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Northampton, Massachusetts
First Church, Main Street, Northampton
First Church, Main Street, Northampton
Official seal of Northampton, Massachusetts
Nickname(s): The Meadow City, Hamp, Lesbianville USA, NoHo, NTown, Nton, Paradise City
Motto: Caritas, educatio, justitia (Latin "Caring, education and justice")
Location in Hampshire County in Massachusetts
Location in Hampshire County in Massachusetts
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Hampshire
Charter for township granted May 18th, 1653
Settlers arrive Early spring, 1654
Established as a city September 5th, 1883
 • 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 799.7/sq mi (308.77/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 (Listeni/nɔːrˈθæmptən/) is the county seat of Hampshire County, Massachusetts, United States. As of 2012, the estimated total population of Northampton (including its outer villages, Florence and Leeds) was 28,592.

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. 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. The city has a high proportion of residents who identify as gay and lesbian a high number of same-sex households, and is a popular destination for the LGBT community.

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

Northampton is also known as Norwottuck, or Nonotuck, meaning "the midst of the river", named 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.

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. 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.

On May 18, 1653 a petition for township was approved by the general court of Springfield. While some settlers visited the land in the fall of 1653, they waited till early Spring 1654 to arrive and establish a permanent settlement. 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. 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. 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. Westhampton was incorporated in 1778 and Easthampton in 1809. 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.

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. 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."

Cole Thomas The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton 1836)
The Oxbow (1836) by Thomas Cole

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.

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.

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. 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." 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, but the canal enterprise foundered and after about a decade was replaced by a railroad running along the same route. A flood on the Mill River on May 16, 1874, obliterated almost the entire Northampton neighborhood of Leeds.

The "Paradise of America"

From 1842 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).

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.

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. 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.

IMG 3811-On-the-Norwottuck-bridge
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 1981, Northampton has been host to an annual LGBT Parade and Pride event held the first Saturday in May. Details can be found here Noho Pride.

Since 1995 Northampton has been home to the twice-yearly Paradise City Arts Festival, 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.

Since 2004, Northampton has been the site of Django in June, a week-long Gypsy jazz music camp held annually 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 72.65°W / 42.333; -72.65Coordinates: 42°20′N 72°39′W / 42.333°N 72.65°W / 42.333; -72.65.

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. A total of 21% of the city is permanently protected open space.

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
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.34


Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1790 1,628 —    
1800 2,190 +34.5%
1810 2,631 +20.1%
1820 2,854 +8.5%
1830 3,613 +26.6%
1840 3,750 +3.8%
1850 5,278 +40.7%
1860 6,788 +28.6%
1870 10,160 +49.7%
1880 12,172 +19.8%
1890 14,990 +23.2%
1900 18,643 +24.4%
1910 19,431 +4.2%
1920 21,951 +13.0%
1930 24,381 +11.1%
1940 24,794 +1.7%
1950 29,063 +17.2%
1960 30,058 +3.4%
1970 29,664 −1.3%
1980 29,286 −1.3%
1990 29,289 +0.0%
2000 28,978 −1.1%
2010 28,549 −1.5%
2015 28,540 −0.0%
* = population estimate.
Source: United States Census records and Population Estimates Program data.
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census 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. 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.

Points of interest

Conn. River
The Connecticut River in Northampton
  • First Church, located on Main Street, was the home church of Jonathan Edwards, 18th century theologian, philosopher, and leader of the First Great Awakening.
  • Smith College, founded in 1871, is a women's college (one of the Seven Sisters). It is also one of the Five Colleges.
  • Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech (formerly the Clarke School for the Deaf) specializes in oral education (speech and lip-reading, as opposed to signing) and holds an annual summer camp, the theme varying from summer to summer. Clarke is also the oldest oral school for the deaf in the country, established in 1867 on Round Hill Road overlooking the Connecticut River Valley.
  • The Elm Street/Round Hill Historic District runs from the commencement of Elm at State Street almost one mile westerly to Woodlawn Avenue and includes a section of Round Hill Road. A local historic district, it includes a range architectural styles from 18th century Colonial to Contemporary with an abundance of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival homes and other styles.
  • The Connecticut River and The Oxbow are popular areas for boaters.
  • 21% of Northampton is protected open space; this includes Broad Brook/Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, Connecticut River Greenway (Elwell and Rainbow Beach), Mill River Greenway, Mineral Hills Conservation Area, and Saw Mill Hills/Roberts Hill Conservation Area.
  • Look Park is a 150+ acre recreational park founded in 1930. The park is free for visitors arriving by foot or bicycle, consistent with the will of Frank Newhall Look, who left the property to the city and requested that the park would always have free admission for the public. A day-use fee or annual membership fee provides for parking. Musicians such as Bob Dylan have played at the park's amphitheater.
  • Childs Park is a serene 40-acre city park near Cooley Dickinson Hospital. It features two ponds, formal gardens and rose gardens, and an Italian-style garden house.
  • The Botanic Garden of Smith College is a diverse, outdoor collection of trees, shrubs, and plants as well as a fine collection of plant conservatories for the tropics, semitropics, and desert regions. It also includes an indoor greenhouse.
  • The Mill River Greenway is a walking path on Smith College and adjacent land along the Mill River in the Bay State Village neighborhood of Northampton. The path is sometimes also called the Paradise Pond Trail based on a misleadingly named portion of the river near Smith College's boathouse and pier.
  • Northampton is a rail trail hub. Currently, the Norwottuck Rail Trail extends 18 miles (29 km) from Leeds, Florence, and the downtown sections of Northampton to Amherst and Belchertown. The Manhan Rail Trail extends 8 miles (13 km) from the Norwottuck Rail Trail through Northampton and Easthampton to Southampton. Four other rail trail extensions are in the planning process.
  • The Three County Fair is the "longest consecutive running agricultural fair in the country", having been established and incorporated in 1818.
  • The Calvin Theater, Iron Horse Music Hall, and Pearl Street Nightclub are among the many venues that play host to Northampton's music scene.
  • The Academy of Music, built in 1890 by Edward H. R. Lyman, is the only municipally owned theater in the United States and is the first to be so owned. Boris Karloff and Harry Houdini (who installed a trap door in the stage) performed there. Today it serves as a music venue, cinema, and performance space.
  • The Northampton Independent Film Festival (NIFF) is held each fall. Founded as the Northampton Film Festival in 1995 by Howard Polonsky and Dee DeGeiso, it has continued to grow under a variety of directors. It is now one of the largest in New England.
  • Forbes Library, built in 1894, is Northampton's public library. The second floor houses the Calvin Coolidge presidential library. Charles Ammi Cutter, an important figure in American library science, was the library's first director.
  • Mirage Studios, creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. In the TMNT series, the turtles and Casey Jones visit Casey Jones's grandmother's farm in Northampton, Massachusetts.
  • As part of an annual Springfest celebration, students from the Northampton Community Music Center (NCMC) fill the streets with music on the third Saturday of May.
  • LGBT Pride, on the first Saturday of May, is an annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride March & Rally, with a colorful parade down Main Street that ends with an all-day, family-friendly festival at a designated location in town.
  • Thornes Marketplace in downtown Northampton contains many shops and eateries.
  • Northampton State Hospital was a large psychiatric hospital, constructed in 1856. Several abandoned buildings remain, but much of the site has been redeveloped.
  • On a small hill overlooking the city, near the site of the former Northampton State Hospital, a simple stone monument marks the spot of the hangings of Domenic Daley and James Halligan, two Irishmen wrongfully convicted of murder in 1806.
  • Pioneer Valley Roller Derby, the first co-ed flat track roller derby league, trains in the village of Florence, Massachusetts.

Cultural references

  • Northampton is the birthplace of the eponymous protagonist in Henry James's 1875 novel Roderick Hudson.
  • Northampton is the setting for several stories throughout various Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles media, especially the original Mirage comics as well as the 2003 animated series. While not specifically referred to by name, the city is featured in the 1990 live-action movie. It is also the real-life headquarters for Mirage Studios, former owners of the franchise. Most recently, it has appeared in the current comic series by IDW Publishing
  • Segments of the 1966 film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? were filmed in and around Northampton during the fall of 1965. When not filming, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton frequented Northampton's Academy of Music, where they sat in the balcony to watch movies.
  • Other films shot in Northampton include the Academy-Award-winning The Cider House Rules, Malice with Nicole Kidman and Alec Baldwin, In Dreams with Annette Bening and Robert Downey Jr., and Sylvia with Gwyneth Paltrow.
  • Edge of Darkness was filmed in October 2008 in Northampton and the surrounding area.
  • Author Tracy Kidder documented the many layers of Northampton society at the end of the 20th century in his nonfiction book Home Town.
  • Webcomics Questionable Content and Minimalist Stick Figure Theatre take place primarily in Northampton.
  • Artist Jeffrey Rowlands makes his home in Northampton and is primarily famous for his Overcompensating Comic.
  • The main events of Running with Scissors, a 2002 memoir by Augusten Burroughs detailing his bizarre childhood, take place in Northampton.
  • The mystery book Paradise City by Archer Mayor centers on a ring of jewel thieves who deal in that city, and the area and its history are referenced.
  • "Massachusetts Afternoon" skit from Saturday Night Live Season 37 Episode 8.
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