The Mill River is one of New England’s historic jewels. Site of important Native American settlements, occupied by English colonials only a generation after the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it played a major role in the development of the American character. It’s rare that such a small watershed has had so great an impact.
The Mill River Watershed has historically been a dynamic combination of agriculture, industry, and culture — the rich soils of the Meadows, industries from an ingenious button factory to precision machinery, and, in the midst of all this lived, arguably, the most incisive intellect of 18th-century New England — Jonathan Edwards. It’s a place where hard-headed commercial men lived cheek by jowl with communitarians, such as Sojourner Truth.
Truth be told, at its heart, the Mill River is an industrial and commercial river, its banks full of archeological sites, its bed diked and channelized. Local newpapers and histories tell of scores of industries that adapted to changing America over 350 years.
In this section we’ll explore the Mill River’s floods, Native American sites, its transportation routes and modes, and a myriad industrial enterprises. We even hope to go underground with engineers and public works staff to follow the path of the hidden river in Northampton and the places where old tributaries used to be. We’ll have maps and photographs, and, most important, the many narratives you contribute that constitute our shared history and community consciousness.
Check out the cultural assets of the Mill River and help us identify more.