Cheapside Uplands and the Hoit Place

I took a recent walk around the Cheapside uplands with old buddy Billy Wardwell, a Bingville native I trusted would know all the little nooks and crannies.

You’d have to know affable “Wardy.” He grew up there. Highland Park was his playground.

We’ve known each other since high school, both from the Class of 1971: he from Greenfield, me South Deerfield. In youth we occasionally crossed paths on our nighttime rambles, and were even Sunday-morning street-hockey teammates, playing on the paved hilltop rink facing the Franklin County Courthouse parking lot and Greenfield YMCA.

Oh, to be young again. Back then I could run. Now battered knees can make walking a challenge.

That day, on a slippery morning track following two days of heavy rains, we parked at 7:30 on a Hope Street pull-over and scaled the power line to the first old road we met. From there, we headed south toward the Cheapside railroad underpass and the old ski jump before circling north, under the power line and toward Bears Den, Sachem Head, and the old Lupinwood mansion. It took over an hour to circle back to where we had first left the power line, at which point we descended to our vehicles.

Along the circuitous way we met several walkers, many with dogs. Some were leashed, others ran free as they’re meant to. On our brief off-trail diversions, through woody brush and over fallen trees, I knew enough to be cautious with each step. It’s easy to slip and break a leg wedged between slimy, prostrate tree trunks on greasy ground. Foot-free romps with wet leaves underfoot can be perilous even for a young whippersnapper, which I ain’t.

I contacted Wardwell after unexpectedly being nudged into Cheapside research by Jim Terapane, president and co-owner of Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, housed in the old Greenfield Steel Stamp building on Mead Street. The mixed brick-and-clapboard former industrial structure stands along the Green River at Greenfield’s historic first mill site, snugged up to the Mill Street bridge.

It was quite by chance that I had bumped into Terapane. On my way out of a bookbinder friend’s home shop in South Deerfield, I just happened to catch him raking his yard across the street. There we ventured into discussion about a boarded-up Greenfield building owned by someone he knew. The building stands on the west side of the Hope and Cheapside streets intersection along the Deerfield River.

That impromptu chat piqued my interest in the unoccupied building, which memory suggested was once a riverside tavern. Uncertain my kneejerk assessment was accurate, I looked into it at home, and was not surprised my memory had failed me. As far as I could learn, it was never a tavern, but rather an old riverside store.

Jonathan Hoit’s White Horse Tavern was around the corner on Deerfield Street. There in 1799 Hoit hung his sign, a white horse on black background, from his “mansion house” that now stands in Deerfield on 46 Old Main Street, Lot No. 25. Deerfield Academy recently purchased the center-chimney property from Fenwick, LLP for a tidy $1.75 million.

The first riverside store was built alongside a toll bridge and shipping dock just before the turn of the 19th century, when Cheapside was growing into an important commercial district. Such surnames as Williams, Wait, Hoit, Houghton, and Abercrombie were merchants there over the early years. The site remained profitable into the mid-19th century when the shipping paradigm went from river to rail.

Situated at an advantageous spot that represented the northern Connecticut River shipping terminus before 1798, when the Turners Falls Canal gave boats and barges access to Bellows Falls, Vermont, Cheapside remained profitable into the mid-19th century, when the shipping paradigm went from river to rail. Then it fell by the wayside as a viable mercantile district, forever changing the neighborhood’s character.

In the modern era, the old store building that once wore a long, extended streetside presence has been separated into two buildings. They stand today on opposite sides of the railroad underpass at the intersection of Hope and Cheapside streets.

Upon immersing myself in Cheapside deeds and families, my focus swiftly changed, moving from the store to the Hoit house, which I did not know was being sold, and the 210 acres on which it stood. Most of the land was originally owned by Hoit’s father-in-law, Samuel Childs.

My stumbling block was unfamiliarity with that upland terrain. It is far too busy these days to attract me in as a walker, and plus, I don’t believe any of the acreage is or ever has in my time been open to hunting, so that eliminates another potential activity that could have drawn me in.

That’s why I chased down Wardy. I knew he could in quick order introduce me to the prominent reference points mentioned in deeds – features like the Point of Rocks, Bears Den, and Sachem Head. I also was confident he’d have something to add about Greenfield’s first golf course, which once stood on the southern end of the parcel, surrounding the stately, hilltop multi-apartment house standing there today. In my earlier days, that building on the hill facing Cheapside Bridge was known as Hopecrest Manor.

Hoit was from Deerfield, the younger brother of wig-maker and tavernkeeper David Hoyt and the uncle of author Epaphras Hoyt, both of whom used what has become the accepted spelling of the surname. For some reason, Jonathan preferred the earlier spelling. So that’s what we’ll go with here: Hoit.

The Hoit “mansion house” on Deerfield Street came with a big barn and other outbuildings and stood elevated on a low terrace supported by a roadside concrete retaining wall across the street from Dave Samal’s old Mohawk Meadows Golf Course. The floodplain meadow, bordered south by the Deerfield River and west by the Green, was once a Native American artifact-collectors’ paradise, not to mention fertile tillage that produced for mid-19th-century owner David Reed Wait some of the finest tobacco money could buy.

By 1964, the dwelling had fallen into disrepair. So, Johnny-on-the-spot South Deerfield building contractor William Gass disassembled it rebuilt it in Old Deerfield. By November 1966 he had completed his very own interpretation, then known as the First Church of Deerfield’s parsonage.

Today the building, situated between Memorial and Wells streets, stands as a shining example of colonial architecture. It’s painted yellow with white trim that highlights fancy architectural embellishments. Old Deerfield is better for it, Cheapside worse for the loss of an important, historic building. Though, remember, Cheapside was part of Deerfield until 1896.

Had not Jim Terapane innocently nudged me into Cheapside research, I may have never discovered the story of the Hoit house. Moving it was a much-publicized project at the time, but the event seems to have faded from collective memory. I’m thankful for being led to it, and for other discoveries made along the way, starting with locating the exact location of the old 8,000-acre line that separated Greenfield and Deerfield until the 1896 annexation. Formerly led to believe the town line was much closer to the Meridian Street Bridge, I found that it was almost 700 feet north of that point.

Yet there’s still much to learn about Cheapside. You’ve got Col. William Moore’s seven-story, late-18th-century commercial building along the Green River, the neighboring Franklin Furnace, and William Wait and Benjamin Swan’s cooper shop down the road. Also worthy of additional study are the likes of Isaac Abercrombie, Moses Bascom, William Wilson, Samuel Pierce, Hezekiah Goff, David Wells, John Russell, and many others – all historical figures who contributed to Greenfield’s identity as an important commercial and industrial center.

So, stay tuned, and be patient. Expanding the historical record can and must be a slow, tedious process governed by the solemn commitment to avoid irresponsible, inaccurate information that’ll be repeated for decades.

Such information is inevitable and unfortunate, and only obscures the path to truth.

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