By Jim Shulman
There are few Baby Boomers that don’t lament the razing of Pittsfield’s heavily marbled Union Station as part of West Street urban renewal in 1968. Over and over again, I hear my generation saying, “What a shame!”
The train station wasn’t the first historic structure that I can recall as a youngster that faced the wrecking ball. At the corner of Wendell Avenue and East Street stood a house whose construction dated to the Revolutionary War. It was originally built on the current site of the Berkshire County Courthouse.
James Easton, whose tavern was around the corner on South Street, was behind the construction. Financial difficulties forced Easton to sell the building to a young lawyer, John Chandler Williams.
Historically, it was John Chandler’s wife, Lucretia, who is best remembered. She was the young woman who threw herself in front of the mighty Elm tree on Park Square in 1793 to prevent it from being cut down. Her efforts resulted in the tree living 70 more years.
In 1783, Lucretia had first become known for hosting the city’s first big shindig in the family home to celebrate the end of the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. People came from near and far to celebrate with flowing wine, ale and rum and roasted ox, geese and turkey to feed the appetites.
Celebrants danced, played music, shot cannons and paraded around the nearby park for three full days. The Williams’ house became known for the event and after it was forever called the “Peace Party House.” The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution took its name from the home and became the Peace Party Chapter of the D.A.R.
In 1868, Pittsfield’s leaders convinced the state Legislature to move the Berkshire County seat from Lenox to Pittsfield as they agreed to provide suitable sites for the building of a county jail and courthouse. The chosen site for the courthouse would be on Park Square exactly where the Peace Party House was located.
The city bought the historic building and moved it across Wendell Avenue facing East Street. The courthouse was completed in 1871.
Over the years, the house had numerous owners, including St. Stephen’s Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church. The Unitarians used the edifice for a parsonage and built a house of worship next door on Wendell Avenue.
In 1937, the Pittsfield Music School began in the Peace Party House and in 1945 the Stahl family of Dalton opened the Swedish Coffee House there. The Pittsfield National Bank bought the house in the 1950s with the intent of putting up a bank on the site. However, in 1955 the city of Pittsfield began a prolonged process of planning a City Hall on the site.
Over the next couple of years plans were made to move the house to the site of the old City Hall or even to face it on Wendell Avenue and build behind it. The city was determined to build on the property no matter what.
Preservationists scrambled to save the structure proclaiming it as the city’s only link to the Revolution. George Bisacca, owner of Eastover resort, offered to move the house nine miles to his resort to be part of a historic village. But at $20,000 in 1957, it turned out to be too costly a venture.
In July of that year, the city took down the historic Peace Party House with home remodelers assisting in removing remnants. The site became a parking lot while the city did nothing to build a new City Hall. Ten years later, City Hall was relocated to the old post office building on Allen Street, and seven years later the Berkshire Athenaeum built on the site of the Peace Party House.
Older baby boomers will be the last of generations to remember this once historic and stately building that stood 180 years — the city’s most famous party house.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of “Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield.” If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark or event you’d like to share or read about, please write Jim at [email protected]
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