Housatonic Township No. 1. The Bidwell House
was the parsonage, and the first meeting house was a short walk
from the house, located at the crossroads of the Great Trail (the
Boston-Albany Post Road) and Royal Hemlock Road.
After Rev. Bidwell’s death in 1784, the settlement opted
to build a new meeting house and parsonage a mile south-west of
the original site. The first meeting house fell into disrepair
and later burnt down. The Bidwell House and property remained
in the Bidwell family and were handed down from father to son
to grandson, each generation adding to the architecture of the
Rev. Bidwell farmed the property from 1750 to 1784. His eldest
son, Adonijah Bidwell Jr., developed the farm into a large and
prosperous dairy farm, expanding the land holdings and building
a compound of barns and out-buildings. His tenure was 1784 to
1836. The grandson, John Devotion Bidwell, continued to farm and
also added a tanning yard.
However, the development of western farm lands, the railroad,
and the Erie Canal all aided in the shift of farming to the West
and the abandonment of New England farms. In 1853 the house
and property were sold out of the family. Three generations of
the Carrington family farmed the property until 1911, when it
was sold to a logging company. In 1913 it was purchased by Raymond
P. Ensign, who established the Berkshire Summer School of the
Arts on the property. The farming history of the Bidwell House
and its land is a classic example of the rise and fall of farming
in Western Massachusetts.
The museum was formed in 1990 at the bequests of Jack Hargis and
David Brush. The two men fell in love with and purchased the un-restored
house in 1960, and began a 25-year quest to return it to its original
appearance and to recreate the home of Rev. Bidwell by filling
it with museum-quality 18th-century furnishings which matched
his 1784 death inventory.