Skip to Main Content

Made by History

Posted on April 09, 2024Written by Nichole Dupont on behalf of 1Berkshire
Updated on May 07, 2024

Ashley House, photo by K. McMahon

If you drive around for a little while in the Berkshires, you will inevitably come upon one (or more) of the region’s magnificent Gilded Age “cottages.” Some are private residences, to be enjoyed and wondered at from the side of the road, others like The Mount, Ventfort Hall, Naumkeag, and Chesterwood, are open to the public and were once home to some of the most influential minds – Edith Wharton, Joseph H. Choate, Daniel Chester French — of the 19th and 20th centuries. 

But the rich, tumultuous history of the Berkshires began long before elite socialites discovered the beautiful mountains and restorative air here. There are many smaller (in scale, not importance) historical sites in the region that require a turn off the beaten path to find them. And they are worth the trouble of finding them. These humble places pay homage to some of the greatest thinkers and doers who contributed to major events and movements that have shaped the nation.

The Ashley House (now stewarded by the Trustees of Reservations) in Sheffield, is one of the oldest homes in the Berkshires. More importantly, it is a stop on Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman’s Trail. In 1781, Freeman, who was enslaved there, left the Ashley House, and sued for her emancipation. She won her freedom and her case set a judicial precedent that wholly ended slavery in Massachusetts. 

A group of people stand in front of a sign marking the W.E.B. Du Bois–Natiomnal Historic Landmark Tour

Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area Walks

The W.E.B. DuBois homesite and interpretive trail in Great Barrington is a Civil Rights landmark that honors the birthplace of writer, sociologist, and scholar, William Edward Burghardt DuBois, who penned The Souls of Black Folks (1903), a seminal work in American literature. Also honoring DuBois is the DuBois Freedom Center, the first museum in North America dedicated to DuBois’s life and legacy. 

Continuing the journey north is the Samuel Harrison House in Pittsfield. Harrison was a one of only 19 African American chaplains to serve during the Civil War, and administered to the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, the first all-black unit in the North. Prior to the war, Harrison was ordained and became the first pastor of the 2nd Congregational Church of Pittsfield, which was founded in 1846, and where he remained for more than 20 years. Of his time in the Berkshires, Harrison said, “No warmer friends have I had anywhere than in Pittsfield.” 

Susan B. Anthony Birthplace

Making friends during the tumultuous decades between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, Susan Brownell Anthony traveled the entire country championing abolition, temperance, and women’s suffrage. Born in 1820 in Adams, Massachusetts, Anthony, who was raised as a Quaker, became a passionate speechmaker demanding an end to slavery and that women be given the right to vote. Her legacy is immortalized through the mission of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, which offers programming and public events for all ages, in the enduring spirit of “organize, agitate, educate.”

Return to the Berkshire Blog

A family stands in front of a colorful art exhibit smiling at MASS MoCA

Get the Official Guide to the Berkshires

Inspire wanderlust with the Official Guide to the Berkshires, a year round, comprehensive resource to help you plan your perfect getaway.

More Posts