Northampton, Massachusetts

Northampton, Massachusetts

First Church, Main Street, Northampton

Nickname(s): The Meadow City,[1] Hamp, Lesbianville USA,[2][3] NoHo,[4][5] NTown, Nton, Paradise City
Motto: Caritas, educatio, justitia (Latin "Caring, education and justice")

Location in Hampshire County in Massachusetts
Northampton, Massachusetts

Location in the United States

Coordinates: 42°20′N 72°39′W / 42.333°N 72.650°W / 42.333; -72.650
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Hampshire
Charter for township granted May 18th, 1653[6]
Settlers arrive Early spring, 1654[7]
Established as a city September 5th, 1883[8][9]
  Type Mayor-council city
  Mayor David Narkewicz
  Total 35.8 sq mi (92.6 km2)
  Land 34.2 sq mi (88.7 km2)
  Water 1.5 sq mi (3.9 km2)
Elevation 190 ft (60 m)
Population (2012)
  Total 28,592
  Density 800/sq mi (310/km2)
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
  Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
ZIP code 01060
Area code(s) 413
FIPS code 25-46330
GNIS feature ID 0606674

The city of Northampton (i/nɔːrˈθæmptən/[10]) is the county seat of Hampshire County, Massachusetts, United States.[11] As of 2012, the estimated total population of Northampton (including its outer villages, Florence and Leeds) was 28,592.[12]

Northampton is known as an academic, artistic, musical, and countercultural hub. It features a large politically liberal community along with numerous alternative health and intellectual organizations.[13] Based on U.S. Census demographics, election returns, and other criteria, the website Epodunk rates Northampton as the most politically liberal medium-size city (population 25,000–99,000) in the United States.[14] The city has a high proportion of residents who identify as gay and lesbian[15][16] a high number of same-sex households,[17] and is a popular destination for the LGBTQ community.[18][19]

Northampton is part of the Pioneer Valley and is one of the northernmost cities in the Knowledge Corridor—a cross-state cultural and economic partnership with other Connecticut River Valley cities and towns. Northampton is considered part of the Springfield Metropolitan Area, one of Western Massachusetts's two separate metropolitan areas. It sits approximately 15 miles north of the City of Springfield, Massachusetts.

Northampton is home to Smith College, Northampton High School, and the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.


Early settlement

The area now called Northampton was once known as Norwottuck, or Nonotuck, meaning "the midst of the river"[20] by its original Pocumtuc inhabitants. According to various accounts, Northampton was named by John A. King (1629–1703), one of its original settlers, or possibly in King's honor, since it is supposed that he came to Massachusetts from Northampton, England, as he was born there.[21]

The Pocumtuc confederacy occupied the Connecticut River Valley from what is now southern Vermont and New Hampshire into northern Connecticut. The Pocumtuc tribes were Algonquian and traditionally allied with the Mahican confederacy to the west. By 1606 an ongoing struggle between the Mahican and Iroquois confederacies led to direct attacks on the Pocumtuc by the Iroquoian Mohawk nation.[22] The Mahican confederacy had been defeated by 1628, limiting Pocumtuc access to trade routes to the west. The area suffered a major smallpox epidemic in the 1630s following the arrival of Dutch traders in the Hudson Valley and English settlers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the previous two decades. It was in this context that the land making up the bulk of modern Northampton was sold to settlers from Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1653.[23]

On May 18, 1653 a petition for township was approved by the general court of Springfield.[6] While some settlers visited the land in the fall of 1653, they waited till early Spring 1654 to arrive and establish a permanent settlement.[7][24] The situation in the region further deteriorated when the Mohawk escalated hostilities against the Pocumtuc confederacy and other Algonquian tribes after 1655, forcing many of the plague-devastated Algonquian groups into defensive mergers.[22] This coincided with a souring of relations between the Wampanoag and the Massachusetts Bay colonists, eventually leading to the expanded Algonquian alliance, which took part in King Philip's War.


Northampton was part of the Equivalent Lands compromise.[25] Its territory would be enlarged beyond the original settlement, but later portions would be carved up into separate cities, towns, and municipalities. Southampton, for example, was incorporated in 1775 and included parts of the territories of modern Montgomery (incorporated in 1780) and Easthampton.[26] Westhampton was incorporated in 1778 and Easthampton in 1809.[27] A section of Northampton called Smith's Ferry was once separated from the rest of the town by the boundaries of Easthampton. The shortest path to downtown was a road near the Connecticut River oxbow, which was subject to frequent flooding. Smith's Ferry was ceded to Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 1909.[28]

The Great Awakening

Congregational preacher, theologian and philosopher Jonathan Edwards was a leading figure in a 1734 Christian revival in Northampton. In the winter of 1734 and the following spring it reached such intensity that it threatened the town's businesses. In the spring of 1735 the movement began to subside and a reaction set in. But the relapse was brief, and the Northampton revival, which had spread through the Connecticut River Valley and whose fame had reached England and Scotland, was followed in 1739–1740 by the Great Awakening, under the leadership of Edwards.

For this achievement, Edwards is considered one of the founders of evangelical Christianity.[29] He is also credited with being one of the primary inspirations for Transcendentalism, because of passages like this: "That the works of nature are intended and contrived of God to signify and indigitate spiritual things is particularly evident concerning the rainbow, by God's express revelation." [30]

Northampton hosted its own witch trials in the 1700s, although no alleged witches were executed.

After the Revolution

Members of the Northampton community were present at the Constitutional Convention.[31]

On August 29, 1786, Daniel Shays and a group of Revolutionary War veterans (who called themselves Shaysites) stopped the civil court from sitting in Northampton, in an uprising known as Shays' Rebellion.[32]

In 1805 a crowd of 15,000 gathered in Northampton to watch the executions of two Irishmen convicted of murder: Dominic Daley, 34, and James Halligan, 27. The crowd, composed largely of New England Protestants of English ancestry, lit bonfires and expressed virulently anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiments. The trial evidence against Daley and Halligan was sparse, circumstantial, contrived, and perjurious.[33] The men were hanged on June 5, 1806, on Pancake Plain. Their bodies were denied a burial; they were destroyed in the local slaughterhouse. This trial "later came to be seen as epitomizing the anti-Irish sentiment that was widespread in New England in the early 19th century."[34] Daley and Halligan were exonerated of all crimes by governor Michael Dukakis in 1984. Today a simple stone landmark stands marking the site of Daley and Halligan's executions.

In 1835 Northampton was linked to the ocean by the New Haven and Northampton Canal,[35] but the canal enterprise foundered and after about a decade was replaced by a railroad running along the same route.[36] A flood on the Mill River on May 16, 1874, obliterated almost the entire Northampton neighborhood of Leeds.[37]

The "Paradise of America"

From 1842[38] until 1846 Northampton was home to a transcendentalist utopian community of abolitionists. Called the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, the community believed that the rights of all people should be "equal without distinction of sex, color or condition, sect or religion". It supported itself by producing mulberry trees and silk. Sojourner Truth, a former slave who became a national advocate for equality and justice, lived in this community until its dissolution (and later in a house on Park Street until 1857).[39]

Hampshire County Courthouse in Northampton, designed by architect H.H. Richardson

In 1851 opera singer Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale", declared Northampton to be the "Paradise of America", from which Northampton took its nickname The Paradise City.

Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech (formerly the Clarke School for the Deaf) was founded in Northampton in 1867. It was the United States's first permanent oral school for the deaf. Alexander Graham Bell and Grace Coolidge have served as heads of school.

Smith College for women was founded in Northampton in 1871. Today Smith is the largest of the Seven Sisters colleges. Well-known Smith alumnae include Sylvia Plath, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, Tammy Baldwin, Gloria Steinem, Madeleine L'Engle, and Julia Child. The first game of women's basketball was played at Smith College in 1892.

Northampton officially became a city on September 5, 1883 when voters accepted the City Charter (The act to establish the city of Northampton. 1883-Chapter 250) as passed and approved. [8] [9]

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 1.

Immigrant groups that settled Northampton in large numbers included Irish, Polish, and French-Canadians.

U.S. President Calvin Coolidge worked as a lawyer in Northampton and served as the city's mayor from 1910 to 1911.[40] He went on to be a Massachusetts State Senator, Lieutenant Governor, and Governor before becoming Vice President and President. After retiring from the U.S. presidency in 1929, Coolidge moved back to Northampton. He died in the city on January 5, 1933.


During the mid-20th century, Northampton experienced several decades of economic decline, bottoming in the 1970s , related to the emergence of the Rust Belt phenomenon. Though Western Massachusetts lies outside of the Rust Belt geographically, the centrality of commerce and the arts to Northampton's economy left it economically vulnerable, in particular when compounded with the decline of Springfield's manufacturing sector, Holyoke's paper industry, and massive plant closures in the nearby New York Capital District.

The Norwottuck Rail Trail Bridge across the Connecticut River

Cultural renaissance

Northampton has a thriving cultural center and is a popular tourist destination. The city has many eclectic restaurants and a lively arts and music scene. Two Northampton farmers markets, held weekly, sell fresh produce from local farms.

Since 1995 Northampton has been home to the twice-yearly Paradise City Arts Festival,[41] held at the Three County Fairgrounds on Memorial Day weekend and Columbus Day weekend. The Festival is a national juried showcase for contemporary craft and fine art.

Northampton has a well-established music scene. The city has several live music venues, including Bishops Lounge, The Academy of Music, Calvin Theater, Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton Community Music Center, Pearl Street and the Pines Theater. Musicians and bands that call the area "home" include Ray Mason, Sonic Youth, Erin McKeown, The Nields, The Young@Heart Chorus, Cordelia's Dad, Speedy Ortiz, and the Funkoholics.

Every summer Django in June[42] offers a week long Gypsy jazz music camp as well as weekend clinics and concerts on the campus of Smith College.

Geography and climate

Northampton sits on the banks of the Connecticut River in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. It is located at 42°20′N 72°39′W / 42.333°N 72.650°W / 42.333; -72.650Coordinates: 42°20′N 72°39′W / 42.333°N 72.650°W / 42.333; -72.650.[43]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 35.8 square miles (92.6 km2), of which 34.2 square miles (88.7 km2) is land and 1.5 square miles (3.9 km2), or 4.22%, is water.[44] A total of 21% of the city is permanently protected open space.[45]

Within Northampton's city limits are the villages of Florence and Leeds.

Northampton is bordered to the north by the towns of Hatfield and Williamsburg, to the west by Westhampton, to the east by Hadley (across the Connecticut River), and to the south by Easthampton.

The art deco Calvin Coolidge Bridge connects Northampton with Hadley across the Connecticut River. The college town of Amherst is located 7.86 miles (12.65 km) east of Northampton, next to Hadley. Springfield, the Connecticut River Valley's most populous Massachusetts city, is located 15.74 miles (25.33 km) southeast of Northampton. Boston is located 81.57 miles (131.27 km) east of Northampton. New York City is 131.28 miles (211.27 km) southwest of Northampton.

The Connecticut River's famous Oxbow is within Northampton's city limits, at the northern base of Mount Nonotuck.

Climate data for Northampton, Massachusetts (01060)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 70
Average high °F (°C) 33
Average low °F (°C) 13
Record low °F (°C) −30
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.34
Source: [46]


Historical population
* = population estimate.
Source: United States Census records and Population Estimates Program data.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56][12][57]
U.S. Decennial Census[58]

As of the census[59] of 2010, there were 28,549 people, 12,000 households, and 5,895 families residing in the city. Northampton has the most lesbian couples per capita of any city in the US.[60] The population density was 833.7 people per square mile (321.6/km²). There were 12,728 housing units (12,000 occupied) at an average density of 360.0 per square mile (139.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 87.7% White, 2.7% African American, 0.3% Native American, 4.1% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 2.4% from other races, and 2.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.8% of the population.

There were 12,000 households, out of which 21.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.6% were so-called "Husband-wife" married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.9% were non-families. 37.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.12 and the average family size was 2.81.[59]

In the city the population was spread out, with 20.7% age 19 and under, 9.8% from 20 to 24, 25.7% from 25 to 44, 30.2% from 45 to 64, and 13.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 75.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 71.9 males.[59]

The median income for a household in the city was $56,999, and the median income for a family was $80,179. Males had a median income of $40,470 versus $32,003 for females. The per capita income for the city was $33,440. About 7.8% of families and 13.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.1% of those under age 18 and 7.2% of those age 65 or over.[61]

Northampton's public schools include four elementary schools (kindergarten through 5th grade), one middle school (6th to 8th grade), one high school (9th to 12th grade), and one vocational-agricultural high school (9th to 12th grade). There are a few charter schools and several private schools in Northampton and surrounding towns.

According to the website ePodunk's Gay Index, which is based on figures from the 2000 US Census, Northampton has a score of 535, vs. a national average score of 100 (i.e., Northampton's population includes 5.35 times the national average of same-sex unmarried households).[62]


As of April 2012, David Narkewicz is the mayor.[63] Previous mayors include former president Calvin Coolidge and James "Big Jim" Cahillane, who served from 1954 to 1960. Well-known Judge Sean M. Dunphy was the youngest elected mayor in its history, at age 28.

The Paradise City Forum was founded November 2001 to provide a nonpartisan discussion tool for the community.

Voter Registration and Party Enrollment as of October 15, 2008[64]
Party Number of Voters Percentage
Democratic 10,066 49.49%
Republican 994 4.89%
Unaffiliated 8,998 44.24%
Minor Parties 280 1.38%
Total 20,338 100%


Public schools

Colleges and universities

Northampton is home to Smith College. Smith students (along with those of the associated Five Colleges) contribute to Northampton's college town atmosphere.

Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech

The Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech is located in Northampton.


The Daily Hampshire Gazette, a six-day a week morning newspaper, is based in Northampton, covering Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Northampton is the city of license for three commercial radio stations: WLZX, WEIB, and WHMP. Northampton is also home to WXOJ-LP, a low-power community radio station owned and operated by Valley Free Radio. The station was built by more than 400 volunteers from Northampton and around the country in August 2005 at the eighth Prometheus Radio Project barnraising, in conjunction with the tenth annual Grassroots Radio Coalition conference. Valley Free Radio broadcasts music, news, public affairs, and locally produced radio content to listeners at 103.3 FM. Northampton is also the birthplace of The Rainbow Times (ISSN (Online): 2169-6136), a lesbian-owned LGBT newspaper founded in 2006, now based out of Boston but serving all of New England.

In addition, Northampton is home to Northampton Community Television, which has existed in numerous forms since the mid-1980s but experienced a radical change in 2006 when it became an independently run nonprofit community media center. After a new public unveiling in November 2007, NCTV grew to over 200 active members in less than 18 months and had already attracted statewide and national attention in the community media landscape. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 NCTV won awards for best web sites (for two different sites) in the United States for community media organizations with budgets under $300,000.[65]



Northampton is served by Interstate 91, which passes to the east of downtown along the Connecticut River. U.S. Route 5, Massachusetts Route 9, and Massachusetts Route 10 all intersect in the city's downtown area. Massachusetts Route 66 also is partially in Northampton.

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority operates several local passenger buses that originate in Northampton, with service to local towns such as Amherst, Williamsburg, Hadley, South Hadley, and Holyoke as well as the nearby universities and colleges: Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Hampshire College. The Franklin Regional Transit Authority operates a bus to Greenfield, Massachusetts. There is a Peter Pan Bus terminal with services to Springfield, Boston, and other locations in New England. The Vermont Transit Lines bus also serves this terminal.

Passenger rail service for Northampton and the surrounding area is provided by Amtrak's Vermonter from a platform that is located just to the south of the Union Station building.[66] More frequent service is available from Springfield Union Station, which is about a 25-minute drive south of Northampton or a short walk from the Peter Pan Bus terminal in Springfield. Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $8 billion for rail, of which $70 million is being be spent to realign Amtrak's Vermonter train route. Until December 29, 2014 the Vermonter traveled between Springfield and Brattleboro, Vermont via Palmer, Massachusetts. In addition to restoring the Northampton passenger rail stop, a stop has been added in Greenfield and a stop will be added in Holyoke in 2015.

Rail freight transportation on the rail line through Northampton, which is known as the Connecticut River Line, is operated by the Pan Am Railways.

Major domestic and limited international air service is available 40 miles to the south at Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Northampton Airport, identified by the airport code 7B2, offers a 3,365 x 50-foot runway and is within a mile-and-a-half walk from downtown.

Northampton serves as the hub of a growing rail trail network. The north-south Manhan Rail Trail extends from the downtown into neighboring Easthampton, and as part of the Farmington Canal Trail is planned eventually to reach New Haven, Connecticut. The Norwottuck Rail Trail runs eastward from Woodmont Road through Hadley, Amherst, and into Belchertown, with planned future integration into the Central Mass Rail Trail to Boston. To the west, the Northampton Bikeway provides access to the city's Florence and Leeds neighborhoods, including a route through historic Look Park, while downtown, the bikeway provides an alternative to the congested King and Main Streets.[67]

The city of Northampton faces daily traffic congestion in the downtown area and connector roads, often resulting in long delays and traffic buildup. The limitation of one bridge, few routes to the nearby city of Amherst, and a narrow main street results in unsafe driving behavior and danger to pedestrians.[68] The City of Northampton is attempting to solve this long-time problem by redesigning problematic intersections and installing traffic cameras.[69]

Points of interest

The Connecticut River in Northampton

Notable people

Cultural references


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Further reading

External links

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