Where We Went : Thomas & Palmer Brook – Great Barrington
When We Went : Early February
(Boots 1 – 10) : 1 Boot
Trail Length : .5 mile Pasture Trail / About a mile up wood road
How Long it Took Us : We were there almost an hour before M dunked himself into an icy stream. We backtracked to the car carried on wails hypothermic, otherwise we would’ve spent significantly more time and attempted to hike up to the high point. (an unmarked wood road connects to the east side of the pasture path and heads upwards through the forest).
Overview : One of my favorite parts about writing these hike reviews is the research I do to uncover the history behind each area. I love to read and research and could (and do) spend many happy afternoons hurtling down historical rabbit hole after historical rabbit hole.
Re-tracing the grown-over paths of our ancestors is a fascinating thing, offering so much more than just historical study. I hope you enjoy these journeys into the esoteric nooks and crannies of New England life as much as I enjoy uncovering them.
Thomas & Palmer Brook is no different. Berkshire Natural Resources Council preserved the 219 acres of wetlands, meadow and upland forest in 2015. Aside from the nearby Green river, the Housatonic receives several small tributaries in the town of Great Barrington, the principal of which is Thomas & Palmer Brook, which has its source in the mountains to the south of Three Mile Hill.
The Berkshires were first inhabited by Mahican Native Americans, part of the Algonquin nation. Prior to 1680, there was a substantial Native American population in the area of present-day Great Barrington before the arrival of Europeans. The Mohican nation made their principal homes along the banks of the Hudson, and the Housatonic valleys were primarily used as seasonal hunting grounds. European arrival in the early 17th century heavily contributed to the decimation and diaspora of these native people. By 1730, the Mahicans – population reduced by 90% – were living in two small villages, one at Stockbridge and one at Skatehook (present day Sheffield). Following the Revolutionary War they were forced into Oneida County of NY and eventually into a reservation in Wisconsin. The ancestors of these original inhabitants make up the Stockbridge-Munsee Tribe now located in Wisconsin.
Any of our readers fellow Outlander fans?
In 1758, General Jeffery Amherst marched four regiments from Boston to NY during the French & Indian wars. When the troops reached Three Mile Hill, they beat and bushwhacked through, straightening and flattening the old path into a military road wide enough for soldiers to march 3-4 abreast and for the horse-drawn supply wagons. After crossing the hill and dales, the forces encamped for two nights near the Green River. One of these units was the 78th Highland Regiment of Foot commanded by Colonel Simon Fraser, Master of Lovat. His father, also Simon, (nicknamed “the Old Fox”) is best known for picking the wrong side in the Jacobite Rising of 1745. He was executed as a traitor, becoming the last man in Britain to be publicly beheaded. In the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon, the cinnamon-haired Jaime Fraser, is a fictional grandson of Simon Lovat Fraser. As a gigantic fan, I was fair puckled! If you are a lover of historical novels, this series is bloody brilliant, blending oodles of facts with the most bonnie fiction.
The division of roads at Belcher Square branches off onto today’s Route 23. First and foremost an ancient Indian trail, it became a New England fur trade route, then the “Great Road to Boston and Albany”as well as part of the 300-mile Knox Trail.
In January of 1776, Henry Knox used this route to transport 62 tons of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga in NY to the Continental Army’s encampment outside Boston. Through snow-covered hills and valleys they slid cannons and mortars in just 56 days. General George Washington’s troops were now able to force the evacuation of British troops and capture the city of Boston, achieving the Continental Army’s first victory of the war.
Originally called Pixley Brook, the land east of the Housatonic, extending across Route 23 and around Belcher Square was once called “Brooklyn.”
In 1730, Joseph Pixley and his family of 10 settled on a 1,200-acre land grant from King George II that extended from Belcher Square east along Route 23 to Three Mile Hill. Stockbridge Road was formerly called Pixley Street and Thomas and Palmer called Pixley Brook or Pixley Mill Brook.
Charles Pixley, a relative, moved his entire house from the front of his lot, to the rear in 1899, “to use for other purposes.” This neighborhood around East Mt. was called “Brooklyn” for many years.
The brook gets its current name from two enterprising gentlemen, who started a lumber business in the 1880’s. Edgar B. Thomas and Frank A. Parker procured a sawmill on what is now Brook Lane, at the midpoint of Pixley Brook. In 1955, S. Blair Thomas told this story about his grandfather’s sawmill:
“The company owned an amazing horse named ‘Ol’ Peter.’ Workers at the mill would load a wagon with freshly sawed wood, point the horse toward Route 7 and crack him on the rump with a whip. Without a driver, Ol’ Peter would take the road from the sawmill, proceed down State Road to Main Street and finally to the Rosseter Street (lumber) yard! After the wagon was unloaded the horse would return on his own to the sawmill.”
Thomas retired in the 1920s and the sawmill closed soon after in 1926. No word on what Ol’ Peter got up to in his later years.
Agriculture and cattle-raising has a long history in Berkshire pasture lands.
The fields and meadows that make up Thomas and Palmer Brook were once grazing land for Herefords and
Holsteins at “Su-Cray Farms”. Owned by Harry and Irene Moskowitz, Harry came to Great Barrington in 1932 and established a thriving dairy farm/cattle dealership on the property. He brought in ponies from Scotland and much of the Moskowitz steer came from Wisconsin (full circle irony amirite?) Moskowitz, it seems, was also a man of burgeoning technology. In 1949, shortly after their invention, he had a telephone installed in his car!
Fire would destroy much of the property in 1966. Afterwards, there were talks and plans for an apartment complex called “Three Mile Park” but it would never materialize.
What We Dug: WOW. So the that got long in the tooth, sorry – I won’t be held entirely responsible for my meandering nature, but I will attempt to impose some brevity on the rest of this review. Startingggggg NOW.
Glacier Erratics. ALL OVER. So many massive boulders and the kids (and dog!) had a blast climbing them all. The trail around the pasture and meadow was flat, wide but pretty short so we quickly made our way up the wood road. We didn’t make it too far since a one of us decided to go swimming in frigid water, but the trail was wonderful. Two members of our group forged ahead up the wood road and later told us that although it gets a little steep, the view was well worth it!
Keep your eyes peeled for a massive white pine on the edge of the trail.
What We Could Do Without: I had to say “I told you so” the whole ride home – the burdens of parenthood, man.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled For: Glacier erratics, American woodcock, blue-winged warbler, chestnut-sided warbler, eastern towhee, chickadee, purple finch, wood turtles, red efts, beaver activity, red pine, white pine, hemlock, red oak, apple tree, charcoal and structure remnants, cellar holes
Must Know Before You Go’s: Enjoy this property on foot, skis, or snowshoes. Dogs are welcome. They must be under your immediate control and local leash laws apply. Hunting and fishing are permitted, subject to MA state regulations. No motorized vehicles are allowed. No Facilities.
Directions : Parking area is located between 301 and 309 State Road (Route 23) in Great Barrington. Across from the Koi Restaurant.
GPS: 42.1955, -73.3370 (trailhead parking)
East Rock is Falling – Bernard Drew
Scroll through for more pictures of our Thomas & Palmer Brook adventure!