Welcome to Belchertown, MA.
 
 
Town History

 

Belchertown History      

 

A summary history of the Town Of Belchertown originally written in 1960 by Kenneth A. Dorey, and revised in 2004 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.       OUR MILITARY HISTORY

 

VII.      FAMOUS PEOPLE OF BELCHERTOWN

 

VIII.     NOTABLE HOMES OF INTEREST

 

IX.       NOTABLE PLACES OF INTEREST

 

X.                 EDUCATION THROUGH THE YEARS

 

XI.      BELCHERTOWN STATE SCHOOL

 

XI.              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 Quaboag Valley to the east, its church spires visible for miles in all directions. The famed Quabbin Reservoir  and the University of Massachusetts draw thousand 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. Then volcanic eruptions and earthquakes pushed New England out of the sea, creating 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, leaving behind only their footprints, today turned to stone. In later periods mastodons and queer birds made their homes here.

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, of course, Indians. They were from the Niprone tribe and the local Indians were known as Nepetucks or the people in the "middle of the river." While the Nipomez roamed the Belchertown area freely to hunt and build temporary camps, their chief settlements were on the Connecticut River at Northampton and Hadley. They built forts on either side of the river, trapping, hunting and growing corn and pumpkins. They were generally friendly to the white settlers and no reason is known why, in 1675, they mysteriously left the Connecticut Valley. 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 plenty of Yankee ingenuity and courage, and all the strict religious and moral convictions of the older settlements.

Springfield was the first settlement in the Connecticut Valley, begun in 1636. Colonists migrating from Springfield moved into the surrounding area gradually. During the French and Indian Wars, lasting until the mid-1700's, settlers had to remain in the established settlements. Lone farms in the wilderness invited Indian attacks from over the Canadian border. Many early settlers were massacred or taken captive back to Canada and held for ransom. Thus the first settlement in Belchertown was not made until 1731. Prior to this date the area comprising Belchertown, Ware and Pelham belonged to Connecticut. It had been swapped by the Massachusetts Colony for land it thought more valuable on the Connecticut border.

 

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 Belchertown, Ware and Pelham, which was not settled, was assigned to Connecticut. This section was known as the "equivalent lands."

In 1727 the "equivalent lands" were sold by Connecticut to seven persons who resided in Boston. The land was divided into six equal parts, the 1/7th part being granted to Jonathan Belcher, later to become 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, and hunters would set fires to make deer hunting easier, thus destroying much of the original forest. Wild, thick grass grew in place of the trees and made excellent pasturage for cattle. Settlers from the surrounding valleys drove their cows and horses to this hilly pasture land during the summer and temporary herders' camps were set up. The region also supplied candlewood and pine trees for turpentine, an early local industry.

The first trails in the area were made by deer and other animals. Indians followed those paths, blazing the trees, and later the white men came on foot and on 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 the lovely spring here (now on Cold Spring Road) to refresh themselves and the area soon became known as Cold Spring.

In order to step up the immigration of settlers, the new owners proposed to make land grants to them under the condition that they move to the territory and set up a permanent settlement. In response, 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 Benjamin Stebbins, Samuel Bascom, Aaron Lyman 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 6 pounds for killing wolves, and the towns people 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 Belchertown 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 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 - at least held the town business to laws on attending and supporting the church and observing the Sabbath. These Puritans even passed laws making it compulsory to love God!

 

 

III.  THE EARLY DAYS

After incorporation, the town grew rapidly, and 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 century, great coaches, drawn by four, or even six horses, passed daily 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. The first dwelling in the town was a combination home-tavern built by Samuel Bascom in 1733. A stone tablet beside the Lawrence Memorial Hall, another by the Stop and Shop sign, corner of Route 9 and Geo. Hannum Rd, are relics of this old main highway and part of its route can be traced today along our old Bay Road in the northern part of the town. An early toll road was built by Henry Dwight from Belchertown to Greenwich. The builders of toll roads charged travelers to use them.  As the number of these roads increased, travel became easier but also very expensive.

Until the town was incorporated there were no schools - the children being taught reading, writing and figuring by their parents on long winter evenings by candle and firelight. The Bible was the most important textbook and some children had read it through twice by the time they were seven years old. Early farmers had little need to know more than the three R's. Parents felt religious and moral education was more important, and all children were raised with strict discipline. An impolite child was unheard of.

The first graduating class from any school was in 1816. In all, there were a total of twenty schools in Belchertown. In 1835 Belchertown Classical School opened it's doors, and was located in the center of the town. This was a private school for both young men and women, and taught Latin, Greek, literature and writing. It's girls' teacher, Hannah Lyman, later became president of Vassar College.

The first meeting houses were crude affairs and no heat was permitted in the building. Townspeople felt that comfort would distract the worshipers from concentrating on the service, and some might fall asleep. These 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 with a long pole who never hesitated to rap a sleepy or restless boy over the head.   Church organs were not allowed as these were felt to be tools of the Devil. The Sabbath began on Saturday at sundown, and continued until Sunday at sundown. Only necessary farm and household chores were permitted and Bible reading was compulsory all day.  Children were allowed to play games and sing only after sundown on Sunday.

The Common was the geological center of the town. The land was donated by Colonel Elijah Dwight in 1791 at considerable expense to himself.   The land is oval-shaped with about five acres, and in earlier times the entire area was chained in. Cows and hogs, owned by the farmers in the center of town, were grazed here - the name common meaning land owned "in common" by the townspeople. In 1795 it was voted that "hogs shall run on the common ringed and yoked." Today it is an attractive park with a graceful soldier's monument in the middle, flanked by a soldiers' flagpole. A fine bandstand, built in 1879 at a cost to the residents of $100, allowed them to enjoy many fine concerts in the early days of this century.  A town pump was located on the south side and the Congregational, Methodist and Catholic churches now face upon it.  

Since 1856 the common has also served another useful purpose. The annual Belchertown Fair was an event long awaited by young and old.  Begun by the Agriculture and Mechanics Club, it was an exhibition of farm animals and produce.   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 were no such thing as a midway with the rides and the games of chance we enjoy today.   Most of 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)."

 

IV.  THE TOWN GROWS

The coming of the first railroad in the 1860's brought many changes to the town and gave its citizens greater contact with the outside world. Hot, dusty 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 here was called the New London Northern, and was more recently called the Central Vermont Railroad.  The first tracks were stretched from Amherst to Belchertown. The Central Mass., ultimately called the Boston and Maine Railroad started in 1870. James Clapp, a prominent citizen, also ran a private railroad called "the Gold Coach."  In the 1900's the railroads were busy indeed, with over forty passenger and freight trains traveling through town daily. Children often amused themselves by watching the steam giants coming and going.

Early Inns in Belchertown were more or less for the people who stopped overnight on stage runs.  Of course, people could stay as long as they pleased and later, with good railroad facilities, city people came to spend holidays and entire summers at the local Inns.  In the center of the town were two Inns. One of these was the Belcher House, owned by Dwight V. Fuller.  This Inn was a quiet, homelike hotel which had, for that time, modern conveniences such as gas lighting and steam heat. This building, on the north end of the common, was originally built for the Classical School in 1835, but eventually had to close due to the lack of local support. It burned about 1870, but the right wing was saved and was renamed the Park Lane Inn (McCarthy's Pub in 2004!). The other Inn was located at the southern end of the common.  Named the Highland House, it was operated by B. Buelter.  It, too, was a wooden structure, three stories in height, with piazzas running its length.   It was very luxurious, with gas lighting, steam heat, electric bells and hot and cold running water.  Built in 1874 it burned soon after and was in replaced  in 1922 by Lawrence Memorial Hall and High School at that spot.

The Old Town Hall on Park Street was built in 1861 for about $8,735 and was used as the town meeting place until better facilities were constructed at Lawrence Memorial Hall.  In older days such activities as May fairs, dances and plays were given here. This building collapsed in 1862 when the roof fell in from the weight of ice and snow.  The rebuilt Old Town Hall, still standing, has been remodeled for a gym.   The big town safe, standing in the corner, had long been a mystery as no one remembered the combination. The vault was finally opened by a group of interested citizens, but little of value was found inside.

The first post office in Belchertown was established in 1812.   It's postmaster was Philo Dickinson and was operated as part of his store.  The second postmaster was Myron Shay. Joshua Langley and Phineas Bridgeman followed, then Miss Mary Hamifan, who retired her post to Chester Pinkus in the 1960's.  The Post Office was, until 1963, located in the town business center on the corner of Maple and Main Streets in the Masonic Building, which later burned to the ground in 1995 and was replaced by the Masons shortly after with a brick structure.  A newer, more modern brick post office was erected at the North end of the common next to the former Park Lane Inn, which eventually became the Police Station until 1997, and now serves as the headquarters for the Town's Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT's)

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.  Those of Philo Dickinson, Morris and Clark, Henry Helen and Wright Bridgeman occupied the southwest corner of the center at Maple and Main Streets  Jonas Holland occupied one on Federal Street near Holland Glenn.  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.  The first store block was erected about 1840 by W. E. Bridgeman. In Pardy's block next door there was a harness shop and dental offices.  J. R. Gould erected a market grocery on the other side of the common, and Mr. Shaw conducted a harness shop next to him.   Often moral principle conflicted with business as in the case of D. D. Hazen who purchased Langley's store in the mid-1800's only to find 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.

The Farmer's and Mechanic's Bank was in business for about ten years.   In its short business it occupied a building on Main near Maple Street.  The stair step in front of the store was a part of the vault of the bank. Its treasurer, Mrs. Lyman, lived in the Stone House. Pieces of the money once used by the Belchertown Bank are now preserved in the Stone House and the original double bank vault door is also shown there.

In the year 1826, a newspaper called the Hampshire Sentinel and Farmer's and Manufacturers' Journal, was started in Belchertown by Mr. Shute.  The first copy to be printed was in November, 1826, and was published continuously by several owners until taken over in 1908 by Lewis Blackmer, editor. The name of the paper was changed to The Belchertown Sentinel at that time. In 1965, at the fiftieth anniversary of the paper, the office was turned over to Peter Dearness, who published it for several years before selling to Turley Publications.  Mr. Blackmer was so highly esteemed by his fellow townsmen they gave him a surprise testimonial banquet on his retirement and sent him sightseeing in Hawaii for a well deserved vacation. The old presses used until the 1860's to publish the paper can still be seen at the Stone House Museum.

The early Belchertown Fire Department was and still is a volunteer group with headquarters located near the corner of North Main and Cottage Street in a building built about 1897.   The original building was moved in 1999 across and further down North Main Street, to make room for the new Fire Station. The association was organized about 1900 with Frederick Walker as Chief for the next twenty years.   In the early days the bell of the Congregational Church served as a fire alarm, and 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 parades and demonstrations, but the working force of the volunteer department now consists of a fleet of modern up-to-date well equipped fire-fighting trucks.

Belchertown had elected town constables since her first town meeting. In the 1960's a force of five constables, assisted by a police association maintains traffic control and the State and Town laws. At the turn of the 21st century, the force had grown to 21 fulltime officers headed by a chief and supported by administrative staff in a new building on State Street (Route 202), It is assisted in its work by the Metropolitan Police at Quabbin and the State Police. Additionally, and extensive Emergency Medical Technician Team with two ambulances is often called upon, and has saved many lives.

There are a number of cemeteries in town, most of those quite old. Early records show a meeting 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 ground in the town and is known as the "old or Forward Burying Ground" now South Cemetery. It lies about a mile southeast of the center of Belchertown at the foot of Fuller's Hill off Route 181, containing the remains of many of the original settlers. Many of the old families preferred to bury their members on their own lands and some even chose their front yards as suitable places. However, in 1766, more land was needed and a second cemetery near Lake Metacomet was established. To care for the cemeteries money was appropriated from the animal pound fund and the areas were fenced in. Several other old cemeteries include Olds Burial Ground in the south part of town and Dwight Station Cemetery. The principal cemetery in the town is Mount Hope Cemetery located in back of the Congregational Church.  This was laid out in 1846 and contains many handsome monuments.  

 

 

V.  EARLY INDUSTRIES

Today Belchertown is a "bedroom community" with most residents commuting to jobs in Amherst, Springfield and even to Hartford and Boston.  Until the 1950's, the chief industry of the town was farming.  Second was "private entrepreneurship" - insurance brokerage, store-keeping, auto repair, provisions stores, and service industry. Because of the rocky soil, dairy farming was more successful than crop farming. But growing taxes, increased land prices for homes and more competitive markets have caused the farming industry to disappear with only a few old farms still operating. Entrepreneurship continues and prospers yet today.

But in the town's early days many industries were maintained.  The following is 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 & monuments
             200 pair of shoes                                  1 organ valued at $300.00                                  475 hats and caps 
             1000 rakes                                           677 wagons and sleighs valued at $40,440.00       1,200 dollars worth of saddles, harnesses and trunks
             700 dollars worth of chairs                  250 dozen shovels, forks and hoes           

 

Lumbering was also an important industry in former days with the large pine and hardwood forests.  Water power was an important and available adjunct to industry and Belchertown's many streams show remains of mill ponds and dams today. Jabish Brook and other brooks furnished power for many saw mills and grist mills. The industry gradually diminished from the town as the abundant forests grew smaller and other more mobile sources of power developed. On the west branch of Swift River was Slab City known for its paper mill. Lumber still remains a major industry in Belchertown with several large land owners cultivating and selling timber, particularly the town's largest land owner, the W.D. Cowles Co. of Amherst.

One of the great early industries of the town was Smith's Cigar factory, located across the tracks from the railroad station near the currant Route 202 (State Street) bridge.   Erected in 1886 by J. R. Gould, it was intended to be used for a boot manufactory. This building was large enough to employ more than 200 people, but was forced to move in the 1900's. The old Railroad Station, near collapse, was demolished in 1971. In this same vicinity, in the early and mid 1900's, operated the Warren and Ryther grain mill, servicing the local agricultural community as a grist mill, and a receiving point for rail shipment of grain and other commodities. A vast fire consumed the major part of the facility in 1970

On the south end of town a major water powered factory, built in the late1800's flourished and gave employment to the people of Bondsville and South Belchertown, harnessing the vast water power of the Swift River. It too succumbed to a great fire in 1968, leaving only the dam, sluice-way and a tall chimney which was demolished in 1999

            The fame of Belchertown was well-known for Belchertown Creamery butter which had its factory just up the hill from Parson's 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.  Hose-drawn teams would visit farms in Enfield, Greenwich (now under Quabbin Reservoir), Ludlow and Belchertown to pick up cream.  Before 1917 as many as twenty-two trains of the Boston-Maine and Central Vermont railroads would whip tons of butter a day to large cities.   At the climax, 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 great industry left the town. 

During the early 1800's, one of the little known industries in Belchertown was located in Dwight Station at the southern end of Gulf Brook.  A small canal still runs for a quarter mile where the power from this canal ran machines which made fine guns in a gun shop, which has since disappeared.  One type of gun that they made was a twelve gauge, single-shot muzzle loader. In the same general location prospered "Pansy Park", an agricultural enterprise which developed new breeds of pansies, marketing seed nation wide. Near the lakes a popular dance hall developed attracting young couples from near and far to dance on it's dance floor on springs!

Belchertown's fame was spread across the United States by the carriage industry.   From the early 1800's until after the Civil War, when business dropped sharply because of competition from the West, there were eight carriage shops in town, where buggies, sleighs, etc. were manufactured.  The first wagon made was painted light blue outside and yellow inside and was nicknamed "Warner's Butterfly". The first carriage shops were located on Federal Street - Route 9 near 202, and other shops were located on South Main Street, such as Cowles Manufacturing.   One factory was located at the center of the town where the gas station is now located at Park and Jabish Streets. In the year 1845, 677 wagons were manufactured valued at $40,440.   These carriages were shipped to all parts of the East and as far South as Virginia.  One even went to Persia.   In the "History of Western Massachusetts" Josiah Gilbert Holland has 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." 

 

VI.  OUR MILITARY HISTORY 

When the French and Indian war broke out again in 1744, 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 farmwork. Under Col. Nathaniel Dwight, these men saw considerable action in several campaigns, and three men were killed. The pay that they drew was no help to their families back home - a soldier made 44 cents a month and a captain only 83 cents.

            At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the first provincial congress told the tax gatherers, in 1774, 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 4, 1775, the people of Belchertown gathered in their meeting house and organized a militia company with Caleb Clark, Captain;  Joseph Graves and John Cowles, Lieutenents; and Elijah Dwight, Ensign.  They already had a stock of ammunition - it 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. They 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. Johathan 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 General Burgoyne's surrender, cutting the way for their boats through miles of ice, and, suffering such hardships, 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, his home unfinished, with only a blanket for a door. His young wife with her three small children lay sleepless many a night during his three year's absence, hearing the Indians softly padding by along the footpaths, or the wolves howling in the woods.  Some of the men returned, as Moses Cowles did, to find his home burned, his children dead, and his wife's health completely 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 Rebel Cause.  

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.   The time was right for a private revolution.   Although Shays Rebellion had its start in Pelham several local men took part in the ill-fated assault on the Springfield Arsenal and the movement received popular support with over 60 involved Belchertown men.   Daniel Shays Highway, the northerly section of Rte. 202 from Belchertown, was named for this popular but misguided leader.  

Belchertown's population at the time of the Civil War was 2700. (In 1970 - 4,500!) 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, Myron Walker whose story is told later under the "Famous People section".

Many men from town have fought in every war. Some of their names are engraved on the Soldier's Monument in the center of the common; others on a plaque in the Memorial Hall. The cemeteries on Memorial Day are filled with small flags by the gravestones denoting each soldier's service to our country.  

 

VII.  FAMOUS PEOPLE OF BELCHERTOWN

During the Civil War, the town contributed 280 soldiers; among them was the 14 year old drummer boy, 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, who was 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, attached to Company C of the Volunteer 10th Regiment of Massachusetts infantry.  He was with the army at all the hand-fought battles and was frequently at the front under fire.  

The day after the Battle of Fair Oaks, while Drummer Boy Walker was using his battered, smoke-blackened cup to fill his canteen at a stream, General McClellen came riding along on his horse and asked the lad for a drink.  The boy landed it to him, apologizing for the condition of the cup.  The General's response was so pleasantly sympathetic that he left behind a great admirer.

In later years Myron was to rise to the rank of Colonel and build a fortune in the insurance business on the Pacific coast.   He returned to Belchertown and built a great house, the most beautiful in the entire town.  Magnificent dinners and parties were given there with the Governor and other important men as guests.  This house was located just next to the Methodist Church. It had a fine, two story stable in the rear where the stable boys would sleep over the stalls.   Myron's silver cup is in a case in the main hall of the Stone House, where it has been cleaned and looks like new, and his drummer boy's uniform is still preserved there in a glass case. The grand house at the center of the west side of the commons, was scheduled to be torn down for a new bank building and Post Office in 1980. It was rescued by resident George Jackson, cut in three parts, lifted and transported to its new location on State Street (Rt. 202) across from the entrance of the former Belchertown State School, and re-assembled, where it sits proudly today. This architectural loss to the town center was replace by a modern set of building across from Old Town Hall

One of the most famous people of the early town was Myron Lawrence.  His home once stood where the Clapp Memorial Library stands now.   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 two years.  Greatly interested in the welfare of Belchertown, he was a guiding influence in the building of the New London and Northern Railroad.  Myron Lawrence died in 1852. His daughter Sarah Lawrence later married Mr. Robinson who became the first governor of the state of Kansas. The Lawrences 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, at the southeast corner of Main, Maple and Jabish Streets some years later in memory of her father.

Josiah Gilbert Holland was born in the northern part of the town now called Holland Glen (off Route 9) in his honor.   Mr. Holland was a well known author, and was editor of the Springfield Republican before his death in Springfield in 1881.

Dr. Edward Shumway graduated from Amherst College in 1879, and left the next year to study in Europe, later writing many books in the Greek and Latin languages.   He is noted for publishing a magazine called the "Latine", one of the very few magazines ever published in the Latin language.   His sister was Mrs. Leila Curtis. She was custodian of the Stone House Museum for many years.

A prominent educator, author of many arithmetic and geography books, Wilbur F. Nichols graduated from Amherst College in 1880.   He came to Belchertown to spend the last years of his life, and lived in one of the smaller homes on the east side of South Main Street.  

Belchertown's first doctor was Dr. Estes Howe who also gave a portion of land for the common. His house was located on the North end of the common, standing on the Corner of North Main and Jackson Streets.   Dr. Howe 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 where it meets Lake Champlain in New York.  It was a very exciting day in 1825, when General Lafayette, while touring the area, stopped for a visit at Dr. Howe's house and exchanged old war memories.  

Elijah Coleman Bridgeman born in Belchertown in 1801, was a noted American missionary to China.  He translated into Chinese a version of the Bible which was better than any previously written.  His home was in the Lake Vale district (Lake Vale Cemetery) which is now the Fournier home.

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.  

Rev. Justus Forward was Belchertown's most popular early minister and served in the town over fifty-nine years.   Rev. Forward graduated from College in 1754 and died at the age of 84.

Elihu Root, born in Belchertown in 1845, graduated from Amherst College and studied medicine in Europe.  He was the first American to receive a doctor's degree from the University of Berlin.  In later years he became a professor of Physics at Amherst College.

Honorable Mark Doolittle did much to preserve the history of the town.  He graduated from Yale College and returned to Belchertown, his birthplace, to open a law office.  In 1852 he published a book narrating the entire history of the Congregational Church from 1736 to 1850 called, "Doolittle's Sketches", which can be found in the town library.  

Rev. Horatio Bardwell was a native of Belchertown, and was named a minister to India in 1815. In the same year he sailed to Ceylon, then joined a ministry to Bombay, India until 1821 when he became sick and had to return to America.  In 1823 he became a minister in Malden, MA.

A noted composer and organist, Edward H. Phelps, lived in his home on what has since become the McLaughlin State Fish Hatchery. He later became editor of the New England Homestead. 

Many old-time residents remember Gaston Plantiff.   Son of a barber in town, he became Henry Ford's right-hand man in the early days of the automobile industry.   His Belchertown home was the brick building on Jabish Street, in back of the corned gas station near the center.   Mr. Plantiff interested Henry Ford in building the Annex for the Stone House, where many interesting antique buggies are displayed, and he gave the original picket fence around the Stone House grounds.  His memorial in the Mt. Hope cemetery is an elaborate plot of restful beauty.

A well-known, and more recent native (1965) of Belchertown, Rev. Newell Snow Booth, served as an American missionary to Africa and is now Methodist Bishop of the area. His sister, Mrs. Harold Suhm, was also a resident of Belchertown. He has played an important role in teaching the people of Africa to become better acquainted with modern ways and agriculture, especially in the Belgian Congo.

A well-known horticulturist, Arthur B. Howard, developed the Howard 17 strawberry and Howard Star Petunia,  widely grown around the country.

One can not close this section with out noting a person who contributed significantly to the growth and development of Belchertown during the last half of the 1900's. William Gerry Whitlock, born in Callis, Maine, settled in Belchertown in the 1950s 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 50's through the early 90's, as Chairman of the Board of Selectmen, and later as the town's first paid manager with the title of Executive Secretary. He passed on in 1997, shortly after his retirement.

 

VIII.  NOTABLE HOMES OF INTEREST 

The Stone House  - Built in 1827 as a wedding present to Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Lyman by her parents, the Johathan Dwights, the Stone House Museum on Maple Street hill, is now the home of the Belchertown Historical Association. It was given to the association by Mrs. Harriet Dwight Longley. Its' interior resembles an 1800's home and does not have the appearance of a museum. In the hall of the Stone House is a bronze tablet in memory of Willard A. Stebbins, who had made the House his chief interest in later life. Since Mr. Stebbins gave many articles to the House before his death, one of the bedrooms on the second floor is named for him. His family descended from the first settlers in town and his donations were of major historical interest. The Ford Annex is located in the rear of the Stone House Museum and contains carriages, sleighs, wagons and buggies which were all made in Belchertown, as well as spinning wheels, old bikes, a stage coach and other items of long-ago.     Other rooms in the Stone House are devoted to dolls, books, and china. In the fireproof room there are rare pieces of china, glass, jewelry, money (including bills printed in Belchertown) and shakers of all kinds.  Standing in the windows are beautiful plaster of Paris statues made by Roger Williams which were affordable for poorer people to purchase and keep and keep in their homes. The statues portray scenes of early American life and are very realistic.  Many papers of historical interest are preserved in the Stone House records. A separate building contains the presses that printed the Belchertown Sentinel for Blackmer during the first part of the 1900.

The Stebbins House, located on Stebbins Street.  It is the second house on the land of one of the first settlers, Benjamin Stebbins.  The original house is said to have stood across the road.   The present house dates back to 1767.  

The Bridgeman Houses are both located on Bay Road. The old "red" house, just west of Metacomet Street is the older of the two, and was built along the Old Bay Path in 1773 by Oliver Bridgeman. The first cabin of Ebenezer Bridgeman was located just northeast of the present house.  The second house, the old gambrel roof house across Bay Road, was built by Lt. Theodore Bridgeman, and was later the home of Elijah Coleman Bridgeman, early missionary to China and translator of the Bible. .

The Witt and Gold Houses (two matching old Victorians) on South Main Street were originally old square houses and nearer to the road.  The Witt house was once the home of Mark Doolittle, early historian and lawyer of the town. The second, more recently known as the Gold House, was at one time the Clapp homestead.  The Clapps owned a stage line in town and owned the Union House, an early hotel on the site of the Lawrence Memorial Hall.

Montague House, a white frame house located further south on South Main Street,  is now used as an apartment house.  It was built by Deacon Ephraim Montague in 1840 with profits derived from the silkworm and mulberry business which flourished for a short time in this town.

Dwight House, a large white framed house located on the south west corner of Maple and South Main Streets, across from Lawrence memorial Hall is now used for offices.  On this spot Justas Dwight built a home in 1765.  The present structure, formerly a magnificent home, was built by Jonathan Dwight, son of Justas, and was used for a time as a tavern. Jonathan Dwight also built the Stone House for his daughter as a wedding present. The two houses next south from the Dwight house were built by the Dwight's in 1835, in the former gardens of the Dwight House.

Parson's House, a large white frame house located on Main Street across from the commons,  was built in 1771 by a man named Corbin or Corbitt.  The roof was supposedly used as a signal tower during the Revolutionary War.  Jonathan Greer, inventor of the signal telegraph, lived here at one time.  The house was used as an early farmer's bank until the quarters in the near by Mason's building site were ready.

The Lincoln House is located on North Main Street at the corner of Woodhaven Street. Very old, it was at one time the only house between the top of the hill and the Crystal Spring Farm.  At the first town election the group of citizens collected was supposed to have met at this house for the election of officers.  

Crystal Spring Farm, located on North Main Street, was built as a wedding present for Nancy Howe and Ichabod Sanford.   She was the daughter of the town's first doctor, Dr. Estes Howe. The north end of the house was not finished at first, but was left as a cabinet shop for Ichabod Sanford. Dr. Howe lived in a house at the top of the hill, just North of the common, where he was visited by Lafayette who was passing through town to the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument in 1825.

Washington School is a fine example of an old one-room schoolhouse. Located in the southern part of town, there has been a movement considered to restore its old fashioned charm.

 

IX.  NOTABLE PLACES OF INTEREST  

Lawrence Memorial Hall: A gift for a new public meeting place had been made by Sarah Robinson and in 1921, when the old High School burned down, it was voted to combine the hall and high school.  In 1923 the Lawrence Memorial Hall was built.  Mrs. Robinson gave $10,000 for the building and the town raised $30,000.  The building is named after Mrs. Robinson's father, Myron Lawrence.  Renovated in the late 1980's when the school moved to Chestnut Hill, all of the town officials have their offices here except school officials.  After the "new" high school was built in 1964 the building housed only the fifth and sixth grade students.

Clapp Memorial Library:   John Francis Clapp, founder of the Clapp Memorial Library was born in Belchertown in 1818. He left an estate of $40,000 to build a public library in his home town after his death. It was opened to the public on September 1, 1887.  The building is in the form of a Latin cross and was built of Longmeadow brownstone, with the roof and tower of red tiling. The library, reading room and stage were arranged so that they can be opened into one large audience room if necessary.  In the library are two memorial windows:  the North window in memory of Calvin Bridgeman and the South window in memory of John Francis Clapp.  New rooms, on the second floor, were later finished to accommodate the office of the then School Superintendent.  

The Stone House Museum:  The Stone House Museum was built in 1827 as a home for Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Lyman by her parents, the Jonathan Dwights, and is now the home of the Belchertown Historical Association. Built during one of the town's most prosperous periods, this Federal-style home contains superb examples of American furniture, china, and decorative accessories, made in the 1700's and 1800's. The museum houses an exceptionally strong collection of the 18th and 19th century ceramics. The museum, a private home for nearly one hundred years, houses a broad representation of American furniture, including many fine Connecticut Valley examples.  Examples of an outstanding collection of costumes, textiles and needlework is on display throughout the house. The museum has long been known for it's collection of Rogers Groups by the sculptor John Rogers. An extensive archival collection of historical records includes genealogical records of early families, schools, churches, military records, starting with the Revolutionary War; town organizations and businesses . Eight rooms are open for public viewing.

Henry Ford 1 donated the funds for the Ford Annex which houses carriages and sleighs made in Belchertown, a Concord Coach and an early hearse owned by the town. Between1800-1850 the town was at the center of a bustling carriage industry. The Blackmer Print Shop, also on site, contains the printing press and other equipment used by Lewis Blackmer, editor and printer of the Belchertown Sentinel for 50 years.

The Stone House Museum is open May-October and year round for research for a small administration fee. Special tours and group tours by appointment

Congregational Church: The very first church in Belchertown was the Congregational Church. It was incorporated in 1737, just a year after the town was founded. Some of the first male members of the church were: Samuel Bascom, Benjamin  Stebbins, Aaron Lyman and John Bardwell. The first church in 1737 was on the west side of South Main Street and stood between where the two large Victorian houses are now. The present church, built on town land, was dedicated September 12, 1792. It has been enlarged and remodeled several times, but at one time was facing the common; almost square in shape, with three galleries and a high pulpit on the East side.  

Methodist Church:   On June 16, 1873, the Methodist Society purchased a lot from Sophia Bartlett to build on.   Hearing of the sale of the Union Street Church in Springfield, Silas Morse, Edward Gay,  J.V. Thompson and Rev. McLaughlin made arrangements to buy the old church, dismantled it and moved it to Belchertown.  The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1875.  Prior to this time the Methodists had met in private homes of the members.

Saint Francis RC Church:   The church building was originally built for the Brainard Church, an old division of the Congregationalists. After these churches were reunited, the building was used by the Baptist Society, then used as a community hall and the steeple was torn down. In 1925 the St. Francis parish remodeled the building to suit their needs.  From the beginning, the parish included Granby and the Belchertown State School. Granby formed its own parish, finally, in 1951. Dr. Eulick Sullivan, a resident of Belchertown, donated a beautiful altar in memory of his son, Eulick Francis Sullivan. This is how the church came to be dedicated under the patronage of St. Francis.   A large room was more recently completed under the church for recreation purposes.   St. Francis Parish, having outgrown the church facility on Park Street, broke ground for it's new church on Jabish Street in 2003

Dwight Chapel: A community effort built the church in North Belchertown. Many families participated and women's organizations pledged the first $200, raising the money by making and selling pot holders. On March 12, 1887, a service of thanksgiving was held and the church was dedicated free of debt.  In 1961 an auction was held to modernize the chapel, replace the wood stove with an oil burner and drill a well to give the church running water at last.

Saint  Adalberth's Church:   Located in South Belchertown, this church was many years in the building stage and was finally completed in 1926, under the direction of Father Oswald Loretan. Father Loretan served 35 years as the parish pastor.

Quabbin Reservoir:   When a great new water supply was needed for towns and cities in the Eastern part of the state, including Boston, the Swift River Valley was turned into a huge man-made reservoir.  As early as 1833 the future need for water in Boston was realized. By 1895 there were rumors that our Valley would be the location of the reservoir.   For awhile nothing was done on the project. Finally on April 26, 1927, the Massachusetts legislature approved an act directing the Metropolitan Water Supply Commission to develop the Quabbin Reservoir in the upper Swift River Valley.   There were three branches of the Swift River - the West branch went through Shutesbury, Prescott and Enfield. The Middle branch went through New Salem, Dana, Prescott and Greenwich, and the East branch through Dana and Greenwich.   In all, four towns - Enfield, Dana, Greenwich and Prescott - were totally destroyed by the project, and sizeable parts of New Salem, Pelham and Belchertown were taken for this immense project, built during the early Depression Years.  

Greenwich was a pretty little town of many villages, with many lakes and streams, making it a fine place for summer camps. Dana was more industrialized with a hat industry and many factories. Boy Scout Camp Coolidge was located here.  Prescott was a hill town with rather poor soil and was the youngest of the four.  Enfield, the largest and most important town taken, was a close neighbor to Belchertown both physically and socially. It had many fine farms and a well-developed town center.  Many of its refugees settled in Belchertown and memorial services were held for many years in the Methodist Church so that old friends and neighbors could gather together once again.

The Valley was completely surrounded by hills to form a natural reservoir except for two gaps in the southern part.   Into the gap left by Swift river the main dam was built; and into the other gap, left by Beaver Brook, a dike was constructed. The main dam is 170 feet above the Valley, and is 2,640 feet long; constructed  of four million yards of material.   Quabbin Dike is not quite as large.  A system of aqueducts carried the water to Boston.  Mr. Frank Windsor, the project's chief engineer, died just before it was completed, and the main dam is named in his honor, Windsor Dam.   There are roads around the southern ends of the reservoir and a fire tower on Quabbin Hill, providing a beautiful view of the reservoir.   The waters of Quabbin recede during periods of long drought, and it is possible to see the foundations of old homes, rusted antiques, bridge stands and even some roads. Those interred in the four cemeteries of the four towns were moved to the new Quabbin Cemetery on Route 9, just over the town line in Ware  The area has become a famous wildlife preserve with even a few wildcats and eagles spotted about; deer abound, and the waters offer excellent fishing for sportsmen. 

X.  EDUCATION THROUGH THE YEARS

Until the town was incorporated there were no schools - the children being taught reading, writing and figuring by their parents on long winter evenings by candle and firelight. The Bible was the most important textbook and some children had read it through twice by the time they were seven years old. Early farmers had little need to know more than the three R's. Parents felt religious and moral education was more important, and all children were raised with strict discipline. An impolite child was unheard of.

As the town grew, however, the need for more formal education grew, and in 1762 the first school was established.  The first teacher was paid six pounds a semester, no more than the bounty paid on wolves at a later date. He boarded with local families and depended on the charity of the farmers for his comforts.

The town was divided into several one-room school districts in 1784. Some of the first district schools were: Blue Meadow, Laurel, Lake Vale, Washington (which is still standing), Liberty, Log Town and a high school in the center of town. Most children would go to school in the winter, but stayed home during the spring, summer and fall months to work on the family farms. School was kept from 9-12 and 1-4. Children walked many miles or rode farm animals in bad weather to attend them. The early schools depended upon small wood burning stoves for heat, and the children were expected to contribute their share of the wood for the stoves. Children near the stoves roasted, those in the middle were singed, those furthest away froze, and all suffocated from the smoke. Older boys were a common problem, often being bigger than the teacher. A new schoolmaster sometimes had to beat up a bully before he could maintain discipline.

The first graduating class from any school was in 1816. In all, there were twenty decentralized regional school buildings in Belchertown. The Town is one of the three largest political land masses in the Commonwealth. Travel to school was difficult, made possible only if within a "walking distance". In 1835 the first "centralized" school opened as the Belchertown Classical School, located in the center of the town. This was a private school for both young men and women, and taught Latin, Greek, literature and writing. It's girls' teacher, Hannah Lyman, later became president of Vassar College.

Union School:   Built in 1903 this is a one-room building located at Dwight Station on the then main road to Amherst.   It had a large playground, but for many years did not have electricity, water, or telephones. In 1954 Union School was closed, but the building is still standing.


 
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