Restoration of Arrowhead
To read the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Form B Inventory, detailing the history of the architecture and ownership of Arrowhead, click here.
When Herman Melville bought the Brewster farm in 1850, the house was already old and had undergone significant renovations. Originally built in the 1790s with a gambrel roof with dormers, the house was updated in the 1840s with a more stylish gable roof. The large barn was also built in the 1840s.
As with any house and farm, Arrowhead has changed in many ways. Herman Melville made changes to the house, adding a piazza (porch), outbuildings, and an ell to the back, and making numerous small interior changes. As he wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne:
I have been building some shanties of houses (connected with the old one) and likewise some shanties of chapters & essays. I have been ploughing & sowing & raising & printing & praying, and now begin to come out upon a less bristling time, and to enjoy the calm prospect of things from a fair piazza at the north of the old farmhouse here.
Subsequent owners have continued the tradition of alterations. Melville’s brother Allan added a front porch about 1870, and Allan’s daughters replaced the large rear ell of the house. Owners in the 20th-century added screened porches, patios, picture windows, removed the original staircase, and closed off several fireplaces. When the Berkshire County Historical Society purchased the house in 1975, even Melville’s famous piazza had been removed!
With the help of many friends, supporters, and grants, the Historical Society has completed many restoration projects in the past 40 years:
- restoration of the piazza (1970s)
- replacement of the asphalt shingle roof with a cedar shake roof (1997)
- repainting the house in its original colors (1996, 2012-2013)
- reproduction of the ca. 1870 front porch (2013)
- rehabilitation of the original barn (1980s, 2014)
- restoration of Melville’s study (1970s)
By the 1970s, Melville’s library, the room where he wrote Moby-Dick, had been converted to a small bedroom. The fireplace had been enclosed, and a wall built through the room to create a hallway. The Berkshire Historical Society has restored the room to its Melville-era appearance based on documentary and physical evidence.
Despite all the work that has been done to restore the house, much more remains to be done. In 2012, the Historical Society, with partial support from grants from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund. The Society embarked on an ambitious set of projects, including repairing sills, windows, and doors. We are also reproduced the front entry porch, based on historic photographs. In addtion, we will be upgrading pathways and restrooms. The work to maintain a National Historic Landmark never ends!
If you would like to help restore Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, please become a member of the Historical Society. As a member, you will receive a newsletter keeping you informed of restoration progress. Any support is much appreciated. For more information, contact the Curator.