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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tragedy Stained New Ashford's Haunted Homestead

"May the same hour take us both. May I neither see my wife’s tomb nor be put in mine by her."
— Ovid, 'Metamorphoses'




NEW ASHFORD, Mass. — It was the haunted house in New Ashford, and tales of its horrors scared schoolchildren for the decades it stood empty at the edge of Mallery Road, just off Route 7.

Ghoulish apparitions and menacing skeletal figures were said to wander its decaying rooms, and could be seen peering out its windows in the night. Neighbors walking down that road at night gave it a wide berth, shuddering at the eerie howling sounds that could be heard within.

It was the first homestead, built in 1794 by the town's first settler, Uriah Mallery, a captain in the Revolutionary War. Surprisingly little else is known about him, except that he and his wife arrived from Connecticut in that year, fathering his first child, George, in 1797. In 1811, he fathered Uriah Jr., who inherited the house and passed it to his son, Van Ness Mallery. It was during this latter's ownership that the homestead acquired its greatest notoriety.



The many-hearthed chimney and stone foundation are all that remain of the Mallery home, the scene of a scandalous murder in 1861.
In June 1861, 21-year-old Henry Pratt and his wife, 17-year-old Eunice Vanderwalker, traveled to Pittsfield from Osceola, N.Y. They walked from there to New Ashford, where they found work as servants for the Mallerys. They were newlyweds honeymooning on the run, they explained, as Eunice's parents disapproved of the match.

Mrs. Mallery, known for her shrewdness, doubted their story, and soon confirmed that they had actually not been married at all. This would not do, and a quick ceremony was promptly performed by a justice of the peace.

All the while, though, Eunice's father had been searching for her. Upon hearing word of her whereabouts, John Vanderwalker arrived in Pittsfield on July 29, determined to return home with her. He hired Selden Y. Clark to drive him the 15 miles to New Ashford.

Upon his arrival, another fact omitted by the couple was revealed: Pratt was in fact the brother of Eunice's mother, the girl was his niece.

The exchange began quietly enough. The elder Vanderwalker calmly asked Eunice to return home with them, for her mother's sake, if nothing else. She protested, telling him, "I am married. Henry treats me kindly. I cannot go." Her father pleaded with and berated her as they stood outside the doorway of the Mallery house.

Henry came out, and angry words were exchanged between the brothers-in-law. Onlookers said Pratt shook his fist in the older man's face; there was considerable shouting. Yet, it seemed that both he and Eunice were gradually losing the argument, and the protective father would not be dissuaded.



After a great deal more shouting, Pratt took his young wife aside and the two whispered for a moment. Looking miserable and resigned, the two walked arm in arm upstairs to their room, ostensibly to say their farewells before Eunice returned to her family.

Her father said he did not wish them to be left alone, so Mrs. Mallery, Selden Clark and a couple of others went upstairs. Eunice was crying into her apron. Mrs. Mallery kissed her on the forehead and bade her go home to her mother, but Pratt asked them all to leave, giving their employer such a look that she became frightened. They returned downstairs.

After another couple minutes of silence, Vanderwalker again became irritable, asking her to check once more on his daughter. Mrs. Mallery, recalling something Eunice had said to her earlier, hesitated.

"I dare not," she said, her face gone pale.

Clark went back upstairs and knocked. There was no answer. Listening closely, he heard a peculiar gurgling sound. Thrusting open the door, he beheld the couple. Both were laid out on the floor, their throats cut with Henry's pocketknife.

Eunice was already gone, but Henry still drew breath, despite a 4-inch gash across his throat. They managed to keep him alive, and when he eventually came to in a room of angry men, his face fell in despair.

"She wished us to die together," he moaned.

Phoebe Jordan, eminent in New Ashford history as the first woman to vote in a presidential election, clearly recalled the events as told to her by her aunt, who was present at the time. "There were woodchoppers on the mountain back of our house," Jordan later told The Republican of Springfield. "When these woodsmen heard of the murder they threatened to lynch Pratt. He was finally locked in a room to protect him from the angry mob until the sheriff arrived."

Jordan said she herself remembered the stain on the floor of that upstairs room, which could never be removed.

Pratt was tried for murder in Lenox on May 19, 1862, in the old courthouse that is now the library. His defense was deftly helmed by prominent Pittsfield attorney Samuel Bowerman, whose son Samuel Jr. built the Wendell Hotel, where the Crowne Plaza now stands.

Mrs. Mallery testified that Eunice, prior to her death, had told her that she would sooner die than return home. Much was made of the position of their bodies when found, as Bowerman attempted to make a case that Eunice could have cut her own throat while Henry proceeded to cut his after.


The Mallerys were the first settlers in New Ashford.
When he was brought in to hear the verdict, Pratt was so beside himself that he had to be supported by the guards. He refused to take his hands away from his eyes to face the jury in the customary fashion.

When the verdict was read, guilty of murder, Pratt fell completely apart.

"His agitations and sobs and utter prostration moved the court and spectators to the deepest sympathy," one of the reporters covering the trial said. "Men used to all the scenes of a criminal court say that they never witnessed one like this and hope to never witness another."

Pratt was sentenced to death, but that was later commuted to life in prison. After this, he falls out of historical record. Eunice was buried in the little New Ashford cemetery on the hill, but no stone marks her grave.

The house itself became a source of discomfort and uneasiness for the typically sleepy town. Some said the howling noises of wind through the chimney became peculiar after that ... that it was the agonized moaning of Eunice and Henry drifting through the house.

The Mallerys abandoned the house, with its Macbethian stain, some years before their deaths, in 1905 and 1906 respectively. It gradually fell into disarray, further feeding the sense of mystery and foreboding around this landmark to the village's darkest incident. It burned to the ground on the night of Dec. 16, 1930, leaving only a foundation and abbreviated chimney.

The dark allure of the place lasted on, though, and kids were still said to be crossing to the other side of the road to skirt the crumbling ruins in the years that followed. The story seems to have still been in circulation locally as recently as the 1960s.

The remnants of New Ashford's blood-stained first home have not only held up well, they appear to have undergone some slight restoration by the current owner of the property. I was not able to speak to the owner, but a plaque there commemorates the ample cellar hole as the site of the Mallery Homestead, the first in New Ashford.*




It was a windy day when I last visited the bones of that ill-fated house, but I heard no howling sounds from the dilapidated chimney and its five hearths.

One hopes that nothing of those desperate youths still clings to those lonely stones.

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*The site of the Mallery house ruins is privately owned but viewable from the street, near the base of Mallery Road off Route 7. I can't see any harm in anyone pulling over to take a look or snap a few photos, but please be respectful of the owners living in the nearby house.