Most "Gillbillies" drive by this building at least once a week, but do you know the rich history of this unique stone building that's been a part of Gill for so many years?
Recently the GHC was asked to do a little research on the origins of the Old Stone Lodge and this is what our research uncovered...we love a challenge! (Additions to this research on the origin and early years of Gill’s Stone Lodge are always welcome by contacting a member of the Gill Historical Commission.)
Many of the locals still remember the Old Stone Lodge off Main Road in Gill when it operated as a popular restaurant for many years run by the Edmund "Hap" Dunican family who both worked and lived in the lodge. Purchased in 1959, Rose, Hap and their three children made it a family affair and it became known for delicious home cooked meals. With its back drop of sloping lawns and stately trees, it was a hub of dining and entertainment over the years. On any given day, colorful parachutists from the Turners Falls Airport landed to the delight of diners, frequent Gymkana horse events were held on the grounds, Rotary and Lions Club hosted meetings and Mount Herman parents met up with their children during a weekend visit. Countless BBQ's, clambakes and summer outings were enjoyed and was a favorite venue for wedding receptions for almost 10 years.
The property was then purchased by WEMCO in 1968 and was slated for a camping and picnic area under the Northfield Mountain project. However, those plans were later cancelled when the utility resubmitted plans with the Federal Power Commission.
The most recent owners and residents of this lodge were original members of the Renaissance Community. The Renaissance Community, Inc. purchased the Old Stone Lodge and its 38.5 acres in October 1975 from WMECO. At the time of the purchase, the community envisioned the building to be used as a youth retreat or meditation center. They had 300 members and owned land and buildings in nearby Warwick, Turners Falls and Northfield. They were ahead of their time and utilized solar to heat, grew their own organic food and bought grains and other foods in bulk to feed the members. This close-knit community gained national attention with media such as Family Circle magazine, Wall Street Journal, Mademoiselle magazine, LOOK magazine, People magazine, 60 Minutes and David Frost. Many new members came from across the USA drawn to its idyllic mission, communal living and spiritual enlightenment. Over the years, they became an integral part of the town of Gill and held town positions while creating many successful businesses such as Renaissance Builders, Renaissance Painters, Renaissance Excavating, Silverscreen Design and several businesses on Avenue A in Turners Falls.
The Lodge was built in 1894 by Bernardston builder Gardner James Oakes (b. 29 September 1840 Guilford, VT – d. 16 May 1912 Springfield hospital; bu. Center Cemetery, Bernardston). He built houses and barns in Bernardston and other Franklin County towns. Oakes built Riverside Hall in Riverside and with his son Lyman, the tower on the Bernardston Town Hall.
The Lodge, often called Stillwell House, was built in the decade when buildings at Moody’s schools were being built and large country homes like the Schell Chateau in Northfield were being constructed. The history GHC members have pieced together shows that the land on Main Road, Gill, probably belonged to John L.S. Moore, who bought it from a Severance, and farmed on the flat land as did the Stoughtons and the Eddys.
John L. S. Moore (John Lorenzo Shepherdson). Born 1840 – 1907. Buried in North Cemetery. Married Gill, 9 March 1869: Eunice Lucretia (Stoughton). [One source notes that she was 16 years older than John.] She was the daughter of Ira and Urania (Richards) Stoughton. John lived and farmed on Main Road between current Munn’s Ferry Road and the Stone Lodge. (His son: William Jarvis Moore (1836-1905), North Cemetery. Married: Eliza (1844-1899).
Moore sold land to Charles Stillwell who appears to have commissioned the building of the Stone Lodge that “presented a grand appearance” overlooking the Connecticut River Valley. The Stillwell family was long established in Brooklyn, New York, and had an avenue to Coney Island named for ancestral settlers. The family business of Stillwell and Gladding was located on Staten Island. Like other affluent people, the Stillwells followed the tradition of having a large country home.
Marcia (Stantual) Gladding, daughter of Thomas Stantial, died at age 76 on 29 February 1896 of old age according to Gill Town Records. Her husband Benjamin Gladding Jr. died in Gill at age 85 in 1901 and was the son of Benjamin Gladding Sr. Their daughter Elizabeth married Charles Stillwell. Charles Stillwell (1844-1903) married Elizabeth M. Gladding (1844-1916), daughter of Benjamin F. Gladding, Gill contractor. The Stillwell connection to the Gladding family in Gill and Howard’s marriage to a young woman of Gill made a strong Gill connection.
It is not clear whether Charles ever lived in the Lodge. Before his death, he deeded the property to his son Howard who may have then lived there. Howard A. Stillwell (b.14 June 1872 and d. 24 Nov. 1954). Buried: Head of Christiana Church Cemetery in Newark, Delaware. [Lot 326-4]. Howard married in Gill (23 Sept. 1897), Mary Eugenia (Foster) (1877 – 1960). Her father Frank B. Foster of Riverside, Gill (1845-1909) and her mother Eugenia Field of Northfield.[See GHC Riverside book, p. 32.] Eugenia Stillwell died and was buried in Newark, Delaware, in Head of Christiana Church Cemetery. Howard and Eugenia were living in Greenfield in 1950 and then bought land in Delaware, where they appeared to have moved shortly before his death. [Gill Death Records: 16 August 1898. Stillwell – unnamed Stillborn Father: Howard A. Stillwell Mother: Mary E. Foster].
The 1900 Federal Census for Gill shows a household in which Howard Stillwell (age 28) is head and lives with his wife of 22 years as well as his grandfather Benjamin Gladding (age 84), his aunt Lucy (51), and a servant, a boarder, and a laborer. The household is probably at the Stone Lodge.
TF Reporter: Wed., 4 March 1896: Funeral – Maria S. Gladding, mother of Howard A. Stillwell of New York, who has a summer home at Gill.
TF Reporter: Wed., 13 Oct. 1897: Howard Stillwell has returned with his bride, after a pleasant journey to Boston, Providence, Brooklyn, and Saratoga.
At the semi-annual business meeting of the Christian Endeavor Society held 1 Oct., the following officers were chosen . . . Howard A. Stillwell, secretary and treasurer.
TF Reporter: Wed., 8 Jan. 1902: Howard Stillwell and wife of Brooklyn, who have been visiting Mrs. Stillwell’s father Frank Foster in Riverside, have returned to their home.
TF Reporter: Wed., 5 March 1902: C. M. Stillwell has rented his house to Mr. Howard, who will occupy it soon.
And 2 July 1902: C. M. Stillwell and wife and Mrs. Howard Stillwell of Brooklyn are at Percy Howard’s.
N.B. Additions to this research on the origin and early years of Gill’s Stone Lodge are welcome. Please contact a member of the Gill Historical Commission.