The Town of Westhampton was set off from Northampton in 1778. Just twenty years earlier, when the first full-time resident settled here, it was a wild, unpopulated territory, rich in natural resources like clean water, good fishing streams and large forests that supported both wildlife and timber for harvesting. Many of the early settlers were young men eager to establish their own homesteads independent from their fathers and the constraints of their hometowns.
Westhampton’s first minister, Reverend Enoch Hale, established district schools to ensure a literate populace. Hale, who was a brother of revolutionary war hero Nathan Hale, served as the minister for nearly fifty years and throughout that time acted as an influential moral compass for the townspeople. With his own personal library, he also helped educate young men in the area, many of whom went on to attend Williams College.
Clearing the land and working the rocky New England soil was hard work for the town’s first settlers, and by 1839, aside from farms, the only business to be found in Westhampton was a tannery. The majority of the population lived in the southern part of town. Ice was harvested from local ponds, sap was collected and boiled down at remote sugaring camps, and men worked together to raise one another’s houses and barns. By the mid-1800s firewood and timber from Westhampton was being brought to Northampton to meet the town’s growing housing need, and after 1845, to provide fuel for the railroad.
But it wasn’t all work. Old letters and diary entries also attest to the many social activities available to the town’s hardworking predecessors. Moonlight sleigh rides, husking bees, church suppers, sugar eats, singing societies, and baseball teams all served to forge life-long friendships, making Westhampton a close-knit community. But, like every other New England town, the lure of the West, more promising factory jobs, missionary work and war service drew many Westhampton residents away. The story of our country’s history can be told through the histories of individual towns such as ours.
A history of Westhampton’s first 225 years, including anecdotes of current residents, was published in 2003. The book, Local Color, is available at most area libraries. To view many 19th century agricultural and household artifacts, visit Westhampton’s Museum & Blacksmith Shop at 5 Stage Rd.