Children of the Swift River Valley: 19th and Early 20th Century Images

 Children of the Swift River Valley

Underneath the depths of the Quabbin Reservoir is ground upon which a rich history of industry, agriculture, community, and culture took place. While the physical remnants of the Swift River Valley’s past were stripped to make way for flooding, the people and memories of the place live on thanks to local museums and historians.

On Saturday, February 8th, from 1-3pm, an exhibit of photographs of children from the Swift River Valley will be unveiled and celebrated at the Great Falls Discovery Center. Curated by the Swift River Valley Historical Society’s Elizabeth Pierce, Children of the Swift River Valley features early tintype photographs and carte-de-visites, as well as 20th century photographs taken not long before the community disappeared. In addition to the photographs, students from the Hallmark Institute of Photography will take antique-style portraits of families visiting the exhibit – prints can be ordered after the event for a small fee.

The exhibit celebrates the lost-but-not-forgotten communities that once populated the towns of Dana, Enfield, Prescott, and Greenwich, and does so in a way that is easily accessible for children. While it may be difficult for children to conceptualize the cultural and technological changes that have taken place since the photographs were taken, they definitely understand what it’s like to be a kid. By comparing the similarities and differences between them and the children in the photographs, they will be able to gain an understanding of what life for a child may have been like in the Swift River Valley between 100 and 150 years ago!

Additionally, learning about the history of the Swift River Valley can help children to understand the importance of community and of preserving rural communities. Since Quabbin was built to satisfy Boston’s need for water, it’s a clear example of how we have valued urban communities over rural ones in the past. It’s not likely that our children will lose their hometowns to reservoir construction, but it’s still incredibly powerful to see that communities can, in fact, be lost if they lack resiliency.

For further studies of the Swift River Valley and the Quabbin Reservoir, do a family reading of local author Jane Yolen’s Letting Swift River Go. The book tells the story of Quabbin through the eyes of a Swift River Valley child, and pairs perfectly with a visit to the exhibit.

“Children of the Swift River Valley” can be viewed at the Great Falls Discovery Center from 10am-4pm on Fridays and Saturdays through the end of March. Sometimes, events at the center will prevent the exhibit from being open to the public – call in advance to be sure that the exhibit is open for visitors. The Great Falls Discovery Center is located at 2 Avenue A in Turners Falls. For more information, call 413-863-3221.

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