Local historian Barry Emery has written six books on Cheshire's history.
CHESHIRE, Mass. – With Cheshire's 225 anniversary around the corner, local historian Barry Emery is doubling down on preserving the town's history.
Emery has a lot of historical photos and he is looking for more.
"I am gathering them because people are handing over their albums, so I can make copies of them, so these photos don't get lost," he said. "People have been so generous in letting me take these photos, so I am happy to share them."
Emery has digitalized photos of the numerous roaring mills that used to operate in Cheshire, old homes long gone or in disrepair and even some landscapes of the town.
In celebration of the bicenquasquigenary of Cheshire, Emery had planned to put together a postcard collection and while picking through his own collection he found something curious: The Basset Brook Bridge to Adams.
"I thought that it looked like a pretty big bridge and I wondered where it was. I wanted to rummage around and see if there were maybe some stones left," he said. "That bridge is still there just like this and no one knows about it. I have given lectures with hundreds of people in the audience and no one knows."
The stone arch bridge can be found on Reservoir Road right off Route 8 and Emery said in order to get to Adams before Route 8 was built, you would travel down East View Drive, across the current highway and then take a sharp right over the bridge onward to Adams.
Emery said he believes the bridge goes back to 1830, pointing to a petition signed by both Adams and Cheshire in 1828 asking for a rebuild of the road and the bridge.
He said the bridge was taken out of commission sometime 1930s.
"Big trucks were coming along, and it was too sharp of a corner for them to make and they stopped running the trollies in the early 1930s so they didn't need the track any longer," he said. "So the state just abandoned it and put in the road we know of as Route 8."
What started out as a hobby for Emery nearly 10 years ago has turned into a mission to find the stories behind Cheshire's ruins. After retiring from a career in education in 2004, Emery started to get serious about this "history business" in 2009 after a hike on the Appalachian Trail that runs through the town.
"I wondered how they decided on the corners of the town, so I went up looking for this corner and I could not find it," he said. "Long story short it took me two years, but I found all 22 corners. I wanted to know where they were and why we are so oddly shaped."
Emery said this lead to his first book "History of Cheshire's Incorporation and the Shape It's In."
He pointed to maps that were all incorrect and, before his research, no one was able to correctly map the town.
From here Emery penned a book on the town's manufacturing history called "Made in Cheshire, Industrial history" and pointed to photos of the now gone Dean's Lumber Mill, the Farnam brothers' lime kiln and the Richmond Iron Co.
"It turns out that we had the first factory of this kind in Berkshire County, we had the first of this in Massachusetts, the first of this in America and the best of this you can have in the world," he said. "We were pretty famous and actually shipped more stuff out of little Cheshire on the railroad in the 1800s than any other place west of Springfield."
Emery said the town was famous for its sand and lime. Cheshire lime was used in plaster for skyscrapers in New York City, Cheshire lumber was used to build the Holyoke Dam and Cheshire iron was used in casting cannons during the Civil War.
Emery has even written about the Cheshire Mammoth Cheese and pointed to his book "The Mammoth Cheese Event, When America Watched Cheshire," in which he dispels many myths about the cheese's journey and notes the role of Cheshire's the Rev. John Leland in the creation of the Bill of Rights.
"This was an event that the whole country watched. Everybody was fascinated by this," he said. "The cheese moved through the countryside and crowds would watch it."
Emery has even helped add to research of the past and updated the book "History of Cheshire" written in 1885 with photos and a chapter of his own.
Emery came upon the 'mystery bridge' while going through old postcards.
"I heard about this book and thought I am the only one that I know of writing about Cheshire history, so I wanted to know who my competition was," he said. "It is a great book but out of copy ... it was all text, so I added my own chapter and photos."
Emery has a new charge though and would like to preserve something more physical – the stone arch bridge.
"It's is still in great shape and one of my big crusades is to see the state would think about turning it into a rest stop," he said. "There is no rest area on route 8 from the Vermont line down to Lenox and that would be a great spot. Maybe add some signage about its history."
Until then Emery plans to continue his historical lectures and digitalizing and archiving photos that he has made available to libraries.
"I am happy to record all of this and make it all available for history," he said. "I find it fun to share, I think it is part of being a teacher. Standing up in front of a class every day trying to impart things. It is still fun for me to do that."
If anyone has historical photos they want Emery to digitalize he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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