Woodbridge Hall – East Street

Photo by John Phelan

Woodbridge Hall – East Street

Woodbridge Hall
by C. P. Poler

It is on record that the voters of Southampton, Mass., in the year 1775, appointed a committee of three “to treat with some likely man to come and settle with us as a doctor, and to report to the town at the fall meeting.”  The following spring the same committee was directed to “inform Mr. Sylvester Woodbridge of South Hadley that the town of Southampton would be glad that he would come and settle with them as a Doctor.”  He accepted the call and proved worthy of the trust reposed in him by the town.  He was a skillful and conscientious physician and enjoyed an extensive practice for nearly fifty years.

When Dr. Woodbridge and his wife, who was Mindwell Lyman of Northampton, came to Southampton in the year 1776, they built a small cottage on East (S)treet.  The Doctor belonged to a wealthy and aristocratic family and they wished him to live in a finer house, so made him a present of what in those days was a large sum of money, to beautify his home.  In course of time Woodbridge Hall was built, and was greatly admired by the village people as it was the most costly private residence which at that time had been attempted.  The little cottage which had been the Doctor’s home formed the kitchen and woodshed for the larger house, which was a three-story structure built in colonial style.  There was a cellar underneath the whole house, with a large basement kitchen, furnished with a wide, old fashioned fireplace.  The ground floor had a wide hall extending through the house from north to south, with two large rooms on either side.  The west front room was the Doctor’s office, back of which was a sleeping room.  The rooms on the east side were used for a parlor and dining room.  The plan of the second floor was the same as that of the first, with a wide hall and doors opening on either side into spacious sleeping rooms.  There were fireplaces in all the rooms.  At one side of the fireplace in the dining room was a deep cupboard, at the back of which was a sliding panel that opened directly under a spiral staircase which wound from the first floor to a trap door in the roof–a fine place for a safety vault, but it would be unwise for the present owner to attempt to hide his valuables there, as the secret is now town property.   Over the mantel-piece in the parlor is a large painted panel which has been there ever since the house was built, but the memory of the artist has faded quite away.

The third story was a large unfinished attic, and many are the tales told of the good times the children have enjoyed there.  It is said that the Rev. John Woodbridge, which yet a little boy, once stole away into this garret and there kneeling down, prayed that he might become a minister.  That his prayer was heard and answered is attested by the fact for  more than half a century he was an eminent minister of the gospel.  

“The Southampton Doctor” had a fine watermelon patch near the house, which was a source of temptation to the village boys, who usually managed to secure the melons as soon as they were ripe.  One day the Doctor plugged some of the finest and put in a quantity of ipecac.  That night there were many calls at the Doctor’s office to relieve the sufferers, and they must have felt shamefaced enough when the Doctor quietly told them they had been eating too much melon.  

Dr. Woodbridge had five children.  Two died in early childhood.  John and Sylvester both became prominent ministers, and the daughter, Mindwell, married Rev. Vinson Gould. 

After the death of Dr. Woodbridge, which occurred Aug. 29, 1824, Mr. Gould and his family removed to Woodbridge Hall, and for many years the six Gould children filled the house with sunshine and laughter.  Ammy Finnemore, a negro girl who made her home with the Goulds, is remembered by many of the village people for her hearty good nature and merry pranks, and also for the assistance she rendered Mr. Gould in setting out the row of maple trees in front of the house. which today add so much to the beauty and comfort of East (S)treet.

After Mr. and Mrs. Gould’s death the business and social interests of their children called them from town, and for several years the elder Col. Edwards had an oversight of the property.  In the year 1849 it was sold to Capt. Silas Sheldon, who in turn bequeathed it to his son, Mr. F. K. Sheldon.

For over fifty years Woodbridge Hall was the home of Mr. Sheldon, and he greatly beautified the place by putting in new windows throughout the house, building a wide porch on the south side, and bay windows on the east and west sides.  In 1901 he sold the property to Mr. Newton Strong, who occupies the house with his family.  He has already made many improvements in the interior of the place, and continues to make Woodbridge Hall what it has been from its earliest history, “the house beautiful,”  a house filed with pleasant memories of delightful people who have from time to time called this place “Home!”

The Last Sixty Years

[Above]…is a write-up on Woodbridge Hall, written for the church paper of Southampton in 1903 by Mrs. Carrie P. Poler, a native of Southampton.  It brings the history of the house up to its purchase by the Newton Strong family in 1901.  At this time many of the tobacco barns and farm outbuildings were added.

The Strongs lived here until 1933 when it was sold to the Clyde Conners who lived here and operated a dairy until 5 1/2 acres, including the house and all barns, were sold to the Chas. C. McPhersons in 1947.

During the years of occupancy by the Conners, the original kitchen and wood house were torn down.

Since 1947, the house has been completely restored as near as possible to its original design.  The front porch, which was added in 1850’s was removed.  The fireplace in each room was opened up, which had been closed in seven of the eight rooms in 1825 with the advent of the Franklin Stove.  The large four-pane window sashes were replaced by the old fashioned sixteen-pane sash as were in the original house.  The tunnel connecting the secret stairway and the barn was filled in, and the flagstone terrace and screen porch added.

All wiring and the heating system has been modernized.  A new modern kitchen, service area, garage and greenhouse have been added.  All of the farming buildings – barns, sheds, etc. – have been removed and replaced by shrubs, trees and gardens.

A pond about a half acre in size and seven feet deep, fed by cold water springs – has been dug in the lower meadow.  In addition to being stocked with fish, it provides additional fire protection.

During the one and three quarter centuries of the history of the original Woodbridge Hall, there have been only six families living here since the first original house built in 1776.

And the house is studily built, with many of the original hand-hewn, pegged beams, and is good for many years and future generations.

–From “History of Old Houses” by Atherton Parsons