Sure, it looks unpretentious now, but you should see Margaret Hubble’s house when it hasn’t “collapsed”. Photo: Gary Léveillé
This is the most wonderful time of year when local nonprofits normally offer vacation home tours as a fundraiser. But with the ‘never-ending’ threat of the COVID virus still canceling many of these gala events, Southern Berkshire Hysterical Society courageously offers you a brand new free online game of some unusual houses and dwellings in our region. While the stories are a stretch of the imagination, each site is truly located in the Southern Berkshires.
General Tom Thumb’s Short Term Rental House: Located near the Lee / Tyringham city line, this mini-house was custom built circa 1869 for the legendary Dwarf General Tom Thumb. By this time Mr. Thumb had gained worldwide fame and considerable wealth as an artist for circus pioneer PT Barnum. Residing in Bridgeport, Connecticut, General Thumb sought the solitude of the Berkshires as a respite from his hectic life. He had the cottage built out of a buttonwood tree stump by Shaker craftsmen, thus giving birth to the phrase “cute as a button”.
Thumb’s busy schedule, however, prevented him from regularly visiting his beloved home, so he offered the place up for short-term rental to other dwarves, creating what some historians believe to be the first offering. for short term rentals in the United States. Keen to promote diversity within the city, authorities granted a permit to encourage other short people to visit. The house was recently listed in the National Register of Small Historic Places.
Tarpinski Tarpaulin Testing Laboratory: Until new technology was developed during WWII, most tarps were canvas. In 1943, Tom Tarpinski, resident and inventor of Great Barrington, first developed the lightweight polyethylene mesh tarps widely used today. The company’s testing laboratory is still located in town. According to current CEO (and founder’s son) Tope Tarpinski, the high-tech tarp on their lab’s roof outlasted any other. “It’s worn out now,” Tarpinski explained, “but I’m afraid of heights, and because of COVID we can’t find an employee willing to go up there to replace him. Before the pandemic hits, potential employees were dying to come here. ”
Sandisfield ski jump: One of the first winter attractions in the Southern Berkshires was a steep wooden ski hill located in Sandisfield. Rightly known as “Suicide Hill”, the gigantic jump was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Long-distance jumping exhibitions and competitions were held there until World War II, when financial difficulties put an end to the slippery slope. Entrepreneurial Sandisfield resident Sammy Slushski ultimately cut the curved end of the springboard and turned it into the corrugated building shown here. Today, the curved roof structure is used by a local contractor to make parabolic curve snowplows.
Foldable house: Over the past 100 years, Sheffield has hosted many frugal residents. The Queen of Spenders was a clenched-fisted inventor named Margaret “Magpie” Hubble. Frustrated by the ever-increasing property taxes in the city, Hubble has embarked on a campaign to minimize its taxes. Using her considerable skills as an inventor – she held numerous patents for low cost retractable telescopes – Hubble created a foldable house in which to live.
Every five years, when the local board of directors visited his home to reassess its value, Hubble would push a button, turn a few cranks, and drop the roof. After the appraisers left, she simply put the cap back in place. It was a clever ruse that worked well until a curious appraiser found out the truth. Ms Hubble was then swamped with back taxes and the roof finally collapsed for real after a heavy hailstorm.
Woodstock Music Festival Camper: For several days in August 1969, this humble camper hosted a horde of hippies attending the legendary Woodstock Music Festival. It is the only known Woodstock caravan that still survives and is kept in a top secret location in Great Barrington. The owner (who requested that his identity not be revealed) explained that the camper still has his original bedding, folding chairs, mini stove, beer cooler and porta-pot. “We got there early and camped for a week,” he said. “I really wanted to hear Gene Pitney sing ‘Heartbreaker’ and ‘Town Without Pity’. But Pitney got stuck in traffic on the [New York] Thruway, and I’ve never done it. At least we got to see Arlo [Guthrie]. “
Historic toll house: In the mid-1800s, the towns of Colebrook, Connecticut, and Sandisfield, Massachusetts, worked collaboratively to collect tolls from truck drivers driving wagons and cars between towns. A narrow toll plaza was built on the state line. These tolls ceased when the automobiles arrived on the scene. However, cars continued to pass through the structure until 1983, when a myopic car thief crushed a stolen vehicle inside the narrow passage. The car was abandoned and remains stuck in the same location to this day. Neither city is willing to claim ownership due to the high insurance costs.
To explore previous tours of the house, click for the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth.