In a new book, author Bernard Drew provides an update on the history of Great Barrington | Books

When the Great Barrington Historical Commission decided that a comprehensive study was needed to determine what the town had lost in an effort to determine what it could keep and how it could keep it, the group knew who to contact. : historian, writer and long-time resident. Bernard A. Drew.

Book cover

A new book by Berkshire Eagle historian and columnist Bernard Drew provides an illustrated history of Great Barrington.

The result is “Great Barrington Here & Gone,” an incredibly detailed and illustrated story that, to paraphrase the book’s subtitle, examines what has been “converted, demolished, hidden or replaced”. A lot of things are indeed gone, but as Drew said in a recent interview, it’s surprising how many are left.

“In your mind, you can pull together a lot of what Main Street looked like 120 years ago,” Drew said.

The nearly 200-page book is made up of many small chapters with names like barns, bridges, flames, lost details, and storefronts. Longtime Berkshire Eagle columnist Our Berkshires said his goal was “to go beyond the historical side to the human side and find little stories to tell.”

The detailed section devoted to the author, educator, civil rights icon and native son WEB Du Bois is a good example of this approach. Drew writes that although none of the houses that Du Bois lived in remains, the buildings that shaped his development in his youth still exist and the Clinton AME Zion Church where he taught at the age of 18 in 1886 is being restored.

Photos of the lost buildings are in the book, including a poignant 1961 from Du Bois and his second wife Shirley Graham Du Bois looking at the fireplace and cellar which are all that is left of his house. The photos and the timely background and quotes provided by Drew that accompany the photos offer a capsule story of Du Bois and its links to Great Barrington while also depressingly reminding how much that story was lost when the Buildings connected to Du Bois have been lost.

Electricity pioneer William Stanley and his local connections are included in the book, and it’s ironic that much of the Church Street neighborhood where Du Bois spent his early years was razed in 1896 to make way for the Stanley Instrument Factory. This attests to Drew’s argument that a lot can be lost in a community as it evolves, and if “you can make a connection that matters to you,” a goal of the commission and the book, it is easier to preserve historic sites and buildings.

Stanley, a pioneer in high voltage alternating current technology, electrified Great Barrington Main Street as a demonstration of his prototype transformer designed to make alternating current practical. His Maple Street mansion, now a nursing home, his West Avenue home and the Berkshire Heights bungalow where he died in 1916 are pictured and their stories provided. The Stanley Electric Manufacturing Co. founded in Pittsfield in 1890 was purchased by General Electric in 1903.

Drew’s previous research provided him with a basis for the book, and the immediate availability of digitized information allowed him to find everything he needed. The digitized Berkshire Eagle and Berkshire Courier were valuable sources, as were the online records of the Berkshire Middle and Southern Berkshire Registry of Deeds. Drew said a Berkshire Probate and Family Court advice allowed him to find wills online and track properties as they are passed on from families.

The veteran historian said this process “takes some of the fun of researching old books”, but the information online has proven invaluable in achieving its purpose and that of the commission.

On Saturday from noon to 2 p.m., Drew will be signing copies of “Great Barrington Here & Gone” at the Wagon House Museum of the Great Barrington Historical Society at 17 South Main St.

Bill Everhart is an occasional Eagle contributor.

Grover Z. Barnes