In the early years of the mills in Pittsfield, owners and managers lived in the same vicinity as the mill and the workers. They had more day-to-day, hands-on contact with the operations. Maps before the Civil War show the self-contained mill villages next door to owner houses. After the war, owners and managers moved further away, owning large, affluent homes in parts of the town close by other prominent families. They generally left daily operations to general agents and kept their direct contact as signing authority, putting their signature to letters and orders that the general agents prepared for them. Furthermore, they bought up properties across the city, so old maps show the Colts (Colt paper and Pittsfield Woolen Mill) owned houses in the south of the town, in the town center, and several properties near the border of Dalton. The Clapps (Pontoosuc Woolen Mill and Pomeroy Mills) owned houses on East Street and on Wendell Avenue, as well as a property on North Street across from his mill.
What follows is not an exhaustive list, but representative of the variety of housing the owners and managers of the mills built for their families.
Barker homes – 10 Cloverdale Street
The Barker brothers, who established the woolen mill villages in western Pittsfield, built three identical Italianate style housing side-by-side near their mill around 1870. An 1858 map shows they had been living near their factory at that time, so they may have built these larger homes to replace earlier dwellings. If so, their fortunes did not last long, as their factory mill burned in 1879 and their entire operation ceased in 1890. Today, one of the few remaining homes from the village is one of these three brothers’ homes.
Campbell Farm – 303 Crane Avenue
In 1827, George Campbell joined a group of investors in launching the Pontoosuc Woolen Mill. He became its general agent in a few years, and with the growth of the business was able to build himself a farmhouse on a hill overlooking the mill around 1840. Its granite block construction and hip roof made of slate tile was unusual for the town. Campbell sold his interest in the company to his siblings and turned his attention to other business interests, including serving as President of the Agricultural Bank for eight years until 1861. The large property serve as a dairy farm until 1941 when the property was bought by General Electric and turned into a golf course, with the home as a clubhouse.
A.H. Rice Residence – 15 Bartlett Avenue
Arthur Rice also owned properties in different parts of the city, but not near his silk plant in Morningside. He built this home in a fashionable part of town in 1887, about the time he was just setting up his company. It is distinctive in its steeply sloping roof and mixture of shingles and clapboard. Nestled into the roof is an octagonal dormer which opened up a second floor above a comfortable porch. Close to the corner of East Street, its unique features caught the attention of passersby at the time.
Clapp House – 74 Wendell Avenue
If there is one house in Pittsfield that symbolizes the transitions in 19th century Pittsfield, it is the Clapp House on Wendell Avenue. The house straddled the economic shift from wool to electrical equipment as the economic driver; it exemplified the movement of owners and managers away from their mills, and it saw the town turn into a city.
Built around 1871 by Thaddeus Clapp, the house still stands and is a bed and breakfast within walking distance of the center of the city. Clapp was Superintendent of Pontoosuc Woolen Mills when he had the house built. At the time, he may have been living near the mill, as a pre-Civil War map shows a Clapp residence on North Street just across from Pontoosuc Mill. It would be another ten years before he would succeed Ensign Kellogg as President of the company, a position he held until 1891. Clapp grew up in the wool business as his father had been Superintendent at Pomeroy Mills.
The Clapp family sold the house in 1906 to William Whittlesey, who was Treasurer and General Manager of the company that supplied electricity to the city, the Pittsfield Electric Company. It was Whittlesey who provided William Stanley space for his laboratory to build the electrical transformers that launched the city on its path to providing electrical equipment for the nation. Whittlesey also helped Stanley build his first factory on Renne Avenue.
This was not the only home owned by either the Clapp family or Whittlesey, who owned several properties across the city.
The three-story clapboard house covers almost 9000 square feet. It has 25 rooms, and when built it incorporated many new features for its day, including central heating and indoor plumbing. Large bay windows extend out on the first and second floor. Behind the house, a large, square carriage house, with shingle siding still stands. Its second floor dormer windows on each side lend it a stately manner.
The Clapp house continues to be used as a bed and breakfast inn, near Pittsfield’s center.