The Museum in 1898 and today.
Although we are presently closed for the winter, our museum shop is occasionally open on mild Saturday mornings throughout the off-season. Visit the museum shop to find beautiful, locally-made crafts for the holiday gift season.
We now have mugs, by Ashfield potter Dawn Fessenden, with Jack Werner's drawing of the Historical Society building. There are boxed sets of note cards with Ashfield scenes by artist Priscilla Foote Memole; stone trivets by Johanna Pratt of Ashfield Stone Co.; hand-blown leaf sun-catchers by glassblower Ed Branson; note cards by artist Beverly Duncan with designs from Ashfield pottery; a crocheted afghan by Kate O’Gorman; a monograph on the Baptist Church controversy; and silver items by silversmith Steve Smithers. In conjunction with our Needles and Threads exhibit, there will be various hand-made items on display and for sale.
Freedom of religion and separation of church and state began in Ashfield in 1771 by an edict of George III. Peter Wiitanen has researched and written a preface, prologue, and epilogue to the copy he had obtained of an 1865 reprint of a tract Chileab Smith wrote in 1774. In this tract Chileab explains the action of the Baptists and his own personal exposure to “the rage of cruel men.” The tract was titled “An Answer to Many Slanderous Reports Cast on the Baptists at Ashfield.” These Baptists underwent many difficulties, beginning in 1765, due to the language regarding taxes in the Act of Incorporation of the Town of Ashfield. The preface of this monograph introduces the reasons behind this controversy. The prologue includes transcriptions of the Petitions and Acts as recorded in the Province Laws and Massachsetts Archives. You can read the Ashfield Law, or “An Act in Addition to an Act,” passed by the General Court in 1768. This Act “impowered our oppressors to gather money of us, or sell our lands for the payment of their minister, and the finishing of their meeting house.” You can read the Baptist petition to the Governor and General Court, for “Relief from their Distresses,” after their properties were auctioned by the Town in 1770. You can read the prejudicial, derogatory comments of the Ashfield Proprietors Committee to the Governor and General Court in March 1771, and the words of the Baptist petition to the King. In July 1771 George III “was pleased with the advice of his Privy Council to declare his Disallowance of the said Act.” In 1791 the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution became law. The first amendment guaranteed freedom of religion and separation of church and state.
This monograph is available for $7 at the museum shop.
Ashfield is one of Massachusetts' Hill Towns, a number of small communities nestled in the rolling hills between the Connecticut River and the Berkshire Mountains. Despite its rural location, Ashfield has been at the center of many of the currents of American history since its incorporation in 1765, including the pietist movement of the late eighteenth century (the first Shaker meeting house was built here in 1789) to the abolition movement (the Free Soil party triumphed here in the 1850's), to the prohibition movement (the town eliminated the open bar at town meeting in 1848).
Since 1961, this history has been chronicled and preserved by the Ashfield Historical Society. The Society's museum, housed in a former store built in 1835, maintains a document archive — church and town meeting minutes, farmer's journals, personal letters etc. — that records the unique history of Ashfield. It also displays artifacts that give a glimpse of everyday life here over the last two and a half centuries: music books from the Congregationalist Church Singing School of 1799, peddler's trunks used by young men selling essential oils in the mid nineteenth-century,and the "thunderbolt log splitter," a black-powder-powered splitting wedge invented by two adventurous (if not reckless) residents in the 1930's. The front room of the museum replicates a nineteenth-century store, with period groceries and dry goods stocking the shelves. Above the store is a recreated storekeeper's apartment, with furniture and appointments appropriate to about 1850. And the barn is full of unusual, often unique, artifacts of nineteenth-century farm life, such as the town's horse-drawn road roller, which was used to pack snow and make the roads passible before the advent of snowplows.
The museum also maintains a number of significant collections, including the Howes Brothers Photographs, more than 23,000 glass plate negatives that form the most complete photographic record of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century New England. We also have a fine selection of the pottery produced in Ashfield in the mid nineteenth century (some of which also resides in the Smithsonian), and two more photograph collections.
So take a virtual tour of a small nineteenth-century New England town. Read the journals, view the photographs, peruse the newsletters, and take a look at items on display in the museum. Check back often as we will be updating this website regularly. And you are welcome to become a member, supporting our preservation work and receiving our newsletter.
Last revised: January 2, 2019