Storytelling is an integral part of history. Stories teach, they inspire, they motivate, they caution. Stories tell where you have been and where you are and where you hope to go in the future. Through Storytellers we share local preservation stories that can serve to educate and inspire others, and ourselves.
Our August Storyteller installment comes from the town of Dalton, where the historical commission worked for 14 years to save and preserve a tiny house that had a big connection to African American history in the area, beginning after the Revolutionary War.
What began as an email informing Preservation Massachusetts of an upcoming dedication became an opportunity to share an important story that contributes significantly to the history of Dalton and Massachusetts. There is a lot we can learn from our past that can be applied to our present day.
The Fitch-Hoose House
Submitted by Louisa Horth, Vice-Chair of
the Dalton Historical Commission
In 2004 the property, now known as the Fitch-Hoose House, was taken by the town of Dalton through tax foreclosure. The abandoned house was in danger of being condemned and demolished. The Dalton Historical Commission, knowing the house’s rich history inquired into the town’s plans for the house and property. In 2005 the Dalton Select Board gave the Historical Commission permission to research the house’s history and begin exploring ways to preserve the house.
The Fitch-Hoose House Story
Located at 6 Gulf Road in Dalton, Massachusetts, the 172 year old Fitch-Hoose House has substantial historical and architectural significance as an authentic illustration of the living conditions of poor people during the mid to late 19th century, as well as representing the improved domestic standards of African Americans within the same period. It is a well-constructed example of a laborer’s dwelling which retains virtually all its original components.
Situated on the eastern end of what is known as “the Gulf”, a rugged and scenic wooded area where an enclave of freed and escaped African American slaves are known to have settled following the Revolutionary War, it was part of a shanty town of primitive small cabins and houses which no longer exist. The Fitch-Hoose House is the last remaining original of these homes and is noteworthy as a distinctive example of a dwelling built for and occupied by African Americans both during and after the time of slavery.
The house was built in 1846 by Dalton cotton manufacturer William Bogart and sold shortly thereafter to William Fitch, an African American freeman from Connecticut. Different black families occupied the house until Charles Hoose purchased it in 1868. It is a characteristic example of the basic home available to impoverished African Americans at the time; the five rooms were home to Charles and Ellen Hoose and most of their 13 children for three generations.
The house is a 1 ½ story side gable residence, roughly 20 feet long by 12 feet wide. A simple wood frame structure built with hewn logs reflecting the 19th century methods of joined timber construction in New England, with a full stone basement and dirt floor. The interior is divided into two rooms on the main floor and two rooms in the attic; the rooms were originally unheated, an ell was added onto the rear of the building prior to 1900 to accommodate a wood shed. Today the walls and ceiling contain their original lathe and plaster; a narrow-board hard wood floor covers the parlor and chamber. The original wood siding exists on the outside of the house. The only features that have been irrevocably lost are the wooden window sashes that were replaced in 1991 with metal frame insulated glass sash.
Knowing the historical and architectural significance of the house, the Dalton Historical Commission has turned the Fitch-Hoose House into an interpretive museum in honor of the Hoose family and others who came to the area seeking a safe haven for themselves and their families. In 2010 the house was listed on the State and National Registry of Historic Places.
(Above, L-R: the Fitch-Hoose House circa 1890; the parlor; side view showing the lean-to shed at the back. The house is now a museum open June - October, 12-4 PM on Saturdays. )
It took the Dalton Historical Commission 14 years from when we began our research on the house to our dedication ceremony. We, the Commission, did not realize when we began this endeavor how much time, money, and perseverance it would take to reach our goal. Along the way we learned about everything from grant writing to proper picture hanging. But, we all feel it was well worth the ups and downs that were encountered when taking on this kind of project.
The Dalton Historical Commission received the
1. $10,000 Massachusetts State Tourism Grant; initial research into placing the Fitch-House House onto the National and State Register of Historic Places.
2. $20,000 grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission for restoration and interpretive planning.
3. $180,000 grant from “Promoting Community Development and Tourism in Central and Western Massachusetts”, with this grant we were able to;
Acquire the services of the University of Massachusetts Archeology Dept. for an archeological dig of the property.
Hired a Historic Architectural firm
Hired a Historic Construction Contractor
4. We also received significant financial support from the Town of Dalton to finish the project.
Advice and Insight
The Dalton Historical Commission members have attended many and various historic seminars about a variety of preservation methods and accomplishments. It is important to educate yourself about the best ways to preserve the historic integrity of the building you are trying to restore.
The town of Dalton Massachusetts has been supportive from beginning to end. This is very important, without the towns backing and support we could not have reached our goal.
Read more about the Fitch-Hoose House: A Tiny House with Big Echoes
Thank you to Lousia Horth, the Dalton Historical Commission and everyone involved in the project for their perseverance and dedication to ensuring this important part of Dalton's history and African American hertiage was not lost. The Dalton Historical Commission is willing to answer any questions about their project. If you have a question, please email us and Preservation Massachusetts will facilitate its answer.