School NewsJun 15, 2022

updated Nov 20, 2023

The Mystery of the Holmes Study

Discovering another piece of our history

IN 1849, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the noted essayist, poet, and father of Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, built a home on his estate, Canoe Meadow, across the road from what is now Miss Hall’s School. Dr. Holmes summered there for about seven years, and the property was later renamed “Holmesdale” by subsequent owners.

In her 1907 book, Old Paths and Legend of the New England Border: Connecticut, Deerfield, Berkshire, Katharine M. Abbott includes this footnote: “‘Holmesdale’ is now the estate of Mr. William Pollock. Dr. Holmes’ study is a part of a building on the ‘Meadow Farm’ of the late Colonel Walter Cutting.”

The Pollocks owned Holmesdale in the late 1800s/early 1900s. After Col. Cutting’s death in 1907, Meadow Farm was sold to Mira Hall, who moved her school to the property in 1909. The “old school” burned in 1923 and was replaced with the Main Building we know today.

The Abbott footnote caught our eye years ago, raising the questions: What and where was the Holmes study? Did it still exist?

During the summer of 2021, Louise Brown, of Salisbury, Connecticut, sent the School a photo album kept by her aunt, Martha Birnie Farmer, MHS Class of 1911. The album includes photos from the 1909-10 and 1910-11 school years, the School’s earliest on Holmes Road. One photo was captioned: “Holmes Study.” Finally, a reference!

Among our records was an article and photograph about the former Holmes School, part of which is today’s Gate House, to the right of the main entrance to the School.

Mira Hall bought the one-room schoolhouse in 1911 for $600 from the city of Pittsfield, according to an article by Diana Fetter De Villafranca ’51, in Spring 1977 Miss Hall’s Bulletin. The schoolhouse was called Temple Cottage until 1924, when it was named the Gate House. It was remodeled in 1925 and two bedrooms added in 1959. During the years it has been used as the “Chemistry House,” Admissions Office, for cooking classes, and, most recently, as faculty housing.

Looking closely at the photo, some features stand out: the recessed door in the back corner, the chimney toward the back of the house, the distinctive corners, and the horizontal bands of trim. All pretty similar to the Holmes Study! And, Hill House and the Benton-Erdman Arts Barn are visible in the background, indicating the photo was taken from Holmes Road, about where the main driveway is now.

The mystery of the Holmes Study appears to be solved!