The Hampden-Wilbraham region was once known as Minnechaug ("berry land" or "berry hill") to the Nipmuc Indians. They sold it to William Pynchon of Springfield in 1674, and the area then became known as Springfield Mountain, but it was not settled (as South Wilbraham) until about 1741. The first European settlers were the Stebbins and Hitchcock families. The first sawmill was erected on the Scantic in the vicinity of the V.F.W. building.
The "Rattlesnake Incident of 1761" is thought to have occurred on farmland in what is now Hampden on August 7 of that year, when 22 year old Timothy Merrick was killed by a snakebite while mowing his father's field — an event immortalized by "On Springfield Mountain", among the earliest ballads ever written in North America, and the basis for the modern folk song "Rattlesnake Mountain".
The settlement was built on the banks of the Scantic River. The first grist and saw mills required the waters of the Scantic to provide them with power. Since their businesses had to be near the river, so also did the owners need to be close to their mills. So many of the earliest homes were built bordering the river or its tributaries.
During the first hundred years as South Wilbraham, Hampden was an agricultural town with Wilbraham as the "mother" town.
At the time of separation from Wilbraham in 1878, industries were becoming active in Hampden. There is every evidence that Hampden could have well turned into one of the many New England factory or industrial towns.
Several factors, however, changed the destiny of the town. The lack of transportation to deliver the materials manufactured was probably the greatest deterrent. When the proposed railroad from Stafford to Springfield failed, quarries and mills were forced to use limited facilities, thereby slowing the delivery of goods.
Fires leveled some of the largest mills — the Lacowsic in 1892, the Ravine in 1904 — and with the lack of marketing, other businesses failed. The advent of automobiles enabled men to find occupations outside of the town. By 1906, the population was half what it had been a decade earlier.
There was then the trend back to agriculture, with many orchards developed throughout the area, with the herds of milk-producing cows, and with farmers growing their many crops.
At about this time, numerous summer type vacation homes were built for Springfield residents who vacationed in Hampden. From these, many year-round homes developed.
Now the mills and quarries, orchards and cows are about gone, and Hampden has become a residential town.
Hampden erected one of the first World War One monuments, only months after the conclusion of the War, in January 1920, which still stands on the village green.
In August 1955, Hampden was hit by Hurricane Diane. Flooding was the major damage. Most bridges were washed away.
Since 2000, Hampden residents have acquired over of open space and park land, including the peak of Minnechaug Mountain, one of the higher hills in town. A trailhead and parking lot on South Road was created. Minnechaug Mountain trails can also be accessed from Old Coach Road, and, except for the fall Turkey Shoot season, from the VFW parking lot on Main St.
In September 2004, an arson fire hit Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary (located on Main Street in Hampden). The building was dedicated to author Thornton Burgess after his death. The headquarters building was burnt down, but original Burgess' home on the property was untouched by the fire, and still stands.
After a week of rain and an extremely hard rain on the early morning of October 9, 2005, the Scantic River and many of its tributaries overflowed their banks. Many homes, and businesses were flooded. The VFW bridge was washed away.