Captain Wheeler House
Great Barrington, MA
The Great Barrington Historical Society made it its mission to rescue the c. 1771 Capt. Truman Wheeler House from a developer in 2008. It is now the home of the Historical Society, serving as the town museum with numerous exhibits of Great Barrington and Housatonic history. Many visitors have now toured the site, appreciating its Colonial-era architecture. It is being restored, and grants are being sought to further carry out the work.
In 2011, it was officially accepted to the National Register of Historic Places. The Wheeler House was noted as a national landmark due to its architecturally preserved state, which includes original woodwork, doors, window sashes, blacksmith-made hinges, fireplaces, and various barns. Remarkably, some of the early door hinges still retain ancient leather washers under the nail heads. Many of the 18th C. window sashes survive with their original seeded glass.
The extraordinary wide floor-boards are a reminder of the time when King George’s regulatory rights to the best timber were perhaps ignored. Truman Wheeler was a native of Southbury, CT (his original home there still survives), and attended Yale College. He arrived in Great Barrington in the spring of 1764 and became a local merchant. He purchased land and operated a store from the “North Room.” He was a busy man. In addition to cultivating a prosperous farm and maintaining a store, he was appointed to the Local Committee of Public Safety in 1776. His first appointment as Muster Master for Berkshire County occurred the same year.
During the same period (1776-1782), he served as the town’s Treasurer. Being a military man, he soldiered at Bennington, Vermont, and under Gen. Gates in the Northern Dept., Capt. David Ingersoll’s Company, and Col. John Ashley’s Regiment closer to home. He also served additional time at Stillwater, N.Y. (near Saratoga), with Gen. John Fellows. During the March of the Hessian and British prisoners through Great Barrington, Capt. Wheeler treated many of them for Camp Fever with a decoction of native roots. It is thought perhaps that his “store” perhaps sold such items.
After the Revolution, he served as Justice of the Peace. While operating in this capacity, he protected Deputy Sheriff Ezra Kellogg, when he escaped to the Wheeler House during Shays’ Rebellion. His last office was being elected to the Great & General Court in 1796 as Representative. He died April 19, 1815, at the age of 74. His son Claudius took over a large and successful farm, which was expanded by his grandson, Merritt Ives Wheeler, who introduced Guernsey cows to the region.
Today, the property resembles a Currier & Ives engraving, especially in winter. Family tradition has it that the illustrator Ives often visited the farm, bringing copies of his later work, which were wallpapered into an upstairs room (since removed by later generations). Land from the Wheeler property was sold to the Housatonic Agricultural Society in the early 19th century, and Wheeler livestock received numerous awards at the neighboring fairgrounds. During horse-racing days at the fair, jockeys boarded at the Wheeler Farm.
It was a prominent farm, at the southern entrance to the town, and today, as a museum, acts as a cultural linchpin. Its riches are just beginning to be uncovered.
Tours of the homestead are given in summer and fall, and during the Society’s special events. For more information on the Society and the property, visit the Great Barrington Historical Society.