History of Northampton
Northampton celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2004. The Town of Northampton - actually the town of Nonotuck originally - was granted its Charter in 1654; the City of Northampton was incorporated in 1884.
Our City Seal contains many references to critical events and symbols of our city’s 350 years:
The City motto appears at the bottom: caritas, educatio, justitia, which means Caring, Education, and Justice. These are three themes that continue to be important to the people who make their homes here. The moths around the outside circle are silk moths, representing the silk industry in Northampton, a short-lived utopian community-based project in the 1800's located in the Florence section of the City. Members of the community were deeply concerned with racial and gender justice, and tried to create a self-sustaining community by raising silk worms (as well as the trees that the worms preferred). During its existence, the Florence community attracted some of the greatest thinkers and activists of the time. Sojourner Truth made her home here for almost a decade at this time in the first house she ever bought. Born into slavery and later freed, she traveled the country as a speaker for abolition and women's suffrage. Fellow abolitionist Frederick Douglass frequently visited and spoke at the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. Lydia Maria Child and her husband lived in Florence at the time, as well, working to grow sugar beets in the hopes that the sugar cane plantation system of the South could be undermined, and that the system of slavery could be forced out through economic means. While the beet experiment ultimately failed, it is believed that Child was living in Northampton when she penned the famous Thanksgiving song, "Over the River and Through the Woods."
As you look at the seal, you will also see the Holyoke Mountains in the background, and in the right top corner, the structure that looks like a castle represents the unique architecture of our City Hall. Famed architect William Fenno Pratt designed the City Hall building in 1849. Along the bottom of the seal, you will notice scales, representing the scales of justice, since Northampton is the County Seat, and home to the County Courthouse. You will also see a rake and hoe, reminders of Northampton's proud agricultural past - and present. The City is home to the oldest continuously running agricultural fair in the United States, held each September at the Three County Fairgrounds, and to two thriving Farmers Markets. Northampton was also the site of the famous Shay’s Rebellion, a crisis point in early post-revolutionary America.
A number of other famous Americans have lived in or visited Northampton. The famous 19th century singer and actress Jenny Lind gave Northampton its current nickname, Paradise City, when she was in Northampton to perform, calling the city "The Paradise of America." Former president of the United States Calvin Coolidge was a lawyer here and served as Northampton's Mayor before he traveled to the White House. American poet Sylvia Plath lived here while at Smith College, and recently author Kurt Vonnegut lived here while he taught at the college. Reverend Jonathon Edwards, widely credited with sparking the Great Awakening, preached from Northampton for a number of years. Mr. And Mrs. Andrew Carnegie visited often in the 1800's. Sylvester Graham, creator of the graham cracker, lived here and a local restaurant - Sylvester's - now operates in his former home. Alexander Graham Bell was here as a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf in the 1870’s. To this day, the school serves deaf and hearing impaired children from around the world from its base in Northampton. Amelia Earhart spent some time in Northampton, too, learning engine mechanics while her sister studied at Smith College.
Smith College is one of five large colleges and universities located in the Pioneer Valley region, making education an important part of our culture and economics. Through the Five-College Consortium, students at any of the five colleges may take courses at any of the others. Our public schools enroll about 3,000 students in four elementary schools, the JFK Middle School and the Northampton High School. There is also a Vocational and Agricultural High School which provides students with academic education as well as training in one of 13 fields of vocational study, such as farming, cosmetology, auto-body repair, plumbing, printing technology and forestry.
Some other highlights of Northampton include the Community Gardens, where residents can rent garden space and tend flower or vegetable plots, and Look Park, a large recreational park donated to the City, which has a kiddie train, many picnic spots, playing fields, bumper boats and a small water park area. Child's Park, another donated park, on the other hand, is a spot for quiet reflection. The Academy of Music is believed to be the 6th oldest theatre in the United States, and is the oldest municipally owned theatre. Movies are shown there regularly, and stage productions, ballets and operas are often performed there. Northampton has a small airport and there is a regional public transit service that provides bus transportation in Northampton and into other neighboring towns.