We’ll start at the Heath Union Church, because a sermon preached here, during the dark days of 1943 by the noted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who summered here, is our claim to fame. The sermon concluded with these words:
‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to tell the one from the other.’
Most people know these words from the Alcoholics Anonymous creed, or any number of greeting cards, but they were first uttered here. The full story is told in The Serenity Prayer, a book about her father written by Elizabeth Sifton.
Just to the west of the church, located in Heath Center, is a residence, but it used to be a store about 50 years ago. It’s a good thing Bob and Sue are sociable people because there is often a knock on the door by people who are lost in the hills and want to know where they are and how they can leave.
Just a few steps further west is Sawyer Hall which now houses the Heath Free Public Library, all 900 feet of it. A great collection, though. Across the hall from the library is the Post Office (only people with a PO Box actually use the Heath Zip code) and the Police Office. Upstairs are the town offices, which is to say the open space is divided by filing cabinets for various functions like the Select Board meetings, Town Administrator tasks, and other official functions. The Board of Assessors actually have their own little office with lots of file cabinets and room for big maps.
Kitty corner from these three buildings is the Heath Community Hall, built in the late 19th century as a church. The bottom level, handicapped accessible, now serves as the Senior Center as well as private and civic functions that require a kitchen. The kitchen has just been refurbished, as have the bathrooms. The Town Nurse who is on duty here a few hours a week to see residents or have clinics to give shots, has a small office of her own. The upper level is the scene of public meetings and plays. There is a stage!
This is one of the original 8 schoolhouses (count them EIGHT!) in Heath which now belongs to the Heath Historical Society. It acts as a museum and holds artifacts of home and farm and a model of Fort Shirley which long ago sank into the mud and disappeared. It was one of the Line of Forts and built in 1744 and decommissioned in 1754. Michael D. Coe, one of Heath’s most charming and learned part-time residents wrote a wonderful book (one of many) entitled The Line of Forts: Historical Archaeology on the Colonial Frontier of Massachusetts.
The Historical Society also owns the old Town Hall, also used as a museum.
In the summer of 2008 we celebrated the Heath Town Center being added to the register of National Historic Districts. Thank you, Historical Commission and Heath Historical Society for all the work.
So far we have just walked around the Town Common, but we have to drive to the new Heath School, opened in 1996. For about the previous 30 years our children had been tuitioned to the neighboring town, Rowe, which built a new school, but a small school population. When Heath had a sudden increase in its school population that arrangement no longer worked. The school is now the site for our Annual Town Meeting and many other town meetings and events.
This is only part of the town garage. It is bigger, and includes a tiny office, and the Volunteer Fire Engines. Volunteer Firemen meet here for training nearly once a week. These buildings are right across the road from the Transfer Station where we recycle and get rid of our trash. That is about the end of Heath’s municipal and cultural buildings.
Our Annual Heath Fair takes place at the Fair Grounds in August. This is owned and managed by the Heath Agricultural Society. Other organizations, and sometimes families use the grounds for events and private celebrations. I had my 60th Surprise Birthday Party in the Blue Building.
Need a loaf of bread? A bottle of milk? Beer? Homemade pie? Sunday New York Times? Feed for the horses, pigs, and chickens? Peters is the place to go; it’s the only store in Heath.
There are no dairy farms in Heath anymore, although one farmer raises grass fed beef, and there are still several blueberry farms growing lowbush berries. This is the view from the Benson Place on Burnt Hill (lowbush blueberry fields get burned ever couple of years) and on a clear day you can see into the valley to the spires of UMass, about 45 miles away.
There are several sugaring operations, but only one farm stand, located right on Route 8A. Berkshire Gold has a very modern operation with a reverse osmosis system.
Having travelled to all the municipal, cultural and business sites in Heath it’s time to leave the paved road and go home.