North Adams Museum 

of History and Science
North Adams Historical Society

 

 

 

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History of North Adams:

In May of 1739 three townships were surveyed-Clarksburg, East Hoosuck, (now Adams and North Adams) and West Hoosuck (now Williamstown).  In 1741 the northern boundary of Massachusetts was surveyed. A slight error in calculations by the surveyor placed Williamstown and North Adams in Massachusetts instead of Vermont. No settlers came at that time, and another survey was done in 1749 and laid out East Hoosuck, 7 miles north and south, and 5 miles east and west.

In 1750 the General Court of Britain granted nearly 200 hundred acres of the township to Ephraim Williams on the condition that he build and maintain a saw mill and a grist mill. In 1752 Captain Williams had them built on the Hoosac River near the top of Main Street.

The Hoosac Valley was not suited for farming because it was rough, rocky, and covered with both swamps and dense forests. The earliest settlers were attracted by the forests of white pine and the excellent water power resources. The Hoosac River that runs through town was much deeper and wider. Flooding was common and that is why many settlers chose to live in what is now Adams instead of North Adams.

The earliest businesses were lumbering related. Settlers made crude cabins of pine slabs and the best lumber was sold. Many early buildings were built from the leftover pine slabs. The city took on the nickname of "Slab City".

The first cloth manufacturing was done in 1799, when a fulling mill was added to a grist mill. The first building constructed for carding wool and dressing cloth was built in 1801. The first regular mail and passenger line was established in 1814. The stage ran between Greenfield and Albany. By 1825 the village was still small but beginning to grow. Two factories were built that year. There were also 2 carding and clothing works, 2 grist mills, a saw mill, an oil mill, a machine shop and a tannery. There were 2 churches, 2 hotels, 2 blacksmith shops, 5 stores, 3 shoemakers, 1 milliner, 1 harness maker and 1 tailor shop. The entire village included only Main, Eagle, and Center Streets. There were only about 50 residences. In 1830, there were 87 houses and 1,100 inhabitants. In 1860 there were 400 dwellings and 4,000 inhabitants.

During the Civil War, the area furnished an unusually large number of soldiers in proportion to the population of the town. The people hated slavery and loved liberty and also had the courage of their convictions. The men were inspired to fight by pure patriotism. A monument stands at the top of Main Street and bears the inscription "Presented to the town of North Adams by the Ladies Soldiers Aid Society". The pedestal is brown freestone and on it stands a simple marble statue representing a typical American soldier standing at "parade rest".

The prosperity of North Adams was due in large part to the water power available. It was also due to its citizens who worked toward improving the means of transportation. Residents were in favor of a railroad line from Boston to the West that would pierce the Hoosac mountain and intersect the town. The Hoosac Tunnel was more difficult and expensive to construct than anyone could have imagined. Work was not completed on it until 1873, 21 years after it started. The first train that came through caused rocks  to fall from the ceiling of the tunnel. The tunnel could not be used until a brick arch was completed. Two million bricks were required for the project at a cost of $14,000,000. In 1876 the tunnel was pronounced reasonably safe for travel. North Adams was now the northern terminal for the Pittsfield and North Adams Railroad and was on the line of the Troy and Greenfield railroad. The town was a railway terminal for 6 important railroad lines.

The last town census before the town was divided was in 1875 showing 15,760 residents. It was decided that the town of Adams (formerly East Hoosuck) had become too large and should be divided. In 1878 the town of North Adams was incorporated.

The population of North Adams was rapidly increasing. In 1880, the population was 10,191. In 1890, it grew to 16,074. By 1895 the town meeting system became too difficult and it was decided to adopt a city form of government.  North Adams became a city in April 1895. The first elected city government took office on Monday, January 6, 1896, with 21 respected men of the community serving as councilmen and the Honorable Albert C. Houghton as mayor.


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