Past ‘History Bites’

Video Archive, 2022 – 2024

Made possible thanks to the efforts of our dedicated Trustees. Click a title to expand.

12/02/22: Collecting Antique Glass Bottles, by Jim Thomas

Up until the late 19th century, glass bottles were hand-blown, so each one was unique. The bottle’s shape, the glass color, the presence of embossing, are all clues as to its age and provenance. Collectors of the bottles are latter-day seekers after buried treasure — they dig through old wells and midden-heaps, in search of their treasure.

Jim Thomas is a past president of the Berkshire Antique Bottle Association. He has been collecting bottles since he was ten years old, and has dug for them on hilltops, in swamps, and everywhere in between. In this video, he shows us samples from his extensive collection..


11/18/22: Managing the River Commons, by Erik Reardon

From pre-colonial times to the 19th century, New England’s rivers provided a seasonal  bounty of fish — salmon, shad, alewives — for those who lived along their banks. Large-scale commercial fishing and the construction of industrial dams put an end to the bounty, but the farmers who lived along the rivers did not acquiesce quietly to the changes. The struggle for protection and careful use of limited resources has a long history in the Northeast…

In his book, Managing the River Commons, historian Erik Reardon argues that to protect these fish, New England’s farmer-fishermen pushed for conservation measures to limit commercial fishing and industrial uses of the river. Beginning in the colonial period and continuing to the mid-nineteenth century, they advocated for fishing regulations to promote sustainable returns, compelled local millers to open their dams during seasonal fish runs, and defeated corporate proposals to erect large-scale dams.


10/21/22: The Amherst History Museum collection, by Diana Limbach Lempel

The Amherst History Museum’s consulting curator, Diana Lempel, shares some of her discoveries and insights in our collection. In this interactive conversation, she talks about her approach to working with objects in a way that honors their aliveness and connection to the people and non-human beings that have been part of their long lives. What happens to an object’s essence when it now resides in storage? How can we as a museum and community honor objects in the way we work with them?

‘The objects from the collection that I’ll highlight will all be related to one of my areas of research, women’s history. Finally we’ll talk about the ways that a volunteer-run community museum like (y)ours has unique opportunities for engaging these questions.’

Diana Lempel has been working with the Museum since May.  She has work experience at the de Cordova Museum, Cambridge History, Cambridge Arts Council, and New Bedford Working Waterfront Festival. She has strong interests in women’s history and community history. She splits her time between Boston and Sunderland, which is her home base during the summer.


10/07/22: 'Unlike any Other' - The Story of Bathsheba Spooner, by Ed Londergan

Bathsheba Spooner was the daughter of Timothy Ruggles, a general in the French and Indian War, president of the Stamp Act Congress, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, and a leading loyalist in Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War; the epitome of upper class.

Like her father, Bathsheba was smart, strong-willed, and a staunch British loyalist. Forced to marry a man she did not love, Bathsheba withstood her husband’s abuse for years until a young Continental soldier entered her life. But when this well-heeled mother of three small children discovered she was pregnant with the soldier’s child, her thoughts quickly turned to murder.

Ed Londergan is the author of the award-winning books The Devils’ Elbow and The Long Journey Home. Having researched American history for many years, he is a frequent speaker with a focus on colonial Massachusetts. A graduate of Holy Cross, he lives in Warren, Massachusetts.


09/23/22: Henry Wilson and the Civil War, by Lincoln Anniballi

Born in 1812, Henry Wilson was an American general, senator, and later vice president who played a key role in the political lead up to the Civil War, handling military affairs during the war, and fighting for civil rights for all Americans during Reconstruction. Sold by his family into indentured servitude until the age of 21, he was central in forming the Free Soil party in 1848 to fight slavery’s expansion. Wilson was elected to the US Senate in 1855 at age 43, and remained a senator until he was elected as Ulysses Grant’s Vice President in 1872, and and his help was central to the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.


Lincoln Anniballi is a lifelong resident of Natick Massachusetts, the home town of Henry Wilson. He grew up in the Henry Wilson Historic District, lived on the same road Wilson did, drove past the Henry Wilson Shoe Shop every day, and even went to Wilson Middle School, yet knew very little about the person whose name was all over town. In 2020 Lincoln began researching Wilson’s life and in 2021 got the idea to turn his research into a biographical podcast on the life of Henry Wilson.

09/09/22: 'The Storm and the War that Changed Amherst' by Blair Kamin

The War Memorial at Amherst College, with its panoramic view of the Holyoke Range, and the Main Quadrangle, with its lush carpet of grass and soaring tree canopy, almost surely are the most beloved outdoor spaces at Amherst College. Each appears inevitable, timeless, as if it had always been there. In fact, both are relatively recent additions to the campus, which looked very different before their creation in 1939 and 1946, respectively.

Blair Kamin was the Chicago Tribune’s architecture critic from 1992 to 2021. A graduate of Amherst College and the Yale School of Architecture, he also has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1999 for a body of work highlighted by a series of articles on Chicago’s lakefront. In 2020 he wrote An Architectural Guide to Amherst College in preparation for Amherst’s bicentennial in 2021.


05/06/22: 'Finding R H Weakley' - the Story of a Civil War Rifle, by Susan Ashman

We’ve all heard the expression if walls could talk, but what about historic firearms? What would they have to say about the battles they were in and the soldiers they were issued to? Join Park Ranger Susan Ashman as she highlights one of these rifles – an 1856 British Enfield used during the Civil War with the initials “R.H. Weakley” carved into the stock. Through in-depth research, find out more about the tragic story of Pvt. Weakley – another soldier that could have been lost to history.

Susan Ashman is the Lead Parker Ranger and Historic Supervisor at Springfield Armory NHS. She previously worked at Old Sturbridge as an historic interpreter and was an aircraft mechanic for 8 years in the U.S. Air Force. Susan has given many presentations to Civil War Round Tables, the Civil War Institute in Gettysburg and multiple locations in New England.


04/22/22: History of the Mount Toby Friends Meeting, by Carol Letson and Helen B Holmes

Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends, in Western Massachusetts have had an interesting and complicated history over the decades.  The first recorded monthly meeting in the ancestry of Mt. Toby was the Northampton Meeting, which organized as an independent Meeting under the Friends Fellowship Council in Philadelphia in 1939. There had been other occasional worship groups of Friends in the Valley – in Amherst in 1924 and in Northfield in the 1930’s. A meeting in Amherst was revived by Francis and Helen B Holmes when they came to the University of Massachusetts in 1954. When more Quaker families came to the growing University in the next decade, Amherst became the largest meeting.

They eventually accepted a gift of land on the farm of Ethel Dubois on Long Plain Road in Leverett, and broke ground in 1963. In 1964, a meetinghouse designed by architect Elroy Weber opened. The Meeting was renamed Mt. Toby after the nearby hill.


04/08/22: Exploring Amherst's West Cemetery, by Bob Drinkwater

As you enter Amherst’s West Cemetery, via the Gaylord Gate, you will see before you row after row of eighteenth and nineteenth-century gravestones.  Among them are gravestones for members of Amherst’s founding families.  During this brief virtual tour, we will visit with some of them with Bob Drinkwater. They are a relatively small sample of the families who lived in Amherst prior to the Revolution.  What became of the others, whose names appear on lists of early Amherst residents, published in Judd’s History of Hadley?  Some of them are known to have moved to neighboring towns, but what about the others?  How many of them lie forgotten, in unmarked graves at the West Cemetery?

Bob Drinkwater is a charter member and past president of The Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS).  He has served several terms on the AGS Board of Trustees, and was the recipient of the 2016 Harriette Merrifield Forbes Award, in recognition of exceptional service to the field of gravestone studies. Recently, Bob has done research on gravestones for African Americans buried at the West Cemetery, and elsewhere in western Massachusetts.  His book, In Memory of Susan Freedom: Searching for the Gravestones of African Americans in Western Massachusetts, was published by Levellers Press in 2020


03/25/22: The Unlikely Marriage of Elaine Goodale and Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohíye S’a), by Julie Dobrow

Elaine Goodale Eastman, her husband, Ohíye S’a, or Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, and their six children, lived in three different houses in Amherst from 1903-1921. When they first arrived in Amherst, Elaine and Charles were already both well-known figures from their respective careers as authors, public speakers and reformers of Indian policy, as well as from their unusual interracial marriage which was frequently written about in the press of the day. But the early promise of their marriage dissolved during their time in Amherst, along with their union, itself, the victim of personal tragedies, professional failures and the ongoing tensions as 19th century America yielded to a 20th century where ideas about gender and race were rapidly changing.

Dr. Julie Dobrow returns to the Amherst Historical Society to talk about her upcoming book, Crossing Indian Country: From the Wounded Knee Massacre to the Unlikely Marriage of Elaine Goodale and Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohíye S’a).


03/11/22: Reading the Gravestones of Amherst's West Cemetery, by John Hanson

The graveyards of old New England are fascinating; they appeal to the eye and the imagination, with their dignified stones standing or leaning in gray ranks, quiet abiding witnesses to the long histories of their towns.

Mr. John Hanson has been collecting and studying early New England epitaph verse for years.  In this talk, he will share some outstanding verses on old stones in the West Cemetery and discuss their sources, including Scripture, hymnody, poetry, and original poetry composed for a particular individual.

John Hanson is a Williamstown native, now living in Cambridge and the Berkshires.  He received his AB in English and American Literature from Harvard; when not exploring old burial grounds he is an executive at an Internet services company.  He is the author of Reading the Gravestones of Old New England (McFarland, 2021), and has published and spoken extensively on the topic.


02/25/22: Exploring the Early Architecture of Amherst College, by Blair Kamin

Challenging the narrative that Amherst College was primarily a breakaway from Williams College, this talk will describe how the people of the Town of Amherst gave birth to the College—and how the Acropolis-like plan of the early College and its Greek Revival centerpiece reflected their highest aspirations. We’ll also consider the Northampton architect who likely designed Johnson Chapel and Adam Johnson, the childless Pelham farmer who left his fortune to the College, allowing the fledgling but cash-poor institution to complete construction of the edifice that bears his name.

Mr Blair Kamin, the former architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune, is the author of “Amherst College: The Campus Guide,” published by Princeton Architectural Press. He is a winner of numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.


04/05/24: Twenty Years on Mount Toby, by Peter Grima

A notable prominence against the plain, Mount Toby has long beckoned valley-dwellers to explore its rolling hills. Well-known as a botanical hotspot, fabled for its ferns and orchids, the full spectrum of diversity on the mountain continues to surprise and intrigue even seasoned botanists. It is also a dynamic landscape, a mosaic of disparate human influences that is continuously shaped by natural disturbances and forests pests and diseases, adding layers of heterogeneity to the botanical tapestry.

Having hiked and explored Mt. Toby for 20 years, local botanist and service forestr Peter Grima speaks of the forest changes and floristic diversity that he has personally observed, spanning the development of his own botanical and ecological expertise. Viewers will gain a sense of the botanical richness, with many examples of novel plants, as well as the inherent ecological dynamism of the mountain. 


03/08/24: History of Amherst High Schools, by Joe Scanlon

The notion of ‘high school’ has been a consistent part of the American experience in many cities and towns over the last century. But in the town of Amherst Massachusetts there have been four different college-preparatory schools over the span of 200+ years and our community can boast of a number of notable graduates.”

Let’s take a few minutes to hear from Amherst High School graduate Joe Scanlon about the earlier Amherst High School buildings, and to salute some of those earlier ‘grads’ who experienced their formative years in the Town of Amherst.

Over the past 200 years there have been four college-preparatory ‘high schools’ in the town of Amherst, three traditional high schools, and one historic ‘prep school.’  Joseph Scanlon will focus his talk on the four high schools and their notable graduates.

Amherst Academy was founded in 1814, and was located in what is now the Amity Street parking lot, next to Amherst Cinema. Emily Dickinson attended this school from 1840 to 1847, when she entered Mary Lyons’ Mount Holyoke female Seminary.

Spring Street school was in operation from 1875 until approximately 1922. It was located in the block off Seelye Street, and there is a marble column standing on the corner Dickinson Street and Spring Street which marks the former entrance of the school.

Lessey Street School was in operation from 1922 until 1967. After the new high school opened in 1956 this building became a junior high school for the 7th and 8th grades, and remained in use until the Middle School on Chestnut Street was opened.



11/03/23: Lost Towns of the Swift Rver Valley, by Elena Palladino

When the four Quabbin towns were disincorporated in April of 1938 it was more than just a legal decision. Families which had lived in the towns for generations were forced to move, separating from friends, neighbors and relatives.

Local author Elena Palladino lives in one of the homes whose elements were moved out of Enfield. In her book, Lost Towns of the Swift River Valley, she writes about the former owner of the house, Marion Andrews Smith, and highlights as well two other Enfield residents: Dr. Willard Segur, the country doctor, and Edwin Henry Howe, the postmaster and proprietor of the general store, all of whom had deep personal ties to the Swift River Valley.


10/20/23: CommonPLACE: The Origins of Public Libraries in New England, by Thomas Johnson, Jr

Local author Thomas Johnson, Jr, talks about his first book, Common PLACE: The Public Library, Civil Society and Early American Values. The book tells the stories behind early libraries in America — where they are located, who created them and why.  While many Americans may assume that public libraries exist(ed) worldwide, this illuminating book details the gradual evolution of a uniquely American institution that originated in New England. Vignettes of sixteen public libraries located in New England include those both historic and typical, albeit with a focus on smaller localities where their presence can be more significant.


10/06/23: Lydia Maria Child - A Radical American Life, by Dr Lydia Moland

Best known today for the poem “Over the River and through the Wood,” Lydia Maria Child first became famous for peppy household self-help books and charming children’s stories. But in 1833, at age 31, Child shocked her readers by publishing the first book-length history of slavery in the United States — a book so radical in its absolute commitment to abolition that friends abandoned her and patrons ostracized her. But Child’s energetic and unwavering commitment to justice soon drew numbers of converts to the abolitionist cause, transforming her into one of the foremost authors and activists of her generation.

Dr Lydia Moland of Colby College talks about her new biography examining the life and impact of this remarkable woman.


9/22/23: Investigating the Tan Brook, by Dr Christine Hatch

Tan Brook is a little-known stream that flows right under Triangle Street and Kendrick Park. It originates from the small lake next to Wildwood Cemetery, and emerges at McClellan Street. Like many small streams in places with numerous humans and lots of paved roads, Tan Brook has been an inconvenience, crisscrossing the paths we wanted to travel, making places wet that we wanted dry. Over time, it was pushed aside to put a road here, a school there; or buried completely under an apartment building, a house, or a parking lot. As we traveled and lived over it, we forgot about it. Tan Brook was removed from surface maps, since it didn’t flow on the surface much anymore.

This may be changing. Some urban areas have been consciously “daylighting” formerly buried streams, bringing people back in touch with the natural world around them.

Here to tell us about Tan Brook is Dr Christine Hatch.  Dr. Hatch is Extension Professor of Water Resources and Climate Change in the Department of Earth, Geographic, and Climate Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She serves on the Massachusetts Water Resources Commission and as Research-Extension Liaison for the Center for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (CAFÉ), and is currently an Associate Editor of Water Resources Research. Dr. Hatch is a lover of rivers great and small, and delights as much in the small but mighty Tan Brook in Amherst as the raging Connecticut River at flood stage.


9/8/23: History of the Wachusett Reservoir, by Kathryn Parent

Before there was Quabbin, there was Wachusett… In 1897, the Nashua River above the town of Clinton, Mass was impounded by the Wachusett Dam; 4,380 acres were flooded in the towns of Boylston, West Boylston, Clinton, and Sterling —  this was the first time the state would flood an inhabited area to create a drinking water supply. Work was completed in 1905 and the reservoir first filled in May 1908. At the time of construction,the Wachusett Reservoir was the largest public water supply reservoir in the world and today it is the second largest body of water in Massachusetts – only the Quabbin Reservoir is bigger.

Our speaker is Kathryn Parent, Program Coordinator, DCR Division of Water Supply Protection. Kathryn has worked for the Department of Conservation for over 15 years, working at such places as Purgatory Chasm and Blackstone River & Canal Heritage State Park. Kathryn became dedicated to water education while telling the river recovery story of the Blackstone River, the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.


5/11/23: Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land, by Sandra Matthews and David Brule

Sandra Matthews and David Brule talk about their book. Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land is an art book that engages with history and memory. Ms Matthews’ subtle photographs of vernacular structures and historic sites offer a uniquely personal meditation on the human occupation of land, with an emphasis on the long presence of Indigenous people, whose lands have been transformed by people coming here from all over the world since the early 1600s.

The main text of the book comes from the photographs of historic markers, which were installed around the state at different times by different interest groups. The words on these markers describe early relations between Indigenous people and largely English settlers, from diverse points of view. In this way, the book explores how difficult and differing histories are written and told and how those stories change over time.

In addition to the photographs, the book contains an essay by David Brule, Finding a Way Forward, which describes the necessary work of reconciliation which is taking place between the different groups who now occupy the land.  Mr Brule grew up in Turners Falls, Massachusetts and is of mixed Nehantic, Narragansett and Huron/Wendat descent.  He is president of the Nolumbeka Project.


4/14/23: History of the Emily Dickinson Museum, by Jane Wald

In 1965, in recognition of the Emily Dickinson’s growing stature, the Homestead was purchased by Amherst College and was opened to the public for tours. It also served as a faculty residence for many years. Next door, The Evergreens, occupied by Dickinson family heirs until 1988, remained virtually unchanged for a hundred years. Collaborations between the Homestead and The Evergreens began as the Martha Dickinson Bianchi Trust prepared to open Austin Dickinson’s house to the public in the late 1990s, and hte emily dickinson Museum was formally instituted in 2003.

Jane Wald, the Museum’s Executive Director, talks about the period from the 1920’s to the 1965, when the Homestead was still in private hands.


3/31/23: History of the Amherst Record Newspaper, by Phyllis Lehrer

The Amherst Record newspaper published from 1844 to 1984. During that time it was sometimes a daily paper andsometimes a weekly paper, but it always tried to report the local news to the local community.

Join long-time reporter Phyllis Lehrer as she traces the history and the changes of one fo amherst’s local newspapers.


3/3/23: Regicide in the Family - Finding John Dixwell, by Sarah Dixwell Brown

What if you had someone in your family tree who played a role in the beheading of King Charles I in 1649, the only English monarch ever sent to his death? How would that make you feel?

That’s a question Sarah Dixwell Brown wrestles with in “Regicide in the Family,” her lively account of discovering that a distant ancestor, John Dixwell, was one of 59 judges who signed the death warrant for King Charles I following the conclusion of the English Civil War, which had pitted the king’s forces against those of Parliament.  When Charles II restored the monarchy in 1660, many of the 59 judges and members of Parliament who had signed his father’s death warrant were arrested and publicly executed in gruesome fashion. Dixwell fled first to Germany, then came to New England in the mid-1660s, eventually settling in New Haven, Connecticut after spending a brief time in the tiny settlement of Hadley.

Sarah Dixwell Brown is a former writing coach at the Commonwealth Honors College at  UMass/Amherst, and is a resident of Amherst.  She has also taught at Stanford University, Santa Clara University and Mount Holyoke College, and is descended from John Dixwell.


2/11/23: Massachusetts Historical Society and National History Day, by Catherine Allgor and Elyssa Tardif

At the Amherst Historical Society’s annual meeting, Catherine Allgor of the Massachusetts Historical Society talks about her vision of the changes in the Society. The her colleague Elyssa Tardiff talks about National History Day.


Video Archive, 2020 to 2021

Made possible thanks to the efforts of our dedicated Trustees. Click a title to expand.

12/03/21: Beside the Still Waters: A Novel of the Quabbin, by Jacqueline T Lynch

Ms Jacqueline T Lynch will talk about Beside the Still Waters; her novel of life in the four Massachusetts towns submerged by the flooding of the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s.  Families are torn apart, divided between those who protest the construction, those who give up and leave while they can, and those who help to build the dam that will flood the towns. The story is about family, tradition and community, and how our hometowns make up a big part of our family heritage and our personal identities.  Photos and map images will accompany the talk.


Jacqueline T. Lynch’s novels, short stories, and non-fiction history books are available online as eBooks and in paperback.  She has published articles and short fiction in regional and national publications, including the anthology 60 Seconds to Shine: 161 Monologues from Literature (Smith & Kraus, 2007), North & South, Civil War Magazine, History Magazine, and writes Another Old Movie Blog on classic films, and New England Travels blog on historical, cultural, and tourist attractions in New England.

11/19/21: The Amherst, MA WCTU Drinking Fountain. by Dr Rob Weir

Dr. Robert Weir will talk about his new book, Who Knew? (published by Leveller’s Press), which tells the fascinating tales behind places and objects that we pass by but barely notice, including the West Street monument and the Adams Farm memorial on Florence Road. He will outline the history of the WCTU, which left ornate water fountains as relics of its political struggles.


Dr Robert E. Weir obtained his Ph.D. in American History from the University of Massachusetts Amherst; he recently retired. He has also taught at Smith College, Bay Path University, Mt. Holyoke College, Westfield State University, and as a senior Fulbright scholar in New Zealand.

11/12/21: Aife Murray and Emily Dickinson

Aífe Murray’s Maid as Muse: How Servants Changed Emily Dickinson’s Life and Language is having a moment one decade after it was published (UNH 2010). The servant plot line, and much more, in the fun and outrageous Apple TV show DICKINSON — Season three goes live Nov 5 — & the just released, delightful novel Emily‘s House (Berkley 2021) BOTH derive from Aífe’s book and research. AND Aífe is now part of the team producing The Slave is Gone, the show that talks back to Apple TV’s DICKINSON in which she also has an on-air role as “rogue scholar” in conversation with prize-winning poets Jericho Brown and Brionne Janae breaking down what’s historically true and emotionally true in the Apple show‘s coming of age take and always bringing it back to the poetry.


Aífe conceived, produced and has led public walking tours of the Dickinson servants’ Amherst; the first was co-narrated with a servant descendant and Dickinson Museum house cleaners and gardeners (1997, 2004). Her installation “Pantry DRAWer” was part of the Mead Art Museum exhibition Word As Object: Emily Dickinson and Contemporary Art (1997). She has been in residence (2004) and a scholar advisor (2019) for the Emily Dickinson Museum.

11/05/21: The Todd Family of Amherst, by Dr Julie Dobrow

“He was one of the outstanding astronomers of his time,” noted David Peck Todd’s obituary in The New York Times, “a Professor of Astronomy and Navigation and Director of the observatory at Amherst College for nearly forty years.” In The Amherst Record, an obituary of his wife, Mabel Loomis Todd came under the headline, “A Friend of Amherst,” and mentioned, among other attributes, “She was so wrought into the fibre [sic] of all the old Amherst life…” that her death brought with it “…a real pang.” And the obituary of their only child, Millicent Todd Bingham, firmly situated her as the child of her father, “a professor of astronomy at Amherst College” and her mother, someone who “labored for many years deciphering the letters and poetry illegibly written much earlier by her former Amherst neighbor, Emily Dickinson.” In death, as in life, the Todds’ affiliations with the Town of Amherst and Amherst College closely aligned with their achievements. As the headlines of their respective obituaries suggested, each of them had made significant contributions in varied pursuits. Indeed, despite the many and varied trying circumstances they encountered in their lives, individually and collectively, the “Amherst connection” was part of what held this remarkable – and highly fraught – little family together.


Julie Dobrow, a professor at Tufts University and author of After Emily: Two Remarkable Women and the Legacy of America’s Greatest Poet, returns to the Amherst Historical Society to talk about all three Todds and some of the amazing – and little known – work they did in their respective lives.

10/22/21: History of the town of Pelham, by Joe Larson

The town of Pelham is located just to the east of Amherst. It was first settled in 1738 by mostly Presbyterian Scotch-Irish immigrants; it was officially incorporated in 1743. An eastern region of Pelham was annexed by the town of Prescott, and later submerged by the Quabbin Reservoir. The town is best known as being home to Daniel Shays, the leader of Shays’ Rebellion during 1786 and 1787.


In the 19th century, the town was home to the Orient Springs health spa and the Montague Fly-fishing Rod Mfg Co., and was a stop on the Amherst electric trolley line.

10/8/21: The New Haven-Northampton Canal by Robert Madison,

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.


Author Bob Madison talks about his rails-to-trails book.  The Canal Greenway takes the bicyclist or hiker on a historic trip through sixteen towns into the interior of Western New England – – from New Haven, CT to Northampton, MA.  His rails-to-trails book is a comprehensive guide which includes trail maps, trailhead descriptions, original watercolor paintings by the author, attractions, distances and a little history of each of the sixteen towns along with the history of the canal and the railroad as the modern rail trail works its way along some 81 trail miles or 87 mile canal length.

9/24/21: Stories of Amherst, by George Naughton

There can never be one History of Amherst, since there are always more stories to collect and pass on. This week’s presentation is titled ‘Stories of Amherst,’ and will take us on a tour of some of the personalities and events which shaped our town. Did you know that Amherst was founded in the same year, 1759, that the Guinness Brewery was founded in Dublin? We include stories of Amherst’s industrial past, and the connections between Amherst and Japan.


George Naughton is President of the Amherst Historical Society and is a long-time resident of Amherst

9/10/21: Biography of Edward Hitchcock, by Robert McMaster

Edward Hitchcock was one of the most eminent American scientists of his time, a popular professor and president at Amherst College, and an inspired preacher. But, nearly 160 years after his death, his story has never really been told. So in his new book, All the Light Here Comes from Above: The Life and Legacy of Edward Hitchcock, Williamsburg author Robert T. McMaster at last brings to light the many facets of one of this state’s and the nation’s most famous sons.


5/21/21: DuBois Library Special Collections, by Aaron Rubinstein

“Expanding our great national reservoir of knowledge and intellectual thought:” past, present, and future of the Special Collections at UMass Amherst.

Former Chancellor Randolph Bromery’s ambitious words, written in 1974, presage a transformation of the Special Collections at UMass that began with the acquisition of the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers and blossomed after the arrival of Robert Cox in 2004. The new Head of the Special Collections, Aaron Rubinstein, will discuss the this transformation and how it sets the stage for the future of the department.

Aaron Rubinstein is the Head of the Special Collections and University Archives at UMass Amherst. Aaron grew up in Amherst, graduated from UMass, and has worked in SCUA for over a decade. Before SCUA, he was the Archivist for Digital Collections at Tufts University, and before that Collections Manager at the Yiddish Book Center.


5/7/21: Shays’ Rebellion, by Dr. Barbara Mathews

At a time when the survival of the American experiment in government by and for the people was neither destined nor assured, the Massachusetts uprising labeled “Shays’ Rebellion” fueled speculation that the new United States could not survive for long. While most widely known for the bloody confrontation at the United States Arsenal at Springfield in January 1787, the lasting legacy of the Massachusetts Regulators and their sympathizers was in the creation and ratification of the United States Constitution.

Dr. Barbara Mathews is the Public Historian and Director of Academic Programs at Historic Deerfield. She was the content director, historian, and writer for the website From Revolution to Constitution: Shays’ Rebellion & the Making of a Nation, a collaboration among the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Springfield Technical Community College, and the Springfield Armory funded through a We The People grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.


4/23/21: The Black Cats of Amherst, by Jim Hamilton

Shortly after the United States declared war on Germany in April of 1917, a group of Amherst residents, including townspeople, students, and college professors, enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve in an ambulance unit supporting French soldiers. Driving Model T and Fiat trucks, this unit, nicknamed the Black Cats of Amherst, served with distinction in France and Belgium during the last year of World War I. Jim Hamilton will describe their exploits using contemporary photographs, newspaper articles, diary accounts, letters, and quotes from their unit history.

Jim Hamilton is a graduate of Amherst College and the grandson of a Black Cat. He has published two books related to the Black Cats. The first is The Black Cats of Amherst and the second is We Unite to Serve: The Wartime Diaries of Reverend Stoddard Lane. For more information on Jim’s writing projects, see


4/9/21: Early Days at the Valley Advocate, part 2, by Chris O’Carroll and David Sokol

In September 2020, Mr Chris O’Carroll reminisced about his time working at the Valley Advocate in the 1970’s. Now he will return, teamed up with the Advocate Music Editor  to tell us more about some of the acts (Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda, Marcel Marceau) he covered as Arts and Entertainment Editor for the local weekly, and about the ways in which arts & entertainment coverage can overlap with hard-news political stories — for example, when local activists picket a movie theatre, or when artists espouse political causes and perform at fundraising converts.

Mr. Chris O’Carroll was an editor at the Valley Advocate from 1975-1980 – arts and entertainment editor for most of that time, then briefly managing editor.  After his years at the newspaper, he worked as a freelance journalist and a writer and editor at various magazines published by UMass.

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3/26/21: Native American Stone Structures, by Dr Curtiss Hoffman

Scattered throughout the woodlands and fields of the eastern seaboard of the United States and Canada are tens of thousands of stone monuments. These stone constructions have been the subject of debate among archaeologists and antiquarians for the past seventy-five years.  Dr Curtiss Hoffman of Bridgewater State University, the author of Stone Prayers, will share his findings and insights, based on an examination of over 5,000 sites.

Curtiss Hoffman holds a PhD from Yale University in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures (1974), and since 1973 has directed field operations at archaeological sites in southern New England. He is Full Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts and is past president of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society and currently serves as the editor of its Bulletin.


3/12/21: The Gritty Berkshires, by Maynard Seider

In his book, The Gritty Berkshires, Dr Maynard Seider tells how the Berkshires offer insight into so many crucial aspects of the American experience. Moving from the early 1800s to the present, Seider weaves a narrative that details the area’s vibrant immigrant history, slavery’s role in its textile industry, the battle for national unions and the ideological struggles with corporate elites over who best speaks for the community. Enriched by dozens of photographs, these stories focus on the voices of ordinary people as they often do extraordinary things.


Maynard Seider is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (formerly North Adams State College), where he taught 1978-2010.

2/26/21: The Amherst Government Charter, by Nick Grabbe

In the first decade of the 21st century, the Town of Amherst went through a long debate and decision process regarding a proposed change in the structure of the town government. Mr Nick Grabbe will give us historical perspective, beginning with the town’s 1938 decision to do away with the open Town Meeting. Then in 2002 the  Charter Commission delivered its 14-page report, but that was only one more step in the process.


Mr Nick Grabbe, a former newspaperman, worked on the campaign to change to change the structure of the government, which culminated in the vote on March 27, 2018.  We invited him to tell about the campaign.

11/20/20: The Juneteenth Holiday, by Dr. Amilcar Shabazz, UMass/Amherst

“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.


11/6/20, Ray Stannard Baker, by Nick Grabbe

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.

10/23/20: New England Apples, by Russell Powell

“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, 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.

10/9/20: Railroads in the Valley, by Philip Johnson

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.

9/25/20: Sacco and Vanzetti, by Bruce Watson

Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, the Murders, and the Judgment of Mankind

“A century ago, as America emerged from another pandemic, frenzy arose over the case of a ‘good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler’ accused of robbery and murder.  As it twisted from arrest to trial to six years of appeals, the case of Sacco and Vanzetti caught the world’s attention, sparking protests in every major capital.  Dozens of books have been written about the case but Bruce Watson’s Sacco and Vanzetti: The Men, The Murders and The Judgment of Mankind is ‘the most thorough and readable plumbing yet of the case record’” (The Nation).


Along with his popular column in the Amherst Bulletin, Bruce Watson has written for Smithsonian, American Heritage, Yankee, Nautilus, and other publications.  He is the author of four books on American history and currently writes The Attic, an online magazine for “a kinder, cooler America.”

9/11/20: Early Days on The Valley Advocate, part 1, by Chris O’Carroll

“The Alternative in the Pioneer Valley” — When the Advocate Was Young

The Valley Advocate should need no introduction in the Pioneer Valley. Founded in 1973, it has been “The News and Arts Weekly” for the Valley ever since. Mr. Chris O’Carroll was the Advocate’s Arts and Entertainment editor from 1975 to 1980, and will share some of his memories and stories of that time.

Mr. Chris O’Carroll was an editor at the Valley Advocate from 1975-1980 – arts and entertainment editor for most of that time, then briefly managing editor.  After his years at the newspaper, he worked as a freelance journalist and a writer and editor at various magazines published by UMass.


3/6/20: Fence-Viewers of Pelham, Past and Present, by Joe Larson

The office of fence viewer is one of the oldest appointments in New England. In Colonial times, fence viewers might be called upon to resolve boundary disputes; in Massachusetts, this position was first established in 1693 by a statute which was amended in 1785 and again in 1836.

Listen to Joe Larson, a long-time resident of the town of Pelham, and a Fence-Viewer for the town, tell stories of fence viewing.


Dr. Amilcar Shabazz


Amherst Rail station


Russell Powell with apple


Video Archive, 2018 to 2019

Made possible thanks to the efforts of our dedicated Trustees.   Click a title to expand.


11/22/19: The North Prospect-Lincoln-Sunset Local Historic District, by Dr. Maurianne Adams

Maurianne Adams will present a discussion on the historic Lincoln-Sunset neighborhood of Amherst, including the history of farm houses lived in by members of the 19th century Black community and Irish immigrants, as well as houses that were home to college faculty members, businessmen, and other professionals and their families. Amherst College faculty member Robert Frost purchased a home in this neighborhood in 1931. It was named a Historic District by the town in 2017.


For more information on the formation of the District, visit the Amherst Town website here.

11/8/19: Memory Lands: Native American Perspectives on King Philip’s War, by Dr. Christine DeLucia

Dr Christine DeLucia will discuss her new book, Memory Lands, in which she offers a major reconsideration of the violent seventeenth-century conflict in northeastern America known as King Philip’s War, providing an alternative to Pilgrim-centric narratives that have conventionally dominated the histories of colonial New England. DeLucia grounds her study of one of the most devastating conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers in early America in five specific places that were directly affected by the crisis, spanning the Northeast as well as the Atlantic world. She examines the war’s effects on the everyday lives and collective mentalities of the region’s diverse Native and Euro-American communities over the course of several centuries, focusing on persistent struggles over land and water, sovereignty, resistance, cultural memory, and intercultural interactions.


10/25/19: Scars of Slavery, by Dr. Bruce Laurie

On July 4, 1863, one of the most widely read magazines in the country during the Civil War published an image capturing the abhorrent cruelties of slavery — the side portrait of an escaped slave with terrifying, streaking scars across his back caused by a whipping from his owner.

The day after the Battle of Gettysburg ended, Harper’s Weekly published “A Typical Negro,” which included the image of the tortured former slave. He was misidentified as Gordon (his name was Peter), and the photo was accompanied by a narrative that bore little resemblance to the facts.

It did, however, provide readers in the North with some of the most powerful visual evidence of the wickedness of slavery and the abuses that slaves endured.

Recent research by Dr Bruce Laurie, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, into two local men who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War era — Henry S. Gere of Northampton and Marshall S. Stearns of Northfield — provided new clues about the true identity of the former slave brought to national attention by Harper’s.


10/11/19: Jews and Puritans in Colonial New England, by Dr. Michael Hoberman

When the early New England Puritans chose to reject the excessive ritual and structure of the Roman Catholic and established Anglican churches, they went back to the Bible for guidance and found a ready-to-hand model for governance in its depiction of the ancient Jews. But their relations with contemporary Jews were more problematic, as was the application of biblical law to their everyday problems, and the issues of transatlantic trade.

Dr Michael Hoberman of Fitchburg State University is the author of New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America. He will share the findings of his historical studies in the American colonial era.


9/27/19: “Stories in Stone”, by Ta Mara Conde

There is a cemetery in every town and whether it is a colonial burial ground from the beginning of our country or the modern memorial garden on the outskirts of the city; it holds the history of that town. It tells the story of the people, their attitudes towards death, and the industries in which they worked. The cemetery can even show us the geology of the local landscape. These outdoor museums hold a wealth of information which is accessible and open to the average person. The stones reveal the stories, even the mysteries of the town, through the monuments to the people who lived there and whose stories are written in stone.


9/13/19: “Heaven is a World of Love”, by Rev. Peter Ives

Reverend Peter Ives will present a new perspective on the life, ministry, and theology of Congregational minister Johnathan Edwards (1703-1758) , widely regarded as one of America’s most important and original philosophical theologians and a key figure in the first Great Awakening. Rev. Ives was minister of the First Congregational Church in Northampton; the same church where Edwards ministered.


5/10/19: 100 Years of Silk in the Valley, by Dr. Marjorie Senechal

Silk has been made in China for thousands of years, but its history in the Pioneer Valley only spans about a hundred years, from 1830 to 1930. Dr Marjorie Senechal, who spearheaded The Silk Project a few years ago, gives us a wide-ranging overview of this important chapter in our history.


4/26/19: History of the West Cemetery, by Bob Drinkwater

Amherst’s oldest cemetery is the resting place of Emily Dickinson, and of many other early Amherst notables, who have their own stories.


4/12/19: The Founding of the JCA in Amherst, by Irv and Linda Seidman

In the 1960’s, a diverse group of Jews living in Amherst came together to form their own community. Dr Irv Seidman, author of The Jewish Community of Amherst, the Formative Years, 1969 – 1979, will describe the process of forming a cohesive community.


3/29/19: ‘History Bites Cowls’ – a history of the Cowls-Jones family in Amherst, by Cinda Jones

The Cowls family settled in Amherst before the town was founded, and their family history is inextricably intertwined with the town. Look at some of the scenes from their family archives.


3/15/19: History of the Amherst Police, by Captain Ronald Young

In this lecture, Captain Young traces the development of the Amherst police force from its origin as a single lamplighter in 1873 to its standing as a professional organization today.


3/01/19: Charles Eastman in Amherst, by Kiara Vigil

Charles Alexander Eastman (February 19, 1858 – January 8, 1939), also known as Ohiye S’a, was an American physician, writer, and social reformer. He was the first Native American to be certified in Western medicine and was “one of the most prolific authors and speakers on Sioux ethnohistory and American Indian affairs” in the early 20th century.  He and his wife, Ealine Goodale, lived in Amherst from 1903 to 1910, during which time he wrote three books and lectured extensively.

Kiara M. Vigil is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at Amherst College, where she specializes in teaching and research related to Native American Studies. She received her doctorate from the University of Michigan in American Culture, and holds master’s degrees from Dartmouth College as well as Columbia University’s Teachers College, and a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University in history.



11/30/18: Geology in the Pioneer Valley, by Richard Little, Greenfield Community College

History begins with natural history and geology. In this lecture, Richard Little describes some of the natural forces and processes which have given the Pioneer Valley its rich variety of geological features, including the rare ‘armored mud balls.’


11/16/18: 19th Century Spiritualism, by Dr. Robert Cox, UMass Special Collections

Spiritualism was a broadly-based and widely-practiced religious movement of the 19th century. At a time when the nation and society seemed to be tearing apart, it was a powerful unifying, hopeful social force.


11/2/18: How V-mail helped win World War II, by Thomas Weiner

‘V-for-Victory’ mail used microfilm to transport messages to and from Allied soldiers and their families in World War II. Almost forgotten now, it was extensively marketed as a morale-booster in the war effort.


10/19/18: Witchcraft Accusations in the Connecticut Valley, by Dr Michael Thurston, Smith College

Before there was Salem, there was Hadley and Wethersfield. Dr Thurston shares with us the stories of ‘Half-hanged Mary’ and other accused witches, placing them in the context of the times.


10/5/18: Native Americans in King Philips’ War, by Dr. Lisa Brooks, Amherst College

Dr Brooks shares her extensive research into the native tribes’ strategies during King Philips’ War, 1675 – 1678. She focuses on the women and children who fled to safer territory to avoid the conflict.

(Video not available)

9/21/18: History of the Methodist Church in Amherst: by Terry Tarr, church historian

Since the building of its first church in Pelham in 1831, the Wesleyan Methodist Church in the Amherst area has been housed in half a dozen different buildings, including what is now the NACUL center on Main Street.


5/4/18: Sylvester Graham, the Bran-Bread Philosopher, by Christopher Clark

Dr Christopher Clark will give a lecture about Sylvester Graham, who arrived in Northampton, Mass., in the late 1830s, a well- known lecturer and writer on diet, health, and hygiene. An early advocate of vegetarianism, he would be best remembered for crackers and bread made of unbolted flour, commercialization of which at the end of the century would secure him lasting name-recognition. Yet Graham’s dietary prescriptions formed only part of a regimen, which he modestly called “the science of human life.” Rivals and medical societies ridiculed Graham as a quack, but his claims to a scientific basis for his views on diet and behavior obtained him a large public following. Though his death in 1851 at only 57 marred his authority as a guide to longevity, Graham had helped launch a popular science movement that would flourish even as professional science and medicine grew. His association with wholegrain crackers was strong enough that a half-century later his name was being used to sell factory-baked products that – had he lived to see them — he would have roundly condemned.



4/20/18: The Museum of Our Industrial Heritage, by Donald Campbell and Friends

John Russell established the Green River cutlery works in 1834, and for over a hundred years Greenfield was an important mill town, transportation hub, and innovation center. The Museum of our Industrial Heritage was established in 1998 to preserve the history and tell the stories of that period.


4/6/18: The Origins of Teddy Bears, by Gregory Wilson – retired antiquarian

Listen to stories about Teddy Roosevelt, our most active, energetic president, one of whose adventures gave rise to the small stuffed bear as a toy. The town of Amherst hosted a Teddy Bear Rally on its common for many years!


3/23/18: Who Owns History?, by Dr Robert Weir – Smith College Professor

Recent controversy over Confederate Civil War memorials highlights the problematic nature of historic narratives. The English novelist L P Hartley famously quipped, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Professor Weir argues in favor of the uncomfortable, as a means to creative dialog leading to greater understanding.


3/9/18: A History of the South Amherst UCC Church, Sheila Rainford – Church Historian

My talk will emphasize the community leading up to the founding of the church, the people who organized the South Congregational Society, the building of the meetinghouse and the early days of the church’s life. South Congregational Church will be 200 years old in 2024, and I have begun to write a history of the church in celebration of that milestone. Audience participation with comments or questions will be welcome.


2/23/18: Dorothy Wrinch and the Protein Wars, by Dr. Marjorie Senechal

This is the story of a brilliant mathematician, and Smith College professor, who found herself on the wrong side of a scientific debate in the 1930’s.


Air pilot drawing

‘How V-Mail Won WW II’ by Thomas Weiner

Cowls family photo

‘History of the Cowls Jones family in Amherst’ by Cinda Jones

West Cemetery Amherst


Video Archive, 2016 to 2017

Made possible thanks to the efforts of our dedicated Trustees.   Click a title to expand.


12/1/17: The Porter-Phelps-Huntington House, by Dr Karen Sanchez-Eppler

When in the 1840s Elizabeth Phelps Huntington wrote letters to her eleven children, many now living far from Hadley, she generally sent along a few pounds of butter—a taste of home for a son in Boston, and a bit of a cash crop. The Porter Phelps Huntington family occupied the same Hadley house from the 1752 until 1968. The house itself, now a museum, and the family papers provide an extraordinarily detailed and continuous record of life in the Connecticut river valley. As one project in the introductory American Studies course “Global Valley” students have been transcribing family letters and making them available on-line, offering fascinating access to the details of daily life and family dynamics in this place. In this talk, Professor Karen Sánchez-Eppler will speaking about her work teaching history with these local documents.

Karen Sánchez-Eppler is a professor of English and American Studies at Amherst College with a focus on 19th century literature and culture. She is the author of Touching Liberty: Abolition, Feminism, and the Politics of the Body (1993) and Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (2005) and a founding co-editor with other Five College colleagues of The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth and now of a new UMASS book series Childhoods: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Children and Youth. She is presently working on two book projects, one in childhood studies and the other on 19th century manuscript books as well as editing the Oxford handbook of Emily Dickinson.


11/17/17: History of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Amherst, by Janis Gray

Exactly 130 years ago — November 17, 1887 — the Universalist Convention of Massachusetts granted a charter to a new Universalist parish in Amherst. Starting with about 40 families, the parish met in Grand Army Hall and other rented spaces until 1893, when it opened the doors to a modest meetinghouse on the corner of North Pleasant Street and Kellogg Avenue. We suspect many of the original parishioners would be amazed by the transformation of their “little house” and its membership between its founding and today.


11/3/17: History of the First Congregational Church in Amherst, by Carlton Brose

There are many histories of the First Congregational Church in Amherst:
First there is the history of each of the four buildings that have housed the continuous and changing congregation.
Second is the history of church membership, polity, and the pastors beginning with David Parsons in 1739 up to Vicki Kemper the present day Pastor.
Third is a significant history of the Congregational Theology from the pre-revolutionary Great Awakening to liberal Protestantism.
Finally there is the history of the presence of First Church as a contributor to the life of Amherst and an integral part of the town’s growth and changes. As a founding institution this church stands as Amherst’s historic big bang.”


10/20/17: Robert Francis the Poet, by Henry Lyman

Robert Churchill Francis, once described by Robert Frost as “the best neglected poet,” was born on August 12, 1901 in Upland, Pennsylvania. He attended Harvard University; after graduating, he moved to Amherst, where he taught high school for one year, and then devoted his life to writing poetry. He lived in Cushman in a small house he built in 1940 that he named “Fort Juniper,” inspiring editors at the University of Massachusetts Press to name their poetry award the Juniper Prize. His autobiography, The Trouble with Francis (1971), recounts in detail the construction of this retreat, even including a ledger of materials and their cost down to the last nail, as though the poet were driven to prove his frugality.

“My speciality has been not to earn much but to spend little,” Mr. Francis told The Daily Hampshire Gazette in a 1981 interview.

In The Satirical Rogue On Poetry, his curious collection of witticisms, criticisms and aphorisms, Francis included a short essay called “Poetry and Poverty.” Here he cited the poet, Robert Herrick, whose cottage garden provided sufficiency for a modest board: “Or pea, or bean, or wort, or beet, whatever comes, content makes sweet.” From his own experience Francis proposed that “a young poet just out of college and not yet married might consider a Herrick sort of life for a few years. Like Herrick he could grow the pea, the bean, the wort, the beet, and like Herrick, he could keep a hen. Rough clothes, old clothes, would be fine. A good half the day or half the year he could have clear for himself and his poetry. Even if he didn’t wholly like such a life, it might be better than going hungry in New York or Paris. He could always move to the city whenever his income permitted…. He might, of course, like it. He might decide to stay on. Healthy, solvent, and independent, he might find cottage life good for him, and being good for him, good for his poetry as well.”


10/6/17: David Peck Todd, Astronomer, by George Greenstein

Most people know of David Peck Todd only as the long-suffering husband of Mabel Loomis Todd. In reality he was a remarkable scientist in his own right. The telescope that he built at Amherst College in 1905 was one of the finest in the nation, and it still stands today. Todd, a master inventor who once worked with Thomas Edison, was a leader in studies of the Sun’s atmosphere and the planet Mars.


9/22/17: Examination of 19th Century Herbal Quilt, by Jade Mace

Many medicinal herbs historically used in healing are still used quite often by modern herbalists today! Join local herbalist Jade Alicandro Mace as she discusses the historical and current medicinal uses of the herbs painted on an antique quilt on display at the Historical Society through September 2017.


9/8/17:How the Mountains got their Names, by 'Chick' Chickering

From the Holyoke Range to the Vermont border, many of the hills and peaks that we see around us were named by the fourth president of Amherst College, Edward Hitchcock. Their names are surprisingly diverse — Castor and Pollux, Bull Hill, Mount Norwottuck — and there is a story behind each one. After a brief account of Hitchcock’s extraordinary accomplishments, and his vigorous yet eccentric character, I will describe the circumstances by which he arrived at what he called his “denomination” of several of our local landmarks.


5/5/17:The Springfield Armory, by Susan Ashman

Begun as a major arsenal under the authority of General George Washington early in the Revolutionary War, the first national armory began manufacturing muskets in 1794. Within decades, Springfield Armory had perfected pioneering manufacturing methods that were critical to American industrialization. Reopened in 1978 as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the original 1840’s arsenal houses the world’s largest collection of historic American military firearms.


4/21/17: H P Lovecraft, by George Naughton

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890 – 1937) is widely known and admired as an author of supernatural fiction. But he was also an avid scholar and antiquarian, and his detailed, highly descriptive stories of New England in the 1920’s and 30’s contain many references to local history and folklore. In this lecture by a long-time Lovecraft fan, we will gain an overview of his life, work, and influence.


4/07/17: The Library of Congress, by Rich Cairn

If the past is what happened, then primary sources are the evidence we rely on to understand and interpret the past as history. In this hands-on talk and workshop, dig through the 30 million primary sources online from the Library of Congress. Search for maps, letters, photos, newspapers, posters, and political cartoons with Amherst connections. Investigate with Rich Cairn, veteran educator with area schools, supported by the Library’s Teaching with Primary Sources Program.


3/24/17: Writing Historical Fiction, by Susan Snively

The Heart has Many Doors is a work of imaginative fiction. Poet, scriptwriter, and essayist Susan Snively lives in Amherst, and works as a guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum. She will talk about the process of working historical fact into a fictional narrative.
The book, whose title of course comes from Emily Dickinson, portrays the poet’s love affair with the eminent Judge Otis Phillips Lord of Salem, a widower and family friend, eighteen years older than the poet. Emily and the judge struggle with her need for privacy and his power as a man of the world, but their autumnal romance has the friskiness of much younger lovers. A review in *The Bulletin of the Emily Dickinson International Society* says the book “takes bold imaginative leaps, but Snively’s sensibilities are in tune with Dickinson’s. Her novel is affecting, fresh, and passionate.” (Renée Bergland)


3/10/17: Amity Street, a novel by Kitty Burns Florey

Amity Street is the sequel to Kitty Burns Florey’s 2012 novel The Writing Master, which was set in New Haven in 1856. Amity Street moves ahead 35 years: it is now 1892. Anna Felice, a wealthy former opera star, travels from Rome, Italy, to America — to Manhattan, to New Haven, finally to Amherst, Massachusetts — in search of the truth about her birth.

Amity Street is the product of the author’s long admiration for Victorian novels and her fascination with social history. The research for the book encompassed fashion, railroads, cooking, the training of hawks, the teaching of singing, the suffragist movement, and the early days of baseball. Most of all, the novel is deeply immersed in the history — the architecture, the shops, the colleges, the farms, the customs — of the town of Amherst not long before the turn of the century, and the end of an era.


2/24/17: Draft Counselling in the 1960's, by Tom Weiner

The Vietnam War ended more than 40 years ago, but its effects are still being felt. Tom Weiner, recently retired after teaching for 40 years at the Smith College Campus School, will talk about his book, Called to Serve: Stories of Men and Women Confronted by the Vietnam War Draft. He interviewed 62 people around Pioneer Valley who shared with him their decisions about how they responded to the draft and the circumstances and back stories behind the choices they made.

It is the only book that presents all of the possible options for those drafted including from serving to resisting, from leaving the country to being a conscientious objector, to “beating the draft” with a high lottery number. This book focuses on 32 stories of men and women whose lives the draft directly impacted.

The book was subsequently adapted into “The Draft,” a play by prize-winning playwright Peter Snoad. It premiered in Boston and was performed at the Academy of Music in September 2015. Tom’s dual purpose in writing the book was to preserve these gripping, emotional stories and to aid in the healing process that still is taking place 40 years after the fall of Saigon.


12/2/16: The Second Parish Church, Deerfield, by Peter Thomas

Members of a Congregational Church would enter into a Covenant with God and other members of the church “to walk together in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, [and in the next breath also] agreed to watch ourselves and one another in the spirit of meekness, tenderness, and Christian fidelity”. In this presentation, Mr Peter Thomas describes the normal workings of this and other Congregational Churches during the period 1818-1891 as described in church records. But, “to err is human” and church members had all agreed to submit to the “admonition of others” if required.   Church practices were well established to address those who strayed from the path of a Calvinist philosophy, ranging from the public confession of a woman for playing cards in a tavern to the excommunication of a young man who skipped two Sunday services and attended a ball.


11/18/16: Diversity at old Mass Aggie, by Rob Cox

The forerunner to the University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Agricultural College (MAC), was an intimate place where virtually every student knew one another and where education and manual labor went hand in hand. Built as a place for educating the “sons of toil,” its practical, rural character flavors the way we imagine the school, and few of us imagine it in the vanguard of social progress. In this talk, we will explore one aspect of life in late nineteenth century MAC which reveals something about the aspirations and achievements of the young school: the previously hidden, and quite surprising lives of first nine African American students at MAC. Their remarkable legacies say much about what we did right, and were we could have done – and could still do — better.


11/4/16: Amherst's Little Red Schoolhouse, by Jeff Lee

On the eastern edge of the Amherst College Campus, the Little Red Schoolhouse stood as a symbol of excellence in early childhood education for nearly eighty years. Its creation drew from the contributions of several notable figures, including:
• Stanley King, who presided over Amherst College during a period of significant development, and documented his involvement in detail.
• William Rutherford Mead, co-founder the iconic American architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White, whose legacy served to establish the Mead Art Museum.
• William Kellum Smith, prolific, if somewhat controversial designer of academic buildings, and last partner of McKim, Mead and White.
Slated for demolition in 2012 to make way for a new science center, the Little Red Schoolhouse was the focus of an active citizen effort, working in cooperation with Amherst College, to relocate and preserve it. The building’s twilight years serve as an object lesson in the challenges of historical preservation.


10/21/16: Northampton Abolitionists, part II, by Steve Strimer

The Summer of 1833 saw the work of two women emerge as flashpoints in the struggle to end slavery and promote justice for free African Americans. The bravery of Prudence Crandall of Canterbury, Connecticut and Lydia Maria Child of Boston helped inspire the founders of an abolitionist “utopian” community, the Northampton Association, at the root of what became the village of Florence, Massachusetts.

In 1997, Steve Strimer began to study the 19th century “utopian” Northampton Association of Education and Industry that preceded the founding of the village of Florence. In 2008, he co-founded The David Ruggles Center and wrote the application to the Community Preservation Committee which approved $150,000 to preserve the house at 225 Nonotuck Street and its conversion to a museum/education center dedicated to the history of the reformers of Florence. He is a member of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Committee and leads walking tours of Underground Railroad and abolition-era sites.


10/07/16: History of Postcards, by Greg Wilson, retired antiquarian

Gregory Wilson has been a collector of postcards ever since he was a small boy and started to see them in scrapbooks. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware (BA 1961) and University of Pittsburgh (1963) with a Master of Library Science degree, and has worked at the undergraduate library at Harvard University.  He became the curator of the Theodore Roosevelt collection at Harvard, where his first job was to catalog Roosevelt’s 500 postcards. During that time he started his own antique business, which included antique postcards. He has worked at Franconia College, and he moved to Northampton in 1976. He was the Five College Librarian until the Five College Library was closed. He is a collector and dealer of antiquarian items and is an expert appraiser of postcard and trade card collections.


9/23/16: Melvil Dewey, by Bonnie Isman

Go back in time to Amherst in the 1870s and see how one of the world’s most widely used library tools came into being. Library reform advocate Melvil Dewey invented the Google search engine of its day during his undergraduate years at Amherst College. We will explore the ways that his Amherst education influenced this innovative approach to library management.

Bonnie Isman moved to Amherst in 1972 to begin her library career as Adult Services Librarian at the Jones Library. After a stint working in the U.S. Virgin Islands libraries, she directed the Jones Library/Town Libraries for thirty years, retiring in 2010. Her interest in Melvil Dewey began as she developed lectures for the Public Library Management class that she taught at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library Science at Mount Holyoke.


9/9/16: Founding of Grace Episcopal Church, by Ken Samonds

Grace Episcopal Church in Amherst is celebrating its 150th anniversary. The church historian, Ken Samonds, will describe the politics around the founding and siting of the church, as well as describing its William Gibson stained glass windows and the origins of its stone.


4/29/16: Artifacts Inspire Local Fiber Artists

Representatives of the Amherst History Museum asked a group of local fiber artists to interpret various items from the Museum’s collection. Three of the artists – Rebecca Fricke, Flo Rosenstock and Sally Dillon – discuss the project, and how they were inspired by the Museum’s artifacts.


4/15/16: Archaeology at the Strong House, by Tim Barker

The Strong House was built on this land beginning in the late 1750s. Prior archeology projects have uncovered some aspects of the physical history left behind under the ground layer. This presentation will outline the various aspects of archaeological research and excavation in the Connecticut River valley and the New England region, and summarize the work done at the Strong House to date, including previous investigations by UMass Archaeological Services at the Strong House property and the initial results of the ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey completed last November.
The survey incorporated aerial views of the Strong House property from a drone.
F. Timothy Barker, Field Supervisor, has directed field projects for Archaeological Services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMASS) for 24 years. Since 1992 he has managed more than 500 archaeological projects and has authored/co-authored more than 60 reports for UMASS. He has supervised archaeological reconnaissance surveys, identification and evaluation studies, and data recovery projects throughout the Northeast. Mr. Barker assists in creating field-testing strategies and then oversees multiple crews as they complete archaeological excavations. Mr. Barker has an extensive knowledge of military history as well as research experience with 17th and 18th century New England history, archaeological sites, and artifact types.


4/1/16: Shays' Rebellion, by Ann Tweedy

Shays’ Rebellion was more than the culminating moment of the raid on the Springfield Armory in 1787. It involved protests and vocal opposition to the taxation levied by the new state’s government in Boston. Ann Tweedy will share her ongoing research on this subject and provide a look at the people who supported the revolt, including the Dickinson family of Amherst and other prominent families in the region.

Many of the Shays’ Rebellion participants in the Pioneer Valley were poor farmers and merchants who had left home and harvest countless times to fight for England in colonial wars, and then fight against England for independence.

In the scope of American history, the rebellion has been largely forgotten. However, it stands as an important illustrative episode of the post-Revolution political atmosphere. What shaped the decisions of leading figures to stand with or against The Regulars (as the men who followed Daniel Shays were known) and did those who signed a required oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth truly stand behind their signatures?


3/18/16: South Amherst Common, by Rachel Mustin

Rachel Hare Mustin will present an account of how the South Amherst Common, sometimes known as ‘Fiddler’s Green,’ evolved from 1703, when Amherst was still the East Precinct of Hadley, until today. Early houses were built on the Common, as well as a number of buildings for “common uses” over the years, such as the church, the parish house, the school, the library, the former post office and general store, and the former Poor Farm, as well as the cemetery. Today the South Amherst Common, including nine homes, three barns, and “public buildings,” is on the National Registry of Historic Districts.

Ms. Mustin lives on South East Street facing the South Amherst Common. She moved to Amherst in 2001 from the Philadelphia area and became interested in researching the history of the South Amherst Common. In Amherst, she has been Secretary of the League of Women Voters, on the Amherst Cultural Council, and active in Learning in Retirement, and the Amherst Club.


3/4/16: Northampton Abolitionists, part I, by Steve Strimer

The Summer of 1833 saw the work of two women emerge as flashpoints in the struggle to end slavery and promote justice for free African Americans. The bravery of Prudence Crandall of Canterbury, Connecticut and Lydia Maria Child of Boston helped inspire the founders of an abolitionist “utopian” community, the Northampton Association, at the root of what became the village of Florence, Massachusetts.

In 1997, Steve Strimer began to study the 19th century “utopian” Northampton Association of Education and Industry that preceded the founding of the village of Florence. In 2008, he co-founded The David Ruggles Center and wrote the application to the Community Preservation Committee which approved $150,000 to preserve the house at 225 Nonotuck Street and its conversion to a museum/education center dedicated to the history of the reformers of Florence. He is a member of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue Committee and leads walking tours of Underground Railroad and abolition-era sites.


2/19/16: Dendrochronology, by William Flynt

Dendrochronology is the scientific method of dating wood based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings. It can be used to date the timber used in wooden structures, like the Simeon Strong House. Of particular importance is the ability to ascertain the precise date that a tree was felled, thus providing the earliest possible date for the construction of a house or other structure. Mr. Flynt will discuss the application of this science in the study of structures at Historic Deerfield and throughout New England. If Community Preservation Act funds are forthcoming, he will be studying the Simeon Strong House in the coming year helping us date more precisely when the house was built.

William Flynt has been the architectural conservator at Historical Deerfield since 1979. A graduate of Deerfield Academy and Williams College, with a master of science degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Vermont, he oversees research and preservation of the museum’s historic structures and serves as a consultant to several organizations throughout New England. Among the projects at Historic Deerfield that he has supervised is the restoration of the Hinsdale and Anna Williams House and architectural reinterpretations of the Wells-Thorn house, Sheldon House, and Barnard Tavern.


Video Archive, 2015 and earlier

Made possible thanks to the efforts of our dedicated Trustees.   Click a title to expand.


12/4/15: A Coming of Age Story: Mercy Sheldon, Amos Amsden and a Young Nation, by Ann Lanning

This presentation explores a compelling “Coming of Age” story for both a young couple and a young nation. The growing personal relationship between Mercy Sheldon and Amos Amsden in Deerfield at the time of the New Republic (1790-1810), begins with their enrollment at Deerfield Academy when it opened in 1799 and continues through a series of points of empathy, each offering the opportunity to thematically link people, objects, historical documents, buildings, and landscape along the village’s mile-long main street.

Anne Digan Lanning is Vice President for Museum Affairs at Historic Deerfield. She oversees the departments that comprise the museum division – Curatorial, Museum Education and Interpretation, Academic Programs, Library, and Special Event Planning. She has worked at Historic Deerfield since 1986 and during this time has also held the positions of Curator for Interpretation and Chair of the Curatorial Department.

Ms. Lanning’s research interests focus on women’s history topics from the colonial period to the colonial revival, historic foodways, taverns, and the history of technology. She developed two of the museum’s signature interpretative programs – open hearth cooking demonstrations and classes and the historic trades demonstration series – as a way to engage and teach visitors about life and work in pre-industrial New England. She is currently researching the Barnard Tavern, the museum’s latest restoration project, to get a clearer picture of how this public house functioned during the early National Period and the young family who operated it. She has lectured and published on a variety of topics.  She received an undergraduate degree in history from the College of New Rochelle (NY), and a master’s degree in History Museum Studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program (NY).


11/6/15: A Collector is Born: Local Landscapes, Local Collections and Joseph Allen Skinner's Imagination, by Cheryl Harned

Joseph Allen Skinner was a local silk manufacturer and collector who funneled the bulk of his collecting passions into the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum, now of Mount Holyoke College. But what, we often wonder, prompted one individual to amass over 7000 objects in his museum and home, as well as buildings and a famous mountain? Drawing upon archival sources and a plethora of objects, as well as research into collecting practices and material culture, Harned argues that the answer to this tantalizing question can be found embedded in the landscape of Skinner’s youth in the Pioneer Valley.

Cheryl Harned is a PhD candidate, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of History, and is writing her dissertation on Joseph Skinner, tentatively titled, Collected: The Wondrous Things of Joseph Allen Skinner, 1862-1946. She has also worked with many local museums and collections, including serving as curator of the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum before returning to UMass to complete her PhD in Public History, US History and Early Modern History of Science.


10/23/15: 100 Years of The Garden Club of Amherst, by Patricia Holland and Elaine Barker

2015 marks the 100thAnniversary of the Garden Club of Amherst. From its inception at the beginning of the last century, the purpose of the Club has been to foster the interests of its members in everything pertaining to gardens, and to show active concern for the beautification of the local area and for the preservation of its natural resources, extending this concern to similar state and national issues.

 Probably the oldest local plant sale is the one held by the Garden Club of Amherst, which was started in the 1950s. With the funds raised, the club  supports an annual UMass scholarship; community beautification activities (planters on the town common, 18th century garden at the Strong House Museum, the Daffodil Project); the Trees in Amherst book and walking tours; and contributions to local organizations such as the Kestrel Trust, Hitchcock Center, Durfee Conservatory, Waugh Arboretum, and Nasami Farm, and to area libraries for the purchase of gardening books.

 Our two speakers, Elaine Barker and Patricia, will present the history of the club based on research into the records maintained in Special Collections at the Jones Library (Patricia Holland) and the experiences of long-term membership (Elaine Barker).


10/9/15: New England Pie: History Under a Crust, by Robert Cox

Want Pie? Pie has been a delectable centerpiece of Yankee tables since Europeans first landed on New England’s shores in the seventeenth century. With a satisfying variety of savory and sweet, author Robert Cox takes a bite out of the history of pie and pie-making in the region in his new book (release date October 5 from Arcadia Press) New England Pie: History Under a Crust.

From the crackling topmost crust to the bottom layer, explore the origin and evolution of popular ingredients like the Revolutionary roots of the Boston cream. One month at a time, celebrate the seasonal fixings that fill New Englanders’ favorite dessert from apple and cherry to pumpkin and squash. With interviews from local bakers, classic recipes and some modern twists on beloved standards, this mouthwatering history of New England pies offers something for every appetite.

A recovering paleontologist and sometime historian, Rob Cox is head of special collections at UMass Amherst, having previously held positions at the University of Michigan (where he received his PhD in history) and the American Philosophical Society. Having written on topics ranging from talking to the dead to Lewis and Clark and Quaker-Seneca relations, his most recent books include a trilogy on New England culinary history [we have enjoyed his talks on chowder and cranberries] and, quite separately, the history of sleep.


9/25/15: Jonathan Edwards, Pope Francis and Climate Change, by Ron Story

Jonathan Edwards has long epitomized the Puritan preacher as a fiery scold fixated on the inner struggle of the soul, a Calvinist scourge who majored in hellfire and brimstone, the fearful preacher of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Ronald Story will draw on his recent book, Jonathan Edwards and the Gospel of Love, to reveal a more complex figure. Story will show Edwards to be a profoundly social minister who preached a gospel of charity and community bound by love and struggled, like Walter Rauschenbusch, Karl Barth, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other great “improvers,” to create a more just and peaceful world.

Story’s main thesis: “Love pervades Jonathan Edwards’s ministry and writings, a point often overlooked given his lingering reputation as a preacher of damnation. In fact, Edwards, though understanding, as we have seen, that fear had its utility in the pulpit, was overwhelmingly a minister of the gospel of love rather than of fear. Though a Calvinist, Edwards was not chiefly a preacher of damnation. Though damnation was ever at hand, Edwards the Calvinist was chiefly a preacher within the tradition of Christian love. Considering Edwards in this context will locate him at the epicenter of his faith and increase our understanding of what he was about.”

Ronald Story, professor emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of History, is the author of The Forging of an Aristocracy: Harvard and the Boston Upper Class, 1800-1870 (1980) and co-author of Generations of Americans: A History of the United States (1976). He has also edited or co-edited A More Perfect Union: Documents in American History (1984-1995), Sports in Massachusetts: Historical Essays(1991), and Five Colleges: Five Histories (1993). He has provided content for a CD-ROM, The American Civil War(1996) and produced a website, The Jackie Robinson Educational Archives (1998). He is a past president of the Amherst Historical Society.


4/24/15: Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery, by Barbara Krauthamer

In this illustrated talk, Dr. Krauthamer will highlight the intersecting histories of photography, slavery and emancipation in the 19th-century U.S. Using photographic images of African Americans and images created by African American photographers, this presentation considers the ways in which photographs helped shaped understandings of African American slavery and freedom in the past and also in the present.

Barbara Krauthamer , Associate Professor and Graduate Program Director in the History department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, is the author of many essays and articles on the history of slavery and emancipation.  She is the author of Black Slaves, Indian Masters: Slavery, Emancipation, and Citizenship in the Native American South, and co-author of Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery. The latter book was awarded the 2013 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in non-fiction. Barbara is currently working on a book about enslaved African and African American women’s strategies of resistance in the 18th-century Atlantic World.


4/10/15: The Rescue of Angeline Palmer, by Cliff McCarthy

In the spring of 1840, prominent Belchertown attorney and businessman Mason Shaw schemed to transport his ten-year-old, African-American servant girl, Angeline Palmer, to Georgia in order to sell her into slavery.  Only a daring rescue by members of Amherst’s African-American community saved her from this fate.  Cliff McCarthy, Belchertown’s Stone House archivist, will present the story along with new research into the event.

Cliff McCarthy is an archivist at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and at the Stone House Museum in Belchertown. A local historian and avid genealogist, he is also the president of the Pioneer Valley History Network. He has written, co-written, or edited three books on Belchertown’s history.


3/13/15: The Relocation of Quabbin Houses, by Jackie Tuthill

Amherst has been Jackie Tuthill’s home for 45 years. For much of that time she has hiked the paths of the Quabbin reservoir watershed with her family. In the fall of 2014, she took the Five College Learning in Retirement Course “Another View of Quabbin.” She chose the relocation of Quabbin houses in the Western Massachusetts area as the topic she would research and present to the class. She found this topic fascinating and rewarding  and that it keeps the Quabbin story of the displaced residents alive, as it informs present and future generations. She will present background on individual Quabbin homes, who sold the homes to the MDWSC (Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission), and the present locations and current owners.

Jacqueline (Jackie) Tuthill grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and received a BS degree in Medical Technology.  She held many jobs and retired after 11 years as an administrative assistant in the Dean of Faculty office at Hampshire College. Jackie continues her strong interest in photography and has received awards in several juried shows. Taking a Five College Learning in Retirement course has set a new direction to follow by researching Quabbin homes.


2/27/15: Exploring Quabbin: Finding the boundary markers of the four lost towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott, by Bob Romer

The boundaries of the four lost towns were marked by some 62 markers, most of them scraggly granite posts. A total of 41 of these posts are located above water, and 21 are now inaccessible, except possibly in time of severe drought. In the 1970s and 1980s, Bob Romer found and photographed about 35 of the markers. In this talk, he will describe some of his techniques for finding those markers and his epic journeys through the wilds of Quabbin to find two markers of particular interest. Map skills, a good compass, and an ability to count steps were essential. In those days, the GPS, which would have made it too easy, was not available. And, Lyme disease–which would have made bushwhacking through the underbrush much less fun-was essentially unknown.

Bob Romer is an emeritus professor of physics at Amherst College. Since his “retirement” in 2001, he has devoted much of his energy and time to uncovering the history of slavery in the valley in colonial times, as well as the history of the black communities of Amherst in more recent times. He is the author of Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts (Levellers Press, 2009). He has held the post of fence viewer in the Town of Amherst for about 35 years.


9/27/13: Henry Alexander Sykes: a Connecticut Architect in the Pioneer Valley, by David Hosford

Orphaned at the age of five, Henry A. Sykes (b. 1810, d. 1860) was raised by his grandfather, Victory Sykes, Jr. When old enough he was apprenticed to study architecture and building with Chauncey Shepherd of Springfield, Mass. and later with Ithiel Towne of New Haven. By the time he was thirty, he had designed and built both the First Congregational Church (later moved from its place on the green for use by the railroad company) and the Second Baptist Church (still in use) in Suffield.

 His reputation as an architect went beyond the town, however, and he was responsible for the design of many stores and private residences in Springfield, three buildings (the octagon, Morgan Library and Appleton Hall) at Amherst College (which awarded him an A.M. degree in 1854) and residences and churches in Greenfield, Mass.


5/3/13: The Struggle to Remember WEB DuBois in the Town of his Birth, by David Glassberg

W.E.B. Du Bois was one of the most influential and controversial scholar-activists of the twentieth century. His legacy includes, in addition to his best-known book, The Souls of Black Folk, shelves full of path-breaking scholarly works, novels, plays, pageants and essays. He is best remembered, however, for his political work, as a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, editor of its journal The Crisis, and a co-convener of Pan-African Congresses that paved the way for the decolonization of Africa, to name but a few of his accomplishments. This man of distinction was born in 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. One would think that his birth community would take pride in him as their most world-famous son. However, in 1969 attempts to dedicate a memorial park to Du Bois were met with vociferous and threatening opposition from some in the community. This talk will describe the significance of the memorial park, the circumstances surrounding the controversial dedication ceremony and work that has since sought to confront the racial and political opposition to Du Bois in the town of his birth.

David Glassberg is a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He also serves as an advisor to the university’s W.E. B. Du Bois Center. Professor Glassberg’s research concerns the history of popular historical consciousness in America as represented in politics, culture, and the environment. Among his publications are American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century.


4/19/13: An Amherst Boyhood, 1929 - 1951, by Fred Luddy

What are your memories of your childhood? What events and experiences color those memories for you? Fred Luddy was born in Amherst in 1929. He He attended Amherst college as a ‘townie, and graduated in 1951.

In 2013 he graced us with an hour of his reminiscences of boyhood on a farm on North East Street in the 1930’s. You will enjoy his quiet good humor and wit, as when he describes his walk to and from school each day, which was, as he explains, truly an uphill walk both ways


4/5/13: A History of Reproductive Rights in the Pioneer Valley, by Joyce Avrech Berkman

Many are familiar in general terms with the controversial Supreme Court “Griswold decision” (Griswold v. Connecticut) of 1965, which legalized contraception for married couples but made it illegal to display or advertise contraceptive products. Few of us, however, realize that an important step in challenging that bizarre ruling took place right here in the Pioneer Valley.

On April 11, 1968, some 200 college students and Valley residents joined reproductive-rights activist Bill Baird in a demonstration outside the Zayre’s department store in Hadley [now the site of the TJ Maxx store].

That day, Baird had walked into Zayre’s and legally purchased a can of contraceptive foam and a copy of Modern Bride magazine, which carried an ad for the product. Outside, in front of the store, he showed the foam and the magazine to the crowd, challenging local police to enforce the law, including arresting the attorney general for the sales tax collected on the product.

Berkman heard Baird speak at Hampshire College in 2005 and was transfixed, recognizing the important role he played in women’s reproductive rights. Come to this talk and prepare to be transfixed as well.

Joyce Avrech Berkman, professor in the Department of History, University of Massachusetts Amherst, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Danforth Associate, is accomplished, distinguished and honored. Her publications include Contemplating Edith Stein (2006)and The Healing Imagination of Olive Schreiner: Beyond South African Colonialism (1993). She is also one of the editors of African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965 (1997). In recent years her major public history activities include: directing the Valley Women’s History Collaborative that oversees research, oral history, and documentation projects of the history of feminist and/or lesbian activism in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley from 1968 to the present; numerous projects with K-12 social studies and history teachers, and assisted by a Visioning Grant of the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Humanities and Arts coordinating during fall semester 2008 an interdisciplinary docudrama, Menace to Society, on the history of reproductive rights in Massachusetts with specific attention to the role of Bill Baird.