Western Massachusetts is a loosely defined geographical region of the U.S. state of Massachusetts which contains the Berkshires, the Pioneer Valley, and some or all of the Swift River Valley. The region is always considered to include Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden counties, and the eastern parts of the Quabbin Reservoir watershed are sometimes included. The largest city in Western Massachusetts is Springfield, Massachusetts, the region's economic, historic, and cultural capital.
There are 103 towns and 11 cities in Western Massachusetts, the largest of which is the City of Springfield in the Connecticut River Valley. There are four counties in Western Massachusetts, none of which have traditional county governments: Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire. Hampshire and Franklin Counties each have a "Council of Governments," which provides certain regional services.
The Connecticut River Valley 
The City of Springfield, Massachusetts, which sits beside the Connecticut River amid the wide Connecticut River Valley, is Western Massachusetts' urban economic and cultural capital. Springfield lies only 24 miles north of Hartford, Connecticut, Connecticut's state capital. The Hartford-Springfield region is known as the Knowledge Corridor due to its 29 colleges and universities and 120,000 college students. Significant Massachusetts towns and cities in the Knowledge Corridor include Greenfield, Northampton, Amherst, Easthampton, Holyoke, Chicopee, West Springfield, East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Ludlow, Agawam, and Westfield.
The Connecticut River Valley is an ancient downfaulted graben or rift valley that formed during the Mesozoic Era when rifting developed in the Pangaea supercontinent to separate North America from Europe and South America from Africa. Secondary rifts branched off the main crustal fracture, and this one was eventually occupied by the Connecticut River. Metacomet Ridge is a series of narrow Traprock ridges where lava penetrated this rift zone, beginning at the northern end of the graben near Greenfield and extending south across Massachusetts and Connecticut to Long Island Sound. Fossil dinosaur footprints in Holyoke also represent the Mesozoic.
As continental glaciers receded near the end of the last glacial period, a moraine at Rocky Hill, Connecticut, dammed the river to create ephemeral Lake Hitchcock, extending north some 200 miles (320 km.). Accumulation of fine sediments in this lake accounts for the valley's rich agricultural lands, which attracted settlers—mostly English Puritans—as early as 1636. Although the Connecticut River Valley's soil is the richest in New England, many of its fields have been covered by urban and suburban development. Regardless, the valley remains New England's most productive farmland. Tobacco, tomatoes, sweet corn, and other vegetables are still produced there in commercial quantities.
The Hill Towns 
The Hill Towns include the areas of Franklin, Hampshire, and Hampden Counties west of and above the escarpment bordering the ancient rift valley through which the Connecticut River flows. Elevations increase from about 200 feet (60 meters) to at least 1,000 feet in the escarpment zone. On top, elevations rise gradually to the west. Williamsburg in Hampshire County and Becket in Berkshire County are prominent Hill Towns.
Most of this region is a rolling upland of schist, gneiss and other resistant metamorphics with intrusions of pegmatite and granite. Scraping by continental glaciers during the Pleistocene left thin, rocky soil that supported hardscrabble subsistence farming before the Industrial Revolution. There was hardly a land rush into such marginal land, but the uplands were slowly settled by farmers throughout most of the 18th century and organized into townships. Then in the early 1800s better land opened up in Western New York and the Northwest Territories. The hilltown agricultural population went into a long decline and fields began reverting to forest.
The 1,000 foot (300 meter) elevation difference between uplands and the Connecticut River Valley produced streams and rivers with gradients around 40'/mile (8 meters/km.) flowing through steep-sided valleys, notably the Westfield and Deerfield Rivers and their larger tributaries. Mills were built to exploit the kinetic energy of falling water and mill towns grew up around them, or company towns integrating production, residential and commercial activities.
The development of steam engines to free industrialization from reliance on water power brought about the so-called Second Industrial Revolution when railroads were built along the rivers to take advantage of relatively gentle grades over the Appalachians. And so as hilltop farming towns declined in importance, industrial towns in the river valleys rose to local prominence. Today, many of Western Massachusetts' hill towns are popular tourist destinations, featuring scenic beauty and recreational facilities.
The Berkshires 
The Berkshires are celebrated[by whom?] for their beauty, autumn foliage, and artistic venues, e.g. Lenox's Tanglewood, Becket's Jacob's Pillow, and Stockbridge's Norman Rockwell Museum. There are many peaceful communities set among the Berkshires rolling "purple mountains;" the largest of which is the small city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
By convention the Berkshires are confined to Berkshire County at the western end of Massachusetts, however geologically they are a westward continuation of uplands west of the Connecticut River and a southern extension of Vermont's Green Mountains. Maximum upland elevations increase nearly 1,000' (300 meters) from east to west, and 400' (120 meters) from south to north, so maximum elevations of The Berkshires proper are about 2,000' (600 meters) in the southwest and 2,400' (730 meters) in the northwest. The practical limit of agriculture is somewhat below 2,000' (600 meters). Above this climate and ecology become increasingly boreal with acidic soils.
The Hilltown-Berkshire upland ends at the valley of the Housatonic River which flows south to Long Island Sound, and in the extreme north west of Massachusetts at the Hoosic River, a tributary of the Hudson. From these valleys, uplands to the east appear as a rounded mountain range, rising some 1,600 feet (500 meters) although they are actually a plateau. West of the Housatonic-Hoosic valley system rises the narrower Taconic Range along the New York border. Upper tributaries of the Hoosic separate Massachusetts' highest peak, Mount Greylock 3,491' (1,064 meters) from both ranges, however Greylock's geology connects it with the Taconics.
The Quabbin and Quaboag Regions 
In northern Massachusetts, the higher altitude area to the east of the Connecticut River Valley is known as the North Quabbin region. These northern municipalities include Warwick, Orange, Petersham, Phillipston, Wendell, New Salem, and Athol near the New Hampshire border.
The South Quabbin region (formerly the Swift River Valley) includes the towns of Barre, Belchertown, Pelham, Ware, Hardwick, Leverett, and Shutesbury. This area once included the four "Lost Towns" of Enfield, Dana, Greenwich, and Prescott, which were destroyed to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir.
Farther south, the area called the Quaboag Hills includes Hampden, Monson, Wales, Warren, Holland, and Wilbraham on the Connecticut border. Numerous other towns stretching east towards Worcester are sometimes included in the Quaboag Valley region.
Geology is similar to the Hilltown-Berkshire uplands with resistant metamorphic rocks overlain by thin and rocky soil. With less relief, the river valleys are less pronounced, but still moderately high gradient. The Quaboag Hills and Valley, the Quabbin Regions, and populated places stretching east towards Worcester are all locally known as "Hill Towns;" a term interchangeable with the Hill Towns west of the Pioneer Valley.
Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties, in the year 2000 collectively had 814,967 residents, a population greater than that of any one of the six smallest U.S. states. The population amounted to approximately 12.84% of the 2000 population of the entire state of Massachusetts, which was 6,349,097. Its average population density is 293.07 inhabitants per square mile (113.16/km²), compared to 422.34/km² (1,093.87/sq mi) for the rest of Massachusetts, and 312.68/km² (809.83/sq mi) for the state as a whole.
Western Massachusetts' population is concentrated in the cities and suburbs along the Connecticut River in an urban axis surrounding Springfield that is contiguous with greater Hartford, Connecticut (i.e. the Knowledge Corridor.) A secondary population concentration exists in the Housatonic-Hoosic valley due to the industrial heritage of Pittsfield and North Adams, and the development of tourism throughout that valley. This far-western zone is linked to New York City and Albany, New York more than with the rest of Massachusetts, however both populated zones are ultimately part of the northeast megalopolis. The rest of Western Massachusetts is lightly populated, particularly the Hilltowns where densities below 50 persons per square mile (20 per km2) are the rule.
In descending order of size, its largest communities are: Springfield, Chicopee, Pittsfield, Westfield, Holyoke, Northampton, Agawam, West Springfield, Amherst Center (CDP), Easthampton, Longmeadow (CDP), East Longmeadow, North Adams, and Greenfield (CDP).
Colonial and Early Federal period 
Western Massachusetts was originally settled by Native American societies including the Pocomtuc, Nonotuck Mohawk, Nipmuck, and Mahican. The first European explorers were English Puritans who, in 1635, ventured west from the Massachusetts Bay Colony settlement of Boston to the modern site of Metro Center Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1636, a group of English settlers—lured by the promise of a "great river" and New England's most fertile farmland—returned to Springfield and established a permanent colony. Only 24 miles south of Springfield, the Connecticut Colony settlement of Hartford had been established by Dutch merchants in 1635. In 1638, Springfield founder William Pynchon became embroiled in a legal dispute with one of the Connecticut Colony's leading citizens, Captain John Mason. Mason charged Pynchon (and Springfield,) with dominating the Indian corn and beaver pelt trade to the detriment of Hartford and the Connecticut Colony. The dispute, which Pynchon and Springfield lost in 1638, led to Springfield forever aligning with Massachusetts instead of the more logistically—and ideologically—obvious choice, Connecticut. Springfield lies only 4 miles north of Connecticut.
The most fertile land along the Connecticut River—from Springfield to Northampton—was settled from 1636 to 1654. In 1675, Springfield was burned to the ground during King Phillip's War. In 1704 the French and their Native American allies led a Raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts, burning that town to the ground. Massachusetts' early agricultural settlements were confined to the Connecticut River Valley because it had—and has—New England's most productive farmland due to deposits of fine sediments from ancient Lake Hitchcock, and from the semi-regular flooding of the Connecticut River.
The Hill Towns west of the valley had been nearly scraped clean of soil by glaciers and were less attractive for agricultural uses. Subsistence farming predominated in this area.
In 1777, George Washington and Henry Knox selected Springfield for the site of the fledgling United States' National Armory. Built atop high bluff overlooking the Connecticut River, Washington and Knox agreed that Springfield provided an ideal location—beside a great river and at the confluence of major highways—that was also easily defensible, due to its citadel-like location, and its position upstream the Connecticut. For the next 200 years, the presence of the Springfield Armory would help to bring concentrated prosperity and innovation to Springfield and its surrounding towns.
After the American Revolution, a rebellion led by Daniel Shays, a farmer from East Pelham, culminated in a small battle at the National Armory in Springfield. Shays and his followers, the Shaysites, hoped to win government reforms, including the issue of new currency and help for Continental soldiers who had incurred debts while fighting for independence. Shays' Rebellion is often considered the watershed event in the creation of the United States Constitution. Although crushed, this rebellion led Thomas Jefferson to declare that "a little revolution every twenty years or so is a good thing."
Critical attitude toward Boston 
More than a few residents of Western Massachusetts take a critical attitude towards Boston, the state's capital and largest city. The belief held by this group is that the Massachusetts legislature and executive branch know little of and care little about Western Massachusetts—over 50% of the land in the state. Among the incidents that fuel this feeling:
- The dismantling, submerging and disincorporation of four Western Massachusetts towns, Prescott, Enfield, Greenwich (formerly in Hampshire County) and Dana (formerly in Worcester County), to build the Quabbin Reservoir that supplies water to Boston. Also disruption of small towns accompanying flood control projects such as Knightville Reservoir and Cobble Mountain Reservoir, and construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike.
- Extreme inequities in additional state assistances per capita for Western Massachusetts cities compared with Eastern Massachusetts cities—for example, in 2006, for every $278.66 Boston received, its neighbor Cambridge received $176.37, Greater Boston's westernmost city, Worcester, received $67.50, and the City of Springfield received a mere $12.04 per person.
- Former state House Speaker Tom Finneran's use of parliamentary rules to deny Northampton an election to fill a vacant House seat.
- Abolishing of county governance  placed formerly local property and employees under the direct administration of the eastern capital. This also affected representation of low-population/large-land rural towns which previously relied on their county seat in budgeting of road maintenance funding.
- The Big Dig is viewed by many as Boston diverting taxpayer money for solely its own benefit, while neglecting public works in the rest of the state, revitalizing the "Taxachusetts" moniker.
- In 2012, Western Massachusetts will lose one of its two Congressional seats, while Eastern Massachusetts — featuring many districts with much more homogenous populations — will keep 10 Congressional seats.
Long a haven for small, independent businesses, Western Massachusetts has expressed conflicted feelings towards big box corporations, leading to controversies about zoning changes and variances that would allow companies such as Wal-Mart to build in Western Massachusetts towns. The debate has been particularly strong in northern towns; for example, in Greenfield, Massachusetts and Hadley, Massachusetts.
Whereas Western Massachusetts was once the Republican stronghold in an otherwise heavily Democratic state, it is now consistently viewed by political analysts as one of the most politically liberal regions in the United States. In 2006 and 2010, the region voted heavily in favor of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Deval Patrick.
In Crash!ng the Party, Ralph Nader includes Western Massachusetts, along with Vermont and his home state of Connecticut, as one of the few places in the country where he believes small-town spirit is still strong. In a recent editorial, the Boston Globe berated communities in northern Western Massachusetts for resisting efforts to force consolidation of local school districts. In response, the Franklin County School Committee Caucus released a map that overlaid the county north-to-south over Metro Boston. The overlay reached from Rhode Island in the south to New Hampshire in the north and Framingham in the west.
Colleges and universities 
The decline of manufacturing as the region's economic engine since World War II—and in particular, since the controversial closing of the Springfield Armory—was counterbalanced in Western Massachusetts by growth in post-secondary education and healthcare.
This created new jobs, land development, and had gentrifying effects in many college towns. State and community-funded schools (e.g., University of Massachusetts Amherst and Westfield State University) were conspicuous in their growth, as were the region's highly regarded liberal arts colleges, including Williams founded 1793, Amherst founded 1821, Mount Holyoke founded 1837, Smith founded 1871, and American International founded 1885.
Colleges and universities 
- Amherst College
- American International College
- Bard College at Simon's Rock
- Bay Path College
- Berkshire Community College
- Cambridge College
- Conway School of Landscape Design
- Elms College
- Five Colleges Association
- Greenfield Community College
- Hallmark Institute of Photography
- Hampshire College
- Holyoke Community College
- Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts
- Mount Holyoke College
- Smith College
- Springfield College
- Springfield Technical Community College
- University of Massachusetts Amherst
- Westfield State University
- Western New England University
- Williams College
Tourism sites 
- "Susan B. Anthony Birthplace & Museum".
- Arrowhead (Herman Melville)
- Basketball Hall of Fame
- The Big E
- Clark Art Institute
- The Five Colleges: Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMass Amherst
- Forest Park in Springfield – one of the largest urban parks in the U.S., featuring a zoo and Bright Nights during the holidays
- Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
- Historic Deerfield
- Emily Dickinson Museum: The Homestead and The Evergreens
- Jacob's Pillow
- National Yiddish Book Center
- The Quadrangle
- The Mount
- Norman Rockwell Museum
- Dr. Seuss Memorial
- Six Flags New England
- Skinner State Park
- The Springfield Armory National Park
- Springfield, Massachusetts' entertainment district
- Yankee Candle
- Shelburne Falls Bridge of Flowers
- Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum
Outdoor recreation 
- Westfield River
- Deerfield River
- Connecticut River
- Farmington River
- Lake Buel
- Otis Reservoir
- Berkshire East Ski Area
- Blandford Ski Area
- Ski Butternut—Great Barrington
- Jiminy Peak
- The Berkshires
- Quabbin Reservoir
- Bash Bish Falls State Park
- Appalachian Trail
- Mount Everett State Reservation
- Mount Greylock
- Mount Holyoke
- Mount Tom
See also 
- Area code 413
- Massachusetts geography
- Seven Sisters (colleges)
- Five Colleges
- List of Massachusetts counties
- "Franklin Regional Council of Governments website". Retrieved 22 October 2012.
- "Hampshire Council of Governments website". Retrieved 22 October 2012.
- "Articles that mention Knowledge Corridor". Hartford Springfield News. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- "American FactFinder". Factfinder.census.gov. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- Wayne Phaneuf, The Republican. "375 years of changing business and work landscape help define Springfield". masslive.com. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- "King Philip's War • Chapter 7". Penelope.uchicago.edu. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- The Republican / File photos. "U.S. Rep. Richard Neal calls for keeping 2 seats for Western Massachusetts in U.S. House of Representatives". masslive.com. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- Quabbin Reservoir towns eliminated
- Springfield Panel (PDF), Urban Land Institute, 24–29 September 2006
- "Northampton Special Election". Green-Rainbow Party of Massachusetts.[dead link]
- Phillips, Frank (21 December 2001). "Hampshire district's empty seat suits speaker". The Boston Globe.
- "Historical Data Relating to the Incorporation of and Abolishment of Counties in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts". Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
- "Wal-Mart Watch - Greenfield, MA stops Wal-Mart rezoning". Making Change at Walmart. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.[dead link]
- "School Board Districts at the Elementary School Level". 13 December 2010.[dead link]
- "What to Do in Pioneer Valley".
- "Map of Massachusetts Cities and Towns".
- "Map of Massachusetts Cities and Towns".
- "Exploring Western Massachusetts (local history blog)".