History Bites is a series of thirty minute lectures to inform and entertain, covering various aspects of the history of Amherst and the lives of those who once lived here.
The current season of History Bites is being presented on Zoom, with the help of Amherst Media, who are providing the Zoom link:
Join Zoom Meeting
Thanks to the work of our dedicated trustees, you can view archived video of past History Bites lectures here.
The Fall History Bites series has begun. All lectures are scheduled for noon on alternate Fridays. Here are the lectures scheduled through November, 2020:
Oct 9 –Philip Johnson – Railroads in the Valley
The Connecticut River Railroad opened to passenger service between Springfield and Northampton in late 1845; trains reached Deerfield in August 1846, Greenfield in December 1847, and the junction with the Central Vermont Railway in January 1849. When the Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad reached Brattleboro in 1850, the Connecticut River Railroad began running through service from Springfield to Brattleboro.
The first railroad train arrived in Amherst in 1853, from Palmer, over the Amherst and Belchertown Railroad. Then in 1871, the Athol & Enfield Railroad (also known as the Rabbit Line, Bunny Road, and the Soapstone Limited) began operations through the Swift River Valley, eventually connecting Athol to Palmer and Springfield. And then there was the Hampden Railroad – “the Greatest Railroad that never ran.”
Philip Johnson grew up in Springfield, but has roots in Amherst area. His mother’s family comes from Leverett and they went to high school in Amherst. He has been a lifelong railfan and has researched many lines in Western Mass. He is a railroad photographer, model railroader, and author of The Hampden Railroad, The Greatest Railroad that never ran. Philip is also a member of several railroad groups, including a 47-year member of Amherst Railway Society. Now, retired, Philip spent his work career with several Western Mass companies mostly in Quality Engineering or Computer Management roles
Oct 23 – Russell Powell – New England Apples
“As American as apple pie…” Apples have been part of American history and folklore since colonial days. Orchards used to cover the hillsides of New England until Prohibition times when most of the trees, which were used more for the production of hard cider than edible fruit, were cut down. But now that cider is coming back into fashion, the orchards with their many varieties of new and heirloom apples are being regrown.
This fascinating lecture will offer advice about rare heirlooms and newly discovered varieties, comments on the rich tradition of apple growing in New England and on the “fathers” of American apples―Massachusetts natives John Chapman (“Johnny Appleseed”) and Henry David Thoreau. Apples of New England will present the apple in all its splendor: as biological wonder, super food, work of art, and cultural icon.
Russell Steven Powell served as executive director of the New England Apple Association from 1998 to 2011, and since then has been its senior writer. He publishes the blog newenglandorchards.org, and is the author of America’s Apple. He was founding editor and publisher of New England Watershed Magazine, named Best New Publication of 2006 by Utne Reader. He lives in Hatfield, Massachusetts
November 6 – Nick Grabbe – Ray Stannard Baker
Ray Stannard Baker was already a well-known journalist when he moved to Amherst in 1910, and he lived on Sunset Avenue until his death in 1946. President Wilson sent him on a fact-finding mission to Europe during World War I, and Baker wrote a multi-volume biography of Wilson that won the Pulitzer Prize. Baker also wrote one of the first books about race relations in America.
Baker led a double life. His alter ego was called David Grayson, and the books under this name were very popular. A mix of homespun philosophy, country wisdom and quiet humor, they sold 2 million copies and were translated into multiple languages. For 10 years, there was speculation about who wrote the David Grayson books, and many were shocked to learn it was Baker because his hard-hitting journalistic style was so different.
Nick Grabbe was a newspaper editor and writer based in Amherst for 32 years. When he became editor of the Amherst Bulletin in 1980, it was one of four weekly newspapers based here! He retired in 2013; in 2016 he was elected to a commission charged with proposing a new form of government for Amherst. He supported the plan to create a 13-person Town Council to replace Town Meeting, and pushed to keep a town manager instead of electing a mayor. He is currently during final revisions on a book about his life.
November 20 – Dr. Amilcar Shabazz – Juneteenth
I would like to speak on the history of the Memorial Tablets that commemorated the service and sacrifice of men from Amherst who served as soldiers and sailors in the Civil War. These were the people who paid the ultimate price to make possible Juneteenth (the end of chattel enslavement of people of African descent in the U.S.)! Of course, I would connect the history of Juneteenth to the struggle to remember the Civil War as a common fight for freedom and to form a “more perfect union.”
The lecture weaves the lives of men like Josiah Hasbrook Jr. in Amherst with individuals like Frederick Douglass who was the keynote speaker at the 31st anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 24, 1894, in Alexandria, Va. to John Mercer Langston who delivered keynote speeches there in 1895 and 1897. Alexandria like Amherst has in recent decades settled on celebrating Juneteenth as the date to commemorate the ending of chattel slavery. I will answer why Juneteenth has become that special date across the country interweaving the remembrance of our veterans and the memory of the war and black liberation with the struggle right here, right now with our Memorial Tablets.