Community Profile

Historic Northfield features scenery, tri-state access

By Teri Borseti, Globe Correspondent, 2/19/2000

Northfield at a glance
Incorporated: 1723
Population: 2,838
Area: 40.32 square miles
Distance from Boston: 94 miles
Tax rate: $14.46
Form of government: Town meeting
Median house price: $120,000
Public schools: One elementary, Pioneer Regional middle and high school
Houses of worship: Baptist, Catholic, Congregational, Unitarian Universalist, Protestant
Nearest hospital: Greenfield
Municipal services: Western Massachusetts Electric, Bell Atlantic, full-time police, call fire department Library: Dickinson Public Library
NORTHFIELD - Don't look for fast-food restaurants, office buildings or parking meters here. Instead there are several churches, a couple of small eateries, a store or two, and an IGA supermarket that's been doing business in town since 1949. [an error occurred while processing this directive]

At Town Hall, the assessor's clerk and lifelong resident, Carol Williams-Holden, said that for years the town's population hovered at about 2,000 but over the last few years, it has shot up to nearly 3,000.

"There's been an increase in building and new families moving into town, but basically it's still a bedroom community because there's very little industry here," Williams-Holden said.

The town, which is located in Franklin County, is situated in the Connecticut Valley, just minutes from both Vermont and New Hampshire. The Connecticut River runs through it.

"A lot of people who live around here work in Vermont or New Hampshire. We do a lot of shopping there too," said Williams-Holden.

Early European settlers headed to Northfield for the area's rich soil and established the agricultural roots that still exist today in the form of several active dairy farms.

Before the early 1670s, the area was mostly inhabited by Squakheagan Indians. Early settlers, greeted with hostility, actually abandoned the area twice before permanently settling there in 1714.

During the 17th century, Northfield was the outpost, the front line between French Canada and English New England.

Today the area offers the scenic wide open space that's common along the Mohawk Trail. Route 2, which is just a stone's throw from the town center, has become a popular route for fall foliage enthusiasts.

Northfield, one of Franklin County's cultural centers, is home to the Bolger Arts Center, theater group and community chorus.

In the center of town, as with most of Northfield, the real estate market offers Colonial architecture that's typical of the area. Farmhouses are plentiful and there are many Capes and Colonials, but few apartments or condominiums.

At Benchmark & Pratt Realty in Greenfield, Ken Sweeley has been selling properties in Franklin County since 1984. He said Northfield is a desirable spot because of its tri-state location and because of its reputation for good schools.

Sweeley said he has two listings just a few doors down from the IGA supermarket. A six-room Cape that was built in 1902 has four bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths and sits on a quarter-acre of land. The house comes with a garage and is listed for sale at $108,000.

Just a little further down the road he has listing for a 10-room wood-frame antique Colonial built in 1816. Sweeley said the Federal Revival Colonial is a Stearns-built house.

Stearns was an architect who designed and built several homes in the area in the early 1800s and is well-known to locals. The house has five bedrooms, three baths, a big barn and more than three-quarters of an acre of land and is listed at $212,000.

"There is a limited amount of new construction in town but there is a tract of about 10 modular houses that was recently developed. They're garrisons and ranches and they range in price from just over $100,000 to about $150,000," he said.

The town is also home to the Mount Hermon school. The college preparatory school originally was called the Northfield School for Girls, but in 1971 when the school merged with another school in Gill, it became the Northfield Mount Herman School.

Today the coeducational school is a nationally recognized institution of higher learning, and is also the third largest employer in Franklin county.

Northeast Utilities sited its pumped storage hydroelectric facility here and uses the location for a wildlife exhibit and visitor center. The company also provides boat tours on the Connecticut River and has year-round recreational and education programs.

Residents of Northfield enjoy winter with easy access to skiing in all three states and it isn't uncommon to see signs warning you that a skimobile could cross your path at any time.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 2/19/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company
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