In 1659 a dissenting Connecticut congregation under the leadership of Rev. John Russell founded Hadley as an agricultural community on the east bank of the Connecticut River. John Pynchon purchased the site of the new settlement, a fertile peninsular plain defined by a bend in the Connecticut River, from the Indians on behalf of the settlers. When the first permanent English settlements arrived in 1727, this land and the surrounding area (including present-day Amherst. South 

Hadley, and Granby) belonged to the town of Hadley. It gained precinct status in 1734 and eventually township in 1776, shortly before the colonies declared their independence. 

When East Hadley incorporated in 1759, the colonial governor named it Amherst, in honor of Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst,  a hero of the French andthe Indian War. In 1786, as the American Revolution was ending, many soldiers returning home found themselves in debt. Farmers who were unable to pay taxes and debts had their property and livestock confiscated by the courts. Daniel Shays, a Pelham resident, organized Shays Rebellion in protest. Amherst also opposed the War of 1812.  This long tradition of anti-war resolutions continues in Amherst Town Meeting. 

In the 19th century, Amherst’s population diversified and the African American and Irish populations increased.  Today, over 30% of the school’s population are students of color.  Also in the 19th century, Amherst wasknown for its palm leaf factories, with the Hills and Burnett factoriesshipping hundreds of thousands of hats across the country. By the 1930s tastes had changed and both factories went out of business.  Presently the Amherst Woman’s Club occupies the former Hills mansion, and is a popular wedding and party venue. Courtesy of the Jones Library, Inc.,  Amherst, Massachusetts. 

Amherst has become the quintessential college town.  Amherst College was founded in 1821 “for the classical education of indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry.”  It became coeducational in 1975. The University of Massachusetts, originally named Massachusetts Agricultural College, was founded in 1863 under the provisions of the Federal Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act to provide instruction to Massachusetts citizens in the “agricultural, mechanical, and military arts.” In 1931 it became the Massachusetts State College and, in 1947, the University of Massachusetts.  Hampshire College was founded in 1970.  Today more than 29,000 students swell the population during the school year. 

This walking tour will begin on The Common adjoining Amherst College and the center of town...

The Common
from College Street to Main Street between Boltwood Avenue and South Pleasant Street

Originally extending south to the bike path and set aside for “public or particular use” in the 1750s, the common area was used in the 19th century as a parade ground with pasture land draining into a large frog pond. During Amherst College commencement (in early August), the common was filled with vendors and peddlers as the entire Town celebrated the event. Cattle shows were held here, sponsored annually by the Hampshire Agricultural Society. By 1858, the Amherst ornamental Tree Association (founded in 1857) took control of the Common and, in consultation with the noted architect Frederick Law Olmsted, proceeded to redesign and replant the area in 1874. Often overlooked on the Common, is the unique drinking fountain for dogs. In 1904 the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Young Woman’s Christian Temperance Union dedicated a drinking fountain for humans over the old town well. The purpose was to encourage people to drink water rather than liquor. On the back of this fountain can be found a granite drinking basin for dogs put there at the suggestion of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.


Grace Episcopal Church
18 Boltwood Avenue

Designed by the English architect Henry Dudley in 1865, Grace Church’s Leverett gneiss gray stone structure is an excellent example of English Gothic Style. The tower added in 1868 was, in fact, part of Dudley’s original design. The Rose Window on the west side was installed in 1925.

Town Hall
4 Boltwood Avenue

The present Town Hall was constructed on the site of the Palmer Block, a large brick building named after leading citizen Dwight Palmer which burned at the height of the blizzard on March 11, 1888. Since Palmer Hall was already the location for town meetings, the Town immediately purchased the block and constructed a sturdy, fireproof Town Hall. The popular Richardson Romanesque Style was designed by H.S. McKay of Boston and built for a total of $58,000! This building, now cherished by the town, caused so much controversy and dissent as it was being constructed that the Amherst Record had this comment in 1890: “We should bear in mind the fact that the architect of the Cathedral at Milan, backed by the wealth of the universe, could not have designed a village horse-shed that would meet with universal favor at the hands of the citizens of Amherst.”


Phoenix Row/Cook’s Block
4-16 Main Street

Partially destroyed by fire in 1872, 1883, and again in 1989, the block was so named because it was rebuilt from the ashes of the first great fire to sweep the area in 1838; (the “Phoenix” reference of the mythical bird who arises from the ashes of destruction is from a remark attributed to Amherst College President Hitchcock). This block was dominated by a succession of shops from the 19th century until this most recent fire closed the College Drug store. In 1885 Charles King had a barber shop on the second floor of Cook’s Block. He was, however, known less for cutting hair than for his feat of eating fifty raw eggs in fifteen minutes. Two hundred people gathered on Main Street as he swallowed the eggs and collected the $30 prize.   


BankNorth Bank
11 Amity Street

This brick structure was built for the First National Bank of Amherst in a burst of village improvement activity which entailed removing tenement-like wooden buildings from this site in 1928. The Hoggson Brothers of New York were the architects. 

Amherst Academy Site
Amity Street, marker in parking lot across from bank.

This site contained the three story brick preparatory school of Amherst poet Emily Dickinson (who attended school here from 1840-46), novelist Helen Hunt Jackson, and Mary Lyon, the founder of Mt. Holyoke College. Among the more eccentric students of Amherst Academy was Sylvester Graham. Known as “The Philosopher of Sawdust Pudding” he was an early advocate of vegetarianism and the man for whom the Graham Cracker was named. Established in 1814, the school was the most prominent educational institution in this part of the state and was very influential in the founding of Amherst College in 1821. By the 1860s, the dilapidated structure served as the locus for a number of African American community meetings, including religious services and an appearance by the legendary orator Frederic Douglass. After the original building’s demolition, the Amity Street Public School was built on this site in 1869.

Jones Library
43 Amity Street

Incorporated in 1919, the Library is named for its benefactor Samuel Minot Jones, an Amherst native who made his fortune in the Midwest. Constructed from Pelham field stone in 1928, the chief stone mason was Anthony Rufo, who along with his crew of Italian craftsmen selected stone of the right color and texture for the library’s walls. For his artistry, Tony Rufo was nicknamed Michaelangelo.

Strong House
67 Amity Street

This is one of the oldest standing houses in Amherst, this historic home was build by Hannah and Nehemiah Strong and was later used by their son Simeon, a Tory during the revolution. Poet Eugene Field wrote one of his first poems about his dog Dooley and the Strong House, in which the Emersons lived at the time: 

O, had I wings like a dove I would fly,

Away from this world of fleas;

I’d fly all around Miss Emerson’s yard,

And light on Miss Emerson’s trees.

Now owned and maintained by the Amherst Historical Society (which was founded by Mabel Loomis Todd in 1899), the house functions as a museum and is open to the public.

The Perry
85 Amity Street

Built as a two story residence in 1855, this building began taking in boarders in 1898 when Egbert Perry lived here. In 1912, two more stories were added, and it was called The Hotel Perry. In 1938, new owners named it The Drake, after the well known New York establishment. The basement level bar, called the Rathskeller, was a popular student hangout. Today, it is an apartment house. 


Hope Church
20 Gaylord Street

African Americans from the AME Zion Church bought land in 1907 and built this small shingle style Congregational Church.


Eugene Field House
219 Amity Street

Originally built by Robert Cutler for Thomas Jones, Mrs. Jones’ nephew, the poet and journalist Eugene Field, lived in this house as a boy. Best known as author of nursery rhymes, including “The Calico Cat and the Gingham Dog,” Field wrote a number of poems referring to his boyhood life in this neighborhood. Ray Stannard Baker and Mary Heaton Vorse, both writers, also lived in this house at different times. Of his New England upbringing, this St. Louis-born writer said, “It is almost impossible for a man to get rid of his Puritan grandfathers and nobody who has ever had one has ever escaped his Puritan grandmother.” The house dates to 1839. 

Solomon Boltwood House
243 Amity Street

Solomon Boltwood was a brother of Samuel Boltwood, who built the oldest house left in Amherst, now the UMass Faculty Club on Stockbridge Road. This house and the Strong House (the only one you can now tour) are the earliest examples of clapboard post and beam construction in the valley, with five over four window configuration and central doors. The original windows have the small 12 over 12 window panes. There is a massive central chimney with fireplaces in most of the rooms and fielded panelling and summer beams in the two parlors. Interestingly, all three houses have the same small drawer in the wall between the left parlor’s front windows.

Simeon Clark House
272 Amity Street

This very early Amherst house (1750) is one of the three left on Amity Street from the 1700s when it was called the Road to Hadley. Farmer Simeon Clark was the original owner. Emily Dickinson biographer and Amherst College professor George Whicher lived here at one time. He wrote an acclaimed book of poetry which he called Amity Street and a biography of Emily Dickinson entitled This Was A Poet.


Robert Frost House
43 Sunset Avenue

Known as the Frost House, this house was originally built for Massachusetts Agricultural College president Henry Goodell. The local papers noted that this Stick Style home was the more modern of houses in 1875 with hot and cold running water and a furnace. Robert Frost and his family lived here from 1931-38. Frost lived here from 1923 to 1938. This house was the setting for many happy evenings in Amherst, and also for deep family tragedy. In November of 1934, Frost’s wife Elenor, his closest friend and advisor, suffered a severe heart attack and was cared for by Dr. Nelson Haskell. It was here in 1937 the Frosts learned that Elenor needed immediate surgery for cancer. After Elenor’s death in 1938, Robert Frost sold their Amherst home, though he returned to Amherst for two months each year from 1946 until the late 1950’s as special lecturer. 


Goodwin Home
43 McClellan Street

Home of Moses and Anna Reed Goodwin, leaders of the A.M.E. Zion Church (since renamed in their honor) and African American businesspeople during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Moses Goodwin apprenticed as a machinist and lateroperated a bicycle and locksmith shop behind “Phoenix Row,” while Anna Reed Goodwin ran a boarding house. This historic home was dedicated with a plaque in 1992.


St. Brigid’s Church
132 North Pleasant Street

Centrally located, this Roman Catholic church is designed after a church of San Zeno in Verona, Italy. In 1840 John Slater (b. 1803 in Ireland), the man considered the first Catholic to settle in Amherst, arrived. After living in Quebec and Vermont, he came to Amherst at a time when, as was later reported, “Amherst had a charm for all but the Catholics.” It was in Slater’s home that the first Catholic Mass in Amherst was said. Amherst’s Roman Catholic population began to grow after the Civil War. The Town’s first Catholic Church, built in 1870, was located at 308 North Pleasant Street (now the Cathedral Apartments). 

Unitarian Church
121 North Pleasant Street

Universalists built this Arts and Crafts Style church in 1894, featuring stain glass windows by Louis C. Tiffany and John LaFarge. During a renovation in the 1920s a mysterious fungus invaded the church. When Rev. Ives asked for help from the Unitarian Association in Boston, no money was available. The Association instead sent two sets of exquisite stained glass windows from a Roxbury church that had been torn down. The Amherst church decided to keep the windows and raise funds themselves to destroy the fungus.

Amherst Post Office
141 North Pleasant Street

Built in 1926, this was the first federal post office built in Massachusetts in five years and was considered the last word in post office efficiency. A newer post office was constructed in 1992 on University Drive, while this original building still operates as a branch. 


First Church
165 Main Street

This is the third site for the First Congregational Church, which was founded in 1739, when Amherst was known as the Third Precinct of Hadley. An institution that was integrally tied to the early history and founding of Amherst, First Church was the original site for town meetings, and, in fact, town revenues supported its ministers until 1833. Early sites for three different church buildings now house the Octagon and College Hall on the Amherst College Campus. The Pelham granite construction was completed by the Amherst contractor C.W. Lessey. Over the years, many architectural additions and deletions have occurred, while the interior has been redecorated numerous times.  

The Evergreens
214 Main Street

This was the home of Emily Dickinson’s brother William Austin and his wife Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson . Austin, a lawyer, succeeded his father as treasurer of Amherst College in 1874, a post that he held until his death in 1895. He was involved in many town projects, perhaps his chief contributions were the building of the new First Congregational Church in 1867, the founding of the Water Company in 1880 and the Gas Company in 1877, and the laying out of Wildwood Cemetery, as well as improvements to the Common and Amherst College in consultation with Frederick Law Olmsted in 1888. In November 1885 a gang of thieves struck houses in Amherst, including those of the Hills and of Austin Dickinson. Robbers entered the house while the family ate dinner. Emily Dickinson later sent a brief note to her brother’s son, Ned: “Burglaries have become so frequent, is it quite safe to leave the Golden Rule out overnight?” Through the unique terms of the will, the house has not been altered since the death of Austin’s daughter Martha Dickinson Bianchi in 1943.

Emily Dickinson Homestead
280 Main Street

Emily Dickinson was born here in 1830. Although she and her family moved to another house in 1840,they returned to the Main Street residence in 1855, and the poet lived there until her death in 1886. Samuel Fowler Dickinson, the poet’s grandfather and one of the founders of Amherst College, built the house in 1813. Emily Dickinson’s father, Edward, was a treasurer of the college, a member of the Massachusetts legislature, and, for a term, a member of Congress. It was in this house that Emily Dickinson gradually withdrew from society and nearly all of her friends, producing the work that now places her among the most important poets of all time. 

Amherst Woman’s Club
383 Main Street

Leonard Hills built the house that his son Dwight inherited. Alice Maude Smith married Dwight, became active in the Amherst Woman’s Club which then had no home. When Dwight died in 1917, Alice went to France and served as a nurse in World War I. She returned in 1919 and in 1922 left for a trip to California. On the return journey by ship she jumped overboard and was never found. Alice left the house to the Amherst Woman’s Club along with a $10,000 legacy. 

Railroad Station
600 block of Main Street, east side

While the Town leaders were highly enthusiastic about railroad travel, the first passenger run did not come to Amherst until 1853 (the Amherst & Belchertown Railroad). On May 3, the first train arrived here from New London. Edward Dickinson, Emily’s father, led a grand parade around town. Emily watched from the woods, then ran home. Biographer Richard Sewall described this as “a neurotic escape, a portent of stranger behavior to come.” The neighborhood around this station became a locus for Irish immigrants who worked building the railway. With stops at two other locations (Station Road and South Pleasant/Snell Streets), Amherst became a part of the Boston & Maine and Central Vermont lines. Once the home of regular railroad traffic and a network of local trolley lines, Amherst is a stop on the Montrealer Amtrak line.


The Dell
97 Spring Street

First built as a residence for the Churchill family, this was the home (1950-58) of Howard Garis, the author of the Uncle Wiggily stories and, under the name Victor Appleton, author of the first 37 Tom Swift books, as well as the Motor Boys and Baseball Joe stories. Garis moved in 1958 to 279 Amity Street, where he died in 1962. The Dell now serves as offices for Five Colleges, Inc.

Todd House
90 Spring Street

Mabel Loomis Todd and her husband David Peck Todd lived here, acquiring the land from Austin Dickinson and building the first Queen Anne Style house in Amherst. The stone posts which marked a new road cut through the Dickinson meadow still flank the east end of Spring Street. David Peck Todd, a highly respected astronomy professor, supervised the establishment of the Amherst College Observatory in 1904. Todd had an intense interest in life on Mars. He made several balloon ascensions in vain attempts to communicate with Martians. Mabel Loomis Todd co-edited the first book (and a number of subsequent editions) of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, was a world-traveler and lecturer, and founded the Amherst Historical Society, the Mary Mattoon Chapter of the D.A.R., and the Amherst Woman’s Club. The Todds sold the house in 1898, following a legal wrangle with Lavinia Dickinson over the contents of her brother Austin’s will; it was later moved across the street to its present location.


Merchant’s Row
South Pleasant Street

All of the buildings comprising the original Merchant’s Row from Amity Street to the Baptist Church were burned in a devastating fire on July 4, 1879 and were replaced by five brick buildings. The Amherst House, a large hotel, stood at the corner of Amity and South Pleasant streets from the early 19th century until 1925, when it burned down for the second and final time. Hastings Stationers (established in 1913) occupies a site which had previously housed general stores for a century. 

Old First Baptist Church
79 South Pleasant Street

In 1827, the Nelson family first petitioned the Town to establish a branch of the New Salem Baptist Church; three years later, Amherst approved a branch of the Northampton Baptist Church, meeting in various locations until the building was constructed in 1835. The Greek Revival design was by Warren S. Howland, while the belfry previously contained a Paul Revere bell. The church ceased operations at this location in 1957, moving north to a new location at the edge of the University in 1964.

Amherst College President’s House
South Pleasant Street

Warren Slade Howland was the original architect when this building was erected in 1835-36. Renovations were made in 1891 by Griffin and Randall and later in 1932 by McKim, Mead, and White. Originally, this house had a Greek Revival east entrance, but it now has a Georgian mansion style north entrance. 

College Hall
South Pleasant Street

Another building by Warren Slade Howland, built in 1829. It was remodeled (1905) by William R. Mead of McKim, Mead, and White. This was the third building of the First Congregational Church, Emily Dickinson’s family church. The first two meeting houses stood across the street where the octagon building now stands. In 1867, when the parish built its present granite church on Main Street, Amherst College bought this building, which it now uses for administrative offices.   

Morgan Hall
South Pleasant Street

This Italian Villa style building by Henry Sykes, built of Pelham gneiss, was first used as Amherst College’s library when it was completed in 1853. Melvil Dewey was on the staff from 1874 to 1877 when he devised the Dewey Decimal cataloguing system. Now the building houses the Astronomy Department’s Bassett Planetarium. 

Fisher House
227 South Pleasant Street

This small brick house with Gothic windows is attributed to Hiram Johnson, who built Johnson Chapel across the street. In 1837, the Nelson sisters, who lived here, ran a school in their home which Emily Dickinson attended. 

Helen Hunt Jackson House
249 South Pleasant Street

This was the childhood home of Helen Hunt Jackson, a contemporary of Emily Dickinson. A notable author, Miss Jackson is best known for her novel Ramona about the plight of Native Americans. In her later years, she corresponded with Emily Dickinson encouraging her to publish her poetry. 

Edward Hitchcock House
272 South Pleasant Street

This Greek Revival house was first the home of architect, Warren Slade Howland in 1828. Its most remembered occupant was Amherst College President Edward Hitchcock, known especially for his early geology work in the valley as well as his teaching and administration at the college. The octagon was built in 1836 to house his geology collections, including dinosaur footprints.