Chicopee is a city located on the Connecticut River in Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States of America. It is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 55,298, making it the second largest city in Western Massachusetts after Springfield. The current mayor is Richard Kos.
Chicopee uses the nickname “Crossroads of New England” as part of a business-development marketing campaign. The name reflects the city's convenient location amongst a number of metropolitan areas and its transportation network. Four highways run through its boundaries: I-90, I-91, I-291, and I-391. State routes such as Route 33, 116, and 141, are major providers of regional linkage.
The communities of Chicopee Center (Cabotville), Chicopee Falls, Willimansett, Fairview, Smith Highlands, Aldenville, and Burnett Road are located in the city.
Nayasett (Cabotville and Chicopee Falls)
In 1636, William Pynchon purchased land from the Agawam Indians on the east side of the Connecticut River and moved from Roxbury to Springfield to found the first settlement in the area that comprises the territory of today's Chicopee Center (Cabotville). Both Cabotville and the Falls began as manufacturing centers (villages).
According to local historian Charles J. Seaver, the area above the falls was first settled in 1660. The land purchased from the Indians was divided into districts. Nayasett (Nipmuc for "at the small point / angle") was the name given to Chicopee Center and Chicopee Falls. The settlement in the upper district was at Skipmuck (possibly based on Nipmuc "Skipmaug," meaning "chief fishing place" or "Shipmuck," meaning "big watery place"), a place above the falls on the south side of the river.
A sawmill was the first river industry. The mill was built at Skenungonuck (Nipmuc for "green fields") Falls (now Chicopee Falls) in 1678 by Japhet Chapin, John Hitchcock and Nathaniel Foote. The mill was the first industrial site in Chicopee Falls. The saga of Factory Village really begins in the year 1786, when the property comprising two acres of land was leased to 10 local men with the understanding that they would build an iron foundry within two years. This was accomplished and the business flourished.
By 1831, there were two giant dams, two waterpower canals and two manufacturing communities on the Chicopee River.
In 1848, Chicopee - which, for over two centuries had been a part of Springfield - was partitioned off into its own town. Political factions in Springfield wanted Springfield to remain a town, rather than become a city and take on a mayoral form of government. By partitioning off Chicopee, those political factions prevented Springfield from becoming a city for four years - Springfield was chartered as a city in 1852; however, Springfield lost 2/5 of its land area and nearly half of its population when Chicopee was created.
Before and after the partition, eight Chicopee River companies gained product recognition around the globe: Ames, Belcher, Lamb, Dwight, Stevens, Spalding, Fisk, and Duryea. Below the falls in the bend of the river at a place called Factory Village, an important chapter of the region's industrial history was played out.
Chicopee adopted the motto "Industriae Variae", which means "Industry Varies". Chicopee was home to many types of industries which include cotton mills, woolen mills, textiles, brass foundries and iron foundries, paper making, leather products like boots and shoes, the first lucifer matches, and ship building for the nearby South Hadley Canal, firearms company Crescent-Davis, which specialized in double barrel shotguns. The Ames Manufacturing Company made many machines and bronze cannons, and more swords than any other American manufacturer at the time. Ames cast Thomas Ball's monumental bronze equestrian statue of George Washington, installed in Boston's Public Garden. The Stevens Arms plant (later Savage) was responsible for most of the Number 4 Enfields manufactured for the British under Lend-Lease. Chicopee was home to production of the first gasoline-powered automobile made in the United States, the Duryea.
In 1641, Willian Pynchon expanded his 1636 holdings by buying the land from the Chicopee River north to the Willimansett (Nipmuc for "good berries place" or "place of red earth") Brook. Land sales in Chicopee were recorded in 1659, but apparently no homes were built immediately.
Winthrop McKinstry writes that the sons of Deacon Samuel Chapin appear to be the first home builders. Henry Chapin is believed to have constructed his at Exchange and West streets (lower Chicopee) in 1664, and Japhet Chapin north of what is now known as James Ferry Road (upper Chicopee) in 1673. It is apparent from McKinstry's book that the Chapin family dominated the area north of the Chicopee River for the settlement's first 70 years. Chicopee Street was part of the First Parish in Springfield.
By the 1750s, Quabbin Road (now McKinstry Avenue) allowed the farmers to access the meadows and fields on the plains at the top of the hill. The Chapins used the land in common for grazing livestock and built ice houses near several large ponds. The ponds were drained by several brooks which flowed into the Connecticut River.
At the end of the 19th century, the city voted to build the Willimansett Bridge, connecting Willimansett with Holyoke. The results were profound. Willimansett and Aldenville would develop close ties to Holyoke; even postal and telephone service were (and still are) tied to the "Paper City." The legislative act ordering the building of the bridge was passed in 1892. L.L. Johnson reports that the completion of the bridge was grandly celebrated.
By the 20th century, Willimansett village had developed into quintessential Americana with a high percentage of French Canadian inhabitants. In total, Chicopee became four distinct commercial and political sub-divisions, each with its own ethnic makeup representing its own special interests and, much too frequently, in conflict with each other.
Located between Fairview and Willimansett, the Smith Highlands section once had its own school (first and second grades), Holyoke Steet Railway bus service from Ingham Street across Irene, Factory, and Prospect streets, and two locally owned markets. The former Robert's Pond swimming area was a popular summer attraction, and the fields where the current Bellamy Junior High School is located were a popular sledding and skiing location winters.
Fairview is the northern-most neighborhood (village) in Chicopee and originally included the lands that are now part of Westover ARB. Primarily agricultural, Fairview was known for its tobacco farms. After 1939, Westover helped to rapidly develop the village into a residential and commercial district. Memorial Drive (Route 33) flows North-South connecting Chicopee Falls with South Hadley.
On August 18, 1870, Edward Monroe Alden purchased 600 acres of land just east of Willimansett for the sum of $9,000 with the intent to create a "little city on the hill," which would become Aldenville. In 1890, he began laying out streets which he named for family members and divided the land up into 60-by-170 feet lots. French-Canadian factory workers from Chicopee Falls, Cabotville (Chicopee Center), and Holyoke began to build up the community. Sold for a selling price of $150 with $10 down, the first house was bought and built by French-Canadian builder and carpenter Marcellin Croteau.
Partition from Springfield and modern history
The villages of Cabotville, Chicopee Falls, Willimansett, and Fairview (and the lands that would become Aldenville) remained a part of Springfield, Massachusetts from 1636 until 1848, when they were partitioned to form the Town of Chicopee. Political factions in Springfield had wished to keep Springfield a "town," instead of becoming a "city," which would give it a mayoral form of government. To keep Springfield sufficiently unpopulated to subvert a state regulation that would have required it to become a city, they partitioned Chicopee, which contained approximately 2/5 of Springfield's land area, and nearly half of its population. Regardless of the partition, Springfield became a city only four years after the partition of Chicopee. Both cities continued to flourish for over a century after the partition.
Westover Field was created by a war-readiness appropriation signed by president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. The site was formerly tobacco crop fields east of and part of Fairview, east of Aldenview, and northern Willimansett. It was assigned to the United States Army Air Corps Northeast Air District. It was renamed Westover Air Force Base in 1948 after that Air Force's creation as a separate service. In 1974 SAC leadership turned the base over to the Air Force Reserve.