Not many homes have served as both a men’s club and a church. But a certain four-bedroom, 4,200-square-foot home in the popular White Oaks section of Williamstown, Massachusetts, has. Not at the same time, of course. Still, from the time it was built in 1930 until 1960, it was the White Oaks Men’s Club, otherwise known as the home of the “Knights of the Doghouse,” featuring variety shows, talent contests, square dancing, and heaven knows what else. Then it became, of all things, the Community Bible Church, which it remained until 2001, when the current owners, Ron and Deborah Gallagher, took it over, renovated it, and converted it to the unusual and fun home it is today.
“Just go to the Williams Inn on the town green there and call me,” Ron said to us when we contacted him. And so, after driving up the Mohawk Trail through North Adams to Williamstown, in the shadow of Mount Greylock, that’s what we did. Since Ron’s office was close by (he works for Williams College in the Office of Career Counseling), we were in his car minutes later, commencing first a short tour of the beautiful college campus, which comprises about half the town, and then proceeding on to his home on Harrison Avenue.
During our brief time in the car, Ron, a big, gregarious man with a distinctive white beard, who seemed to know everybody everywhere, told us a little about himself: that he was one of nine children raised in Springfield, Massachusetts; that he has lived in Williamstown for 25 years and is always the town Santa Claus; that he collects and repairs antique bicycles; that his wife, Deborah, runs a successful catering business; that he sings at various gatherings with his twin brother, Don (they call themselves RonnieDonnie); that he deals in rare books and prints; that he has served on more than 20 nonprofit boards; and, well, no doubt there are some things we’ve forgotten.
Ron and Deborah have three children: two grown and on their own, while their youngest, a 20-year-old son named Kelly, lives with them. We could sense from the way Ron talked about him that Kelly is a special young man and the family’s pride and joy. “You’ll just have to meet him,” Ron said as we finally pulled into his driveway. “Wait till you see his paintings, too,” he added.
Our first impression of the house was that it looked very ordinary. We were a little disappointed; there wasn’t even a steeple. And most churches don’t have an expansive wraparound deck the way this house has. (Incidentally, that deck overlooks a lovely public park.) But then we walked inside with Ron and beheld the main living area, with its 14-foot ceilings, huge windows, antique lighting, several ceiling fans–and, yes, we could picture a variety show or a church service in here. It’s a fabulous room. The kitchen and sitting/dining space are on the left side. On the right are two comfortable sitting areas, one for watching television, the other simply for reading and working.
Within a few minutes Deborah came up from downstairs to greet us. She’d been cooking in her licensed stainless-steel catering kitchen down there, where she prepares gourmet food for people and organizations around the area.
Also downstairs, as we discovered a bit later, are two bedrooms, another much smaller living room, two bathrooms (in addition to the two upstairs), and, last but not least, “Gallagher’s Tavern,” a party room featuring an authentic wooden bar brought all the way over from Ireland.
The master bedroom, with a lovely porch overlooking the park, and master bath are good-sized rooms behind what was once the stage and, later, the church’s altar area. Off the front entranceway are another bedroom and bath, belonging to Kelly.
Speaking of Kelly, we hadn’t been in the house for more than a few minutes when a teenage girl walked in through the front door pushing a wheelchair. In it was Kelly; he was coming home from school. A victim of cerebral palsy, Kelly has been unable to walk since birth, and his speech is rather limited as well. But there was something about his smile, the gentle way he offered his hand to greet us, the sparkle in his eyes, and, well, we somehow understood right away that Kelly is no burden to the Gallagher family. As Ron had already indicated to us, he’s a joy to be around.
A moment later, we walked along with Kelly into his nearby bedroom, where we marveled at all his magnificent paintings stacked around and hanging in there. Kelly, you see, loves to paint, but he’s not just talented–he’s obviously very talented. His paintings are superb. He loves to listen to music there in his bedroom, too. His favorite singer? Carly Simon. Several years ago she heard about Kelly and invited him to one of her concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem; backstage, after the show, she sang his favorite song, “Coming Around Again,” just for him alone. “That was some incredible experience,” Ron remembers.
Yes, recently Ron and Deborah decided to put their unusual home on the market. They’re asking $495,000, although we had the feeling they’d be willing to negotiate. Why sell? To put it simply, Deborah needs even more space for her growing catering business, and now that their two older children no longer live at home, they need less living space. So they’ll likely acquire a nearby building just for the catering business and perhaps rent an apartment from the college for a while.
So here’s a rare opportunity to live in one of New England’s great college towns where so much goes on year-round–not to mention its proximity to the Tanglewood Music Festival and all the many other famous attractions of western Massachusetts. Just think: From this house you can walk to the world-renowned Clark Art Institute in 15 minutes, or much faster if you’re on one of Ron’s antique bicycles. (Maybe he’ll throw one of those in with the deal.) And do you suppose you’ll find some of Kelly’s paintings hanging in the Clark someday? We wouldn’t be surprised …
For details, contact Ron Gallagher, 45 Harrison Ave., Williamstown, MA 01267. 413-458-2213; debgalla5@ roadrunner.com. Williamstown was #4 among our “Top 25 Foliage Towns” in our Sept./Oct. 2010 issue./i>