A summary of the history of the Town of Belchertown originally written in 1960 by Kenneth A. Dorey and revised in 2005 by Shirley Bock, Doris Dickinson and Dan Fitzpatrick specifically for the Town of Belchertown Web Page.
I. THE BEGINNINGS
II. EARLY SETTLEMENT
III. THE EARLY DAYS
IV. THE TOWN GROWS
V. EARLY INDUSTRY
VI. MILITARY HISTORY
VII. NOTABLE PEOPLE
VIII HISTORIC HOMES
IX. PLACES OF INTEREST
X. EDUCATION THROUGH THE YEARS
XI. BELCHERTOWN STATE SCHOOL
XII. BELCHERTOWN WATER DISTRICT
XIII. BELCHERTOWN SEWER DISTRICT
I. THE BEGINNINGS
Today Belchertown perches atop a hill overlooking the Connecticut Valley to the west and the QuaboagValley to the east, its church spires visible for miles in all directions. The famed Quabbin Reservoir and the University of Massachusetts draw thousands to and through the community annually.
It is hard to imagine this land under sea water, but such was the case millions of years ago. Volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, pushing New England out of the sea, created a region of high mountains resembling the Alps in Europe. Frost and water eventually eroded the peaks to a level plain. Later a great crack opened in the rock. Waters flowed into the crack toward the sea, and our Connecticut Valley was born. A series of volcanic eruptions formed Mt. Holyoke and Mt. Tom, and lava poured over the Valley. About 200 million years ago, giant dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles roamed freely in the Valley butleft behind only their foot prints, now turned to stone.
Then a glacier covered the area. As the ice sheet slid southward and eventually melted, it left behind rich deposits of soil and an abundance of boulders and rocks. This glacial period ended only 15,000 years ago.
The first people in the area were Indians of the Nipmuck nation. While they roamed the Belchertown area freely to hunt and build temporary camps, their chief settlements were on the Connecticut River at Northampton, Hadley, Springfield and Deerfield. They built forts on either side of the river and trapped, hunted and grew corn and pumpkins. They were generally friendly to the white settlers. Even today farmers in this area occasionally turn up arrowheads and other Indian relics while plowing their fields.
The earliest settlers to this region came from the Massachusetts seacoast towns, and most were descendants of the early Pilgrim and Puritan colonists. They brought with them Yankee ingenuity, courage and all the strict religious and moral convictions of the older settlements.
Springfield, the first settlement in the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, was begun in 1636. Colonists, migrating from Springfield, and Wethersfield and Hartford, Connecticut, gradually moved into the surrounding area. During the French and Indian Wars, lasting until the mid 1700s, settlers had to remain in established settlements. Lone farms in the wilderness invited Indian attacks from over the Canadian border. Many of these early settlers were massacred or taken captive back to Canada and held for ransom.
II. EARLY SETTLEMENT
In the early days of our country, boundary disputes between states were common. Both Connecticut and Massachusetts claimed title to the towns of Enfield, Suffield, Woodstock and Somers, now in Connecticut. In 1713, these towns were put under Massachusetts rule to protect them from Indian attack and the land comprising the towns of now Belchertown, Ware and Pelham, which were not settled, was assigned to Connecticut. This section was known as the "equivalent lands."
In 1716, the "equivalent lands" were sold by Connecticut to 16 persons who resided in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Some of this land was granted to Jonathan Belcher, later to become the Royal Governor of Massachusetts, and the town's namesake. Belchertown contained an area of 27,190 acres or approximately sixty square miles.
This region was reputed to be the best hunting ground anywhere around. Hunters would set fires to make deer hunting easier, but this destroyed much of the original forest. Wild thick grass grew in the place of the trees and made excellent pasturage for cattle. Settlers from the surrounding valley drove their cattle and sheep to this hilly pastureland during the summer, and temporary herders' camps were set up. The region also supplied pine trees for candlewood and for making turpentine, an early local industry.
The first trails in the area were made by deer and other animals. Indians followed those paths and later white men came on foot and horseback. It was not until 1673 that a true route was laid out. This was the old Bay Path which followed an Indian trail from Boston to Albany,
New York. Weary travelers would stop at a spring (now on Cold Spring Road) and refresh themselves. Thus the area became known as ColdSpring .
Several families from Hatfield, Northampton and Hadley moved to Cold Spring in July, 1731. In 1737, a petition went to the General Court stating that "they had twenty families and more expected soon." The earliest families to settle here were those of Samuel Bascom, Aaron Lyman, Samuel Stebbins and Capt. Nathaniel Dwight. Their homes were established far apart from one another as they felt the Indian situation here was not a major threat.
Other problems beset them, however. The chief dangers were wolves, bears, wildcats and poverty. As late as 1784, the town offered a bounty of six pounds for killing wolves, and the townspeople set up a committee with neighboring towns to combine efforts in wiping them out. The land was rocky and filled with roots. The settlers were not accustomed to such hard farming conditions. With only a quarter of the land settled, they could not raise enough taxes to meet their debts. Turkeys and other wild game were plentiful, however, and the land, once tilled, was fertile.
The first minister to come to Belchertown was Reverend Edward Billings. In 1738, a meeting house was erected and was occupied as a place of worship, though the building was not completed until 1746. Since the early settlers were "greatly embarrassed by debt" they had to partially pay their minister in firewood. They did not finish their meeting house for eight years because of the lack of tax money. When Rev. Billings was dismissed in April, 1752, the population had increased to 50 families.
The town of Belcher's Town was incorporated on the 30th of June 1761. The name given to the town was in honor of Jonathan Belcher, formerly a large landowner in the town and Royal Governor of Massachusetts from 1730 to 1740. The first town meeting was held September 30, 1761. It is interesting to note that two of the elected officials were a deer reeve and a hog reeve, the latter being required to round up stray hogs and care for them in the town pound. Deer reeves were expected to control the illegal killing of deer as these animals were then becoming scarce in this area. Early town meetings were also religious affairs. Laws were passed on attending and supporting the church and observing the Sabbath.
III. THE EARLY DAYS
After incorporation, the town grew rapidly, and the conditions gradually improved in the entire western Massachusetts region. The Old Bay Path was improved and called the Bay Road. Toward the end of the 18th century great coaches, drawn by four or even six horses, passed along the road. Taverns sprang up to refresh the weary travelers and rest their horses. Nearly every house welcomed travelers and the extra income they brought. Many farmers along the route kept yokes of oxen ready to pull the coaches out of the muddy ruts in bad weather. It is said that the first dwelling in the town was a combination home/tavern built by Samuel Bascom in 1733. Belchertown is fortunate to have three stone mile markers, telling the number of miles to Boston, still standing along this road. One is located on Route 9 and George Hannum Road, another by LawrenceMemorial Hall and one by the old South Cemetery on Route 181. Later, Henry Dwight built a toll road from Belchertown to Greenwich. The builders of toll roads charged travelers to use them. As the number of roads increased, travel became easier but also very expensive.
The first meeting houses were crude affairs, and there was no heat in the buildings. Church services were very long, lasting all morning and frequently most of the afternoon. A single prayer was often an hour long. Men banged their feet against the pews to keep warm, but the ladies discreetly brought little footstools filled with hot coals. Children were supervised by a tithing man who never hesitated to rap a sleepy or restless boy over the head with a long pole. Organs were not allowed as these were felt to be the tools of the Devil. The Sabbath began on Saturday at sundown and continued until Sunday at sundown. Only necessary farm and household chores were allowed , and Bible reading was compulsory all day. Childrencould play games and sing only after sundown on Sunday.
The Common is the geological center of the town. All this land belonged to Capt. Nathaniel Dwight and later to his son, Col. Elijah Dwight. The central part, amounting to three acres, was set aside for the use of the Congregational Church, and on it Col. Dwight, with forty-nine associates, erected the second meeting house. It was deeded to the town on April 1, 1791. In 1797, his widow married Dr. Estes Howe and, in1803, they deeded to Jonathan Dwight, as town treasurer, a tract of land at each end of these three acres for two hundred dollars. These tracts were less than an acre each This "common land" for many years was left somewhat neglected, apparently. The town passed a vote that "geese left to run on the Common must be yoked" and "hoggs yoked and ringed." In 1828 a vote was taken "to see if the town will restrain horses and horned cattle from running on the Common the year ensuing or any part thereof." The Common is said to have been used for a training ground for the local militia from the period of the Revolutionary War up to the Civil War. Town reports as late as the 1870s show receipts for cash paid by local farmers for the grass standing on the Common. During the Victorian era, a fence was erected around the Common. The road around the Common was used for horse races during the Belchertown Cattle Show. In the late nineteenth century, a Park Association was formed, and the town gave them the privilege of "improving and beautifying that piece of ground on the hill in the center of Belchertown, known and designated as the common." This was the beginning of the Common as we know it today.
Many events of interest have taken place on the Common. An agricultural fair was started in 1855 by the Farmers and Mechanics Club. The Belchertown Fair was an event long awaited by young and old. Oxen, horses, pigs, cows, etc. and the best of the year's farm crop, along with canned goods, quilts, rugs and other fancy work were proudly displayed. It gave isolated farm people a chance to meet old friends and relieve the monotony of their existence. There was no such thing as a midway with the rides and games of chance we enjoy today. Mostly all the tents were food tents, and no gambling was allowed. In fact, amusements were so frowned upon, even a hundred years after the founding of the town, that the coming of a circus was made the subject of a church sermon, and the people were warned "the inimy (enemy) is coming, the inimy is upon us. Keep your children under your own ruff (roof)." The Belchertown Fair Committee still perpetuates this fair, one hundred and fifty years later.
The bandstand was built in 1879, and many fine concerts by the Belchertown Brass Band were enjoyed. Myron P. Walker entertained the Tenth Massachusetts Regiment on the Common in 1881, and the Soldiers Monument was dedicated in 1885.
IV. THE TOWN GROWS
The coming of the first railroad in the 1850s brought many changes to the town and gave its citizens greater contact with the outside world. Trips that took days by stage- coach could now be accomplished in hours. Local industries benefited by the greater variety and availability of markets that the railroads made possible. Begun in 1850, the first railroad built was called the Belchertown Amherst Railroad and ran from Amherst to Palmer. Groundbreaking was at Logtown, later known as Dwight Station, because the train made a stop there, and a station was built. The trains ran twice a day between Amherst and Palmer. The road operated until 1858 when the company folded with the first stockholders losing everything. In 1864, the road was sold to the New London Northern, later the Central Vermont. During the early 1900s there were over forty passenger and freight trains of the Central Vermont and the Boston and Maine traveling through the town daily. Slowly, passenger trains faded from the scene, freight trains saw less service and Central Vermont closed the Belchertown center station on Maple Street in December 1961.
Belchertown once had two "summer" hotels. With good railroad facilities, city people came to spend holidays and entire summers at these hotels. The Highland Hotel was located where Lawrence Memorial Hall now stands, and the Park View Hotel was on the north end of the Common. The Highland had a short existence. It burned down while being constructed in 1887, was rebuilt and opened in May 1888 but was destroyed by fire again in 1892 and never rebuilt.
The Park View Hotel started out as a Classical School, which was not a financial success. The school closed and the building became the Belcher House for a time. L. W. Dillon bought the building in the late 1800s and changed the name to the Park View Hotel. The hotel flourished for many years and had several proprietors following Mr. Dillon. But the days of the summer hotel were slowly disappearing. The train was being replaced by the automobile. The Park View Hotel was destroyed by fire on May 13,1928.
The old Town Hall on Park Street was built in 1861 for about $8,735. The roof of this building caved in from the weight of ice and snow in 1862. The present Town Hall was built in 1865 by Harrison Root. Still standing, it is used by many organizations and the town Recreation Department.
The Belchertown post office was incorporated on April 1,1797, and Elisha Warner was the first postmaster. Mail was left at his tavern on Federal Street. By 1812, the post office had moved uptown to the store of Philo Dickinson who served as postmaster. Over the years, the post office was usually located in stores owned by the appointed postmasters. They included Calvin, Phineas, William and Edwin Bridgman and Joshua, Samuel and George Longley. The post office was, until 1963, located in the town business center on the corner of
Maple and Main Streets in the Masonic Building. A modern brick post office building was erected at the north end of the common and in 1997 became the Police Station, now serving as the headquarters for the Emergency Medical Technicians. A new post office building was erected on Main Street in 1981 and was demolished in 2003 after a larger buildingwas erected on the same property in 2002.
Early stores were simple trading posts. The first store to do considerable business is said to have been owned by Caleb Clark. During the War of 1812, there were five stores in town. Gradually business increased as lands were improved, mechanics prospered and mercantile business flourished. The business of Dickinson and Strong, before 1810, did an extensive business for a country store. Eneas Clark, Edward Morris and Philo Parsons opened a store under the firm of Clark, Parsons and Co. in the spring of 1815 and continued for several years. Wright Bridgman and his brothers had several stores around the Common as did Samuel and George Longley. These stores sold general merchandise of every conceivable description, from silks to horses and frequently took goods and land in trade when the farmers were short of cash. Often moral principles conflicted with business as in the case of D. D. Hazen who purchased the Longley general store in the mid 1800s. He found a supply of tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, playing cards and
jewelry left by the previous owner. Heedless of the financial loss, he promptly threw these items of "devil's temptation" out of the store and burned them.
J. R. Gould built a business block on the corner of Park and Jabish Street about 1895 on the site of a brick business block, built by James Clapp, that was destroyed by fire. The block housed the Gould Market, a pharmacy and several small shops.
The Farmers Bank, the first in Belchertown, flourished for about ten years. Theodore Lyman was the treasurer. Pieces of the paper money issued by the bank are preserved in the Stone House Museum and the original double bank vault door is the door to the archives.
In 1826, a newspaper, The Hampshire Sentinel, was published in Belchertown by J. R. Shute. The first copy was printed in November 1826. After his death in 1828, C.A. Warren and then Warren and Willsoncontinued it. This paper was then merged with the Farmers and Manufacturers' Journal. Copies of this early paper are housed in the archives of the Stone House Museum. The next paper to be published, The Belchertown Sentinel, was started in 1915 by Lewis Blackmer. In 1965, on the 50th anniversary of the paper, Mr. Blackmer retired, and Peter Dearness became editor and owner. Mr. Blackmer was so highly esteemed by his fellow townsmen that they gave him a surprise testimonial celebration and sent him sightseeing in Hawaii for a well-deserved vacation. Mr. Dearness, who published the paper for a number of years, sold the paper to Turley Publications. The original print shop was moved to the grounds of the Stone House Museum in 1973. The old press, used during the early years to publish the paper, has been restored and is used in demonstrations. Other machinery can still be seen in the shop.
The Belchertown Fire Department was organized about 1900. It was, and still is, a volunteer group. The original firehouse was built in 1901 and was moved to its present location on North Main Street to make room for the new Fire Station built in 1999. In the early days the bell of the Congregational Church served as a fire alarm. Later a very loud siren on top of the firehouse was used. The old hand pumper, Mary Jane, is still kept in mint condition for use in parades and is housed in the Old Fire Station Museum on North Main Street. The working equipment of the volunteer department now consists of a fleet of modern well equipped trucks.
Belchertown had elected town constables since the first town meeting. In the 1960s a force of five constables, assisted by an appointed Police Chief and a Police Association, maintained traffic control and enforced the state and town laws. At the turn of the 21st century, the force had grown to 21 full-time officers headed by a chief and supported by administrative staff in a new building on State Street. The State Police, stationed at Quabbin Reservoir, assist the local department. An extensive Emergency Medical Technician Team, with two ambulances, is often called upon and has saved many lives.
Early records show a meeting was held in 1743 in which a committee was appointed to lay out a burial yard to accommodate the southeast part of the town. This is the oldest cemetery in town and was known as the "Old or Forward Burying Ground" and contains the remains of many of the early settlers. Now known as South Cemetery, it lies about a mile southeast of the center of Belchertown on Route 181. Several years ago, land adjacent to South Cemetery was purchased to allow for expansion. In 1766, more land was needed and a second cemetery, now known as Lake Vale, on Bay Road near Lake Metacomet, was established. Additional land has recently been added to this cemetery. A stone fence and wrought iron gates were a gift to the town by Willard Stebbins. Mt. Hope Cemetery, located adjacent to the Congregational Church, was laid out in 1846 and contains many handsome monuments. Belchertown has ten cemeteries. In addition to the ones already named, they include Kimball, Munsell/Evergreen, Dwight, Rural, Hillcrest, Liberty and Jenks.
V. EARLY INDUSTRIES
Today Belchertown is a "bedroom" community with many residents commuting to jobs in surrounding towns and cities and even to Hartford and Boston. Large-scale farming, as we know it today, was not a majorindustry in the early life of Belchertown. Lumbering, orcharding, and the raising of beef cattle, sheep and hogs were more successful than crop farming because of the rocky soil.
Lumbering was an important industry in former days with the large pine and hardwood forests. Lumbering still remains in Belchertown with several large land owners cultivating and selling timber, particularly, the largest land owner, the W. D. Cowls Company of Amherst.
Water power was an important and available adjunct to industry, and Belchertown's many streams still show the remains of mill ponds and dams today. In the town's early days many industries were maintained. Jabish Brook and Swift River furnished power for many saw mills, grist mills, plaster mills, cider mills, and turning mills.
The extent of those early industries can be noted in a list of the products turned out in Belchertown in the year 1845:
65 pair of boots 1,500 bricks
30 plows 76,782 braided palm leaf hats
200 pair of shoes 1 organ valued at $300.00
475 hats and caps 677 wagons and sleighs valued at $40,400
1000 rakes 200 dozen shovels, forks and hoes
700 dollars worth of chairs
1,200 dollars worth of saddles, harnesses and trunks
Bardwell Village in the southeast part of town had a woolen factory known as the Belchertown Woolen Company. It was later known under the name of the Eagle Mills, making high-grade silk, mixed cassimeresand doeskins. The remains of the dams can still be seen. At Barrett's Junction, soapstone brought from northern points was worked into commercial forms. At Slab City on the Swift River, a sawmill operated soon after the Revolutionary War. Later it became an extensive shoddy factory.
Belchertown's fame was spread across the United States by the carriage industry. From the early 1800s until after the Civil War, when business dropped sharply because of competition from the factories of the West, there were , at various times, over ten carriage shops. The first carriage shops were located on Federal Street (Route 9). These shops burned in the 1830s and were never rebuilt. Shops moved closer to the center of town and were located on North Main, Main, Maple, Park and South Main Streets. The first wagon made in town was painted light blue outside and yellow inside and was called "Warner's Butterfly." In the year 1845, 677 wagons were manufactured valued at $40,400. Buggies and sleighs were shipped all over the East and as far south as Virginia. One, according to local legend, was sent to Queen Victoria and one, in sections, was shipped to Persia. Josiah Gilbert Holland, in his "History of Western Massachusetts," stated that Belchertown produced more fine carriages than any other town of any size in the state. The finest make of carriages proudly bore the label "Made in Belchertown".
In the late nineteenth century, dairy farming became a large industry. Belchertown was known for Belchertown Creamery butter, which had its factory just up the hill from Parsons Field and sold its butter in towns and cities across the state. This business was started in November 1889 in Turkey Hill by Dwight F.Shumway and Monroe Heath. Horse-drawn teams would visit farms in Enfield and Greenwich (now underQuabbin Reservoir), Ludlow and Belchertown to pick up cream. Before 1917 as many as 20 trains of the Boston-Maine and Central Vermont railroads would ship tons of butter a day to large cities. At its peak, the industry made $75,000 a year. One by one the dairy farms disappeared or sold their milk to larger dairies, and so the creamery closed in 1917, and another industry left town.
During the 1930s and early 40s, raising chickens on a contract basis was a flourishing industry for a time. Many residents received young chicks and feed from contractors and raised them to broiler size. They were then returned to the contractor, and residents were reimbursed for their labor. This required no cash investment on the part of the residents and helped many a family during the Depression.
When the fifth French and Indian War broke out in 1754, townspeople were taxed heavily. Forty men were drafted from sixty families, and the community suffered greatly since the old men, women and children had to take over all the heavy farm work. Under Col. Nathaniel Dwight, these men saw considerable action in several campaigns, and three men were killed. The pay that they drew was of little help to their families back home, with a soldier making 44 cents a month and a captain only 83 cents.
At the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1774, the first Provincial Congress told the tax gatherers not to pay the incoming taxes to the King's treasurer because he was a Tory and sided with England. Belchertown was the very first town to pay taxes to Henry Gardner who was sent by the Provincial Congress to collect town taxes. This act struck a severe blow to the Loyalist English government in America.
On November 7,1774, the people of Belchertown gathered in their meeting house and organized a militia company with Caleb Clark, Captain; Joseph Graves and John Cowles, Lieutenants: and Elijah Dwight, Ensign. They already had a stock of ammunition which had been ordered from Providence, Rhode Island some time before. All these war materials were put into the custody of Elijah Dwight, son of Col. Nathaniel Dwight. The Belchertown Militia were now ready to fight. The day after the Battle of Lexington, two companies marched from Belchertown. One of these companies of 35 men, under the leadership of Capt. Jonathan Bardwell, joined with the regiment led by Col. Jonathan Warner of Hardwick. The other company was led by Capt. John Cowles and joined Col. Ruggles Woodbridge's regiment. There were 34 men from Belchertown and 26 men from Granby. These Minutemen served for a short time, and many of them re-enlisted with still others joining them. In July 1777, a Belchertown company of 27 men, led by Lts. Aaron Phelps and James Walker, marched 140 miles to join Col. Porter's regiment just before Gen. Burgoyne's surrender. They cut the way for their boats through miles of ice and suffered such hardships that the town voted them double pay. Burgoyne and his soldiers were marched through Belchertown on their way to Boston after their surrender. Belchertown men fought at Bunker Hill; Dorchester Heights; through the Maine Wilderness Campaign; West Point at Andre's capture; New Jersey Campaign; and were with Washington at Yorktown when Cornwallis surrendered. Belchertown men left for these campaigns sometimes with less than a day's notice. Young Private Pratt of West Hill left his plow in the field and his home unfinished with only a blanket for a door. His young wife with her three small children lay sleepless many nights during his threeyears' absence. Some of the men returned, as Moses Cowles did, to find his home burned, his children dead and his wife's health destroyed.
Of the 980 men, women and children in the community, over 300 saw actual service in the Revolution, and the others, though poverty stricken, were very active in supporting the revolt with their time and money. Belchertown, one of the smallest towns, ranked second in Hampshire County in service in the Revolution.
After the war, the citizens found themselves with almost no money and their farms ruined by neglect since the land had not been worked with the men away fighting. Soldiers returning from military service were unpaid and were faced at once with exorbitant taxes. Mortgages were being foreclosed and there was an imprisonment of debtors. The time was right for a private revolution. While what became known as Shay's Rebellion started in Pelham and Shutesbury, some local men took part in the ill-fated assault on the Springfield Arsenal. Later, 64 men were required to take an oath by swearing allegiance to the Commonwealth for their participation in the rebellion.
Belchertown's population at the time of the Civil War was 2,700. However, it sent 230 men to fight the War Between the States. The pride felt by the citizens is best typified by the Little Drummer Boy, MyronWalker, whose story is told later.
Many men from town have fought in every war. Some of their names are engraved on the Soldiers Monument in the center of the Common; on a plaque in Lawrence Memorial
Hall; on the Flagpole Memorial dedicated in 1961; and on the Vietnam Memorial. The cemeteries on Memorial Day are filled with small flags by the gravestones denoting each soldier's service to his country.
VII. NOTABLE PEOPLE OF BELCHERTOWN
During the Civil War, the town contributed 280 soldiers; among them was the 14-year old drummer, Myron Walker. For some time previous to his enlistment, he had been an expert at the handling of drumsticks. Once while he was drumming in a drill in Ware, he attracted the attention of a visiting German count, whowas so impressed by the lad's playing, he presented an inscribed silver cup to Myron.
When the war started, many of Myron Walker's local associates joined the army, but they did it too slowly to suit Myron. So he accompanied an eager number of townspeople to Springfield, and then, with the consent of his parents, joined the army at the age of 14. He was attached to Company C of the Volunteer 10th Regiment of the Massachusetts Infantry.
The day after the Battle of Fair Oaks, while Walker was using his battered, smoke-blackened cup to fill his canteen at a stream, Gen. McClellen came riding along on his horse and asked the lad for a drink. The boy handed it to him and apologized for the condition of the cup. The General's response was so pleasantly sympathetic that he left behind a great admirer. Walker served as a musician with the army for four years and was present during many of the hard-fought battles. Drummer boys were usually assigned to assist the doctors and surgeons.
Returning to Belchertown after the war, he later went to California where he entered the insurance business. He returned to Belchertown and built a house on Main Street in the center of town. He became involved with the Grand Army of the Republic and with state politics and became a state senator for one term. He invited the soldiers of the 10th Regiment to a reunion in Belchertown. This turned out to be oneof the largest events held in Belchertown. Special trains brought the veterans to town, parades were held, and the houses were decorated by a decorator from Boston. The governor and his entourage came to the celebration, and a dinner for all those attending was served on the Common. In 1980, his house on Main Street was scheduled to be torn down for a bank and a new post office building. The house was rescued by resident George Jackson, and by cutting it into three parts, it was then transported to its new location on State Street (Rte. 202) where it was reassembled. This architectural loss to the town center was replaced by a set of modern buildings.
One of the most famous people of the early town was Myron Lawrence. His home once stood where the Clapp Memorial Library now stands. Mr. Lawrence studied law in the office of Mark Doolittle in Belchertown. At the age of 27, he was a member of the Massachusetts General Court and served in the Senate for many years. Greatly interested in the welfare of Belchertown, he was a guiding influence in the building of the Amherst Belchertown Railroad. Myron Lawrence died in 1852. His daughter Sarah Lawrence married Dr. Charles Robinson who became the first governor of the territory of Kansas. The family frowned upon this marriage because they felt Mr. Robinson would never amount to anything. Sarah's faith in her husband proved to be well founded. Sarah Lawrence Robinson gave the money for Lawrence Memorial Hall in memory of her father.
Josiah Gilbert Holland was born in the northern part of the town near Lake Holland. Mr. Holland was a well-known author and poet, editor of Scribner's Magazine and also editor of the Springfield Republican. He died in Springfield in 1881.
Dr. Edward Shumway graduated from Amherst College in 1879. He left the next year to study in Europe, and later published Latine, one of the very few magazines ever published in Latin. His sister, Mrs. Leila Curtis, was the custodian of the Stone House for many years.
Belchertown's first doctor was Dr. Estes Howe. He was a drummer boy in his father's regiment during the French and Indian War in 1744. He served in the American army in 1777 on a tour of duty as a doctor, fighting all the way to Fort Ticonderoga on the north shore of Lake George. His home was located where the new fire station stands. In 1825, when General Lafayette was touring America, he came through Belchertown. While here, he visited Dr. Howe in his home.
One of Belchertown's most illustrious sons was Elijah Coleman Bridgman born in Belchertown in 1801. He graduated from Amherst College in 1826 and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1829. He was ordained in Belchertown in 1829 and was sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to China and arrived in Canton, China in February 1830. He was the first American missionary to be sent to that country. He spent 14 years translating the Bible into Chinese. While editor of the Chinese Repository from 1832 to 1851, he contributed greatly to America's knowledge and understanding of Chinese civilization through his extensive writings on the country's history and culture. He also published "Short Account on the United States of America" in Chinese. He and his wife, Elizabeth Gillette Bridgman, established a church and school and trained others for the ministry. He died in Shanghai on November 2,1861, and is buried in China. His ancestral home is standing and is located at 393 Bay Road.
Belchertown's first minister was Rev. Edward Billings. He served the Congregational Church in the years 1739-1752 and had graduated with honors from Harvard College. He was followed by Rev. Justus Forward who graduated from Yale College in 1754. Rev. Forward served the church and town for over 59 years. He kept meticulous records that gave later historians information about the early settlers. He died March 8, 1814, in the 59th year of his ministry at the age of 84 and is buried in the South Cemetery.
The Honorable Mark Doolittle did much to preserve the history of the town. Born in 1781 in Russell, Massachusetts, he graduated from Yale in 1803. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1807. In 1812, he entered his professional career in Belchertown and continued his practice until within a few weeks of death. He was a state senator, 1821-22 and represented Belchertown in the lower house of the legislature 1824-25 and 1825-26. He was a member of the Governor's Council in 1828-29. He was a great orator and many of his addresses were published. In 1852, he published a book entitled "A Historical Sketch of the Congregational Church in Belchertown, Mass".
It records 111 years of that organization with notices of pastors and officers and lists of communicants in chronological order from its origin in 1737 to 1851 and traces numerous facts and incidents relating to the first settlers and the early history of Belchertown. The book is more widely known as "Doolitle Sketches."
Two native sons of note are Samuel Stillman Greene and Salem Towne. Both were born, grew up and received their early education in the Dark Corner District of Belchertown, near the Granby line. Both went on to write and publish textbooks that were used by many schools in the nineteenth century. Samuel StillmanGreene was born in 1810 and died in Providence, Rhode Island in 1883. He was the son of Ebenezer and Sybil (Hitchcock) Greene. In 1837 at 27 years of age, he was valedictorian of his class at Brown University. He was Superintendent of Schools in Springfield, Massachusetts,1840-41, (said to be the first office of this kind in the state) and Superintendent of Schools in Providence, Rhode Island from 1851-55. At Brown University from 1851 to 1883, he served as Professor of Didactics, 1851-54; Mathematics and Civil Engineering, 1855-64; Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, 1864-75; and Mathematics and Astronomy, 1875-83. He served as President of the Rhode Island Institute of Instruction and President of the American Institute of Instruction and was also the President of the National Teachers Association. The Normal School which he and others started in Providence in 1852 became the Rhode Island Normal School in 1854 and is now Rhode Island College. He published many English grammar textbooks. Salem Towne, the son of Israel and Naomi (Stebbins) Towne, was born in 1779 and graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in 1895. He taught at Granville and Aurora, New York and published an intermediate reader and a spelling book.
Gaston Plantiff, son of a barber in town, became Henry Ford's "right-hand man" during the early days of the automobile industry . He became the Northeast Regional Manager of the Ford Motor Plants in New York. In the 1920s , while on a visit to Belchertown with Mr. Plantiff, Ford visited the Stone House, which was being renovated for a home for the Belchertown Historical Association. Ford gave the money for the building of the Ford Annex, which houses some of the carriages made in Belchertown. Mr. Plantiff gave the money for the original fence around the Stone House Museum. He is buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
Arthur B. Howard, foremost strawberry breeder in America of his time whose variety Howard 17 is in the ancestry of most American strawberries and was the most important variety in the Northeast for a generation, was born in 1836 on a farm in Belchertown. The Howard 17 Strawberry and the Howard Star Petunia are still widely grown around the country. He was one of the very few Americans who started systematic berry breeding work before 1900. At the age of fifteen, he went to live in the Putney, Vermont community of the Perfectionists. The community raised large gardens and the head gardener gave Howard the benefit of his long experience in gardening. What interested young Howard most was the raising of strawberries. When he returned to the home farm, his father allowed him to use a third of an acre on which he set five varieties of strawberries, and the next year he planted another third of an acre. That year onthe combined fields, over 3,200 quarts were harvested, for which he received over $500. His interest in the strawberry thus proved well-founded and lasted the rest of his life. Howard began his strawberry breeding at least in the 1880s. He was later joined by his son Everett as a partner in his fruit and farm work. Together they bred and grew fruit, flowers and vegetables, and produced and sold flower and vegetable seed. He was an extensive exhibitor at fruit fairs and received more than 2,000 premiums for his exhibits. In 1929, the American Pomological Society gave the Marshall Wilder Medal for notable fruit varieties to A.B. Howard and Son for Premier or Howard 17, the most widely grown of all strawberries, 1908.
Ellen Goodell Smith was born in 1835 in North Belchertown in the homestead that later became known as Pansy Park . She attended Amherst Academy. When her health failed and consumption was feared, her family sent her to Dr. William Vail's Health Institute in Hill, NH. She became so impressed with his methods,she decided to become a physician. She attended Dr. Trall's Medical College in New York and graduated with honors in 1861. In 1867, she married Dr. John Brown Smith in Minnesota.The couple established the first sanitarium and Turkish Bath in St. Paul. She went on to work in several health institutes in New England, the Midwest and California. For more than 40 years Dr. Smith lectured and wrote on health and temperance. She returned to the old homestead in 1874 and continued to write. Her books "The Art of Living" had a large following here and abroad. She also wrote "The Fat of the Land and How to Live on it" in the fall of 1896. She argued for vegetarianism and a healthy life style. At the age of 71, she died in 1906 from a fall.
Lucy Doolittle Thomson, the daughter of Dr. George and Sophia Brown Thomson was born in Belchertown in 1869. Lucy attended Belchertown Schools and graduated from Smith College. As a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where there was a nominal number of women in the more technical fields, she received a degree in Architecture in 1896. For more than twenty years she was an architectural draftsman in Springfield, Boston, Pittsfield, Rhode Island and New York. Lucy and her father, Dr. George Thomson, started the Belchertown Historical Association in 1903. The first meeting was held in their home on South Main Street. She was a trustee for many years , and as architect, she supervised the renovation of the Dwight home into the Stone House Museum. She was also the architect for the Ford Annex. Lucy, with her mother, started the Arts and Crafts Society in Belchertown . This society was started in 1903 in the "hope of adding to the interest and profit of life in a country town." Women made articles in their homes. The Society held annual exhibits, and members sent their work to exhibits and craft shops in the East and Middle West. One of the most interesting crafts was rug hooking. Lucy designed the patterns for these rugs under the label Subbkashe. Examples of these rugs, made by Mary Jackson of Belchertown, are in the Stone House Museum. Lucy was also a historian in the 1900s.
Sara Lawrence Robinson was born in Belchertown in 1827. Her father was Myron Lawrence and her mother, Clarissa Dwight. She attended the Classical School in Belchertown and New Salem Academy. Dr. Charles Robinson came to Belchertown in 1843 to practice medicine. Sara and he were married in 1851. Dr. Robinson became an agent for the Immigrant Aide Company of Massachusetts. The company was enlisting New England residents to take land in The Kansas territory. This occurred during the Anti-Slavery movement before the Civil War. Settlers were determined to make Kansas a "Free State", and Sara went to Kansas with her husband in 1854. Like her husband, she was devoted to the cause of freedom. In 1856, she published a book "Kansas, Its Interior and Exterior Life" in which she graphically sets forth the scenes, actors and events of the struggle between the anti-slavery and the pro-slavery factions of Kansas in that early day. Kansas was accepted as a free state in 1861, and Dr. Robinson was elected its first governor. Sara Robinson was a resident of Kansas for 53 years until her death in 1911. She left the residue of her estate to erect a hall in Belchertown to honor her father. Lawrence Memorial Hall, more commonly known as Town Hall, was constructed in the 1920s. Portraits of Myron Lawrence; Gov. and Mrs. Robinson; her sister, Sarah Dwight Goddard; and her nephew, Frank Lawrence, hang in the hall.
A well-known and more recent native of Belchertown, Rev. Newell Snow Booth, served as an American missionary to Africa and was later Methodist Bishop of the area. He played an important role in supporting the people of Africa, especially the Belgian Congo, to become better acquainted with modern agriculture.
One can not close this section without noting a person who contributed significantly to the growth and development of Belchertown during the last half of the 1900s. William Gerry Whitlock, born in Calais, Maine, settled in Belchertown to raise chickens on his farm on North Street just west of Route 9. Entering town politics early, he steered the town's development from the late '50s through the early ´90s as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen and later as the town's first paid manager with the title of Executive Secretary. He died in 1997 shortly after his retirement.
VII. HISTORIC HOMES OF INTEREST
The gambrel-roofed house at 393 Bay Road is one of the few surviving homes of the town's early settlers. Ebenezer Bridgman and his son Joseph came here in 1736 and farmed a 200-acre tract near the "Nine Mile Pond". Joseph built his home circa 1750-1770, and it remained in the family for many generations. His great-grandson, Elijah Coleman Bridgman, an early missionary to China and the first to translate the Bible into Chinese, was born in this house in 1801.
The house at 373 Bay Road is said to have been built by Oliver Bridgman circa 1773 on land inherited from his grandfather, Ebenezer Bridgman, who moved here from Northampton in 1736. The back ell has been said to have been the original home on this site. The home has been restored in recent years, the fireplaces rebuilt and a reproduction "Deerfield style" front door installed in 1979. The descendants of Ebenezer Bridgman remained prominent in local politics and business into the twentieth century.
The house at 90 Bay Road was built circa 1750-1770. It was the home of Aaron Hannum and later his son, Caleb Hannum. Caleb was one of the town's ill-fated tax collectors jailed for his failure to collect the unpopular taxes, levied immediately following the Revolution. His brother-in-law, Jonathan Bridges, acquired the property, and Shaker founder, Ann Lee, is recorded as staying here. Jonathan and his wife later moved to the Shaker Colony at Petersham. The house was later the home of the Chandler family for 88 years. It has been said that it was a stop on the underground railroad.
Crystal Spring Farm, located at 105 North Main Street, was built in 1799 as a wedding present for Nancy Howe on her marriage to Ichabod Sanford. The north end of the house was not finished at first and was the workshop of Ichabod Sanford, a cabinet maker. She was the daughter of the town's first doctor, Dr. Estes Howe. He lived in a house at the top of the hill, the site of the present Fire Station. Dr. Howe served as a surgeon in the Revolution, and it is said that he was visited by Lafayette in 1825 when he was passing through town on his way to Boston for the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument.
The house at 60 North Main Street was built circa 1755 in the Georgian style and was originally the home of Joseph Phelps, one of the town's first settlers, and later the home of his son Aaron. It is said to have been the meeting place of one faction of townspeople on September 30,1761, to conduct the first town meeting and the election of town officers. It was purchased in 1795 by Enos Lincoln and was the home of the Lincoln family for over 100 years.
According to local legend, the house at 10 Main Street was built in 1771 by a man named Corbin or Corbetand used as a signal station during the Revolutionary War. The earliest verifiable owner was Jonathan Grout, a lawyer who came here about 1799 and was experimenting with the semaphore method of telegraphy developed by a Julian Corbett. Signal stations are known to have been erected by him on Great QuabbinMountain in Enfield and on Mt. Holyoke. The semaphore signal stations were placed about ten miles apart, and the Belchertown Center was the logical location of a station between these two points. This house was used as a location of the Belchertown Farmers Bank until its own building was erected. It was later owned by a Nehemiah Smith who operated a carriage manufactory at the rear of the property. For many years, it was the home of the Parsons family for whom Parsons Field is named. In more recent years, it has been an antique shop and is currently a Bed and Breakfast.
The house at 38 Park Street was built in 1846 as a charming Gothic Revival cottage for Calvin Bridgman, a local merchant. He also served as Postmaster, Selectman, State Representative, and in the Customs House in Boston. The stained glass window on the south side of the library was given in his memory, and his will established the Calvin Bridgman High School Fund. In more recent years the home has served as the Congregational Parsonage and as a Bed and Breakfast.
The house at 10 South Main Street was built about 1800 for Jonathan Dwight, the son of Justus Dwight, Belchertown's Representative to the Massachusetts Convention to adopt the Constitution, and grandson of Nathaniel Dwight, one of the town's first settlers. Jonathan kept a tavern here and had the Stone House erected for his daughter Julia Diantha, on her marriage, to Theodore Lyman. It remained a private dwelling into the 1950s and now houses the offices of Jones-Bay Path Realty and "The Sentinel".
The house at 26 South Main Street was built circa 1810 for a Dr. William Holland who practiced here briefly. It was the home of Mark Doolittle, lawyer and author of the history of the Belchertown Congregational Church. The house was originally a large, square, hip- roofed Federal style similar to 10 South Main and 10 Main Street. It was later owned by Everett Clapp, who had the house moved back from the road, and the exterior and interior were redesigned in the Queen Anne style by New York architect, Henry Kilburn. Covered by siding for many years, the exterior has recently been restored.
The house at 32 South Main Street was built in 1810 for a Lawrence Jenks who only briefly remained at this location. James Clapp, who operated a stage coach line and kept an inn on the site of Lawrence Memorial Hall, purchased the home and it remained in the family for many years. His son, John Francis Clapp, left the bequest with which the Clapp Memorial Library was built. The house was originally a square, hip-roofed Federal style. In 1883, during his son Dwight Clapp's ownership, it was moved back from the road and redesigned in its current Queen Anne style by New York architect, Henry Kilburn. Mr. Clapp said that this property was the site of the town's first Meeting House. The home was covered with siding for many years and converted to multi-family units but has been restored to its former glory in recent years.
The house at 40 South Main Street was built circa 1850 on the site of an earlier home that burned shortly before. It was the home of Tertius Cowles, a carriage manufacturer. The Cowles shops were located at the rear of the property and were the last, of what were once many carriage shops here, to close. It was the home of the Jackson family for many years. Early in the twentieth century, as part of the arts and crafts movement, a cottage industry was begun producing rugs in pseudo-Indian designs called Subbekashe. The designs for the rugs were created by Lucy Thomson and were made by local women in their homes. Mary Jackson produced many rugs, several of which are now in the collection of the Stone House Museum. For many years, her son Belding wrote a weekly column for "The Sentinel" in which local events, history and other items of interest were covered.
The house at 42 South Main Street was built as a duplex in 1840 for Ephriam Montague with profits, it is said, from the silkworm industry that flourished briefly in this area. Mulberry trees, bearing the only leaves edible to silkworms, were planted on his farm on Sabin Street and the silkworms were raised there. The venture was not successful in this region as the climate was too cold for the mulberry trees to flourish. It is said that fortunes were made and lost within a few years. The house was built by Philetus Burnett who went to California in the 1849 Gold Rush. He remained in California and was active in the construction industry. He is said to have built the first California State House. Early in the twentieth century the local telephone office was in this building.
IX. PLACES OF INTEREST
Lawrence Memorial Hall
Lawrence Memorial Hall at 2 Jabish Street was built in 1923 under the provision of the will of Sarah T. D. Robinson, daughter of Myron Lawrence and wife of Charles Robinson, first governor of Kansas. It stands on the site of two old hotels. What was envisioned originally as a hall and two rooms for town offices soon became a possibility of hall and a new high school building combined. In 1921, the high school and grammar school building off Maple Street burned, and the town was forced to start planning for new school buildings. After negotiations with the Trustees of the Robinson Trust, the town voted to accept the hall and its maintenance, and the rear of the building would have a two-story addition to house the new high school. The building was dedicated in 1923. Belchertown High School remained part of Lawrence Memorial Hall until a new high school was constructed off North Washington Street in 1964. Extensive renovations were made in the 1980s, and the building now only contains town offices.