As the current stewards of Arrowhead, which includes the house, barns, and grounds, the Berkshire County Historical Society is committed to the preservation of this historic site. The house has undergone a myriad of changes since its construction in the 1780s, and we seek to carefully restore the house to interpret the time of Herman Melville’s ownership (1850-1863) using best preservation practices.
When Herman Melville bought the Brewster farm in 1850, the house was already older and had undergone significant renovations. Originally built in the 1780s 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 been modified in many ways according to personal taste, current trends, and changing use. Herman Melville made his own 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 Berkshire County Historical Society has completed many restoration projects in the past 45+ years:
- Restoration of the piazza (1970s)
- Restoration of Melville’s study (1970s)
- Replacement of the asphalt shingle roof with a cedar shake roof (1997)
- Repainting the house in its original colors (1996, 2012-2013)
- Restoring the front door (1995)
- Reproduction of the ca. 1870 front porch (2013)
- Rehabilitation of the original barn (1980s, 2014, 2019-2020)
- Restoration of the “Hawthorne Bedroom,” previously converted to a bathroom in the early 20th century (2011)
- Sill, window, and door repair (2014)
- Accessibility improvements, including new walkways and accessible visitor and staff bathrooms (2014)
- Repaired the house’s interior chimney which was at risk of failure due to excessive moisture from an interior vent. Thanks to a grant from Preservation Massachusetts in partnership with the 1772 Foundation, the chimney was restored this summer and is no longer in danger. Matching support for the project was provided by The Feigenbaum Foundation and Pittsfield’s Community Preservation Committee. (2023)
Despite all the work that has been done to restore the house, much more remains to be done. If you would like to help restore Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, please consider becoming a member of the Berkshire County Historical Society. As a member, you will receive a newsletter keeping you informed of restoration progress. Donations may also be made in any denomination through our website here or mailed to 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield, MA, 01201. Any support is much appreciated.
To read the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s Form B Inventory, detailing the history of the architecture and ownership of Arrowhead, click here.
To view the inventory form for the National Register of Historic Places, click here.
Images of preservation and restoration projects at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead
By the 1970s, Melville’s study, 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 County Historical Society has restored the room, ca. 1975, to its Melville-era appearance based on documentary and physical evidence.
As can be seen in the first picture below, the piazza you see today wasn’t part of the house at that time. The original piazza had been removed in 1938 (the owner sought to restore the house to its original 18th century appearance), and a picture window was added ca. 1950. These were both addressed in the first few years of BCHS’s ownership.
After professional paint analysis to determine the correct color used on the house during Melville’s time, the house was painted the rich golden hue that you see today.
In 2013, we restored the front entry porch. This porch had undergone numerous changes over the years, and we restored it to the earliest period for which we had photographic documentation.