Western Mass Historical Heritage for All to Explore
Summer is History-Exploring Season in Western MA!
Nestled amongst the hills of western Massachusetts are pockets of history – the streets of cities and towns are lined with historic buildings, fields are dotted with centuries-old cemeteries, and even the landscape itself tells stories of generations past, its shape hinting at human influences. It’s obvious that our communities’ history surrounds us, but the challenge in learning about local history is learning how to access it in a meaningful way. Luckily, historical societies and museums across the region offer families a wide variety of ways to learn about the history of their community. From wartime tales to walking tours, resources for learning about local history abound during the summer in western Massachusetts.
An added bonus of the easy accessibility of local history resources is that children will be supported in learning about the history of their own community and a familiar landscape, but they’ll also learn about major historical events – events that took place on a national or international level – and the ways in which they affected folks here in western Massachusetts. In allowing children to learn about large-scale events or cultural shifts on a small scale, families can support learning about broad topics on a level that meets children where they’re at developmentally, while strengthening their sense of place. Adding familiar context to an unfamiliar or confusing topic can help children to understand it – and they’ll develop a deeper connection to their history once it becomes personal. Many local historical societies only open their doors to the public during summer months (for many reasons, including the availability of volunteer staff and the lack of heat in many old buildings), so don’t miss this year’s history-exploring season! In addition to open museum hours, many historical societies and museums offer interactive activities, speakers and educational events, and other special programming – be sure to check out your local society’s calendar for learning opportunities that extend beyond a visit to the local museum or archives. Here are history museums, historical societies and events to consider this summer with your family throughout the region:
Buckland – The Buckland Historical Society‘s museum and the historic Wilder Homestead occasionally opens their doors to welcome families the opportunity to see local artifacts and old town records and to visit a 1775 saltbox home, 1779 English-style barn, and a shoemaker’s shop. 413-625-9763. 120 Upper Street (museum) and 129 Route 112 (homestead). Buckland, MA. (FREE)
Ashfield – Explore over 300 years of hilltown history at The Ashfield Historical Society Museum! Though it’s a small town, Ashfield has been at the forefront of many movements (including abolition and prohibition), and was home to the first Shaker meeting house. One of the earliest pioneers of contraception even lived in Ashfield! Open 10am-12noon on Saturdays through Columbus Day Weekend. 413-628-0001. 457 Main Street. Ashfield, MA. (FREE)
Plainfield – In addition to the Plainfield Historical Society’s Shaw Hudson House, which serves as a museum of times gone by, the society offers a wealth of resources for off-season learning on their extensive website. The historical society also offers Hidden Walls, Hidden Mills, a series of self-guided tours of historically important (and fascinating!) areas in Plainfield. Shaw Hudson House is open by appointment only – contact email@example.com to schedule. 413-634-8099. 286 Main Street. Plainfield, MA. (FREE)
Cummington – Filling one of the many rooms at the Cummington Historical Society’s Kingman Tavern is a replica of a 1900 general store, filled with goods that shoppers over a century ago would have sought. The tavern itself is an early 1800’s house, complete with a two-story barn, carriage house, and cider mill. In addition to the store, the museum houses miniature replicas of scenes from life in Cummington – offering visitors a small-scale look at life in the past. Open 2-5pm on Saturdays in July and August. 41 Main Street. Cummington, MA. (FREE)
Worthington – This hilltown’s tourism-filled past is chronicled by the Worthington Historical Society both in their archives and online, making information easy to access anytime. Additionally, the society frequently holds special events, such as cemetery tours and educational workshops. 413-238-0491. Worthington, MA.
Huntington – As our culture changes, so do our schools – and the Huntington Historical Society‘s Norwich Bridge Schoolhouse Museum illustrates the changes that have taken place in local schools over the past 200 years. In addition to education-related exhibits, the museum also houses artifacts and information about the town’s history as a whole – in particular, its industry-filled past. Open for special events or by appointment. 72 Worthington Road. Huntington, MA. (FREE)
Westhampton – The Westhampton Historical Society’s museum has an entire room dedicated to the trade of blacksmithing! Set up to mimic a 19th-century blacksmith shop, the room offers visitors a chance to learn experientially about the skills specific to this once-essential trade. Additionally, the museum contains an exhibit on the Loudville Lead Mine, an operation that ran in the hilltowns for over three centuries. Open Sundays from 2-4pm through October. 413-527-3209. 5 Stage Road. Westhampton, MA. (FREE)
Granville – In the southern reaches of the hilltowns, the Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation tells the story of a community forced to change – local farmers, facing a lack of laborers and profit, turned to manufacturing in order to support their families. Noble and Cooley, a drum-making company, is one of the hilltowns’ many small-scale manufacturing operations, and its existence is interwoven into the history of Granville. Open for tours on the third Sunday of every month from 1-3pm, as well as for special events. 413-357-6321. 42 Water Street. Granville, MA. (<$)
Pioneer Valley and Beyond
Hatfield – The Hatfield Historical Society offers a wide array of resources for learning about Hatfield and Pioneer Valley history. Made up of Hatfield Historical Museum and the Hatfield Farm Museum, the society’s offerings include artifacts, documents, photographs, and special exhibits. Currently, the Hatfield Historical Society is featuring The Things They Left Us: A Glimpse into Civil War Life for Hatfield Men and Boys, an exhibit that puts Civil War life into a local context. Historical Museum open Tuesdays 10am-12noon and Saturdays 9:30-11:30am (except December). Farm Museum open Saturdays from 12noon-2pm through Columbus Day. 39 Main Street and Billings Way. Hatfield, MA. (FREE)
Hadley – The Hadley Farm Museum chronicles the history of farming in the Pioneer Valley. Home to tools and machinery used on Hadley farms as long ago as the 1780’s, the museum is located in an 18th-century barn – showing artifacts just as they would be found on a farm. Visitors can see everything from the first broom-making machine to toys enjoyed by farm family children! Open weekends from 2-4pm through October 14th, 2014. 413-586-1160. 147 Russell Street. Hadley, MA. (<$)
Longmeadow – The Longmeadow Historical Society, whose archives reside in the Storrs House Museum, offers visitors the opportunity to explore Longmeadow’s history through objects and artifacts. Many of the pieces in the society’s collection are specific to local events, but some are significant on a larger scale – including the constitution written by the Temperance Society. The Storrs House Museum is an ongoing project, and is constantly being updated and added to. Open houses held from 1-4pm on August 16th, September 6th, and October 11th, 2014. 413-567-3600. 697 Longmeadow Street. Longmeadow, MA. (FREE)
New Salem – Once part of the bustling Swift River Valley, the town of New Salem long ago lost its neighboring towns to the waters of the Quabbin Reservoir. Today, the Swift River Valley Historical Society tells the tale of the towns that once filled the valley. Visitors can learn about the communities that were broken apart in order to build the reservoir, and can also learn about the years long process of preparing for and constructing the reservoir and its dam. Of particular interest is a temporary exhibit titled, “Children of the Swift River Valley.” On loan from the Friends of Quabbin, the exhibit shows children’s lives in the former towns of the valley – allowing today’s children to connect to the history of the lost towns through the similarities they share with the children in the photographs. Open Wednesday and Sunday from 1:30-4:30pm. 978-544-6882. 40 Elm Street. New Salem, MA. (FREE)
North Adams – Visit the North Adams Museum of History and Science to learn about the city’s development during the Industrial Revolution, and the role that industry-fueled immigration affected the town. The museum features a moving train, modeled after the railroad system in town, as well as exhibits on the town’s political and military history. Open Thursday-Saturday from 10am-4pm (through October). 413-664-4700. Western Gateway Heritage State Park, Building 5A. State Street. North Adams, MA. (FREE)
Pittsfield – Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, home to the Berkshire Historical Society, is a museum honoring both the Moby Dick author’s life and the history of the community in which his former home stands. On Saturday mornings throughout the summer, middle school-aged students can attend Stick Your Hand in History, a program allowing visitors to curate their own temporary exhibits using pieces from the historical society’s collection. Open daily 9:30am-5pm through Columbus Day. 413-442-1793. 780 Holmes Road. Pittsfield, MA. (FREE)
Sheffield – This summer, the Sheffield Historical Society hosts the Milt Barnum All American Tool Exhibit, an extensive show of tools used by workers of all kinds throughout the past few centuries. Families can learn about material culture and changes in technology by examining pieces from the exhibit and comparing them to modern tools. Additionally, the society offers a self-guided bike tour, maps for which are available at The Old Stone Store. 413-229-2694. 159 Main Street. Sheffield, MA. (FREE)