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Berkshire School Archives: Cabins

Landing Page for the Berkshire School Arichives

Castle, Palaace, Goodenough, Chalet, Ark: A History of Berkshire's Mountain Cabins, Shacks, and Hideouts

Chase (Decker) House, 1900s

 In 1724, Dutch settlers followed what was known as the Indian Trail (which ran from New York to Sheffield) and cut a road known as Old Spurr Road along the School’s current Elbow Trail. It is one of the oldest known roads in Berkshire County. In 1731, a young wheelwright and leatherworker, Johannes Spoor from Coxsackie, NY, followed other Dutch settlers and built a small log cabin on Glen Brook (roughly between Godman and MacMillan Dorm). Mr. Harold Roys, a direct descendant of the Spoor family, remembers seeing the remnants of the cabin and a small cellar as late as 1889. 

Sawmill, 1916

Cabin or shacks long predate the 1907 arrival of the Bucks at Glenny Farm. Around 1850, a man known as Little John lived on Berkshire’s mountain burning wood in charcoal pits. He and his family had a cabin northwest of the old ski run (roughly where the ropes course is today. We can assume that Little John’s cabin survived when the Bucks arrived, and perhaps others as well.

Mr. Buck Hiking Mount Katahdin

 All this nature would have appealed to Mr. Buck; he loved hiking and climbing. The mountain would have also appealed to his educational philosophy.

Black Rock, 1913

 Mr. Buck loved sending the boys up the mountain to build, hike, and even fight forest fires.

Hiking, 1915

Hiking, 1918


Walking, 1914

Winter Hiking, 1914

Mr. Buck starting a fire, 1918

Guilder Pond Lean-to, 1900s

The first Berkshire reference to a mountain structure was in 1911.  Henry Chapin ‘13 said of the mountain, “I could return to the woods again and do something useful when football season was over.” He described Sundays as free days when they could report for a sandwich lunch after early chapel and disappear up the mountain all day. Chapin said, “Sometimes, I took my way up the Fiddler's Elbow trail to the small pond just beneath the Dome, where the school had a balsam lean-to and a stone fireplace, and branched forth from there.”

Glenny House Fire, 1918

Glenny House Fire, 1918

When Glenny House burnt down in 1918, and with it, half of the dormitory space for the boys, many of the students slept in their mountain shacks until a fourth floor was built onto Allen House. After the fire, the Glenny House remains were scattered over the lawn; one boy tried to take the boiler to use it in his shack!  For a shower? 

Outing Club, 1924

While cabins began in the 1910s, the 20s were their heyday.  The Outing Club was a popular pastime under the direction of Mr. Buck, with the boys cutting trails on the Mountain and, in 1924, the Club was hired by the Appalachian Trail Club to construct a trail section from Bear Mountain in CT to Jug End, MA.

Outing Club, 1924



Green and Gray Article, 1924

Appalachian Trail Map

1920s Lean-to

A 1925 Green and Gray states, “The operation of shacks is the leading extra curriculum activity at Berkshire, and it is interesting to note that this is the only school in the country where the boys are allowed to have shacks.”  On weekends, boys would sign out a shack lunch from the kitchen and work on their shacks. Three or four boys would build a shack, each trying to outdo the other.

Supplies from the Kitchen, 1920s

Cabin, 1920s

  1. The cabins’ popularity was evident with the Green and Gray creating a dedicated “Shack Notes Section, with weekly updates on who was entertaining whom and what various shack improvements and additions were happening. Shack Season Opens. “The sound of hammers ringing against rusty nails, the clatter of falling dishpans, and the faint odor of bacon and fried potatoes tell us that a new season at the shacks has opened. Those of us who have not experienced the thrill of enjoying a Sunday dinner cooked by our own hands cannot know what a joy it is to cast all table manners aside and dive into a delicious assortment of meats, dill pickles, onions, and coffee.”

Cabin, 1920s

By 1925, the twelve original cabins, spanning one square mile, were increasingly fancy. Maybe some of the alums from the 60s and 70s can see vestiges of their cabins in these descriptions:

1921, House Party at the Shacks

 In addition to the twelve original cabins, the Outing Club built a log cabin in Guilder Hollow to accommodate eight, and the Faculty Shack (now called Chevalier) in 1924.   They enlarged the Outing Club Shack which hosted many Mid-Winter House Party (like our prom) activities and team feeds. 

1932, Cabin started by Earl and Rumsey

By the 1930s, shack life wasn’t as popular: in 1930, there were five Outing Club members compared to 38 members in the 1920s.  There were still a small, dedicated group of shack owners, with the Outing Club shack seeming to be the most popular. The 1934 yearbook mentioned that interest in the mountain and cabins was dwindling.

1930s, Cabins

1942, Cabin Feed

 By the 1940s, Shack use was only team feeds and house party events at the faculty shack.  The Egremont store did advertise that it had “shack supplies’ for sale.


Mr. Chase, Faculty Shack Feed

1949 Cabin Interior

1950s Cabin Feed

1968 Maple Sugar Shack

 During the early 1960s, change slowly came to Berkshire, and there was again interest in the outdoors and the environment. Although cabins are not specifically mentioned, it is clear a small group was using them. Alums mentioned that the school was highly structured, and there was no cabin emphasis. One alum mentioned having a hideout in the Berkshire Hall cupola that Mr. Dixon sanctioned. One member of the class of ‘63 said, “My friends owned a cabin, and I remember skiing down to it, lighting a fire, and just hanging.”

1967 Cabin

1960 cabin

The most mentioned cabin was off the Telephone Trail.  One alum said.”I acquired rights to a cabin on the telephone trail in 1954 and spent much of my free time there. At that time, the forest all over the shoulder of the mountain was covered with a maze of standing and toppled chestnut poles. I cut the fallen ones for firewood.”  “It was a kind of shed arrangement,” said alum Bruce Shield ‘57, who “bought” the cabin in 1955.   It had a table and bench at one end, two windows, and an upright parlor stove. Shields sold the cabin his senior year for $20.00.  By the mid-1950s, this was the only cabin in use. There were several other cabins near the ski trails, but they were open to misuse and vandalism, so no one occupied them.” 

1970s Cabin Behind Birchglade

The cabins encapsulated the era’s counterculture movement. Headmaster Minnerly said that faculty tried (in vain) to bring some discipline to the campus. Still, in the end, it was just easier to push the drugs and drinking out of the dorms and into the woods, where the students built increasingly sophisticated cabins. The New Allen House construction from 1969 to 1971 brought negative attention to the cabins. Almost $10,000 of building materials headed up the mountain. One 1970 alum said, “We returned to find our cabins and mountain haunts, including the underground hideout constructed with various New Allen House project materials.” Another alum hauled 1 thousand pounds of cement and the materials up to the mountain to tuck point his cabin’s chimney. 





 In the early 70s, The Protest Generation was alive and well at Berkshire. The 1973 Green and Gray mentions the “great wall’ between students and teachers. Students were calling for more individual rights. There were school meetings about the overwhelming number of suspensions. Students no longer check in at night because teachers aren’t around or care if they are in the dorm. The drinking age is also lowered in MA to 18, and students can drink off campus. The school asked them to drink in moderation.

1974 Mountain Commission and Mr. Dixon

A Mountain Commission, an organization of representative cabin owners from each of the eight cabins, organized the use and maintenance of the trails and cabins to instill a sense of respect in students and faculty toward the mountain.  The Commission inventoried and developed a map of the cabins on the mountain.  Tom Dixon wrote an editorial: “On a recent Sunday, the Headmaster and I spent a large portion of the day on the mountain. We saw most of the cabins and talked with many owners. A few suggestions were made for home improvements and the possibility of open house receptions on Mountain Day. It was perhaps the most enjoyable and rewarding Sunday of my Berkshire career, and I hope that more of my colleagues can be welcomed.”

1974 cabin fire

Virtual Presentation

Hosted by Bebe Bullock '86, archivist, our virtual evening looked at what happened with the mountain cabins from before the School was founded until the current day.