Mr. Allen B. Wilson, the inventor of the Wheeler and Wilson sewing machine who built the imposing Wilson House in North Adams in 1865. This was a huge structure housing a large hotel, stores, offices, and meeting rooms. Built at a cost of $140,000, it occupied the block at the corner of Main and Holden Streets, towering over the smaller buildings around it. Rev. Washington Gladden called it "quite a phenomenon in a village of this size".
How did occur? He retired from active participation in the business but continued to receive a salary. Renewal of his patents paid well as did his numerous investments. He moved to Waterbury, Conn. where he lived in style in a handsome brick residence. It was while he was living in Waterbury that he received news that his friend and former employer, Jasper Adams, had been severely injured in a disastrous fire in North Adams (February 2,1865) which had burned out the Arcade and the North Adams House and adjacent buildings on Main Street. Mr. Wilson came to North Adams immediately to care for his friend who had had to undergo the amputation of his injured leg.
During his friend's convalescence, Mr. Wilson had ample time to view the ruins of the burned establishments. The loss of the North Adams House was a severe blow to the town. It was the stopping place for the stage that made the steep climb, over the mountain from Hoosac Tunnel. Here weary passengers found bed and refreshment before continuing their trip via train to Troy and the West. Yes, North Adams, needed a first class hotel, there was no question about that.
Having seen the need, Mr. Wilson proceeded to do something about it. No small inn would do, he decided. It must be a hotel with many accommodations and with space for the stores that had been burned out. And he would build it. This would be one way he could repay the people of North Adams and Jasper Adams, in particular, for their kindness to him when he was just a poor inventor.
Plans were soon underway to clear the rubble and the new structure took shape. Rev. Washington Gladdens in his delightful book, "From the Hub to the Hudson", published in 1869, gives us this description: "Eight large stores, a fine Public Hall, a Masonic Hall, a Manufacturers' Club Room, and a Billiard Room, besides its spacious offices its ample dining rooms, kitchens . . . its excellent baths, and its elegant parlors, it offers to guests a hundred airy and well- furnished chambers. The Post Office and the Telegraph Office are also in the house."
It would be nice if we could report that the -business venture was a success for Mr. Wilson, but it was not. As one historian put it, "Mr. Wilson was given great mechanical genius, but no more financeering genius than a child". Although he died a poor man, his family was never in want. His friends saw to it that they were provided for as long as they lived.
Under new management, the Wilson House prospered. It was probably the most elaborate and pretentious building in Berkshire County and perhaps in Western Massachusetts.
It finally met its fate in a disastrous fire July 2, 1912, having served the town well for forty-six years. Allen Wilson may not have been a good businessman but both he and his hotel and business complex are still spoken with affection by the people of North Adams.