Upcoming events

Finding R H Weakley

Finding R H Weakley

September 24, 2021 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Susan Ashman, a park ranger at the Springfield Armory, will share her process of historical discovery. Starting with only a Civil War-era rifle, and the name R H Weakley carved on the stock, she was able to unravel the story of the man behind the name.

The New Haven–Northampton Canal

The New Haven–Northampton Canal

October 8, 2021 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

After the success of the Erie Canal, canals were proposed in many areas of the young United States. Robert Madison will share his research with us, regarding the effort to build a canal from Northampton to New Haven. Begun in 1822 and completed in 1835, the canal only operated until 1847, when it was rendered obsolete by the railroad.

The Amherst History Museum opened in 1916 and is governed by the Amherst Historical Society, which was founded in 1899. Housed in the 1750-era Simeon Strong House, the Amherst History Museum takes visitors on a journey from the town’s colonial past, through its industrial age and into the computer-driven present.

The Museum is filled with decorative arts, paintings, household implements, agricultural tools and other pieces of history from the nearly three hundred years since Amherst was settled.

The Amherst History Museum will be open starting Saturday afternoon, September 4, 2021. The Museum will be open on Saturdays, noon to 4, into November.

Dancers at the museum

‘History Bites’ Lunchtime Lecture Series is back!

The Amherst Historical Society is pleased to announce the return of ‘History Bites,’ our popular 30-minute lunchtime lecture series on various aspects of the history of Amherst. Take a look at the upcoming schedule, and be sure to check out these videos of some of our most popular lectures from recent years.

Please note: The town of Amherst has reissued a mask mandate due to COVID concerns so the currently scheduled ‘History Bites’ lectures will be held via Zoom. You can access the link through by clicking below.

Finding R H Weakley

Finding R H Weakley

September 24, 2021

Susan Ashman, a park ranger at the Springfield Armory, will share her process of historical discovery. Starting with only a Civil War-era rifle, and the name R H Weakley carved on the stock, she was able to unravel the story of the man behind the name.

The New Haven–Northampton Canal

The New Haven–Northampton Canal

October 8, 2021

After the success of the Erie Canal, canals were proposed in many areas of the young United States. Robert Madison will share his research with us, regarding the effort to build a canal from Northampton to New Haven. Begun in 1822 and completed in 1835, the canal only operated until 1847, when it was rendered obsolete by the railroad.

History of Pelham

History of Pelham

October 22, 2021

The town of Pelham is located just east of Amherst. It is known for being the home of Daniel Shays, and for losing a portion of its land to the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s. It is also the home of the longest continually-used meeting house in the United States.

Mabel Loomis Todd

Mabel Loomis Todd

November 5, 2021

Mabel Loomis Todd was married to the Amherst College astronomer, David Peck Todd, and lived in Amherst from 1881 to 1917. She was a world traveler, author, and editor, who, along with Thomas Wentworth Higginson,  was responsible for bringing the poetry of Emily Dickinson into print.

spiritualism gathering

19th Century Spiritualism

Robert Cox – Director of Special Collections at UMass

Dec. 21, 2018

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love

Ronald Story

 Sept 25, 2015

Town sign Arkham

From Arkham to Amherst

George Naughton

April 21, 2017

our latest Updates

Black History in Amherst

Black History in Amherst

Friends, Your correspondent has been away from Massachusetts for almost two weeks, so I don’t know if the Juneteenth celebration in Amherst mentioned Newport House – a dormitory building in Amherst...

read more
Native American Votes

Native American Votes

June 19–‘Juneteenth’–marks the anniversary date of the June 19, 1865,announcement of General Order No. 3 by Union Army General Gordon Granger, proclaiming freedom from slavery in Texas. But when we...

read more

A glimpse into the Amherst History Museum’s permanent collection:

Rudge High Wheel Cycle

Rudge High Wheel Cycle (Manufactured 1870-1888). High wheel cycles were popular with young, middle-class men of the late 19th century for their speed- the bigger the wheel, the faster the cycle could go. A high wheel of this size could reach a speed of nearly 30 mph! This particular cycle was a gift from Amherst mechanic Edward Thompson to his son Herbert in 1881. High wheels were considered hazardous to the health of their riders- both because their instability (even a small rock or bump could cause the rider to fly over the handlebars and suffer a ‘header’) and physicians worry that the jarring of the hard rubber tires on unpaved roads would damage male organs.

Mabel Loomis Todd embroidered dress

This unique late-19th century dress once belonged to Mabel Loomis Todd, and was donated to the Amherst Historical Society by her daughter. Purple velvet and old gold silk, with hand-embroidered pansies, created in 1890. Look at the detail on those flowers! Unfortunately, the dress is now too fragile to be displayed as it would have been worn.

Infant's Linen Cap

This fine linen infant cap is the oldest textile in our collection. The crown and side stripes are constructed of bobbin lace, a type of lace created by braiding and twisting thread held in place with pins set into a lace pillow. Take a look at the fine lacework- at the time, even the clothing of infants and small children often featured beautiful, delicate lacework. A piece of clothing like this would be passed down and reused over multiple generations of children.

Doll's Tea Set

Doll’s teaset (c. early 18th century, France). This porcelain doll’s teaset belonged to Sarah Dickerman Swift of New Haven, Connecticut. It was donated to the Amherst Historical Society in 1975 by her granddaughter, Helen Mitchell.

Paint Set

This 19th century paint set belonged to Mabel Loomis Todd, the woman responsible for editing and publishing the work of Emily Dickinson, as well as an artist and author in her own right. Todd authored books and articles, and travelled around the US on a professional lecture tour giving lectures on a wide range of topics, including Emily Dickinson, New England history, and astronomy. A prolific artist and writer, Todd continued creating and traveling until just shortly before her death. Mabel died in 1932 while camping in Maine..

conch shell

If you lived in what would become Amherst in the 18th century, this conch shell would have called you to the meetinghouse to worship. “Blowing the kunk,” as it was known, was an appointed job in the community, and the man responsible for blowing this junk also swept out the meetinghouse and received for his troubles $3 a year.

miniature straw hat

This miniature straw hat (c. December 17th, 1907) was created by the Hills Hat Factory in Amherst, MA, as a show piece for display to prospective customers. It is marked with the initials of Fannie Marilla (Davis) Pierce.

Emily Dickinson's dress

This 19th century wrapper is only surviving dress known to have been worn by Emily Dickinson. After her death, it was passed on to a cousin and later came to the collection of the Amherst Historical Society. Its design is typical for a house dress of the 1870s-1880s; it is almost entirely machine sewn, and was made sturdy to weather frequent washings.

bamboo "envelope"

old and new nails

An 18th century rosehead nail from the Simeon Strong House, next to its modern counterpart. As explained by Steve DeWolf, carpenter who specializes in repairing Pioneer Valley historic homes, this nail would have been forged by hand, the head created by striking the metal bar when it was hot. It was pulled from the side of the Strong House during restoration work underway.

Become a volunteer

Find out how you can help. The Amherst Historical Society depends on the support of the community. We are currently looking for gardeners, educators, fundraisers, and more. Contact us for more information.