The history of Northfield is the history of the Northern Pioneer Valley. Generations of native Squakeags lived here before the first Englishmen arrived in 1669. The entire area-what is now Northfield, Bernardston and Gill-was engulfed in King Philip’s War 1676 and settlement by the English was often interrupted. In 1713, Northfield residents petitioned Governor Dudley for a new “grant” or charter. In 1762, Bernardston was established at the site of the former “Fall Town Plantation.” Originally part of Deerfield, the town of Gill, Mass. followed in 1793.
While the area was and is to this day largely agrarian due to the unusually rich soil of the Connecticut River flood plain, Bernardston was home to numerous small mills and factories. After agriculture, the largest industry in the area continues to be education. During the 19th century, each town contained one or more private academies. Among the most famous is Northfield Mount Hermon School, the modern-day legacy of two schools founded by Northfield native Dwight L. Moody: the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, which he established in 1879, and the Mount Hermon School for Boys, which he located across the river in the “Grass Hill” section of Gill in 1881. Closed in 2003, the Northfield campus of NMH has been placed under the stewardship of the National Christian Foundation, which is charged with seeking a new institution to occupy the campus
Today each of the three town centers in the Gateway region looks remarkably the same as it did over 100 years ago. Each features the large white churches characteristic of New England, stately houses, monuments, municipal buildings and public areas or town “commons.” In Northfield, an impressive array of fine 19th century homes are carefully preserved along the Main Street, forming an interesting self-guided tour. The Stearns family of builders gave the town its characteristic look, incorporating into their designs architectural elements from large Boston-area infrastructure projects of the early 1800’s.
Visionary entrepreneurs throughout the region are giving historical properties in our participating towns a new lease on life. Here below are just a few examples:
New England Sweet Water Farm & Distillery, Winchester, New Hampshire — An attractive repurposing of a down town landmark. Visit their website for the story: newenglandsweetwater.com
The Montague Book Mill, Montague, Mass. — A former water powered mill on the Sawmill River, featuring two restaurants, an award winning bookstore, a used media store and multi-arts gallery on multiple levels.
The Farm Table Restaurant at Kringle Candle, Bernardston, Mass. — Built out from an antique farmhouse with energy efficient updates like geothermal heating and cooling. Part of a multi-shop campus minutes from I-91.
Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, Greenfield, Mass. — Celebrating the skilled workforce and the manufactured goods they produced in the Upper Pioneer Valley, located in the historically-significant Newell Snow factory. Open for tours and open houses in spring and summer or by appointment. Visit industrialhistory.org.