|If pressed to name what part of the Berkshire landscape has most shaped our history and culture, the answer would have to be the Housatonic River. Towns like Lee, Pittsfield and Great Barrington located here because of the river. Our transportation patterns, industrial and agricultural economies, and environmental priorities are tied to the river and the way it flows.
The William Stanley Overlook — with its special native garden, observation platform and interpretive signage — provides the perfect venue to learn about the industrial history of Great Barrington and Berkshire County and the region’s most important industrial figure. It celebrates the past so that we can better shape the river’s future.
Here, we highlight Great Barrington’s early industrial history and the important contributions to electricity made by inventor William Stanley, who in 1886 became the first to successfully transmit high-voltage alternating current electricity. Stanley’s experiments were conducted along the Housatonic River at the historic Horace Day rubberwear factory, located directly across from River Walk. From there he ran wires across the river to light stores and offices on Great Barrington’s Main Street.
Stanley devised his innovative electric distribution system using an alternating current transformer. He went on to establish a manufactory in Pittsfield in the 1890s which evolved into General Electric Company. Ironically, a later innovation in power transformer production incorporated polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), reckless handling and disposal of which resulted in major contamination of the river.
CLICK to see William Stanley interpretative signage.