A descendant of a family prominent in South Hadley affairs for a century, Col. Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge left a monument to his accomplishments that still enhances the community more than 200 years later.
Benjamin Ruggles Woodbridge was born in Suffield, Conn., in 1739 to the Rev. John Woodbridge and Tryphena Ruggles Woodbridge, daughter of the Rev. Benjamin Ruggles of Suffield. Woodbridge was a businessman, soldier in the Revolutionary War and a representative to the Great and General Court, who in 1788 built the Georgian-style mansion at 28 Woodbridge Street known as Sycamores that is still a gem in the architectural horizon of South Hadley.
Woodbridge, a colonel in the Massachusetts militia of the Continental Army, entered active military duty on 20 April 1775, the day after the battles of Concord and Lexington, and commanded the 25th Regiment of Minutemen at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the war. Later he took part in engagements at Ft. Ticonderoga and other conflicts in the Lake Champlain and Saratoga area.
After the war, Woodbridge returned to South Hadley, where he resumed his business interests and was generally known as the wealthiest man in South Hadley.
Although he never married he brought up his two nephews, Joseph and Theodore Strong, children of his half sister, Sophia, and the Rev. Joseph Strong. Joseph was 16 and Theodore, 13, when they went to live with Ruggles, and it is believed that Ruggles adopted the youths.
Joseph and Theodore were the chief heirs of Ruggles’ estate. After his uncle’s death in 1819 Joseph continued to live in Sycamores, and Theodore went to Yale and then on to Hamilton College in upstate New York, where he taught mathematics and philosophy.
Joseph Strong carried on Ruggles’ business interests for a time and then was joined by his younger brother, Maltby, who was a physician. About 1827 they rented Sycamores to three men who established a boarding school for wealthy boys called the Woodbridge Scientific and Practical School that functioned for the next seven or eight years.
The Woodbridge family continued as a presence in South Hadley until 1844 when the last two members of the family died. Ruggles’ legacy, however, lives on and the stately mansion, now being restored, is an imposing presence in the Woodbridge Historic District and a tangible link to South Hadley’s beginning.