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Mount Holyoke College News and Events Vista The College Street Journal Archives

October 15, 2004

Historic House to be Moved October 19

By Kenneth L. Williamson
Professor Emeritus of Chemistry

On Tuesday, October 19 the oldest house in South Hadley will be moved down Route 116 from 40 Woodbridge Street to 28 Woodbridge Street, the 1788 home of Ruggles Woodbridge. His home, Sycamores, was a Mount Holyoke dormitory from 1915 to 1970. Each year 14 students, predominantly sophomores, and a housemother lived there, attended by a maid and a cook. Of the nearly 800 students who lived there many come back at reunion times to seek out their rooms and relive their days in Sycamores. The house is set to be moved at 10 am with work finishing at 1 pm.

In the early eighteenth century it was a long and difficult eight miles to church in Hadley, especially in winter, so the families on this side of the Notch petitioned the legislature for permission to establish a new town, South Hadley. This they were allowed to do if they met three conditions: build a meetinghouse, now Woodbridge’s restaurant on the common, hire a minister, and build him a house. The meetinghouse was built in 1732 and the new minister, Grindall Rawson, was hired. His house was built by the parishioners in 1733 and is the house being moved.

But Grindall was too conservative for the liberal people of South Hadley. After a few years the church members asked him to resign, but he refused. This impasse was finally resolved on Sunday, October 3, 1741, when a group of 15 men literally carried Grindall Rawson from the pulpit as he was reciting a prayer and expelled him from the church. He and his family continued to live in South Hadley for a short time until he was called by the church in Hadlyme, Connecticut, where he served for many years and where he is buried.

The Rawson House was originally located on the property where Sycamores now stands, 28 Woodbridge Street. But at some time, perhaps in the late eighteenth century, it was moved about a quarter of a mile up the street and attached to the back of a house at 40 Woodbridge Street built in 1787. Joseph A. Skinner, of Skinner Hall and Skinner Green fame, bought that house in the 1920s, and Mount Holyoke purchased it in 1948 in order to provide housing for faculty and staff. The Rawson House ell was one of three apartments. Joseph Brodsky, Mount Holyoke’s only Nobel laureate, was living there when he won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1979.

Recently Mrs. Kay Bernon, chairman of the board of trustees at the adjacent Berkshire Hills Music Academy, bought the house. She decided that the Rawson House ell was surplus to her needs and generously donated it to the Sycamores Committee of the South Hadley Historical. The committee accepted her gift and arranged to have it moved back to the same property from which it came about two centuries ago.

The 20-foot by 40-foot Rawson House, with its low ceilings, hand-hewn beams and wide pine floors, is typical of New England houses of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. One of the fireplaces is equipped with a beehive oven for baking and both have large swinging cranes to support the cast iron pots of the day. There is the possibility that this building might have served as the kitchen for Sycamores at one time, because there are no large fireplaces in that house.

The major timbers of the house were analyzed recently by Bill Flynt of Historic Deerfield using dendrochronology and found to date from 1732, with a few from 1712.

Rawson House was renovated in the 1920s by Joseph Skinner. Before he purchased the little church from the town of Prescott (now at the bottom of Quabbin Reservoir) and converted it into the Skinner Museum across the street, Skinner kept his collections in Rawson House.

Rawson House will provide two large meeting rooms with working fireplaces for the Historical Society. A kitchen in the first floor of the nineteenth-century red ell of Sycamores will serve for catered events. Rawson House will be attached to Sycamores so that its second floor and the second floor of the ell can be converted into a two-bedroom apartment, providing security and income for Sycamores.


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