House to be Moved October 19
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
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
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
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
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
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.