A hidden gem on campus: Welcome to the oldest building in Amherst

Stockbridge House celebrates its tricentennial anniversary

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A hidden gem on campus: Welcome to the oldest building in Amherst

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Chris McLaughlin, Collegian Contributor

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A decade shy of its 300th anniversary, the Stockbridge House is officially the oldest building in the town of Amherst. The building was erected in 1728 and is now adjoined to the Homestead House of 1731.

Located along the aptly-named Stockbridge Road near Franklin Dining Commons, the two colonial-style farmhouses with pale blue facades and deep red shutters carry an illustrious history with their current occupant, the University Club and Restaurant, having been established there since 1973. That year, the Stockbridge House Addition was built to link the two buildings.

In charge of the current everyday operations is University Club Manager Valerie Maurer, who gave insight into the site’s past and present. Maurer has been tasked with a variety of responsibilities from hiring servers, to directing the kitchen, to cleaning and decorating over her three years as manager. She also acts as the building historian.

“The Stockbridge House, that’s the oldest house in Amherst,” Maurer said. “It was built by Samuel Boltwood Jr…for him and his family on 111 acres that he purchased after the Deerfield Massacre of 1704.”

Maurer added that over the years, “it was used as a blacksmith shop, a tavern and a farmhouse.”

Walking around the various rooms, each with a story to tell, Maurer reveals hidden aspects to the architecture such as a multitude of portraits, maps and photographs adorning the walls, a cubby that was used to store muskets and little nooks and crannies used for storage.

Among the most well-known rooms, almost all of which are now used for the restaurant’s tableside dining, is Stockbridge House’s Tory Room. According to the University Club website, the Tory Room, with its original wooden ceiling beams still intact, once confined nine Royalists or “Tories” during the American Revolutionary War, essentially acting as a prison. Off of the Tory Room are the Daniel Chester French Room, the Baker Lounge and the Levi Stockbridge Room.

According to YouMass, part of the UMass Libraries and University Archives, the Stockbridge House was once the home of several Massachusetts Agriculture College and Massachusetts State College presidents, the predecessors to the current UMass, with the MAC being originally chartered in 1863. These presidents include Henry Flagg French, Hugh Baker and Levi Stockbridge, to whom the house accredits its name, in addition to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture and Stockbridge Hall on campus.

Daniel Chester French, the son of MAC President French, has a room that bears his name, as he was a noted sculptor. Daniel French is famous for creating the Abraham Lincoln statue within the National Mall’s Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. as well as the statue of the Concord Minuteman.

Additionally, President Baker’s name now graces the Stockbridge House’s Baker Lounge, as he was responsible for the house’s 1934 restoration effort after years of neglect.

On the opposite side of the addition is the Homestead House, which previously sat where the John W. Lederle Graduate Research Tower is currently located. The property was built by the Cowles family (alternatively spelled Cowls) and, like the Stockbridge House, was sold to the trustees of the MAC in 1864. In 1968, the decision was made to relocate the building and tie it to the Stockbridge House via the 1973 Addition. The space is now home to the modern bar area.

Within the Homestead House is the Homestead Lounge which, with its large hearth, was once used for the equivalent of home economics classes in order to simulate family life for young women before the relocation; it now serves as a space for the venue’s receptions and events.

One of the other more notable rooms within the Homestead House is the Chancellor’s Room, which bears the pictures of all previous chancellors of the University and acts as a meeting room with a projection screen available for presentations. The other is the former child’s playroom, now the women’s bathroom, noted for its allegedly paranormal activity.

According to Maurer, “We’ve actually had paranormal investigators here and they got the highest amount of activity in this general area,” adding that some guests have reported hearing “voices and [seeing] visions of little girls in dresses.” Maurer herself says she has encountered unexplained phenomena such as faucets running and toilets flushing spontaneously, but nothing that’s driven her away from the work she loves.

“I don’t feel like I’m in a nine-to-five here. I feel like it’s my home away from home, so I come here, and I treat it like my home,” said Maurer, who has worked in hospitality throughout her career.

The standard hours for the University Club are lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. On Thursdays and Fridays, the schedule runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

During lunchtime hours, Maurer admits that “it’s probably about 95 percent faculty that comes through during the day.” Maurer explained, “the place was only open to faculty until about 13 years ago and then it became open to the public.”

Maurer added that despite the high ratio of faculty clientele, hence the former “Faculty Club” name, dining is open to students and non-faculty members. She said, “we serve everybody just the same as faculty.” She also noted just how broad a range of clientele she has served over the years, stating, “So, when I say I’ve served everybody, from the Chancellor to Meryl Streep, I have.”

Maurer added that as a part of UMass Auxiliary Enterprises, students can use their meal plans at the University Club, whether that is UCard Debit or dining dollars. YCMP can also be used for lunch or meal swipes for later in the day on Thursdays and Fridays when a small plate menu is served.

The restaurant’s menu varies seasonally, with Fall 2018 having, “everything from pork tacos to plant-based entrées and autumn ale stew.” Maurer added, “Crab cakes are probably our most famous thing here. Everybody loves our crab cakes. We always incorporate the UMass standards of sustainability, local and healthy eating. We get a lot of stuff from the permaculture garden right across the street.”

The largest factor that Maurer stressed for anyone interested in eating at the University Club is to make a reservation in advance. “I encourage reservations. It gives us an idea of how many we serve per day. I could serve 25 per day or I could serve 80; it varies from a day-to-day basis. So that’s why you’ll always hear me ask for reservations. It’s not because they’re required – we take walk-ins, absolutely – it’s just so we know how many people we’re serving that day.”

Maurer said that after closing to the public for the day, the space is used as a venue for events and private parties. She said, “At least three nights a week, we have a function going on here. It’s just catered through UMass Catering and its booked through the UMass Event Sales Office and we do everything here. People really like to use this as a venue because you don’t [often] get a location like this.”

Maurer explained that late in the spring semester tends to be the University Club’s busiest time of the year. “We’re really famous for our brunches on Easter and also for commencement weekend. It’s the craziest time of the year,” she said.

Maurer emphasized, “I really do think [the Stockbridge House and Homestead House are] a hidden gem, and I think that everyone should pass through it once before they graduate.

“I would strongly suggest for people not to be afraid to pop in. If the door’s open, you’re welcome to take a tour and if you want a little more information or a little special tour, just ask for Valerie.”

Chris McLaughlin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ChrisMcLJournal.