Lines from Arrowhead: 2008
Owens, Carole, Leviathan
The year 2008 will be exciting at Arrowhead, and we at the Berkshire Historical Society (BHS) want you to know what is happening. The Board of Directors has approved a number of new major initiatives.
First, BHS plans to add a new barn to Arrowhead, the 44-acre property at 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield. Melville's house, a Registered National Historic Landmark and American Association of Museums accredited museum, is the only secure structure on the property. For that reason, Arrowhead has served as both house museum and archival storage space, a situation that has become untenable as permanent gifts to the collection have increased. The collection of period artifacts was not stored under proper conditions or in adequate space; the house museum itself, our most valuable artifact, was being stressed, and the number of rooms open to the public was limited. The challenge was clear. In order to protect the collection, reduce wear on the fabric of the house, and open more rooms to create an optimal experience for visitors, it was absolutely necessary to move the collection out of the house museum. An additional building on the property would ensure proper storage of the collection and an enhanced visitor experience.
Herman Melville purchased the 160-acre property in 1850 for $6500 and lived there until 1863, when he sold the entire property to his brother Allan. From 1863 until 1927, Arrowhead was owned and occupied by Melville family members: first Allan, and later Mrs. W. B. Morewood, daughter of Allan and niece of Herman. A letter written by Mrs. Morewood in October 1925 describes the grounds:
Arrowhead, our property in Pittsfield, was bought by my uncle, Herman Melville in 1850. It was [purchased] by my father some fifteen years later.... When it came to me ... there were 80 acres, rented in short leases. The hams go with one lease. There is a two-car garage.... There are five open fireplaces & we also used stoves in dining room & bedrooms in the fall. Living room, library, dining room, large pantry, kitchen, laundry, seven bedrooms, store room. bath, sink room on 2nd floor & one bedroom & attic on the 3rd floor. The roof is ill perfect condition. I put in a new one this fall ... Very truly M. G. Morewood. (Mrs. William B. Morewood from the Henry A. Murray Papers, Harvard University Archives; transcribed by Dennis Marnon)
Clearly, the public experience would be greatly enhanced if additional rooms were opened to more closely approximate the seven-bedroom house that the Herman Melville family and subsequent Melville family members knew.
The buildings currently on the Arrowhead property are the home of Herman Melville, with only six rooms open to the public; an outbuilding approximately 12 x24 feet that was Mrs. Morewood's garage and is now used as the visitor's center and gift shop: and one early nineteenth-century, long-side barn, 30 x 40 feet, on the property during Melville's tenancy, currently used as summer exhibition space. (A Millennium Trail, inaugurated in 2000, offers a one-mile ramble over fields and through the woods, tracing Melville's steps as he walked from Arrowhead to Broad Hall.) In December 2006, BHS learned through Preservation Mass of a 3800-square-foot barn available for $1. Built around 1850, it derives from Melville's day, resembles in size, number of stories, and details like the cupola, the barn already on the property, and would help recreate the two-barn farmyard of Melville's tenancy. The barn is large enough to accommodate both BHS exhibitions and the storage of its 600 linear feet of documents and 5000 artifacts currently in the house museum, thus allowing us to open the upstairs rooms in the house to the public. In May, 2007, with a grant from the National Endowment of Humanities, BHS sponsored a Melville symposium in which various scholars discussed new ways to present Melville's Arrowhead to the public in light of the enhancement the new barn will bring. …