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Woodward's: Car Troubles & Other Mishaps

Mt. Wilson Trail today.
Woodward working in his 1936 Packard Phaeton Touring Car from Beecher's Pasture
May 29, 1922, North Adams Transcript - Hit and Run Accident
May 29, 1922, North Adams Transcript
Hit and Run Accident

May 29, 1922: The Hit and Run

In his life, Woodward had more than his share of tragic events. Most notably his serious injury from a gun accident in 1906  which left him paralyzed from just below the chest down. Then there are his three studio fires. All three equally tragic in their loss if not for different reasons.  Redgate's fire (1922)left his career and work in ruins for years. The Hiram Woodward home and studio fire (1934) destroyed his idyllic preservation of the quintessential New England homestead he put great effort and resources to restore to its original grandeur and last but by no means least his sacred refuge, the Heath Pasture studio fire (1950). So imagine our surprise to learn he had been involved in numerous car accidents, none more harrowing than the hit and run accident on May 29, 1922.

We have always had a photo of this wrecked buggy in our collection of personal items saved by Woodward over his lifetime. It was not until recently that we learned what caused so much damage. An article from the North Adams Transcript reports that a motorist tried to pass between a truck and Woodward's horse-drawn carriage, "Owing to the space being insufficient to pass the carriage was struck by the front wheels of the car with great force throwing the occupants from the seat, demolishing the wheels, shafts, and body and breaking the harness in several places."

In the carriage with Woodward is Julia White who we believe is a cousin and the sister of Flora. She is thrown clear of the carriage but Woodward, we are sure is still gripping the reins trying to maintain control, is dragged "some distance." Fortunately, the article reports that he escaped serious injury and includes "or death." There is no mention of the horse which we believe is most likely  Thomas ŕ Kempis.

A photo of the wrecked buggy from RSW's personal
items. Note the rear right wheel appears to be missing
We wonder if when the car struck the left rear wheel
the torque of the impact ripped it from its mount.

Trying to imagine the scene, we can make a safe bet that when the car struck the rear wheel of the carriage Thomas ŕ Kempis must have been quite startled. He may have taken off in a run which of course would keep the car alongside the carriage long enough to possibly be struck again. Maybe the carriage, now missing a rear right wheel, swerved out of control and struck the car once more as it weaved past. What is harder to imagine is what happened to Woodward. Given the report stating the harness was broken in several places, as he pulled from his seat in the carriage by Thomas ŕ Kempis and then dragged on the road as he held to the reins in an attempt to stop or slow the horse? Or does dragged mean he remained in the carriage with a bare thread-thin strap still clinging to the horse as he runs to safety? It is hard to say and so we won't.

You can see the damage to the buggy in the image to the right. There are only three wheels visible and only one wheel still fastened to its axil. The carriage itself appears mainly in tack, though the canopy appears bent or twisted somehow. We highlighted the road for you because it is hard to make out in the black and white photo.

August 15, 1922, North Adams Transcript - RSW witnesses a horror

Aug. 15, 1922, North Adams Transcript
RSW witnesses a horrorific accident involv-
ing a family including an infant and 3 year old.

August 15, 1922: Family Seriously Injured

1922 was a really tough year for Woodward. In March, he is haggling with Springfield Museum director George Walter Vincent Smith over the price Smith is offering to buy Woodward's third painting to be added to the collection. He complains about his difficulty making ends meet (given the high cost of his personal care he priced at $4,800 per month in today's money) in letters to Smith. In May he is struck in his buggy by a reckless driver and dragged. His horse and close friend Julia both traumatized by the event and in December he will suffer one of the greatest blows to his career with the Redgate's fire.

1922 Hudson Sedan
A picture of a 1922 Hudson Sedan.

In between is this terrible accident of a family seriously injured as the car they were traveling in attempted to pass car Woodward was riding in along with two others crashed. The vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed lost control and rolled down an embankment. The article, again from the North Adams Transcript, reports the car turned over three times and that, "all occupants were rendered unconscious." The article claimsthe accident was so violent the shattering of the heavy glass ripped the leather upholstery from the cushions.

No one else was injured but we cannot help wondering how Woodward must have felt sitting there helpless in many respects as a crowd began to gather to aid and assist the motorist before the ambulance arrived. And just a couple months from his own perilous event. Would he feel embarrassed sitting there in the car as people milled about? There is no saying. We imagine he would be uncomfortable with the exposure.

July 21, 1924 North Adams Transcript
July 21, 1924 North Adams Transcript
Woodward's Fender Bender

July 21, 1924: Woodward's Fender Bender

It has always been believed that Woodward's first car was a 1926 Nash purchased and gifted to him by his patron Mrs. Ada Moore. It was also assumed that the old pictures (see below) of Woodward in a car packed full with stuff for one of his field trips was that Nash. However, with today's vast reservoir of information and its availability via numerous formats we were able to confirm (by experts) that the car in the pictures below is a 1922 or 1924 Studebaker Light 6 Roadster and not a Nash.

We were unaware Woodward owned a car prior to the Nash. It was even suspected that the images below could have been someone else's car Woodward was photographed sitting. However, another North Adams Transcript article confirms the Woodward did own a car in 1924. Woodward was involved in an accident at the corner of Bridge and Main Streets in Shelburne Falls. Woodward was not driving. As far as we know he never drove a car. The paper names the driver as Miss Cole, however, we suspect this may be an error. We are not familiar with Miss Cole. We do know that his nurse at this time is a Miss Catherine Cowles. She was employed by Woodward from at least 1920 and well into the 1930s. She is listed as living in Woodward's house in the 1920 Census and frequently is mentioned in his 1932 diary. The spelling is close enough for us to believe Miss Cowles was driving the car. There is no mention of what type of car he owned. And the article did report that the touring car struck by Woodward's was badly damaged. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Library Postcard
An old postcard of the Pratt (Arms) Memorial Library
which sits on the northeast corner of Bridge & Main
Streets from around the time period of the accident.

The article is also somewhat vague as to who was at fault. It does state Woodward's car ran into the touring car and that the touring car was "passing through." Did the touring car fail to stop or yield at the intersection? Were Woodward and his driver on Main and pulling onto Bridge Street heading home to Buckland and Miss Cole failed to see the oncoming car? We do not know but it is worth noting the accident did occur at 9:00 p.m. near the end of July. We can safely presume that it was fairly dark with a modest day-glow still present in the sky. It seems either option offered would be reasonable but it is likely the night time conditions contributed to the accident. 

Below are the only two photographs of the Studebaker. They were found in a pile of negatives in Woodward's person things still in his estate so there are no notes or dates. We also cannot tell you the location or who is the family he appears to be visiting. The irony of this is we now have NO pictures of the 1926 Nash or the recently discovered 1931 Packard.

RSW in his 1924 Studebaker Light Six Roadster
A photo of Woodward sitting in his 1924 Studebaker Light Six
Saying goodbye from his 1924 Studebaker Light Six Roadster
Saying goodbye from his 1924 Studebaker Light Six Roadster
July 21, 1924 North Adams Transcript
Vose Galleries, Boylston Street Boston

Date Unknown: Pride & Stranded

Somewhere near the same period of time (between 1922 and 1924) Woodward had a very funny mishap that left him stranded on a road by a rail crossing for an unknown period of time. Boston art dealer, S. Morton Vose III, told the story in a letter, to the Deerfield Academy's American Studies Group (ASG). The ASG sent out a mass mailing to museums, known associates of Woodward and suspected owners of paintings asking for any recollections they may have of Woodward. Vose told two stories, both quite humorous.

The story Vose told that relates to this particular page reads as follows, "He told me that earlier in his painting days he used to drive a buckboard with a team of 2 horses, having himself strapped into the seat and going off across the fields in this manner alone. At one time he was returning from such a foray and approached a small railroad line just as a steam engine was approaching. As the engine passed, one of the horses was alarmed and tossed its head, jerking the reins from his hand. The horse did not bolt, but of course he was unable to retrieve the reins and so sat there for a considerable time. Eventually two women, apparently summer visitors to the area, passed by on a stroll, and he asked if one of them would hand him the reins. The reply was that they were not in the habit of doing such things for an able-bodied man, and they went on with their walk. It was sometime later before he was eventually helped out of this predicament." Can you imagine how Woodward felt being refused help?

There is a record of at least two other instances where Woodward received assistance from people on his solo excursions out with his horse and carriage. In both occasions it involved a blanket that had blown free from the carriage. In 1932 his blanket was lost entirely until a neighbor returned it. The other, the blanket landed in the street of downtown Shelburne Falls and a man chased it down and retrieved it for Woodward. Later Woodward, returned the man's kindness and made a small painting for him. This is not uncommon for Woodward. He was very gracious that way and we cannot help thinking what he would have done had those women helped him. See Unnamed: Gift of Gratitude for more

Woodward on his two-horse drawn buckboard
Woodward on his two-horse drawn buckboard

Initially, there was some doubt as to the veracity of this story. We knew nothing of Woodward ever having a two-horse drawn buckboard, nor did we have any photographs. That was until in the same pile of negatives we found the pictures of the 1924 Studebaker did we find a picture (to the left) of Woodward apparently sitting atop of a two-horse drawn buckboard! It is a very dark picture, in part, because Woodward is backlit by the sun creating a lot of silhouetted shadows. But also, because in today's technological world, it is exceptionally difficult to capture a good image from an old black and white negative. However, if you look closely, it is clear that there is no side harness to the visible horse. A requirement of a single horse-drawn carriage. You can also see the required center post to harness two horses. Finally, if you look extra hard you can just make out the ears and neckline of a second horse. We do not know which horse is which from this picture, yet we suspect it is in all likelihood Thomas ŕ Kempis and Tsune.

Tsune hitched by the barn at Hiram
Tsune hitched by the barn at Hiram

We are also surprised, and yet not, that the buckboard wagon appears to have a second row of bench seating. Our surprise is that we would assume, if Woodward had a buckboard, it would be a working / supply wagon to haul supplies and/or his equipment into the fields. However, as a result of our transcribing his 1932 diary (the next section), we have learned that Woodward frequently liked to venture out into the hills to paint by bringing friends along and making a day of it! It was nothing for Woodward to pack the car, along with his cousin Julia Wells and attendant, pick up two or three friends, find a nice spot, picnic and hang out while Woodward painted.

We are still left with some questions about this incident. For instance, why was Woodward out alone in such a large wagon? Was he stocked with supplies from town? Did he just go out for a ride? If so, why the buckboard? Is this a byproduct of his frightening hit and run accident sometime before? We would think the size would be imposing, even to cars but would that also not suggest that it would be more difficult to manage alone? Nonetheless, the story is quite entertaining.

One last thing, Vose after telling the story commented, "I never could quite understand why he could not have explained the situation to the women." For us that know Woodward well... we imagine he really enjoyed the moment, for all appearances, being seen as an able-bodied man. There was no way he was going to explain to the woman his predicament. Still, we can't help imagining the awkwardness felt by both parties as the women continued on their way!

Mountains in Summer
Mountains in Summer  One of a number of Vermont
paintings RSW made from the Whitingham area near
Lake Sadagwa with Mt. Haystack in the distance.

The Year 1932: One Thing After Another

In 2019, we began a concerted effort to begin digitalizing the items in Woodward's personal effects to preserve the records. This means all photographs, letters, cards and other items are being scanned into digital formats. Included in these items are personal diaries that have survived. The first diary to be scanned and transcribed is Woodward's 1932 diary.

We have learned so much about the day-to-day life of Woodward, the people who worked for him, as well as his routines and habits. One of the biggest surprises taken from the '32 diary is just how mobile he was. In the year 1932, Woodward traveled to Boston, mostly for business, 4 times. His handyman Fabian went 2 other times amd his cousin Florence and her husband Bob once.

He also made 2 trips to New York City, drove to Vermont to paint at least 8 times. What's more is, rarely was there a day from May to September that he did not go to Heath for one reason or another.

Needless to say, there were a number of mishaps and problems. From weather to terrain, Woodward's heavy use of his car required a number of trips to the garage among other things. Below is a line item list of a number of those events with some commentary:

Saturday, January 2

"Greenfield for dinner and shopping and movies-blizzard of snow. Mother and Julia [Wells, Florence's sister] an hour to get into yard with car. Still snowing at 1 A.M."

Woodward in 1942 in his buggy
Woodward in 1942 still going for buggy rides - alone

Friday, January 8

"Warm, gray day. In new car Packard I went out to work for the first time this year. In back seat. Took chalks, went up Heath road."

This is the first we learn of another Packard! There are no pictures of the car and we do not know if it was a 1930 leftover or a '31 new car.

Wednesday, January 13

"To Buckland alone with horse in P/M. Up by Lilly's and Bailey's [Martin Road] off into fields making sketches. Wonderful to be out with horse alone again."

It was nice to learn he still took the horse and buggy out for alone time.

Saturday, January 16

"Started for Leyden in car to make drawing of a large maple-but when (al)most there found the road so rutted & almost impassible-came back to Greenfield and went to Deerfield & drew same house as on Thursday."

Friday, January 29

"Started for Greenfield to Dr. Bryant for dinner but roads so slippery and icy car could not travel, so returned back."

My Grandmothers Lamp
My Grandmothers Lamp  This still life made by
RSW in February for the '32 NAD exhbition was not only
was his last still life but he said is, "... going to be the
most beautiful painting of the kind, when ever done."

Monday, March 21

"Dawn clear, but soon clouding to chill, frozen clouds. Car packed high with Julia, Miss C- back seat, started for Rye for a week, Over Trail-icy cold. Lunch in Pittsfield. Snow at Great Barrington- dence snow, sleet and freezing rain. Over roads icy as glass-snow plows out. Freezing on windshield-finally reached Rye at after 7, cold, dangerous, miserable time, but wonderful country town Canaan [NY near Pittsfield]."

We do not believe Woodward traveled to NYC every year for the National Academy of Design (NAD) exhibition but in this particular year he visited with one of his patrons, Mrs. Josephine Everett of Pasadena, CA. He would make one more trip to NYC in December the day after his1932 diary entries end. We believe he forgot to bring it along for the trip.

Thursday, April 14

"Cold, windy with snow squalls... Car got smashed in rear yesterday so went to Greenfield and left it for rest of week to have it repaired."

Just four months after he first got the car!

Saturday, April 16

"Car job bad!"

Thursday, April 28

"Pretty clear and cloudy but with high wind... First painting from new car. Very convenient and comfortable. Wind and sun handicapped me however."

Tuesday, May 10

"Sunny but cold, raw east wind. Drove with car to Heath-Burrington Hill and finished painting began last week. At 5 went to Heath and took in White sisters and tried to get out Tripp's Road but first mud prevented our going through!"

The White sisters, Flora and Julia, were frequent companions on a number of his day-trip excursions. If you recall from the first story of this page, Julie White was the sister tossed from the buggy in the hit and run.

The Tripp's summer home in Heath.
The Tripp's summer home in Heath. The home is adjacent to
Woodward's beloved Heath Pasture. RSW had a close relationship
we the Tripps. Not only did he stay with in their home in Rye, NY
in March but in '32 he often sent workers to their home in Heath
to do landscaping and modest repair work. The image above is a
photograph from RSW's personal items taken sometime in the 1930s.
RSW often stayed at the Heath home sleeping outside on the side
porch seen in the lower right below the window with the arrow.

Thursday, June 2

"Very hot. Spent day in car with Fabian over maple in Deerfield over Boyden. Fallen affair-wretched loss of time."

Friday, July 15

"Very hot again. With Bob Haeberle and Fabian went to Heath pasture. Began new painting of camp view while boys worked on road and brush. Bob got very sunburned as we all stopped at noon."

It is the '32 diary that we learn that RSW had set up a campground of sorts at the Heath pasture 6 years prior to his having owned the land.

Sunday, July 17

"Showery and threatening, but with Henry, parents and Julia H. went to Heath pasture to continue yesterday's painting. Storm came up before we could get to the Heath church sheds-front and back seats put tent over heads. Cloud burst!"

Also a constant companion was RSW's mother Mary. She joined in many of his errand runs.

Monday, August 8

"... Sunny, beautiful day. Had Henry drive to Moors with horse, followed in car and painted there all day in the buggy. Car went back to take Mrs. Cowles to Greenfield to Dr. Bryant. Drove home with horse..."

Monday, August 22

"... Fabian in Greenfield with car all day for various repairs and starting steel protection for underside brake knuckles."

From Old Deerfield
From Old Deerfield  The Abercrombie home in Deer-
field. However this is not the 1932 painting. This piece
was painted in 1939 from the '32 painting.

Thursday, September 15

"... Fabian in Greenfield with car, for new tires."

Needing steel protection for the brake knuckles and new tires before the year is out is indicative of the roads conditions he often travels over.

Tuesday, September 27

"... Harold to Greenfield over car repairs..."

Friday, October 7

"Harold got stuck in mud last night, so party had to walk partway home! Went after car this A.M."

Can you imagine? If the car had trouble with the mud how difficult it must have been for RSW and his wheelchair? We wonder if he was carried some of the way.

Mud, muck, and rutted unpaved roads are just some of the hazards driving in the New England hills. The wear and tear on cars are evident from just this one year. Still, we marvel at Woodward's adventurous spirit and persistence. What really surprised us was that there was no mention of the Halifax House the entire year. His attention elsewhere, in Vermont but also a number of trips to Plainfield, Cummington, and the Swift River area. He also went farther west a number of times, particularly to paint the Hoosac tunnel area as seen in the painting to the right.

We still have a lot more work to do and this page will probably be added to over the next few years. Not only do we have more diaries to digitalize and transcribe but we are still not finished scouring newspapers and other sources for more clippings. In fact, we are only up to 1932! We still have the rest of the 1930s and 1940s to get through so stay tuned.

Links to Woodward's studios and their related fires...