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Berkeley Taylor and the Barn Fire

This week the Longmeadow Historical Society recognizes Longmeadow Dental Care for their support of History Notes.

On June 9, 1933, brothers Joseph C. and Eugene L. Marcure of Springfield confessed to burning a 300-foot barn in the Longmeadow meadows the previous Wednesday. Excerpts from the Springfield Republican outline the events of the day:

  • “Joseph said that he and his brother had gone to the “flats” in Longmeadow early Wednesday morning to shoot bullfrogs…It was while they were at this sport that they said they formulated the idea of setting fire to the barn which overlooked the river just for the sake of seeing a big blaze.” The two agreed to go home, then meet later in the evening to burn the building.

  • The two men became intoxicated. “Joseph said…that he and his brother set fire to the structure with matches between 11 and 11:30 Wednesday night and then, after extinguishing their automobile headlights, proceeded back to Emerson road from where they watched the fire for a while as they stood on a hilltop.”

  • The brothers decided to return to the barn to mix with the other automobiles that had been attracted to the blaze. On the way, they encountered a “Longmeadow recluse,” Berkeley H. Taylor, who tried to take down the license number of their vehicle. Both parties were armed. Shots were exchanged and Berkley Taylor was seriously injured.

  • “Following the shooting, Joseph said that he drove his car at full speed toward the railroad tracks and that two or three cars were waiting at the crossing for an approaching train to pass. The red light signals were against the automobile traffic but Joseph said that he stepped on the accelerator and shot over the tracks just missing the onrushing locomotive by scant yards.” The brothers then returned to their homes in Springfield.

The Marcure brothers admitted to shooting Berkeley Taylor, but they denied any intention to murder him. On September 20, 1933, Joseph and Eugene Marcure were sentenced to 4 to 7 years in prison for their actions.

In the newspaper articles, Berkeley Taylor was described as an eccentric and living in a “home-made shack near the scene of the fire.” Berkeley Taylor was charged with possession of an unregistered weapon. When he refused to provide surety of $1,000 due to his poverty, or to ask anyone else to provide it for him, he was committed to jail. On September 20, 1933, he received a sentence of probation due to extenuating circumstances.

The author first learned of these events and of Berkeley Taylor when a descendant of the Marcure family contacted the Historical Commission in 2016 searching for information about the burned barn, which was said to be located between Emerson Road and Birnie Road. I consulted with Historical Society board members and, unfortunately, we were not able to conclusively provide a location for the barn. The fire and all of those involved had disappeared from local memory. But the inquiry made me curious to know more about Berkeley Taylor. Who was this eccentric, impoverished man who was living in a home-made shack in the meadows? The archives of the Longmeadow Historical Society had no information on him, but a search on the online databases GenealogyBank and Ancestry revealed a busy and interesting life.

Berkeley Taylor was born June 12, 1895 to Palmer and Lena Taylor. The family moved from Springfield to 812 Longmeadow Street when Berkeley was young, and he was raised in Longmeadow. Newspaper articles reveal that Berkeley was active in youth activities at First Church and the Longmeadow Tennis Club.

Longmeadow did not have a high school in the early 1900s so Berkeley, like all Longmeadow teenage students, hopped a trolley car and traveled to Springfield for his education. Berkeley graduated from Springfield Technical High School in 1914.

Berkeley may have been Longmeadow’s first scoutmaster. According to an article in the June 22, 1916 Springfield Republican, “The boys’ club, which has been under the charge of Berkeley H. Taylor, has disbanded and the boys have decided to become Boy Scouts. They are called troop 7 of the Springfield district of the Boy Scouts of America. Berkeley Taylor, who was in charge of the club, will be scout master.”