The history of Dewey Hall — built in the Arts and Crafts style and situated on the Sheffield Green — dates back to 1887 when it was built to honor the memory of Orville Dewey, a beloved community leader and pastor born in Sheffield, Massachusetts on March 28, 1794.
Growing up, Dewey worked on the family farm (St. David’s) and attended local schools before enrolling at Williams College as a sophomore with the Class of 1814. His early life and overall character were heavily influenced by his mother’s Calvinist piety which ultimately influenced his attendance at Andover Theological Seminary. Guided by a belief that people are inherently good, Dewey became a pastor following his graduation in 1819 — striving toward creating an open, caring, connected community with support for all.
In December of 1820, Dewey married Louisa Farnam in an event he called, “the greatest and happiest of [his] life.” The couple, both 26 years old, went on to have three children. Dewey’s career path took the young preacher and his family to Boston, New Bedford and New York before retiring to Sheffield in 1861 at the age of 67.
Considered an influential if not controversial resident of town, Dewey co-founded the Sheffield Friendly Union Library Association, whose goal was “to increase good and kindly feelings and to promote intelligence and cheerfulness.” He spent his remaining years engaged in intellectual discourse, music, poetry and public oration — including an historic lecture, delivered from beneath the Big Elm Tree in Sheffield (a frequent community gathering place), made in opposition to slavery. Orville Dewey died on March 21, 1882, just seven days shy of his 88th birthday.
In the ensuing months, Dewey’s friends and family — led by daughter Mary — raised $10,000 to build Dewey Memorial Hall to perpetuate his memory. The hall, designed by noted Boston architect William Ralph Emerson, was built with local stone from the Taconic range, blue dolomite from a local farm, and finished inside with southern pine.
In 1887, Dewey Memorial Hall was dedicated to Sheffield Friendly Union Library Association, which served as the town’s library and cultural hub. In a fitting tribute to her father, the bronzed tablet designed by T. Randolph Marien — which remains affixed to the Hall’s facade — is inscribed with words chosen by Dewey’s daughter.
Located in the heart of Sheffield, Dewy Hall remains committed to fostering a vibrant, inclusive, and creative community by providing a diverse range of arts and humanities programming, cultural and educational events, and community gatherings in the decades’ old tradition of bringing neighbors together. Drawing on its rich history, the nonprofit’s mission is to convene and connect Berkshire County neighbors, promote ‘good and kindly feelings, and strengthen the health of the community.