Mission and History
The oldest village improvement society in the United States, the Laurel Hill Association was founded in 1853. The purpose of the organization is to “do such things as shall serve to improve the quality of life and of the environment in the town of Stockbridge.” By maintaining over 460 acres of LHA properties and recreational trails, by planting trees and flowers, by cooperating with town authorities for community welfare, by providing educational scholarships, and by coordinating with other organizations to preserve the approaches to the Town, the Laurel Hill Association helps to preserve the attractive character of Stockbridge.
The First Meeting – 1853
On August 22nd a notice was posted in the public places of the village inviting all citizens to assemble on Laurel Hill on Wednesday the 24th to take measures for the improvement of the burying ground, the streets, walks, public grounds and Laurel Hill.
Mary Hopkins Goodrich, with her passion for appearances and her executive ability, was the founder and inspiration of the Laurel Hill Association. In that first year, aided by generous citizens, Mary Hopkins Goodrich raised more than a thousand dollars and planted more than 400 trees. The society transformed Stockbridge from a rough, shabby village (muddy main road full of ruts and roaming cows, bare common, and dreary cemetery all brambles and weeds) into the handsome orderly town now admired by visitors.
In 1853, Mary Hopkins Goodrich rode around Stockbridge on horseback and shuddered at what she saw. A main street filled with livestock, ordure, and disorder. A cemetery choking with weeds. She decided to engage her fellow citizens in improving the town she loved.
On a hot August day, she called Stockbridge residents together and spoke of her vision of a clean, beautiful town. They discussed how they could work together to improve the streets, walks, public grounds, burial grounds, and Laurel Hill.
It was a community affair. Children were given trees to plant and care for. Citizens agreed on standards of sanitation and care. The public cemetery was cleaned and fenced. They named their endeavor the Laurel Hill Association, which is now the oldest existing village improvement society in the country.
In the decades to come, as a result of Mary’s vision and the efforts of the many dedicated volunteers, Stockbridge became one of the loveliest towns in America, and remains so to this day.
Going Out On A Limb with the Laurel Hill Association
Berkshire Edge article by Rick Wilcox
The opening lines of Margaret French Cresson’s 1953 100th anniversary history of the Laurel Hill Association, with the heroine on a white horse, give the often-told and possibly apocryphal tale of the catalyze that created the oldest continuously operating village improvement society in America in 1853.
Mary G. Hopkins and the Origins of Village Improvement in Antebellum Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Landscape Journal article by Kirin J. Makker
The Laurel Hill Association of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, generally considered the first village improvement society in the country, was founded in 1853 at the urging of a local citizen and native of the town, Mary G. Hopkins. This paper examines the discussions among members of her generation and class that set the stage for Hopkins’ promotional campaign and, eventually, the wide acceptance of her ideas as village improvement spread through New England and then across the United States. Specifically, this study delves into a history of social activism, moral reform, and theories about taste occurring in Stockbridge, the Berkshires, and New England between 1800–1853. Life histories of several members of Hopkins’ family, friends, and associates are described, helping to shape a picture of the values, philosophical perspectives, and activities that surrounded this pioneer of landscape reform. This essay traces village improvement’s origins in the fields of scientific farming, landscape gardening, sermons from the pulpit, and literary arts.