Pittsfield, Massachusetts facts for kids

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Pittsfield, Massachusetts
City
Park Square in downtown Pittsfield in 2014
Park Square in downtown Pittsfield in 2014
Official seal of Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Seal
Nickname(s): "The Shire City"
Motto: "Benigno Numine" (Latin)
"Benign Power"
Location in Berkshire County and the state of Massachusetts.
Location in Berkshire County and the state of Massachusetts.
Country United States
State Massachusetts
County Berkshire
Settled 1752
Incorporated 1761
Area
 • Total 42.5 sq mi (110.0 km2)
 • Land 40.5 sq mi (104.8 km2)
 • Water 2.0 sq mi (5.2 km2)
Elevation 1,039 ft (317 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 44,737
 • Density 1,105/sq mi (426.8/km2)
Time zone Eastern (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) Eastern (UTC-4)
ZIP code 01201
Area code(s) 413
FIPS code 25-53960
GNIS feature ID 0607643
Website www.pittsfield-ma.org

Pittsfield is the largest city and the county seat of Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is the principal city of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area which encompasses all of Berkshire County. The population was 44,737 at the 2010 census. Although the population has declined in recent decades, Pittsfield remains the third largest municipality in western Massachusetts, behind only Springfield and Chicopee.

In 2005, Farmers Insurance ranked Pittsfield 20th in the United States as "Most Secure Place To Live" among small towns with fewer than 150,000 residents. In 2006, Forbes ranked Pittsfield as number 61 in its list of Best Small Places for Business. In 2008, Country Home magazine ranked Pittsfield as #24 in a listing of "green cities" east of the Mississippi. In 2009, the City of Pittsfield was chosen to receive a 2009 Commonwealth Award, Massachusetts' highest award in the arts, humanities, and sciences. In 2010, the Financial Times proclaimed Pittsfield the "Brooklyn of the Berkshires", in an article covering its recent renaissance.

In 2012, the city was listed among the 10 best places for single people to retire in the U.S. by U.S. News, due to the high number of single older residents and higher likelihood of finding companionship or a partner.

History

The Mahican (Muh-hi-kann) Native American nation, an Algonquian people, inhabited Pittsfield and the surrounding area until the early 1700s, when, the population greatly reduced by war and disease, many migrated westward or lived quietly on the fringes of society.

In 1738, a wealthy Bostonian named Col. Jacob Wendell bought 24,000 acres (97 km2) of lands known originally as Pontoosuck, a Mohican word meaning "a field or haven for winter deer", as a speculative investment. He planned to subdivide and resell to others who would settle there. He formed a partnership with Philip Livingston, a wealthy kinsman from Albany, New York, and Col. John Stoddard of Northampton, who had claim to 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) here.

A group of young men came and began to clear the land in 1743, but the threat of Indian raids around the time of King George's War soon forced them to leave, and the land remained unoccupied by Englishmen for several more years.

Soon, many others arrived from Westfield, Massachusetts, and a village began to grow, which was incorporated as Pontoosuck Plantation in 1753 by Solomon Deming, Simeon Crofoot, Stephen Crofoot, Charles Goodrich, Jacob Ensign, Samuel Taylor, and Elias Woodward. Mrs. Deming was the first and the last of the original settlers, dying in March 1818 at the age of 92. Solomon Deming died in 1815 at the age of 96.

Pittsfield was incorporated in 1761. Royal Governor Sir Francis Bernard named Pittsfield after British nobleman and politician William Pitt. By 1761 there were 200 residents, and the plantation became the Township of Pittsfield.

By the end of the Revolutionary War, Pittsfield had expanded to nearly 2,000 residents, including Colonel John Brown, who began accusing Benedict Arnold as a traitor in 1776, several years before Arnold defected to the British. Brown wrote in his winter 1776-77 handbill, "Money is this man's God, and to get enough of it he would sacrifice his country."

Pittsfield was primarily an agricultural area, because of the many brooks that flowed into the Housatonic River; the landscape was dotted with mills that produced lumber, grist, paper, and textiles. With the introduction of Merino sheep from Spain in 1807, the area became the center of woolen manufacturing in the United States, an industry that would dominate the community's economy for almost a century.

Pittsfield B&A RR sta pits
Pittsfield Depot, c.1905

The town was a bustling metropolis by the late 19th century. In 1891, the City of Pittsfield was incorporated, and William Stanley, Jr., who had recently relocated his Electric Manufacturing Company to Pittsfield from Great Barrington, produced the first electric transformer. Stanley's enterprise was the forerunner of the internationally known corporate giant, General Electric (GE). Thanks to the success of GE, Pittsfield's population in 1930 had grown to more than 50,000. While GE Advanced Materials (now owned by SABIC-Innovative Plastics, a subsidiary of the Riyadh-based Saudi Basic Industries Corporation) continues to be one of the city's largest employers, a workforce that once topped 13,000 was reduced to less than 700 with the demise and/or relocation of the transformer and aerospace portions of the General Electric empire. On October 8, 2015, SABIC announced it would relocate its headquarters from Pittsfield to Houston, Texas.

General Dynamics occupies many of the old GE buildings, and its workforce is expanding. Much of General Dynamics' local success is based on the awarding of government contracts related to its advanced information systems.

1902 presidential incident

On September 3, 1902, at 10:15 AM, during a two-week tour through New England campaigning for Republican congressmen, the barouche transporting President Theodore Roosevelt from downtown Pittsfield to the Pittsfield Country Club (see historic photos above) collided head-on with a trolley. Roosevelt, Massachusetts Governor Winthrop Murray Crane, secretary to the president George Bruce Cortelyou, and bodyguard William Craig were thrown into the street. Craig was killed; he was the first Secret Service agent killed while on a presidential protection detail. Roosevelt, whose face and left shin were badly bruised, nearly came to blows with the trolley motorman, Euclid Madden. Madden was later charged with manslaughter, to which he pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to six months in jail and a heavy fine.

Baseball in Pittsfield

Pitts09a
Wahconah Park (built in 1919)

In 2004, historian John Thorn discovered a reference to a 1791 by-law prohibiting anyone from playing "baseball" within 80 yards (73 m) of the new meeting house in Pittsfield. A reference librarian, AnnMarie Harris, found the actual by-law in the Berkshire Athenaeum library, and its age was verified by researchers at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center. If authentic and if actually referring to a recognizable version of the modern game, the 1791 document, would be, as of 2004, the earliest known reference to the game in America. (See Origins of baseball.) The document is available on the Pittsfield Library's web site.

The so-called Broken Window By-Law is the earliest known reference to "baseball" in North America. A finding that baseball was invented in 1839 by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown provided the rationale for baseball centennial celebrations in 1939, including the opening of a National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in that city. Few historians ever believed it, and even the Hall's vice president, Jeff Idelson, has stated that "Baseball wasn't really born anywhere."

In 1859, the first intercollegiate baseball game was played in Pittsfield. Amherst defeated Williams College 73-32.

Professional baseball was played in Pittsfield's Wahconah Park from 1919 through 2003. Teams included the Pittsfield Electrics of the 1940s, the Pittsfield Red Sox from 1965-69 with such then A-league players and future major leaguers as George Scott, Carlton Fisk, and Reggie Smith, the Pittsfield Senators (later Rangers) of the 1970s, and the 1985-88 AA Pittsfield Cubs featuring future stars Mark Grace and Rafael Palmeiro.

Frank Grant
Ulysses Frank Grant

From 1989 to 2001, the Pittsfield Mets and Pittsfield Astros (2001 only) represented the city in the New York–Penn League. The Astros have since moved to Troy, New York, and are now known as the Tri-City ValleyCats.

In 2005, Wahconah Park became the home stadium of the Pittsfield Dukes, a summer collegiate baseball franchise of the New England Collegiate Baseball League owned by Dan Duquette, former Boston Red Sox general manager. The Dukes had played the 2004 season in Hinsdale, Massachusetts, as the Berkshire Dukes. In 2009, the franchise changed its name to the Pittsfield American Defenders. The American Defenders name refers to both the United States military and a line of baseball gloves produced by Nocona Athletic Goods Company. Duquette's ownership group also owned the American Defenders of New Hampshire, members of the independent Can-Am League.

Ulysses Frank Grant, born August 1, 1865, in Pittsfield (died May 27, 1937), was an African American baseball player in the 19th century, who played in the International League and for various independent teams. Mark Belanger, eight-time Gold Glove winning shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles, Turk Wendell, relief pitcher for the New York Mets, and Tom Grieve, outfielder for the Texas Rangers, were all from Pittsfield.

Geography and climate

Pittsfield is located at 42°27′N 73°15′W / 42.45°N 73.25°W / 42.45; -73.25 (42.4522, -73.2515).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 42.5 square miles (110.0 km2), of which 40.5 square miles (104.8 km2) is land and 2.0 square miles (5.2 km2), or 4.70%, is water. Pittsfield is bordered by Lanesborough to the north, Dalton to the east, Washington to the southeast, Lenox to the south, Richmond to the southwest, and Hancock to the west. Pittsfield is located 48 miles (77 km) northwest of Springfield, 135 miles (217 km) west of Boston, and 39 miles (63 km) east of Albany, New York.

Most of the population occupies roughly one-quarter of the city's land. Pittsfield lies at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Housatonic River, which flows south from the city towards its mouth at Long Island Sound, some 149 miles (240 km) distant. The eastern branch leads down from the hills, while the western branch is fed from Onota Lake and Pontoosuc Lake (which lies partly in Lanesborough). Like much of western Berkshire County, the city lies between the Berkshire Hills to the east and the Taconic Range to the west. Sections of the Housatonic Valley Wildlife Management Area dot the banks of the river.

The western portion of the city contains Pittsfield State Forest, an 11,000-acre (45,000,000 m2) facility with hiking and cross-country skiing trails, camping, picnic areas, and a beach for swimming.

Pittsfield is located at the crossroads of U.S. Route 7 and U.S. Route 20 which join together in the city. Massachusetts Route 8 passes through the northeast corner of town, with a portion of it combined with Route 9, the central east-west road through the western part of the state, whose western terminus is in the city at Route 7. Route 41 begins in the southwest corner of town, heading south from Route 20. The nearest interstate highway, Interstate 90 (the Massachusetts Turnpike) is located about 10 miles (16 km) south in Lee.

Long-distance ground transportation in Pittsfield is based at the Joseph Scelsi Intermodal Transportation Center which serves as the station for Amtrak trains and Peter Pan buses. The Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA), the transit provider for Pittsfield and vicinity, is based at the Intermodal Center and also uses it as a hub for most of its lines. Rail freight transportation is provided by CSX Transportation and the Housatonic Railroad.

The FBO located at Pittsfield Municipal Airport offers access to the region via private and chartered aircraft ranging from single-engine piston to multi-engine jet. They also offer scenic rides and flight training. The nearest airport with national service is Albany International Airport.

Pittsfield's climate is continental. Winters are harsh, with an average annual snowfall of 73.7 inches (1,870 mm) and temperatures dipping to 0 °F (−18 °C) or colder 13 times per year. Summers, however, are typically warm and pleasant, with temperatures reaching the 90s (32 to 37 °C) just six times per year. The record high and record low are 101 °F (38 °C) and −26 °F (−32 °C), recorded on July 23, 1926 and February 15, 1943, respectively. Over the course of a year, there are 173 days with measurable precipitation.

Climate data for Pittsfield Municipal Airport, MA, 1981-2010 normals, extremes 1925-present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 65
(18.3)
69
(20.6)
81
(27.2)
91
(32.8)
94
(34.4)
100
(37.8)
101
(38.3)
100
(37.8)
95
(35)
85
(29.4)
78
(25.6)
67
(19.4)
101
(38.3)
Average high °F (°C) 28.9
(-1.72)
32.3
(0.17)
41.9
(5.5)
54.6
(12.56)
66.4
(19.11)
74.2
(23.44)
78.6
(25.89)
77.2
(25.11)
69.1
(20.61)
57.8
(14.33)
46.8
(8.22)
34.0
(1.11)
55.15
(12.861)
Average low °F (°C) 11.6
(-11.33)
15.2
(-9.33)
21.8
(-5.67)
33.7
(0.94)
43.3
(6.28)
52.8
(11.56)
56.4
(13.56)
55.8
(13.22)
47.9
(8.83)
37.2
(2.89)
28.9
(-1.72)
19.4
(-7)
35.33
(1.852)
Record low °F (°C) -22
(-30)
-26
(-32.2)
-10
(-23.3)
10
(-12.2)
24
(-4.4)
31
(-0.6)
40
(4.4)
32
(0)
23
(-5)
14
(-10)
-1
(-18.3)
-23
(-30.6)
-26
(-32.2)
Precipitation inches (mm) 2.92
(74.2)
2.68
(68.1)
3.37
(85.6)
3.86
(98)
4.21
(106.9)
4.40
(111.8)
4.25
(108)
4.09
(103.9)
3.96
(100.6)
4.71
(119.6)
3.93
(99.8)
3.00
(76.2)
45.38
(1,152.7)
Snowfall inches (cm) 19.0
(48.3)
18.6
(47.2)
13.3
(33.8)
4.3
(10.9)
0.1
(0.3)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0.3
(0.8)
6.4
(16.3)
13.9
(35.3)
75.9
(192.8)
Avg. precipitation days 13 11 14 13 15 17 17 17 16 14 13 13 173
Source: Western Regional Climate Center

The Housatonic River

Background and historical overview

Flowing through a historically rural area, the Housatonic River attracted increased industrialization in the late 19th century. William Stanley, Jr., founded the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company in 1890 at Pittsfield. The company manufactured small transformers, electrical motors and appliances. In 1903, GE acquired Stanley Electric and subsequently operated three major manufacturing operations in Pittsfield: transformer, ordnance, and plastics.

Environmental issues

During the mid-20th century, the Housatonic River and its floodplain were contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other hazardous substances released from the General Electric Company (GE) facility located in Pittsfield. The contaminated area, known as the General Electric/Housatonic River Site, includes the GE manufacturing facility; the Housatonic River, its riverbanks and floodplains from Pittsfield to Long Island Sound, and former river oxbows that have been filled; Allendale School; Silver Lake; and other areas contaminated as a result of GE's operations in Pittsfield.

The highest concentrations of PCBs in the Housatonic River are found from the site of the GE plant in Pittsfield to Woods Pond in Lenox, Massachusetts, where they have been measured up to 140 mg/kg (140 ppm). About 50% of all the PCBs currently in the river are estimated to be retained in the sediment behind Woods Pond dam. This is estimated to be about 11,000 pounds of PCBs. Birds and fish who live in and around the river contain significant levels of PCBs.

Consent decree and cleanup

GE Pittsfield MA-Housatonic R Halfmile Cleanup Site-Cell B
Cleanup activity at one of the GE Pittsfield plant Superfund sites on the Housatonic River.

Starting in 1991, legal proceedings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the General Electric/Housatonic River Site. Initial cleanup work began in 1996 when EPA issued a unilateral order to GE that required the removal of highly contaminated sediments and bank soils. EPA added the site to the Superfund list in September 1997.

The year 1999 was a milestone for Pittsfield, when negotiations between EPA, the state, General Electric and the City resulted in a settlement agreement – valued at over $250 million – to clean up Pittsfield and the Housatonic River. The settlement was memorialized in a consent decree that was entered in federal court the following year, making it a binding legal agreement.

Groundwater and long-term monitoring

In the years since the settlement was reached, the EPA, state agencies, the City and GE accomplished one of the largest and most complex cleanups in the country. Cleanup work on the first previously PCB-laden half mile of the Housatonic River, adjacent to the GE facility, was completed in September 2002. $90 million was spent cleaning up the 1.5-mile (2.4 km) reach between Lyman Street and Fred Garner Park, which was completed in June 2007. Biological and sediment samples showed reductions of approximately 99% of PCB concentrations compared to conditions before remediation. GE removed contaminated soil and restored 27 residential properties abutting the river. To date, more than 115,000 cubic yards (88,000 m3) of PCB-contaminated sediment, bank, and floodplain soil have been removed from the river and residential property.

Demographics

Historical population
Year Pop. ±%
1790 1,992 —    
1800 2,261 +13.5%
1810 2,665 +17.9%
1820 2,768 +3.9%
1830 3,559 +28.6%
1840 3,747 +5.3%
1850 5,872 +56.7%
1860 8,045 +37.0%
1870 11,112 +38.1%
1880 13,364 +20.3%
1890 17,281 +29.3%
1900 21,766 +26.0%
1910 32,121 +47.6%
1920 41,763 +30.0%
1930 49,677 +18.9%
1940 49,684 +0.0%
1950 53,348 +7.4%
1960 57,879 +8.5%
1970 57,020 −1.5%
1980 51,974 −8.8%
1990 48,622 −6.4%
2000 45,793 −5.8%
2010 44,737 −2.3%
2015 43,303 −3.2%
* = population estimate.
Source: United States Census records and Population Estimates Program data.
Source:
U.S. Decennial Census

As of the census of 2000, there were 45,793 people, 19,704 households, and 11,822 families residing in the city. Pittsfield is the largest city by population in Berkshire County, and ranks 27th out of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The population density was 1,124.3 people per square mile (434.1/km²), making it the most densely populated community in county and 92nd overall in the Commonwealth. There were 21,366 housing units at an average density of 524.6 per square mile (202.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city in 2010 was 86.9% White, 4.99% African American, 0.14% Native American, 1.16% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.77% from other races, and 1.64% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.04% of the population. Major ancestry groups reported by Pittsfield residents include: Irish 20%, Italian 17%, French 11%, English 10%, German 8%, Polish 7%,Black/African American 5%, French Canadian 4%, Puerto Rican 3%, Scottish 2%, Dutch 2%, Scotch-Irish 1%, Russian 1%, Greek 1%, Ukrainian 1%, Lebanese 1%, Portuguese 1%, Asian Indian 1%, Swedish 1%.

There were 19,704 households out of which 27.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.9% were married couples living together, 13.1% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.0% were non-families. 34.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.89.

In the city, the population was spread out with 23.2% under the age of 18, 6.9% from 18 to 24, 28.3% from 25 to 44, 23.0% from 45 to 64, and 18.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 90.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $35,655, and the median income for a family was $46,228. Males had a median income of $35,538 versus $26,341 for females. The per capita income for the city was $20,549. About 8.9% of families and 11.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 16.7% of those under age 18 and 7.1% of those age 65 or over.

Points of interest

Culture

BSC Theatre small
Pittsfield home of Barrington Stage Company

Pittsfield is the geographic and commercial hub of the Berkshires—a historic area that includes Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and author Edith Wharton's estate The Mount. Many buildings in Pittsfield are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Downtown Pittsfield is home to the gilded-age Colonial Theatre, the Berkshire Museum, the Beacon Cinema (multi-plex), the Barrington Stage Company, Berkshire Athenaeum, Wahconah Park and Hebert Arboretum. In recent years, the city has undergone a transformation with significant investment in the historic downtown, including a variety of new restaurants (French, Japanese, Sushi, Mexican, American, etc.), condominium and other residential developments and cultural attractions.

Colonial Theater 1918 postmark-2
Colonial Theatre circa 1918

The Colonial Theatre, dating from 1903, was named by Hillary Clinton as a National Historic Treasure in 1998. The community invested more than $22 million to refurbish the 100-year-old Colonial Theatre, one of the only theaters of its kind from the Vaudeville age. The venue has been described as the "one of the finest acoustical theaters in the world."

Barrington Stage Company, the Tony Award-winning producer of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee invested millions into its newly renovated stage in downtown Pittsfield, along with the development of other stages within the downtown for smaller performances. Barrington Stage's head of its Musical Theatre Lab, William Finn, told the Boston Globe that he was determined to make Pittsfield the "epicenter of the musical theater universe."

The Berkshire Museum, the oldest and most diverse museum in the Berkshires, has undergone a multi-million dollar renovation that incorporated a state-of-the-art air control system that will allow it to attract world-class exhibits.

Many of the Berkshires' oldest homes, dating to the mid-18th century, can be found in Pittsfield, as well as many historic neighborhoods dating from the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Several small multi-generational farms can still be found in Pittsfield, though suburban sprawl and land development have recently claimed some of this land.

Additional cultural attractions include:

  • Arrowhead, home of author Herman Melville (1850–1863). It was here that Melville wrote Moby Dick.
  • Silvio O. Conte National Archives and Records Administration.

Recreation

Pittsfield has several country clubs, including the Pontoosuc Lake Country Club. Pittsfield is home to two lakes, Onota and Pontoosuc, both popular for swimming, boating, and fishing. The Berkshire Rowing and Sculling Society is located on Onota Lake.

Pittsfield is home to Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary, 264 acres (107 ha) of woods, fields, and wetlands maintained by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Bousquet Ski Area and Summer Resort entertains visitors and residents year-round with skiing, water slides, go-karts, and other fun activities.

Pittsfield State Forest, an 11,000-acre (4,500 ha) park, provides residents and tourists with hiking and cross-country skiing trails, camping, picnic areas, and a swimming beach. The highest body of water in Massachusetts, Berry Pond, is located at the top of the Pittsfield State Forest just outside the city limits in the town of Hancock.

The Berkshire Bike Path Council is working with the City of Pittsfield and local residents to extend the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, a popular 10.8-mile (17.4 km) paved trail located just north of Pittsfield. The extension would pass through Pittsfield and lead south to Lenox and Great Barrington.

Transportation

Pittsfield is served by Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to Boston.

Local transit is provided by the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority.

Commuter bus service is provided by Peter Pan Bus Lines

Business

Pittsfield is home to several businesses, including:

  • SABIC-Innovative Plastics (formerly known as General Electric (Plastics/Advanced Materials Division) and now a subsidiary of the Riyadh-based Saudi Basic Industries Corporation)
  • Chemex Corporation
  • General Dynamics Mission Systems (Pittsfield facility originally known as General Electric Ordnance)
  • Interprint Incorporated - located on the Pittsfield-Richmond line
  • The Moscow Ballet, national touring dance company and producer of the Great Russian Nutcracker
  • Pittsfield Generating Facility, natural gas fired generating station
  • The Berkshire Humane Society operates animal welfare services and pet adoption facilities in Pittsfield

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