About Our Host City
Let’s say that you are a very successful 17th century English businessman with interests in many areas. You and 11 other Puritan leaders form the Massachusetts Bay Company in Cambridge, England in 1629. Your initial investment is £25 which would prove to be a highly successful decision. Your name is William Pynchon of Springfield, Chelmsford, Essex and the beneficiary of your family’s financial successes. Let’s see how that £25 investment paid off for you.
In 1630, Pynchon sailed with John Winthrop to New England. It was the beginning of the “Great Migration” that brought thousands of settlers to the area. Originally settling in Dorchester, Pynchon is credited with the establishment of Roxbury, Massachusetts. But he had a wider vision. He asked for and received permission to explore the frontier west of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Sailing into what is now Long Island Sound and up the “Great River” which we now know as the Connecticut River, Pynchon selected a fertile plain along the east bank to establish his venture.
An ambitious trader, merchant, businessman, diplomat and civic leader, William Pynchon rightly judged the potential of the area a few miles north of Enfield Falls where the river narrows, where those fertile plains rise up to the heights east of the river. By 1636, he had brought his family and 8 other settlers to establish the Agawam Plantation, later renamed Springfield in honor of his home town in England.
Springfield became a hotbed of trade with the indigenous peoples. Pynchon himself learned their language and dialects, enabling him to trade successfully with the Pocomtuc, the local Native American tribe and promote peaceful coexistence.
Pynchon lost most of his power and influence as a result of a book he published in 1650 titled “The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption,” a theological treatise that ran contrary to the religious thought of the day.
It was literally the first book banned and burned in Boston! He sold all of his holdings to his son John and returned to England, never to personally witness the fruits of his labors. John, his brother-in-law Elizur Holyoke and others including Deacon Samuel Chapin, continued to grow the community by creating a successful plantation that encouraged others to come west and settle in the valley. Many Pynchon descendants and other early pioneers continued to live in the area well into the 21st century; the City of Holyoke is the namesake of William Pynchon’s son-in-law, Elizur Holyoke; and Deacon Samuel Chapin is memorialized by the Saint-Gaudens work “The Puritan” which stands at Merrick Park at the intersection of State and Chestnut Streets. It was commissioned by a Chapin descendant, Chester Chapin, in the late 19th century. There are many Chapin descendants who will be in attendance at NERGC 2017 including yours truly!
Interestingly, Springfield was the venue of the first witch trials in the colony. In 1645 well before the Salem trials, Mary Parsons was accused by the Widow Marshfield of witchcraft. Marshfield herself was later accused in 1651. Mary accused her husband Hugh Parsons, but both were subsequently acquitted. Mary, however, was further accused and found guilty in the death of her baby. She went to prison to await her execution but died before the executioner could do his work.
The peaceful life of Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers lasted until the onset of King Phillip’s War or Metacom’s War in 1675. Metacom was the son of the Sachem Massasoit with whom the Mayflower passengers and other of the earliest Massachusetts settlers had enjoyed good relations. Metacom took the name Phillip early in his life. After his father’s death, Metacom, or Phillip, a less “enlightened” leader was influenced to take a more aggressive stance against the Puritan settlers with the intention of driving them clear off the continent and back to their homeland. The friction led to an all-out armed conflict with settlers all over New England which, among other tragedies, resulted in the burning of nearly the entire Springfield settlement. The war ended abruptly with the capture and beheading of Metacom.
After the war, Springfield was reborn and enjoyed a period of steady growth. Roads were laid out and property was divided as follows:
• Housing lots
• Planting lots
• Wood lots
• A grist mill
• A saw mill
• Burial grounds
• Training grounds for the defense of the settlement
• A meeting house which also served as a church and a court
The housing lots were laid out along the east bank of the “Great River” while the planting lots were across the river on the western bank. Wood lots were set aside east of the building lots and all of the lumber was, by law, used exclusively within the boundaries of the town.
Coming into the 18th century, the boundary between Connecticut and Massachusetts was established, the population grew to nearly 2,000 and there were at least 175 homes. When the Revolutionary War broke out about 100 miles east in Lexington, Springfield was prepared to send its citizens into the cause. Generals Washington and Knox arrived in Springfield and, with Knox’s strong recommendation, established the Springfield Armory on the bluff overlooking the Connecticut River. The Armory supplied weapons for every conflict of the 18th, 19th then in the 20th century, up to the Vietnam War after which it was decommissioned. It remains a National Historic site and has been included in NERGC’s Historic Tour which will take place on Wednesday just before the start of the conference. Needless to say, the Armory played a vital role during the American Revolution, supplying arms for the new nation.
By 1800, the population of Springfield was 2,312. By 1812, Springfield and many other towns in Western Massachusetts were growing in population to the extent that 4 counties were created out of one: Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden Counties were established out of Hampshire County with Springfield becoming the county seat for Hampden County. By 1826, the population of Springfield had more than doubled to 5,764 due to many factors. Ames Manufacturing, located in what is now Chicopee, was supplying more than the shovels that was the company’s first venture. They became the largest supplier of swords and cannon. Ironically, they supplied armaments to many southern states in the 1840’s and 1850’s, armament that was used against the Union during the Civil War. John Ames of the Ames family developed a cylinder machine that revolutionized the manufacture of paper.
Thomas Blanchard, an employee of the Springfield Armory, pioneered the assembly line, interchangeable parts, built a steam powered “horseless carriage,” and introduced a lathe that allowed unskilled workers to produce identical parts for arms such as rifle stocks. By 1836, the 200th anniversary of the settling of the town, Springfield’s population had swelled to 9,234 four times the 1800 population and was as high as 10,985 by 1840.
The 1840’s was an interesting decade in many respects. The original colonial burying grounds near the Connecticut River began to wash away after a series of floods.
That and the railroad coming through Springfield caused the “Old Burying Grounds” to be moved to the Springfield Cemetery, about a mile east. Approximately 2,000 graves were moved but only about 300 or so grave markers were intact and could be moved. Many of those 300 have either sunk into the ground or deteriorated to the extent that they are no longer legible. The photo to the right states, “THE REMAINS OF ELIZUR & MARY HOLYOKE WERE FOUND BENEATH THIS STONE IN THE OLD BURYING GROUND AT THE FOOT OF ELM ST & TOGETHER WITH THE REMAINS OF THE PYNCHON FAMILIES WERE REMOVED MARCH, A. D. 1849 AND ARE [——] SITED AROUND THIS STONE”
During this decade, Wason Manufacturing Company began building passenger railcars including the infamous Pullman cars, the Wason brothers having partnered with George Pullman. Wason was one of 4 car building enterprises in Springfield. Ironically, over a century after the boom in rail car manufacturing disappeared, the former Westinghouse Manufacturing property in East Springfield is the site of CRRC MA USA, a Chinese manufacturer that will be building rail cars for the “T” in Boston.
The New England Westinghouse Company was a division of Westinghouse Electric. Westinghouse purchased the property of the former J Stevens Arms and Tool Company to help fill an order from the Russian Czar Nicholas II for 1.8 million rifles. Think “Bolshevik Revolution!” After the Czar was deposed, Westinghouse quickly switched from manufacturing the Russian rifles to the M1918 Browning Automatic rifle.
The Westinghouse story involves the Duryea automobile, the first gas powered vehicle built in America. It was designed and built by Charles and J Frank Duryea and was first driven on the streets of Springfield in 1893. A hand-built exact replica of the original Duryea was constructed and driven in 1993 and is currently on display at the Museum of Springfield History and Archives, the site of the NERGC welcoming buffet on Wednesday, the day before the official opening of the 2017 NERGC conference.
Springfield is the home of hundreds of firsts and other unique businesses:
• Smith and Wesson, still manufacturing hand guns to this day;
• Milton Bradley Game Company founded by Springfield business magnate, Milton Bradley who is buried in Springfield Cemetery;
• Merriam-Webster, publisher of the original Webster Dictionary;
• Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company;
• Friendly Ice Cream Corporation;
And there’s more!
• Good Housekeeping Magazine founded in Springfield in 1885;
• Indian Motorcycle Company;
• Sheraton Hotels and Resorts;
• Rolls-Royce of America an example of which can be seen in the Museum of Springfield History;
• Breck Shampoo founded in Springfield in 1936;
• The home of the American Hockey League, the development league for the NHL;
• Certainly not last and most definitely not least, basketball, invented by Dr. James Naismith and memorialized in Springfield by the Basketball Hall of Fame located along the banks of the Connecticut River.
The shoe skate was invented in Springfield by Everett Hosmer Barney whose gift to Springfield has grown into one of the largest urban parks in America, Forest Park, a 735-acre oasis within the city limits.
Numerous people of national and international fame have called Springfield their home:
• The first that comes to mind is Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss. And yes, you can see it on Mulberry Street while you’re in town!
• General Creighton Abrams, Army Chief of Staff;
• Travis Best, NBA basketball player;
• John Brown, notorious abolitionist, hung for his role in the attack on the US Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry;
• Nick Buoniconti, NFL Hall of Famer;
• Timothy Daggett, Olympic Medalist in gymnastics;
• Dr. Timothy Leary, advocate of psychedelic drugs and a major cult figure;
• Taj Mahal aka Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, legendary Grammy Award winning blues musician;
• Charles and George Merriam, publishers of Merriam-Webster Dictionary;
• Eleanor Powell, actress, dancer and wife of actor Glenn Ford;
• Kurt Russell, actor;
• Eddie Shore, NHL hockey player and owner of the Springfield Indians AHL hockey team;
• Horace Smith, gun manufacturer and co-founder of Smith & Wesson;
• Daniel Baird Wesson, gun manufacturer, philanthropist and co-founder of Smith & Wesson.
Speaking of Dr. Seuss, Springfield is not only his home, but the home of the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Gardens where several life-sized sculptures of many lovable Seuss characters such as The Lorax, Horton, the Grinch and of course, The Cat in the Hat among others. Also, Dr. Seuss himself can be seen relaxing at his desk.
The Connecticut Valley Historic Society (CVHS) building you see on the left was constructed in 1928 for and by the Society. Originally housed in the library building, CVHS quickly outgrew that space and the new building was required. Needless to say, it has served the community well.
In the summer of 2017, the Amazing World of Doctor Seuss will open in the former Connecticut Valley Historic Museum on the grounds of the Springfield Museums. The spring and summer of 2016 saw the movement of an enormous collection of artifacts from the now former CVHM building to the Archives. It was quite an operation! Imagine the scope: locating, tagging, inventorying, loading, moving and reshelving thousands of items, some of which are nearly 400 years old and represent elements of the history not only of Springfield but Western Massachusetts as well.
Many of these items are featured at the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History and Archives.