2015 marks 250 years since the small town of Becket, Massachusetts was incorporated. And, although less than 2,000 people make Becket their year-round dwelling, the population swells to over 10,000 as second home owners and tourists flock to the recreational and cultural hotspot about 20 minutes southeast of Pittsfield during the summer.
The town’s history book editor Bruce Garlow explains, what was then part of Housatonic Township No. Four started with humble beginnings.
“Settlement was often pegged to when the first sawmill was constructed because nobody could settle unless someone had come first and built a sawmill so there would lumber available to build the houses, barns and other buildings they needed,” Garlow said. “So in 1740 a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Forbush came to Becket and built a sawmill. From that point on settlement was allowed to continue.”
A member of the Becket 250th Committee, Garlow led the effort behind “Becket, Massachusetts: From Colonial Township to Modern Town, 1765-2015.” The updated book provides a synopsis of the last publication in 1965, tracing Becket’s history as a basket, pallet and papermaking town until the lumber supply started to run thin. Then, in 1841, businesses shifted to a newly formed town center where passenger and freight trains stopped between Albany and Boston.
“That all came to a crashing halt in 1927,” Garlow explained. “There was a reservoir that had been built to power one of the mills. During a driving, several day rainstorm it was noted that the dam was about to give way. The dam did give way and went crashing through north Becket village. Only one person was killed. A few were injured, but it took out a number of mills and houses. Only in rare circumstances did one or two mills survive that and continue to operate. It changed the nature of the town forever.”
Since then Becket has tapped back into its natural hill town beauty, flush with 11 bodies of water, becoming home to arts destinations like Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and summer camps such as Camp Greylock, which celebrates 100 years in 2016. Combing over newspaper articles and town reports dating back to 1899, Garlow came across some interesting facts.
“We did have trolley service at one time,” Garlow said. “It came in at the very end of the trolley era – 1914-15. Just at the time it was being built trolley service was losing favor because of the rise of the automobile. It only lasted for a couple of years and was discontinued. Much of the right of way that was used became the right of way for the Massachusetts Turnpike, which does pass right through town.”
Peg Lynch created, wrote and starred in the radio and television husband and wife sitcom Ethel and Albert. She moved to Becket in 1970. She is featured in the book along with other notable people, events and businesses in Becket. The town presented the 98-year-old Lynch with the Boston Post cane to honor her as its oldest resident.
“I haven’t done a darn thing the last few years, but now I want to make them an older couple and do a show on them,” Lynch said. “I can’t think of anything funny about being old. Then I got to thinking about winning and getting this gold-topped cane. I got mad about that. Well, that’s just dumb. Women want to go younger, they don’t want to go older.”
The current edition places an emphasis on the emergence of professional town administration over the past few decades and zoning efforts to maintain Becket’s natural beauty. The 250th anniversary celebration gets started with a book launch January 7th followed by events throughout the year.