People in the Crane paddling pool

A paddling pool was opened in the playground of the crane school in 1922. It stayed open during the summer until it closed around 1980 due to hygienic concerns and new health regulations.



The exceptionally warm weather that year made me wonder how we coped with the heat as kids in Pittsfield in the 1950s and 60s.

Most of us did not have air conditioning in our homes and very few of us had access to swimming pools. We had sea beaches. But until we were much older, we had to wait for our people to be ready to bring us to them.

Pittsfield had 21 playgrounds with college and high school students overseeing games, sports, competitions, crafts, plays, and talent shows. These fun activities often distracted us from hot weather.

One of my favorite playgrounds was in Morningside at the Crane School on Dartmouth Avenue. In addition to activities, it was the only playground on the school grounds that had a paddling pool for us in kindergarten age.

As a teenager, I never thought about the Crane name, but I knew there were Crane paper mills in Dalton. Named after this family of papermakers, the $ 300,000 Crane School took several years of planning and construction before it opened in October 1913. Interestingly, Crane wasn’t originally chosen as the school or playground name.



Crane school building

Pittsfields Crane School, the city’s first “H” -shaped school, opened in October 1913. The 16 classroom school was closed in the 1980s, converted into apartments, and converted into 16 condominiums in 2005.



The planners suggested that it be named William L. Adam School. Adam, a local bank treasurer, was chairman of the Pittsfield School Committee and soon retired from that position. He was valued by his colleagues for his contributions to the committee for over two decades.

Pittsfield built 10 schools – many of them under Adam’s leadership – due to population growth during that time. It took Pittsfield almost 40 years to build more elementary schools.

Despite his leadership and accomplishments, Mr. Adam believed that naming the school should not go to a committee member. (Adam, who worked for Berkshire County Savings Bank for nearly 50 years and eventually became its president, disappeared in 1933 and is one of the city’s most mysterious unsolved cases in its history.)

Hence the building and playground were named after the Crane family, whose members were great benefactors of the community. Two prominent members of the Crane family, who ran the paper mills, appeared at the building’s inauguration, which was also attended by 200 people. These family representatives were Zenas Crane, who donated the Berkshire Museum and the Pittsfield Boys Club to the city, and his half-brother Winthrop Crane, former Massachusetts governor and senator. Winthrop also made a huge contribution to local hospitals and other nonprofit organizations.

The Crane School building itself has been described as “H” -shaped, a style that was new to Pittsfield. It was two stories high, made of terracotta-trimmed bricks, and had a stone cellar.

As one of the largest elementary schools in town, Crane had 16 classrooms, a staff room, a headmaster’s room, and two rooms for books. The crane playground was created after the school opened.

In 1922, the city council approved the construction of a large paddling pool in the playground. The pool was 50 by 100 feet and 15 inches deep. Construction was $ 5,000, some of which was paid for through community fundraisers.

Over the years the pool has become very popular and reportedly deep enough to give swimming lessons to young people. Wading was only my experience during kindergarten years. The pool was serviced by the city and often had to be repaired.

In 1980, the city’s health authorities believed that more sanitation and health regulations were needed for public safety. Unfortunately, the Crane Pool was permanently closed for young people.

In 1998 the former paddling pool was converted into a skate park and cordoned off for roller hockey. The skate park cost $ 109,000 to build, with $ 29,000 coming from prosecutors. Interestingly, these latter funds came from a $ 9.5 million settlement made by athletic shoe maker Reebok over alleged price fixing.

As Pittsfield’s population declined over the next few decades, the newer elementary schools built since the 1950s were modernized, replacing the aging centuries-old structures. These older, multi-story brick school buildings were either repurposed or razed to the ground.

The Crane School was closed in the early 1980s and then converted into apartments. In 1999, Blythewood Realty bought the building for $ 900,000 and invested $ 1.3 million to convert it into 16 condominiums. The condos were available in 2005 and were mainly bought by retirees and young professionals. Units ranged from 600 to 1,250 square feet and were initially priced between $ 120,000 and $ 190,000.

When I visit town and drive past the Crane building, I think back to its days as a school and the playground with its paddling pool. But the changes were inevitable. When I visit my hometown, I always seem to quote Bob Dylan, who prophesied, “The Times They Are A-Changin!”