A preamble to my dear readers: At the insistence of my friend, proofreader and Woodward researcher, as well as my wife, I have edited the 1930's name of Hilda Burdick's $!-!1thouse to one more politically correct and acceptable today. But my readers must well know what her little house was actually called in those days and they are requested to silently fill in the blanks I have left in the text. I am bowing to my critics to make my website as pristine and respectable as possible. However, my electronic technician, in transferring my text to the website, has not been able to resist digitally filling in the blanks in my original text.
A photo of a similar outhouse
This story begins in the 1930s and continues into the 1940s. Back in the days when Robert Strong Woodward lived and painted in the Hiram Woodward studio he purchased a piece of property just to the west of his land, which had formerly been Boehmer's Mill, operated by the powers of the waterfall in the Clark Brook. (Please see the essay elsewhere on this website on The Little Shop
.) On this property was a quaint old building which he converted into a small studio and a sort of guest house. Most property lines in those days, under similar circumstances, ran along the center of the brook. Brooks, as you know, change their course from time to time, usually with every spring snowmelt run-off. So, it was Robert Strong Woodward on the east side and Hilda Burdick on the west side. Clark Brook ran down from Hog Hollow to join the Clesson Brook just before flowing into the Deerfield River. Early on there began to be disputes over the property line. I do not remember Hilda's husband.....he had probably passed on. She did have several children. And she had a very loud voice.
Aerial map has been modified to depict the location of the outhouse and the path of Clark Brook
Hilda and RSW had a very contentious relationship, always arguing over the property line between them. Many angry letters and vocal exchanges across the brook passed between the two. Whatever happened to these letters in the eventual settling of the RSW estate after he died, I have no idea. But all of these letters seemed to have disappeared. Hilda's dilapidated house, now gone and replaced by a new house, was built extremely close to the old dirt road which was to become Route 112 between Shelburne Falls and Ashfield. Clark Brook ran on the east side and Clesson Brook on the west, and Hilda's house was close between the two, and even closer to the main road. To make things even more interesting Hilda's $!-!1thouse (outhouses in the old days always used to be located out behind people's houses) was located instead in front of her house right on the very edge of the road. This made Hilda's $!-!1t-house a prominent and enticing source of amusement, especially on the eves of the 4th of July. It became the custom for the young lads in town to tip over Hilda's out-house as a part of the 4th of July festivities each year. Following this yearly prank there would be the customary ringing of the Mary Lyon Church bells at midnight. The deacons saw to it that the front doors of the church were conveniently left unlocked on the eves of the 4th.
In his heyday my brother, Josh, was one of the main instigators of this prank and in his latter years it was one of his favorite stories told to grandchildren. I tell this story because RSW, after moving up to Buckland Center and to the Southwick studio, would always trump up some excuse or other to do an errand in Shelburne Falls on the mornings of the 4th, mainly just to ride by and witness Hilda's little house over on its side, sometimes even right in the road. Once, there was even a half-used Sears Roebuck catalogue lying in the road just outside the open door. All of this amused RSW immensely. By this time the property line squabble had pretty much disappeared but there remained in him an innate dislike of Hilda. As with all things, change came about. The new Route 112 was surveyed, and in the land taking, the strip of land whereon Hilda's $!-!1t-house stood was confiscated by eminent domain, and the road consequently came up even closer to Hilda's house. The house was then either taken down or perhaps burned down. I do not remember. Anyway a nice new little house was built back further from the new road and remains there today. But I still envisage Hilda's $!-!1t-house every time I travel over the Clesson River Bridge and round the corner where it used to precariously sit and perform its useful duty. And I still well remember the bemusement of RSW on the mornings of July 4th when I drove him by in his open Packard Phaeton, wearing his usual brown fedora, to witness the events of the night before. Long gone, but not forgotten.
ADDENDUM TO HILDA BURDICK'S OUTHOUSE:
It recently came to light at a Christmas party that the last attempt to tip over Hilda's outhouse was unsuccessful. After the new road was built she reconstructed her little house out in back of her home and fortified it with a cement foundation and reinforced walls. The last attempt to tip it over, even with a rope tied to the back of a pickup truck, was not successful. The attempt was also cut short by a shotgun blast, apparently only celebratory, because it was evidently into the air. But the church bells rang as usual at midnight.
To the best of our research, no attempt was ever made again.