Built in 1871, the Thaddeus Clapp House represents an important chapter in Pittsfield’s history. From the home of a prominent local businessman to a boarding house and then a B&B, the Clapp House holds many stories. Now a new story is beginning. Berkshire Theatre Group’s $1 million restoration of the Thaddeus Clapp House is nearing completion. As we prepare to open the doors and begin this new chapter, we know it is important to honor the history of the people who came before us and infused the Thaddeus Clapp House with vitality and history.
The Clapp Family in Massachusetts
Thaddeus Clapp was a descendant of Captain Roger Clapp, who sailed to Massachusetts from England in the mid-1600s. Captain Clapp was instrumental in the founding of Dorchester, and the Clapp family has been immortalized in Dorchester through the Dorchester Historical Society, whose headquarters is the historic William Clapp House (listed on the National Register of Historic Places).
The Clapp family grew to encompass many branches throughout New England, and each branch found a unique way to distinguish themselves. In western Massachusetts, the Clapps ranged from clergy to farmers and even to tavern owners. Thaddeus Clapp I owned a tavern in Easthampton, which he inherited from his father. In addition to being a business owner, Thaddeus Clapp I served as treasurer and justice of the peace for his town. Clapp went on to become a delegate to the Constitutional Convention for the State.
He and his wife, Achsah Parsons, had seven children, including Thaddeus II, who would become Colonel Thaddeus Clapp. Col. Clapp moved to Pittsfield in 1816, and became the superintendent of the Pittsfield Woolen and Cotton Factory. He held this position until the Pontoosuc Woolen Manufacturing Company was formed in 1825; he held the position of superintendent there until 1860.
It was shortly after Col. Clapp’s tenure at the Pontoosuc Woolen Manufacturing Company that the Thaddeus Clapp House on Wendell Avenue was built and purchased. Though Col. Thaddeus Clapp passed away in 1865, his son, Thaddeus Clapp III, continued his legacy.
Pittsfield and Industry
Clapps from various branches of the Clapp family proved industrious and contributed to the booming economy of Pittsfield in the late 1800s and early 1900s. A clear Clapp trait, industriousness, goes back to their common ancestor, Captain Roger Clapp, who was described as, “a remarkably industrious man…idleness he detested,” in Joseph Edward Adams’ History of Berkshire County (1885).
Wendell Ave., where the Thaddeus Clapp House sits, was home to numerous businessmen in the 1800s and early 1900s. An appropriate home for Pittsfield’s prominent citizens as it was named after Colonel Jacob Wendell and the Wendell family that helped to acquire the land and and form Pittsfield in the 1700s. Many streets in Pittsfield were named after families that helped to shape the community including Francis Ave., Pomeroy St., Briggs Ave., Churchill St., Crane Ave., McKay st., and even, at one time, Clapp Ave, among many others. Though no longer in existence, Clapp Avenue once sat between McKay St. and Center St. and ran through to Depot St.
Mills and factories started to become the primary form of industry in Pittsfield in the 1800s as it moved away from being a more agricultural community. In the late 1800s many new mills were formed. To meet the growing industry demand, most of the lakes within the City of Pittsfield were enlarged. The Pontoosuc Woolen Manufacturing Company was one of the earlier mills, having been established in 1825. After the company acquired the desired land on Shoonkeekmoonkeek Lake and built their mill, the lake came to be known as Pontoosuc Lake.
Thaddeus Clapp III built upon the Pontoosuc Woolen Manufacturing Company that his father helped to start. Though he did not go to college, Clapp learned about the wool trade from his youngest days, and was taught everything he knew by his father. Clapp was a determined businessman, and ensured that the goods produced always kept with the ever-changing styles and trends of the day.
To ensure that quality was never sacrificed, he exclusively used California wool. Throughout his tenure, Clapp made dozens of trips to California to select the wool himself. Clapp eventually became the president of the Pontoosuc Woolen Manufacturing Company and held that position from 1882 to 1891.
Thaddeus Clapps’ son did not take over at the company, rather the mantel was passed to William R. Plunkett, then to David Campbell, and then again to Henry A. Francis, whose father, J. Dwight Francis had been superintendent for many years before he passed. A. King Francis (descendant of J. Dwight Francis) stated, “The company provided a lot of jobs and opportunities to the people of Pittsfield. Many prominent people worked for the company, and it was a good business to be in at that time.” The Pontoosuc Woolen Manufacturing Company was sold to an outside organization in the 1920s, and continued to be a working, productive mill until the 1960s.
Thaddeus Clapp House Moving Forward
Like the mill, the Thaddeus Clapp house passed out of the Clapp family in the early 1900s. The home on Wendell Avenue was sold in 1906 to William Whittlesey, Manager of the Pittsfield Electric Company that supplied electricity to the City of Pittsfield. The Thaddeus Clapp House remained a private residence into the 1930s. Eventually, the home became a boarding house and apartment complex, though it continued to house prominent Pittsfield members, including members of the Francis and Briggs families.
William Briggs, who lived in the Thaddeus Clapp house when it was an apartment complex in the 1970s, stated, “It was a wonderful apartment with high ceilings, a working fireplace, and French doors out to the front porch. Much of the old detail had been retained by the owner and the building felt historic. It was very much from the day of gracious living long ago.” When asked how he viewed BTG’s vision for the house Briggs stated, “I am very happy the house is being preserved and given a new use. It is part of Pittsfield’s history, and part of the Wendell Ave. streetscape. It would have been criminal to tear it down.”
Berkshire Theatre Group’s restoration of the Thaddeus Clapp House preserves the exterior Italianate style, as well as the interior Arts and Crafts style. As many original details as possible have been preserved in order to truly honor the history of this magnificent property. Artists will be housed in the newly renovated suites, thus continuing to infuse this historic house with vitality and new life.
Communal spaces will also be available. The beautiful front porch (funded in part by the City of Pittsfield’s Community Preservation Act Program), has been exquisitely restored and once again adds to the aesthetic value of Wendell Ave. There will be a parlor and library on the first floor of the Clapp House, which will be used as spaces for meetings and gatherings.
This space will allow for Berkshire Theatre Group to expand its Pittsfield Campus, and become stewards of this historic gem, just as they have been stewards for The Colonial Theatre. Berkshire Theatre Group is honored to help usher the Thaddeus Clapp House into this new era.