Table of Contents
Tillson House and Farm
Design and construction
The Tillson House is an approximately 4,400 square foot former private residence on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The house and associated garage are located on the east side of East Pleasant Street on Tillson Farm Road.
The 2-story Craftsmen style house has a rectangular plan and a gable roof. The wood-frame structure is 3 bays wide by 3 bays deep, with a brick chimney at the rear. The house is constructed on a raised concrete foundation. The front entrance is a projecting screened porch at the north elevation. The wood frame porch is accessed by a concrete stair and has a single door and cross-gable roof. At the second floor is a cross gable dormer. The south elevation has two opposing wood frame doors. One door has a screen porch addition that extends the existing roof line.
The house exterior is finished with wood shingles and trim. Windows are wood 1/1 double-hung sash in both single and double configurations. The house has a composition shingle roof with exposed rafter tails and wood eave brackets at the east and west gable ends.
The house is located on a flat site to the south of Tillson Farm Road immediately to the east of the Tillson Garage. The building is slightly lower than the adjacent road. The Tillson house is accessed by a bituminous concrete pedestrian walk from the road to the house front and a second bituminous concrete pedestrian walk that connects the bituminous concrete drive in front of the Tillson Garage to the house entrance. Mown lawn surrounds the building on all sides and high deciduous shrubs are planted along the front of the building at the foundation. Deciduous trees are planted in mown lawn in the area surrounding the building.
The parcel and surviving residential and farm structures are associated with the proprietorship of David H. Tillson (1848-1927) and descendants. In 1879, Tillson was hired by Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC) as a farm superintendent and worked with the school’s horticultural department through 1886. Tillson was married and had multiple children, notably a son, John D. (1877-?). In 1886, Tillson left MAC to become a private farmer & later a local law enforcement official. The first record of Tillson’s residence on East Pleasant Street appears in1895 (following six previous years recorded on Mount Pleasant Street). In 1916, following his wife’s death and remarriage, local directories record David Tillson at #7 East Pleasant and John Tillson at #5 East Pleasant. Records suggest John spent most of his adult life farming on the associated property.
According to UMass documents, the 75-acre property was purchased by the institution in 1917 from W.D. Cowles and J.H. Howard (1917 map, F&CP archives). Although not confirmed, given the extensive land-holding history of the Cowles family in Hampshire County, it is possible the Cowles retained ownership of the land while leasing to Tillson for improvements and farming. In this case, the Tillson land lease was likely continued by the institution. Town directories record the Tillson residence on East Pleasant Street throughout the 1940s.
The Craftsmen style house and shingled garage are typical of residential construction from the early 20th century. A 1932 campus plan (Massachusetts State College, 1”/500’) is the earliest known document to potentially record the surviving Tillson House. The map lists two residential structures associated with the farm property - “Tillson House” having a smaller footprint and removed from East Pleasant Street, and the larger footprint “Tillson Foreman’s Quarters” fronting the road. The next identified plan, (Tillson Farm, 1”/80’) is dated 1955 and provides greater detail. The structure in the approximate location of the “Foreman’s Quarters” matches the footprint of the surviving Tillson House, and includes an adjacent structure similar in size to the garage. To the north is a third structure in approximately the same location as the “Tillson House” identified in the 1932 plan. In the investigator’s opinion, this smaller structure was likely the original residence of David H. Tillson, dating from the 1890s. The corresponding footprint resembles a multi-bay gabled farm house typical of the period. The structure is also spatially related to a “Tillson Barn” recorded in 1932, but no longer extant (or moved) by 1955.
Assuming both father and son simultaneously occupied the property with their spouses, the surviving Craftsman style house was likely constructed by John Tillson. However, the first record of their adjacent though separate addresses occurs in 1916. This data either suggests the existence of prior, but no longer extant structure on site, or the possible misdating of the current Tillson House (which could plausibly have been constructed earlier).
Following David Tillson’s death, John Tillson is listed at the East Pleasant address until the 1940s. Aside from the construction of agricultural facilities, there are no other known records of alterations to the site until the 1970s. In 1973 UMass sold a 3.852 acre parcel of land to the town of Amherst for the purpose of building a new fire station. The parcel fronting East Pleasant Street included the current Tillson House and Garage, which were both relocated to their current sites by UMass in 1974.
The farm buildings included the various horse barns and riding areas, livestock barns, and starting in the 1920s Cockerel Range as an extension of the poultry breeding and production on the campus.
- From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).