Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hadley Neighbors for Sensible Development

I came across Hadley Neighbors for Sensible Development while doing an internet search about preservation efforts in Hadley. Since I no longer live in the valley, this group completely slipped off of my radar! Their mission statement couldn't be clearer:

"Preserving Hadley's rural beauty, safeguarding its natural resources, and insuring the health and safety of its residents and neighbors while promoting sensible growth."

This is a great community organization that we should all support! Check in to their website whenever possible for news and updates. I know I will.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hadley's Great Meadow

Hadley's "Great Meadow" might seem to be just that--a large meadow that has, almost inexplicably, largely escaped any development thus far. But it is, it seems, much more than that. Take a look at this shot from Google Maps:

No formal study has yet, to my knowledge, been carried out on this topic, but it seems that the Great Meadow is a very large and thus extremely rare (possibly unique) survival of open-field farming in New England. Open-field farming was the primary farming method in large swathes of medieval Europe and survived into the early modern period, when it was transplanted to the New World by the colonists.

In the UK at least, the open-field farming system is largely gone, the result of successive small- and large-scale enclosures through the 18th and into the 19th centuries. And yet, in Hadley’s Great Meadow, this field system remains as it was originally laid out by 1661 and divided by lots, and still farmed in the long, thin strips originally designed to be plowed by oxen. More investigation needs to be carried out, I believe, but I did a preliminary search on Google Maps of the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts and Connecticut (the location of some of most of the 17th century settlements in the western parts of these states), and found only a few apparent survivals (in Deerfield, Hatfield, near Wethersfield, CT, and—not in the CT River Valley but also settled in the 17th century—on Aquidneck Island in Rhode Island), but these on a much smaller scale and mostly destroyed.

Over 160 acres of the Great Meadow (the area within the dike) is zoned residential and commercial, so nothing is stopping it from being developed, should any of the land go up for sale—even though it’s listed (along with the old burial ground and the West Street common) on the National Register of Historic Places! With the economic downturn and slowing down of the housing market (though it hasn’t stopped—there are new constructions in Hadley on Route 47—some hideous houses have just been built there between East and Middle Streets!), there is some (but very little!) time to work towards saving it. Advocacy—getting the word out about the Great Meadow—is what is needed most. I think most people in Hadley and around simply don’t realize the meadow’s significance because, admittedly, from the ground it really just looks like any big field. I don’t even think there’s a sign in the meadow to explain its significance. There is one on Route 9 right as you get off the Coolidge Bridge in Hadley, but I don’t think it’s very readable (not from a car, anyway!). Even this small gesture would help!

There will be much more about the Great Meadow in the future!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Researching your family's history

I recently purchased a copy of the now-rare history of the Montagues, one of the original settler families of Hadley. The book, with the incredibly long title History and Genealogy of the Montague Family of America, Descended from Richard Montague of Hadley, Mass., and Peter Montague of Lancaster Co., Va..., was published in 1886 following a meeting of Montague descendants in Hadley in 1882. It is an invaluable volume, with interesting pictures, drawings, anecdotes, and, of course, excellent genealogical lists.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, historians, writers, and genealogists--professional and amateur--produced countless volumes on various American families--far more than I would have thought before I began researching. There was an index to genealogies of American families printed in 1900 and written by Daniel Steele Durrie that runs to over 350 pages. It was the fifth edition of a work first published in 1868. At first it had 10,000 references. At the fifth printing, it had 50,000, giving some idea of how popular genealogical research was at this time.

For Hadley and surrounding towns, there are other genealogies of families that lived in the area other than that of the Montagues. In addition, Sylvester Judd included some genealogical notes in his History of Hadley, first published in 1863. First editions are, not surprisingly, rare and hard to come by, but it has been reprinted numerous times. Lucius Boltwood used some of Judd's notes for his own Genealogies of Hadley Families (published in 1862), which, in later editions of Judd's work, was tacked on as a supplement. Editions published more recently include both works in one volume.

For people interested in researching their genealogy, there are obviously the online sites, such as But there is a certain satisfaction--and, dare I say it, romance?--to sitting down in a library with a musty old volume and looking up your ancestors by hand. In western Massachusetts, the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in the Springfield Quadrangle has an excellent genealogical library--including over 20,000 genealogical books--and would be an excellent place to begin research.
If you'd like to purchase genealogy volumes, Higginson Book Company of Salem, MA specializes in reprinted volumes. For old editions, I recommend abebooks, eBay, Barnes & Noble's used and out of print section, etc.