For thousands of years the territory of the Mohicans extended from the Hudson and Housatonic River valleys south to Long Island Sound. Archeological evidence suggests generations of Mohicans settled either seasonally or permanently at Wnahktukook (“bend in the river” or “great meadow”) where Stockbridge is now located. Fur trading and other commercial exploits brought European colonists north and west into the Hudson and Housatonic valleys.
John Sergeant, a student at Yale, came to Wnahktukook with the hope of converting the Mohicans from their traditional spiritual practices to Christianity. In 1738, after four days of deliberation, four sachems, led by Konkapot, decided to grant permission to Sergeant to start a mission in the village. Those Mohicans who were interested in being missionized moved to Wnahktukook, which became known as Indian Town. The Mission House, where Sergeant lived, is now located across the street from Merwin House. The land where Merwin House now sits was originally part of a larger piece of property that Konkapot gave to his interpreter and friend, Dutch trader Johannes Van Volkenburgh.
Within a few years, the area was incorporated as Stockbridge. Konkapot and Umpachenee, another respected leader, were elected selectmen. In 1783, in recognition of the dedication and sacrifice of the Stockbridge Mohican soldiers who served and died during the American Revolution, George Washington hosted an ox roast for the Mohicans in Stockbridge. Even as that tribute was taking place, some unscrupulous colonists were plotting to seize land from Mohican owners, and to move them out of their own village—first to western New York and eventually to Wisconsin, where they are now known as the Mohican Stockbridge-Munsee Band.
The title for this 2.3-acre plot of land changed hands several times before Francis Dresser, a Stockbridge carpenter, bought it in the 1820s. He built the late federalist-style home on what early town records identify as the same spot Van Volkenburgh’s dwelling was built when this land was given to him by the Mohican sachem Konkapot.
In 1833, Francis married Clarissa Dowd, who had come from Connecticut the year before at her uncle’s urging, to teach school in Lee, a neighboring town, at a salary of $2 per week including board. Francis died in 1847, leaving Clarissa to raise their four surviving children. One of those children, Charlotte, remained with her mother for several years. The 1870 census identified Charlotte as a “music teacher.”
Clarssa lived in Stockbridge until she died. She was remembered as a “tender mother, a wise counselor, and a kind and helpful neighbor.”
Summer Retreat in the Berkshires
The arrival of the railroad in the 1850s brought great change to the Berkshires. With the addition of a casino, golf course, and the resulting glittering social scene, Stockbridge had changed from a quiet rural community to a vacation destination for wealthy New York families like the Doanes. Elizabeth and William bought Dressers’ house in 1875 to use as a summer home for them and their two daughters, Elizabeth and Marie Vipont. Around the turn of the century the Doanes added the shingle style ell and covered porch overlooking the Housatonic River. The additional space and updated interiors created a more comfortable summer retreat for the family.
Mrs. Vipont Perry Webb Merwin
Marie Vipont, the Doanes’ younger daughter, married three times. Her first husband, Ensign Newman Perry, died a hero in a horrific accident aboard the U.S.S. Bennington in 1905 in San Diego harbor, when they had been married less than two years. In 1909 Vipont married Edward Webb. This marriage was kept secret for four years until the New York Herald confronted her with the marriage certificate in 1913. That union ended in what was reported as a “Reno Consolation.”
William, Marie Vipont’s father, died in 1923. That same year Vipont, as she was now called, married Edward Payson Merwin, a Harvard man with a seat on the New York stock exchange.
Elizabeth Doane died in 1932. At that time, her daughter Vipont and Edward Merwin decided to live in the house on a more permanent basis. They named the house “Tranquility” because of its location on a peaceful bend of the Housatonic River. After the sudden death of Edward Merwin in 1936, Vipont continued to live in the house with her two loyal servants, Catherine and Albert Martinengo, until 1965 when Marie Vipont Merwin died. She is buried in the Stockbridge cemetery across the street from her home of so many years, along with the Doanes, the Martenengos, Ensign Perry, and Edward Merwin.
Becoming a Museum
Marie Vipont Merwin left her home and all its furnishings to Historic New England with the express wish that it serve “as an example of an American culture which is fast becoming extinct.” From its inception as a museum, Tranquility has told of one woman’s desire to be remembered in New England history: Marie Vipont DeRiviere Doane Perry Webb Merwin. Her story includes her athletic prowess, her love of animals, her marriages (one of them secret) and her home.
Historic New England now shares Merwin House with the Housatonic Valley Association: the organization responsible for monitoring the health of the Housatonic, the river which flows behind “Tranquility” and meant so much to Vipont and Edward.