Remembering the Lost Towns Through Swift River Historic Photos

What’s in a Name? Villages, Hamlets and Hollows of the Swift River Valley

An exhibit of historic photographs, What’s in a Name? Villages, Hamlets and Hollows of the Swift River Valley, opens at the Great Falls Discovery Center in the village of Turners Falls, MA, with a public reception on Saturday, February 7, 2015, 1-3pm.

Seventy-six years ago four towns in west-central Massachusetts were destroyed to construct the Quabbin Reservoir—to quench the thirst of the growing city of Boston to the east. In addition to the four “lost towns”— Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott—land was purchased from nine other towns: Belchertown, Hardwick, New Salem, Orange, Pelham, Petersham, Shutesbury, Ware, and Wendell. These towns were made up of small villages and even smaller hamlets and hollows. People settled near each other for one reason or another— perhaps they were extended family, or worked in a mill or factory. Sometimes the name of the village or hamlet gives us a clue as to its origins, for example, the names Atkinson Hollow and Cooleyville came from families, Bobbinville from the factory that made bobbins, and Soapstone Station from the quarries nearby.

An exhibit of historic photographs of villages, hamlets and hollows, reproduced from the collection of the Swift River Valley Historical Society, is opening at the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls on Saturday, February 7th. The public is cordially invited to an opening reception from 1 to 3 pm. On view are images of families, houses, stores, mills, factories, schools, churches, and scenic vistas. The family-friendly exhibit includes an interactive area inspired by village schoolhouses and colorful 3-D art by Pioneer Valley Regional School District students under the guidance of their art teacher, Althea Dabrowski.

Executive Director, Sheila Damkoehler, comments, “Especially for those less familiar with the story, I think we see the “lost towns” in a more personal way when we picture small clusters of people who are related or closely connected. We can imagine these neighbors going about their daily lives in their homes, posting a letter, learning their lessons at school, or working at the mill or factory up the road.”

The Swift River Valley Historical Society in New Salem, Massachusetts has been keeping alive the stories of the Swift River Valley for more than 75 years. For more information, to become a member, or to learn how you can help preserve photographs such as those on exhibit, visit or call 978-544-6882.

The exhibit, What’s in a Name? Villages, Hamlets and Hollows of the Swift River Valley,  will be  on view from February 7, 2015, through March 28, 2015, on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm. (Note: the Great Hall is used for many community activities; to confirm the exhibit is accessible on a given day, call 413-863- 3221.) This program is supported in part by grants from the Bernardston, Colrain, Deerfield, Erving, Gill, Montague, Northfield, and Shelburne Cultural Councils, local agencies supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

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