West Springfield is a city in Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 28,391 at the 2010 census. The city is also known as "West Side", in reference to the fact that it is on the western side of the Connecticut River from Springfield, a fact which played a major part in the town's early history.
In paraphrase, from the official town history book... The area that became known as West Springfield was settled in 1635. The settlers fled to higher ground on the east side of the river and founded Springfield in the aftermath of the great hurricane of 1635. West Springfield was good farm land, so some families did stay on the west side.
Early transportation problems
Other than the trade in beaver skins, economic activity in early colonial Springfield consisted largely of subsistence farming and animal husbandry, with barter being the preferred medium of exchange for neighbors' crops, and locally produced goods. Gristmills and saw mills were also present in the early settlement.
Because the Connecticut River was too wide to be bridged at the time, crossings had to be made by boat. The Hay Place was created between the current town common and East School Street, for people who farmed or mowed on land grants on the west side to leave their crops while they awaited transport back to the eastern side.
By the 1650s some English settlers had begun living full-time on the western side of the river, probably near what is now Riverdale Road, across from the Chicopee River.
Early in that decade, Springfield had made a provision that any able-bodied man (and his work animals) could be required to work up to six eight-hour days on local roads (the barter economy equivalent of an infrastructure tax). In 1666, the west side residents complained about having to work on east side roads while their own were not well taken care of. After considerable dispute, it was determined that the men of the settlement would tend the roads on their own sides of the river.
Parish formation and growing independence
In many ways, the distinction between the church and the state in the early New England town form of government was fuzzy, though religious and secular meetings were held separately and generally led by different people.
For the early settlers of Springfield, attendance at both town meetings and weekly Congregational church services (often both held in the town "meeting house") in the early settlement were mandatory, and this was enforced by fines.
For several decades, West Side residents requested accommodation from the town in the form of a free ferry service, but were refused by town meeting and even by arbitrators from Northampton and Hadley. In March 1683, Reice Bedortha, his son John, John's wife Lydia, and their newborn Mercy, were drowned on the Connecticut on their way to church when their boat capsized. The west side residents renewed their complaints and began to demand their own church meeting house. On 29 May 1697, the Massachusetts General Court finally approved a separate parish and meeting house for the approximately 200 residents.
West side parishes were also created for Agawam (1696), Feeding Hills (1800), and Holyoke ("North Parish" or "Ireland Parish" named for early Irish settlers John and Mary Riley; created at some point before 1831).
The Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law in 1647 requiring the construction of a public school in any town with 50 or more families. In 1706 after two years of petitioning, west side residents were granted funds for the construction of a school (though west side students might have been home-schooled before that time).
In 1707, the west side parish was delegated from Springfield town meeting the right to grant land in its territory.
Independence from Springfield
Given the continuing need to cross the Connecticut River to attend town meetings, and east-west tension over resource allocation, the west side residents petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to be incorporated as a separate town in 1756. After a particularly contentious town meeting in 1773 which bounced between meeting houses on opposite shores and nearly resulted in a year-long government shutdown, proposals for partition were eventually sent from both sides to the colonial legislature. On 23 February 1774, West Springfield was incorporated as a separate town, with territory including what is now Agawam and most of Holyoke.
Another dispute was immediately created when the charter of the town prevented it from taxing the property of Springfield residents within its boundaries. This law was later changed to apply only until such property was sold, but the last such parcel did not become taxable by West Springfield until the 1860s.
West Springfield minutemen participated in the American Revolutionary War beginning on April 20, 1775, the day after the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In 1777, a major contingent of Hessian and British troops were captured at the Battle of Saratoga and transported to Boston (for possible deportation or imprisonment). While encamped in West Springfield, some of the German mercenaries stayed and married into the local population.
Economic conditions after the Revolution led to Shays' Rebellion in Springfield and West Springfield in 1786-87.
Technological advancements allowed the first bridge to be built across the Connecticut River in 1805. It was a toll bridge built on stone pilings; the roadway heaved up and down as it passed over six arch-shaped spans. This bridge was damaged by spring floods in 1814, and after a partial collapse under heavy traffic, was demolished.
In 1816, a replacement bridge opened at Bridge Street. It was destroyed in 1818 by spring ice, despite a valiant attempt to keep it from being washed downstream by tying it to a tree. (The cable snapped.) A third bridge built on the same foundations, was in use for over 100 years, and known as the "Old Toll Bridge", though tolls were removed in 1873.
The modern Memorial Bridge was opened in 1922; it underwent a major overhaul in the 1990s.
The first North End Bridge opened 1887 with a sturdy metal box-shaped truss (the upper part of the box being suspended above the roadway. In 1923, the tar-sealed wooden decking caught fire, which was made worse by the gas mains the bridge carried. The replacement bridge at this location is still in use.
A wooden toll bridge was built to Chicopee from Riverdale (at the base of Wayside Avenue - formerly Bridge Street - and Ashley Avenue) in 1847, but burned down in 1903.
Several crossing of the Westfield River were built in the 19th century, but most were destroyed by floods. Several highway bridges were also constructed in the late 20th century.
The warnings of the Agawam Indians proved true in 1647, 1767, 1801, 1804, and 1818. Civil War-era dikes held back high water in the Agawam River in 1878, but heavy rain flooded the town again in 1927. Both heavy rains and a large snowmelt brought an even more massive flood in 1936. 8,000 people were displaced in the town of 17,000. The area's bridges survived; the railroad bridge being weighed down by a fully loaded freight train intentionally parked across it. The New England Hurricane of 1938 flooded crops along Riverdale Road and severely damaged the Exposition grounds, causing the fair to close for the season. It also opened a hole in the dike at Mosley Avenue, which was fortunately repaired before the rain waters could once again flood the lower section of town. Yet another major flood struck in 1955, knocking out the town's drinking water facilities in Southwick and destroying Bear Hole Dam, Piper Reservoir, and Memorial Pool (all of which were rebuilt).
Winter weather has also caused significant damage at times during West Springfield's history. The Great Blizzard of 1888 dropped over of snow, with drifts. There have also been more recent blizzards in 1978 and 1996.
On June 1, 2011, a tornado touched down in West Springfield, crossed the Connecticut River, and then devastated the City of Springfield, Massachusetts. The 2011 Springfield Tornado devastated densely populated parts of West Springfield, causing 2 fatalities in the city - including a mother who died while shielding her 15 year old daughter. U.S. President Barack Obama declared the area surrounding both West Springfield and Springfield a federal disaster area,
On October 29, 2011, a snow storm dumped more than 10 inches of wet snow on the town and the surrounding area. Snow clung to trees which still had most of their leaves. The result was the falling of trees and limbs on homes, vehicles, powerlines and roadways. It took more than a week for some homes to have power restored.
Agriculture continued to dominate the local economy when market gardening started in the 1830s, concentrating in the Riverdale Road area. These crops were intended to be sent to market for cash, rather than to be used by the farming family for themselves or to barter for other crops. Growing population and improved transportation links increased the size of the potential market; by 1860, West Springfield was using greenhouses and exporting fresh crops to Boston. Agriculture remained an important part of the West Springfield economy for many decades, but land development and economic changes led to a decline, and by the 1940s, it was a minor activity in the town.
The Eastern States Exposition started in 1917 as a reaction against the slow decline of New England agriculture. The annual fall fair is by far West Springfield's largest tourist attraction and one of the largest fairs in the country. The exposition grounds host many events on a year-round basis.
The first Morgan Horse was bred in West Springfield in 1789-90.
Railroads and industrialization
Light manufacturing began to grow in the 19th century, including tanned hides, horse carriages, gunpowder, ceramics, industrial pipes, hats, and boats.
When the Industrial Revolution reached Western Massachusetts in the 19th century, the region's many fast-moving rivers resulted in a mill town boom. Early textile and paper mills were staffed by Irish famine immigrants who nearly doubled their population in the town between 1840 and 1860. Paper manufacturing became a major regional industry, including within the town limits included (mostly clustered on the Agawam River) the Southworth Paper Company (1839), the Agawam Paper Company (1859), the Agawam Canal Company, the Springfield Glazed Paper Company (1882), the Worthy Paper Company (1892), the Mittineague Paper Company (1892, later known as the Strathmore Paper Company and acquired by International Paper)
The Western Railroad opened for freight and passenger service in 1841, connecting West Springfield to Worcester, Boston, the Berkshires, and upstate New York. It would become the Boston and Albany Railroad in 1870. Travel time from Boston to Albany was considerably reduced from the over 40 hours it took by stagecoach in the 1820s. The covered wooden railroad bridge across the Connecticut which opened in 1841, was replaced by the current double-track steel truss railroad bridge in 1874.
West Springfield became a major transportation hub, and the railroad became one of the largest employers in the town for many decades. Repair shops were also built in West Springfield in 1896, and at the peak of operations, there were two major rail yards - one in Mittineague, and one near the present-day Memorial Avenue.
The original horsecar trolley, operated by the Springfield Street Railway, opened in 1877 from Main Street in Springfield to Elm and Park Streets, via Main Street and the old toll bridge at Bridge Street. It was later extended via Westfield Street to (Upper) Church Street. Electrification was completed in 1892-3, and the river crossing was moved to the original North End Bridge. Over the years, extensions were made to the Holyoke Street Railway (via Riverdale Road, 1895), Tatham (1896) the Woronoco Street Railway (in Westfield, 1899), the Connecticut border via Riverside Park (now Six Flags New England) in Agawam (1900), Feeding Hills (1902), and eventually the Suffield Street Railway in Connecticut (making the Hartford-West Side Line possible, 1905).
The destruction of the old North End Bridge in 1923 saw relocation of the trolley crossing to the modern Memorial Bridge. But trolley passenger service was cut starting in 1924 and by 1936, completely eliminated. Present-day local and intercity mass transit is provided by Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus routes, Amtrak, and private bus carriers. Peter Pan Bus Lines is headquartered in Springfield.
Conversion from steam to diesel locomotives shut down the West Springfield repair shop in 1956. With the rise of the automobile, the West Springfield (Mittineague) passenger railroad station closed in 1957. Amtrak service is still available to Springfield, and the central rail yard is still in active use for freight by CSX, the present-day successor of this part of the Boston & Albany.
Rural Free Delivery started delivering postal mail to residents' homes in the late 19th or early 20th century.
Creation of Holyoke and Agawam
Even more substantial canal and mill development took place in the "North Parish" or "Ireland Parish" of West Springfield, which was favorably located near Hadley Falls. The parish was incorporated as the independent town of Holyoke, Massachusetts in 1850.
The area mainly south of the Westfield River, including the parishes of Agawam and Feeding Hills, was incorporated as the independent town of Agawam, Massachusetts in 1855.
U.S. Route 5 (currently, also known as Riverdale Road) was modified to bypass the downtowns of Springfield and West Springfield as new segments were constructed on the West Springfield and Agawam waterfronts in 1938, 1941–42, and 1952-53. This resulted in some land takings and cutting off certain neighborhoods from the river, but north-south travel was speeded, and the dike system was reinforced to prevent the flooding of these neighborhoods. The approaches to the North End and Memorial Bridges were modified to accommodate the new traffic patterns.
The Massachusetts Turnpike was constructed from 1955 to 1957. Interstate 91 was constructed over a dozen years, from 1958 to 1970, following considerable controversy over whether it should be placed in West Springfield, as originally planned, or in Springfield, as that city's planners wished.
Interstate 91 planned for West Springfield
The original plan for Interstate 91 - detailed in the 1953 Master Highway Plan for the Springfield, Massachusetts, Metropolitan Area - called for Interstate 91 to occupy an enlarged U.S. Route 5 in West Springfield - the route which had, historically, been used to reach West Springfield and Springfield from both the north and the south. Between 1953 and 1958, Riverdale Road was widened in places, added on to, and numerous businesses were closed and moved back, or to other parts of West Springfield to make way for Interstate 91, which was planned to connect with Springfield via numerous bridges. The original plan for I-91 would have likely benefitted West Springfield, which already had U.S. 5 passing through, causing travelers to patronize many of West Springfield's businesses.
In 1958, however, Springfield's city planners - seemingly without regard for West Springfield's economy, or foresight for their own city's economy - campaigned vociferously for Interstate 91 to occupy Springfield's riverfront. Their reasoning at the time was that Springfield, being a more populous city than West Springfield, should have a major highway routed through it. Indeed, Springfield's 1958 city planners advocated that the construction of I-91 on Springfield's riverfront would catalyze economic growth comparable to that experienced during the great railroad expansion of the mid-19th century.
Although West Springfield had a right and legal claim to Interstate 91, Massachusetts highway officials relented to Springfield's intense pressure when confronted with a technicality: a short, existing section of US 5 through West Springfield that was built in 1952-53 failed to meet Interstate design standards. Thus the plans for I-91 in West Springfield were shelved, and moved to the east bank of the river in Springfield, where an elevated highway was designed (as opposed to the planned ground-grade highway in West Springfield.)
After Interstate 91 was constructed in Springfield, that city did not experience anything like the prosperity boom predicted by its city planners in 1958. Indeed, I-91's construction in Springfield coincided with the beginning of that city's four decades of decline. Unlike West Springfield's U.S. 5, Springfield's I-91 was constructed in an area where there had never been highway traffic or businesses that catered to such traffic. Due to I-91's very close proximity to both Springfield's densely built downtown and the city's riverfront, there has never been enough space in Springfield to build more than a few of these businesses. Thus Springfield never received the economic benefit that it expected from I-91 - and which, according to recent academic assessments by the UMass School of Urban Design, West Springfield would have.