History of Southampton (1500-1940)

This excerpt is taken from the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information Survey of 1987.   References to various forms have not been included.  The Survey may be viewed online at http://mhc-macris.net/Results.aspx, and in the Library.   


Southampton lies on the western slope of the Connecticut River Valley.  The eastern portion of town consists of lowlands and moderate uplands with elevations ranging from 150 to 600 feet.  The western portion is dominated by a complex of uplands that frequently reach over 800 feet.  Pomeroy Mountain is the highest peak, reaching 1002 feet above sea level.  Portions of the uplands have been inundated by construction of the Tighe Carmody and White Reservoirs.  Both reservoirs are fed by the Manhan River, which meanders through Southampton and eventually drains into the Connecticut.

Political Boundaries

Southampton was originally included as part of Northampton plantation (1654) with a sourthern boundary at Westfield and an eastern boundary at Springfield (Holyoke).  The settlement was laid out in 1730 with the town center near the location of the present village.  It became the Second Precinct of Northampton in 1741 under the name of New Hampton.  The southern boundary with Westfield was extended in 1749 and the western boundary with Murrayfield (Norwich/Huntington) was established in 1765. The town was incorporated as Southampton in 1775, with a northern boundary with Westhampton established in 1778.

Contact Period (1500-1620)

Southampton probably supported a small native population that was affiliated with the Woronocos in Westfield or the Norwottucks in Northampton.  Native horticulture was probably restricted to lowlands in central Southampton, while hunting and fishing occurred in the uplands and adjacent to the area’s rivers and ponds.  A primary north-south trail probably followed County Rd.  along the base of Mount Tom, while a secondary trail ran along the Manhan River between the Connecticut River and Westfield.

Six undated native sites have been located on the uplands east of the Manhan River.  Seasonal hunting and fishing camps were likely established in other areas.

Plantation Period (1620-1675)

Southampton lacked a permanent colonial population until the late 1720’s.  But the area was utilized as part of Northampton’s undivided common lands.  Timber was harvested from the uplands, while cattle grazed on the lowlands.  The lead mines along Southampton’s northern border were discovered in 1680.  A main route from Northampton to Westfield ran along the present County Rd.  with a secondary road along the Manhan River to Pomeroy Meadow.  While the area was perceived as vulnerable to native attack, there is no firm evidence of a native population in Southampton during this period

Colonial Period (1676-1775)

The plan of Southampton center was laid out in 1730 and survives largely intact, although the village actually grew in a manner somewhat different from what was intended.  The central section of College Highway (Main St.) formed a primary intersection with Maple & East Streets with most of the houses and public buildings… erected nearby.   By 1750, the use of County Road had declined and College Highway became the primary north-south route.

Southamton was settled mainly by residents of Northampton, who took advantage of the abundant timber and pastureland.  The settlement grew from about sixty-three adults in 1743 to seven hundred forty residents by 1776.  Most of the residents were farmers, although there were several sawmills and blacksmith shops in operation.  The lead mine at the Easthampton border also flourished in the late Colonial period…

The survey identifiedl eleven buildings…from the Colonial period.  Most follow the typical Georgian center chimney plan and several retain the saltbox profile … Three houses feature distinct overhangs…  Two are relatively modest cottages…  The Dady house on Fomer Rd… is significant as the only old house to survive in the old West Part, while the Sheldon House (1771)… appears to be the only brick example from the period.  The distinctive Connecticut Valley doorway of the period is not found on any of the Southampton examples.

Federal Period (1775-1830)

Southampton’s population increased significantly between 1790 and 1810 and peaked at 1,244 in 1830.  The economic base continued to diversify, with several small mills established in the Russellville area, sandstone and granite quarries opened in outlying areas, and the lead mine revived from 1809 to 1828.  Whatever their other interests, most Southampton residents also continued to … raise mixed grain and livestock on their farms.

The central village continued to grow as the focus of community life.  The first meetinghouse (completed 1752) was replaced by the present building in 1788…  The Judd stores (1780 & 1800)…served as centers of local trade.  Five schoolhouses were built throughout the town and at least one tavern operated in the village.

In the eyes of some residents, the future of Southampton rested on the success of the New Haven & Northampton Canal, which began contruction in 1822.  The eighty-mile waterway was expected to provide affordable transport for agricultural products and finished goods between the Massachusetts hilltowns and Long Island Sound…

The survey identified thirty-three buildings… from the Federal period.  The traditional center entrance cottage appears to have remained popular, especially along Fomer Rd. and in outlying areas of town … The most elaborate resident of the period is unquestionably Woodbridge Hall,   built in 1793 for the town’s first physician.  The Jonathan Judd, Jr., house… and the Stephen Wolcott house (1813), …  and the Zopher Searle house (1782). ..  also show a clear Federal aesthetic in the massing and detailing.  Three houses…show the use of a recessed Greek Revival entrance on a traditional center entrance plan, while the Norton house (1825)…seems to be the town’s earliest documented sidehall plan.

Early Industrial Period (1830-1870)

Improvements in transportation and industry in the mid-19th century fueled the dreams of Southampton residents and spurred a flurry of building activity.  The New Haven & Northampton Canal, opened in 1835, helped to support several small mills and industries in the Lockville/Lyman Pond area…  The canal was plagued with problems and closed in 1847, but the right of way was purchased by the Westfield & Northampton railroad and supported regular train service by 1863.  A brickyard operated in Pomeroy Meadow along the Manhan, while several small mills and a whip shop remained active in Russellville.  The lead mines in the northern part of the town were reopened in 1863 with steam engines and new crushing equipment, but went bankrupt in 1865.

Southampton’s farmers gradually shifted from subsistence farming to commercial farming.  The traditional focus on apples, butter, and lumber was overshadowed by the introduction of commercial tobacco cultivation.

New industries and new markets also changed the character of the community.  In 1855, 6.6% of the town residents were foreign-born, haling mostly from Ireland and England.  The lead mines employed a number of French-Canadian, but it is unclear what happened to them after the mine closed.

The survey identified forty-four buildings…from this period.  Most are built in the side hall Greek Revival style, although a fair number are traditional cottages or vernacular farmhouses.  The Cornelius Searle house (l831)…the Justin Clark house (1831), and the Seth Bartlett house (1838)…are nicely detailed examples of the vernacular style.  A one and a half story “homestead” Greek Revival style is illustrated by the Aretus Pomeroy House (1856)…  The Henry Battin house (1850)… the Miletus Parsons house(1842),…the Cyrenius Wolcot house (1845),…and the Warton Searle house (1855)…  The most successful expressions of the full Greek Revival style are the Warham Sheldon house (1853),…the Stephen Clapp house (1841),…the Harris Nimmocks house (1842),…and the Strong-Miller house (1845)…  The Sidney Gridley house (1851)…is the only dated brick Greek Revival in town.

The Congretational Church …was remodeled in 1840 with its present Greek Revival entrance.  Two district Schools also survive from the period (1845 & 1863)…although the latter has been substantially altered.

Late Industrial Period (1870-1915)

Southampton’s population fluctuated in the late 19th century achieving a net decrease from about eleven hundred fifty to nine hundred fifty between 1870 and 1915.  Poles and Germans made up the largest groups of Immigrants, followed by smaller numbers of French-Canadians and Irish.

The economy of the town remained basically agricultural, with continued emphasis on commercial farming and small scale manufacturing.  Witht the construction of the Manhan Reservoir in 1897, many of Southampton’s water-powered industries were forced to close.

The town center appears to have matured in this period as the civic focus of the community and the prime residential neighborhood.  The Town Hall (1904)… and the Edwards Library (1903)…demonstrate a more progressive view of town government.

The survey identified twenty-four buildings from this period.  Many are modest, Queen Anne vernacular residences erected as in-fill by local contractors.  One notable exception is the Stephen Clapp hosue (1875),… a brick Italianate structure with very good detailing.  Along East Street there survive several good examples of Victorian styles, including the Anson Swift house (1884)… and the Methodist parsonage (1883)…  The Edward Swasey house (1899-1904)… on a knoll overlooking the town center is Southampton’s most ambitious example of the Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style.  The rustic stone cottages (1894 & 1912)…built by the Andersons on Rattle Hilld Rd. are unusual  for the Connecticut River Valley.

Early Modern Period (1915-1940 

In the early twentieth century, the rural isolation of Southampton proved a detriment to the community.  The growing use of automobiles and the improvement of College Highway as State Route 10 enabled many residents to relocate to Westfield or Northampton.  Southampton’s population remained just under one thousand, although it dipped to a low of eight hundred fourteen in 1920.  The last passenger train ran through  the town in 1926.  

General farming, dairying, and lumbering accounted for most of Southampton’s economic activity, although the Lyman sheet metal works continued to operate.  Most of the small mills in Russellville and the Lyman Pond area were forced to close after the Manhan River was dammed for Holyoke’s reservoir.

The survey identified only five significant buildings from this period.  The four houses…represent modest interpretations of Craftsman and Colonial Revival styles.  The town’s outstanding example of the period is the Methodist Church/Grange Hall ,   designed by W. P. Crabtree to replace an earlier structure in 1916.  With its massive roofline, huge arched window, and Tudor details, the Methodist Church is significant both architecturally and historically.

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