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For the Town of Amherst, education the leading 'industry'

AMHERST--More than a collage town, Amherst is dominated by an education industry, with the University of Massachusetts making a city within a town.

UMass has the tallest library in the world, at 27 stories, and the five towers of the Southwest Residential College provide a city skyscape for a campus of some 25,000 students, approximately twice the town's residential population, and twice the size of the university itself 10 years ago.

In contrast to the stark modern architecture at UMass by Marcel Breuger, Edward Durrell Stone and Hugh Stubbins, the town center retains a typical New England common and many gracious old homes.

Amherst College, founded in 1821 as a divinity school, has become a leading liberal arts college. Last fall, the college began a transition to coeducation which will eventually result in half of its 12,000 students being female.

In South Amherst, Hampshire College opened half a dozen years ago to provide its 1,200 students with an alternative to traditional education.

The university's dramatic expansion in the last 10 years has changed the face of Amherst; developments have sprung up on land that was formerly in agriculture. Only 20 years ago, Amherst had more dairy cows per capita than any town in Massachusetts.

AGRICULTURE was the main occupation when the first settlers arrived here to settle what was then know as Hadley's Second Precinct.

Although Amherst did not become a town until 1786, its designation as a district in 1759 made it an independent community with all the privileges of a township except sending a representative to the General Court of the Commonwealth.

Amherst acquired its own name when it became a district, although Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a British general in the French and Indian Wars, never passed through here and more than likely never heard of the town named in his honor.

Amherst did not suffer the Indian massacres that neighboring towns endured. The local Indians were nomadic river tribes, who probably never even camped here.

Internal strife marked Amherst during the Revolution. Some of the leading citizens were Tories, including the minister of its first church, David Parsons. Dissension between the "Patriots" and the "Tories" eventually dismembered the young church and a new church, "The Second Church of Amherst," was built on East Street.

The town was made up of district village centers, with the eastern village the stronghold of the Patriots, who were mostly the less well-to-do farmers, while the western village, now the town center, was dominated by the wealthier conservatives, who were Tories.

Some 150 men from Amherst fought sporadically in the Revolution, for periods ranging from 11 days to three years. Two local men rose to prominence. Capt. Reuben Dickinson and Lt. Ebenezer Mattoon, who later became an adjutant general.

AFTER THE WAR, in 1787, almost as many men took part in Shays's Rebellion as had served in the Revolution. One hundred thirteen Amherst men joined Daniel Shays of Pelham when he stormed the Springfield arsenal and the courthouses to protect high taxes and fines and imprisonment for those who couldn't pay.

Early in the 1800s, Amherst Academy was built, marking the beginning of Amherst's long history as a center for education. Half the students who attended the school on Amity Street were from out of town.

A separate school for girls, the Amherst Female Seminary, was built in 1824. Almost
200 young women attended the school in the town center, some coming from the western territories and the southern states.

When the seminary burned in 1838, Amherst Academy again accepted women, among
them its two foremost pupils, Emily Dickinson, the Amherst poet, and Mary Lyon,
founder of Mount Holyoke College.

Mount Pleasant Classical Institute, a huge porticoed and pillared building was the next
Amherst school, although it burned shortly after its founding. Henry Ward Beecher was
a student there.

INDUSTRY ONCE flourished in Amherst. The Mill and Fort rivers provided water
power for saw mills and grist mills in colonial days. Later in the mid-nineteenth century,
carriages, wagons and sleds were produced here at the rate of 75,000 per year.

Amherst brickyards once produced four million bricks per year from clay pits located at
the site of the present Amherst Fields development.

Six textile firms made use of the water power in Factory Hollow. North Amherst, but they were all wiped out in fires by the mid-1800s.

Amherst reached its industrial peak with the wholesale production of palm leaf hats. Women who had made them in their homes, but later, the industry moved to lower Main Street to be near the railroad station. Two rival companies, L.M. Hills & Co. and the H.D. Fearing Co., later George B. Burnett & Son, employed nearly 600 workers between them. Hat production flourished until the 1930s.

Beginning with Noah Webster in the 1820s, author of the famous dictionary bearing his name, Amherst has been the birthplace or home of many famous artists and writers.

Emily Dickinson was born in the mansion on Main Street where she lived in seclusion and wrote some of the greatest poems in the English language. Eugene Field, the author of children's verse, spent his boyhood in the large white house on the corner of Amity Street and Lincoln Avenue. Helen Hunt Jackson, the author of "Romona," lived here, as did Ray Stannard Baker, better know as David Grayson, who won a Pulitzer prize for his biography of Woodrow Wilson.

Amherst's best know literary figure today is probably Robert Francis, the poet, who makes his home in North Amherst.

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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This article is from the Bicentennial Edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. It contains a short industrial history of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, as well as an overview of the three colleges in town.


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"For the town of Amherst, education the leading 'industry'"

publisher   Hampshire Gazette
date   Jun 11, 1976
location   Northampton, Massachusetts
width   10.5"
height   5.25"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L03.020

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