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Stockbridge Town Hall debate, then and now

In his letter to the editor, former Stockbridge Police Chief Rick Wilcox writes: "Stockbridge voters should take comfort from the knowledge that the genesis of the 1839 Town House, now the rear portion of the current Town Hall, was created out of a much more acrimonious environment."

To the Editor:

The Stockbridge Board of Selectmen’s meeting Monday night (November 9) marked the beginning of the public discussion addressing the fate of two historic town buildings, the 1839 Town House and the 1904 Town Hall, both of which rest on the village green. It was a pleasure to witness a thoughtful, passionate and civil discourse. Stockbridge voters should take comfort from the knowledge that the genesis of the 1839 Town House, now the rear portion of the current Town Hall, was created out of a much more acrimonious environment.

Robert E. Galpin, was the town treasurer in 1824, representative to the state Legislature 1844-45, selectman in 1841 and 1848, owner of the Red Lion from 1836 to 1848, as well as man Friday for Henry W. Longfellow during Longfellow’s tenure as a landowner and visitor to Stockbridge. Galpin owned a house at the corner of Main and Church Street, which gave him a window on the Town Square and possibly a daily reminder of a Town House yet to be built. From the Stockbridge Library’s Museum & Archives comes the full fury of Galpin’s frustration in verse.

“Stockbridge Magazine January 1915 Volume II, No.1

WHEN THE TOWN HALL WAS BUILT

Mr. William D. Galpin has kindly sent us the manuscript copy of a poem written by his father, Robert E. Galpin, and labeled “composed January 7th 1839.”

The poem itself is sufficient evidence that Stockbridge was by no means of one mind as to the site of the new Town Hall (We presume the building which now forms the stage of the present Town Hall, though we have not been able to verify the date of that building). Perhaps some of our older readers can throw more light upon the evidently bitter controversy indicated by Mr. Galpin’s energetic if irregular meters. Here is the poem:

 

ON BUILDING A TOWN HALL IN STOCKBRIDGE

Hurrah! For a Town Hall, Hurrah!

Fair Stockbridge her forces must rally!

Hurrah! For a Town House, Hurrah!

Although it brings war to our valley.

 

Hurrah for a Town House! All voices agree.

Where to build? Has the question arisen;

For whether we do so on land or on sea,

Is debated by more than a dozen.

 

One will have it in this place, another in that,

And hence has arisen the quarrel.

Is it not better wisdom to laugh and be fat,

And reason it out, o’er the barrel? (cold Water of course).

 

Hurrah! For a Town House, hurrah!

Shout the north and the northern Alliance:

Hurrah! For a Town House, hurrah!

Negro Pond echoes back her defiance.

 

Hurrah! For a Town House, hurrah!

No scruples to fish a recruit

By Hankerville fair, or Strut Lane,

But look for sour grapes as the fruit.

Hurrah, for a Town House! Again

What is this but a voice from Glendale?

She’s put to her strength, might and main,

And has hoisted her flag on a rail.

 

Another hurrah, do we hear?

‘Tis a shout from the Furnace to tell us

As how they’d come for a share,

And have got fresh hand at the bellows.

 

The nation of Great Larrywaug

Wage war with a spirit pugnacious,

While the Mohawks that live by the bog

Are getting exceedingly gracious.

 

Staunch yeomen about Mirror Lake,

Ye dwellers on Rattlesnake Mountain,

String your nerves for the conflict and slake

Your thirst in the first silver fountain.

 

Bring your votes, not your swords, to the field,

With both these has glory been won:

Nor to your antagonists yield,

While blest with the light of the sun.

 

Hurrah! For the Town House, hurrah!

If fire in my subject remain,

Since the battle is raging so warm

Turn we now to look after the slain.

 

There’s weeping in Poverty lane,

There’s wailing and tearing of hair,

While the “Ledge” sends her groans back again

With howling and utter despair.

 

And some have been grieving of late,

Many more in a peck of brown trouble,

While others are hoarse with debate,

Not a few with their load bent double.

 

Though the war cry was raised on our hills

And echoed our valleys along,

Let us laugh o’er incurable ills

And stifle regrets with a song.”

*     *     *

Negro Pond refers to Lake Agawam on the Great Barrington town line, west of Route 7, referred to on the 1830 map of Stockbridge as Negro Swamp. Furnace refers the Furnace District of Stockbridge, south of Glendale, bordering on Housatonic. Mirror Lake became Echo Lake and is now called Averic Lake. Larrywaug is the area around the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Poverty Lane is now Church Street.

The voters of Stockbridge, only days after Mr. Galpin composed the poem, approved the construction of the Town House, but that is a story for another day.

Rick Wilcox

59 Blue Hill Road

Great Barrington

(The writer is the former Police Chief for the town of Stockbridge.)

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