A History of the Town of Longmeadow
The following text is based on a 1988 Plan for Historic Preservation produced to the Longmeadow Historical Society and the Town of Longmeadow, but revised and updated in 2022 by members of the Longmeadow Historical Society, with special assistance by Michael Baick, LHS Class of 2018, Harvard Class of 2022.
New England during the last Ice Age
The two major land types in Longmeadow were determined by geological events from the end of the last Ice Age when large glacial ice sheets retreated northward some 13,000 years ago, The Connecticut River, which reaches its widest point at Longmeadow, has remained a constant in the many thousands of years of this area's geological development, periodically rising and falling, washing out topsoil and landscape along the western shore. By the seventeenth century it resembled what is currently visible today in terms of topography, although flooding in the meadows has altered its coastal profile somewhat.
Pottery Fragments: Credit Peabody Museum
Indigenous people have lived in this region for millennia; they may have witnessed and passed down knowledge of the monumental events that shaped its modern geography. The soil along the banks of the river was recognized early by Native Americans as an important natural resource. Two archaeological explorations of the flood plain in the meadows, one in the 19th and one in the 20th century, found evidence (in the form of soapstone bowl shards, scrapers, and other tools) of inhabitation as early as 1800 BCE.
For thousands of years, the Kwinitekw River Valley was inhabited by Algonquian peoples distributed across several horticultural communities: Agawam, Nonotuck, Pocumtuck, Quaboag, Sokoki, and Woronoco. The Agawams lived on both sides of the river near modern-day Springfield, and their lifeways included hunting, farming, and fishing. Seasonal changes in resource availability dictated the movements and practices of Algonqiuan language tribes like the Agawam. The river provided a variety of fish and a habitat for mammals like beaver whose fur was a prized commodity in both Indigenous and European markets; the soil was good for the growing of crops like corn, beans and squash; forests were a rich source of nuts and berries, small and large game and birds for hunting, and timber. On the eastern bank of the Connecticut River was a marshy floodplain that they called “masacksic,” or “Longmeadow.” The Agawams used the meadow for a variety of purposes, including the cultivation of cranberries. Cranberries are a central crop for Algonquian peoples across New England.
17th Century European Settlers
The first Europeans in the region were the Dutch, who set up trading outposts. They triggered a smallpox outbreak in 1634 which killed hundreds of Native people across the region, including many Agawam. Soon after, English settlers arrived from the east part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, led by William Pynchon of Roxbury. Pynchon traveled west in hopes of profiting from the fur trade, in which Native trappers provided extremely valuable beaver furs in exchange for various European goods.
On July 15, 1636 Pynchon signed an agreement with the Agawams for land on both sides of the river. The 1636 deed included language that ensured the Agawams’ continued rights: “they shall have and enjoy al that Cotinackeesh [an Agawam word for cultivated ground], or ground that is now planted; And have liberty to take Fish and Deer, ground nuts, walnuts, akornes, and saschiminesh or a kind of pease, And also if any of our cattle spoile their corne, to pay as it is worth; & that hogs shall not goe on the side of Agaam but in akorne time.” This deed contains the first known written reference to Longmeadow, “the Masaksicke,” which was purchased for “four fathom of wampum, four coats, four hatchets, four hoes, and four knives.”
The larger settlement, first called Agawam Plantation, was eventually renamed “Springfield.”
As the first English settlers clustered together in Springfield, “the masacksike” was reserved as common land. In 1645, after nine years of population growth, this area was parceled into land for 25 individual families and ever after referred to as “the long meddow”. Among these initial families were the Cooleys, the Coltons, the Blisses, the Burts and the Keeps - family names that would remain common in Longmeadow through the 19th century. Each parcel of land was bounded westerly on the Connecticut River.
Throughout the seventeenth century “the Long Meddow,” remained a subsidiary section of the larger town of Springfield. This subsidiary area was still reliant on Springfield's town center for its governmental, ecclesiastical and commercial focus. Families in Longmeadow were required to walk to Springfield for such activities.
The Agawams were a common sight in Longmeadow for decades; several land sales between colonists during the mid-17th century mention that the Agawams’ right to cultivate cranberries in the floodplain would not be infringed. However, explosive growth in the lucrative fur trade swiftly tilted the balance of power.
King Philip's War
King Philip's War (1675-1676) and its era of violent encounters between various Mohican and Algonquian language tribes and the English settlers in Massachusetts cast a dark shadow over the relationship between the Agawam and English settlers in Springfield. The Agawams joined the war. On October 5, 1675, the Agawams attacked Springfield and burned 45 of its 60 houses to the ground. They destroyed grist and saw mills, crucial instruments in the destruction of their ecology.
The Agawams fled from the area after attacking and burning Springfield, but the war continued. In March 1676, Native assailants ambushed a group of Longmeadow residents walking to church in Springfield and killed John Keep, a noted resident, along with several members of his family. The English ultimately turned the tide of the conflict regionally, with significant help from their own Native allies and scouts. The kin and descendants of the Agawams persist today among a variety of extant tribes, including the Nipmuc Nation of Central Massachusetts and the Abenaki peoples of Northern New England
The 1695 Flood and the Move East
A view from the banks of the Connecticut River
A hurricane struck the Connecticut River Valley in 1695, causing flooding along the banks of the Connecticut River and the evacuation of the inhabitants of the floodplain in Longmeadow. The water level increase was so severe that houses were abandoned, cattle and possessions were lost. In 1703 the forty or so families living in Longmeadow petitioned Springfield to move their village from the meadow to an upper terrace east of the floodplain and away from the river so as to protect homes, lives and cattle. Springfield agreed and a "country road", later Longmeadow Street, was built four miles long north to south and twenty rods wide. Sixty to eighty lots of land were proposed along the road, each 20 rods in breadth and 80 in length. By 1709 the move to this higher level was complete.
The Status of Precinct
Clerical collar belonging to Stephen Williams (Collection of the Longmeadow Historical Society)
In 1713 the General Court of Massachusetts granted Longmeadow the status of precinct. As part of the agreement with the General Court this new precinct of Springfield would maintain its town meeting in Springfield, but it would now be permitted to build a meetinghouse for worship, hire a "learned and orthodox minister," and build a school.
The meeting house was built on the common. The structure was completed in time to house its first minister, the Rev. Stephen Williams in 1716, widely known to have survived his ordeal as the “Boy Captive of Old Deerfield” in 1704.
Williams came from a strong tradition of prominent early New England ministers. The nearly daily diaries which Williams kept between 1715 and 1782 are a valuable resource of events, both spiritual and worldly, during his years as minister.
During Longmeadow’s precinct years, many of today's extant eighteenth century homes were built. Early on, the quarrying of Longmeadow sandstone began in the eastern part of Longmeadow, today the separate town of East Longmeadow. It was a material generally used for house foundations, post road markers and gravestones. The village burying ground, behind what is today the First Church of Christ, UCC, contains excellent examples of the use of Longmeadow sandstone for eighteenth and early nineteenth century gravestones.
An Incorporated Town
The Richard Salter Storrs House: Home of the Longmeadow Historical Society
It did not take long for the Longmeadow precinct to ask for independent town status from Springfield. As early as 1741, the village filed a request with Springfield and was rejected. But in 1774, another petition was approved and sent to the General Court, at which point, the War for Independence from Britain forced that petition to be shelved.
In 1783, Longmeadow was incorporated as a Town, the first to be created after the signing of the Treaty of Paris officially ended the American Revolution. In the period between 1783 and 1830 a farm based economy prevailed and small, local industries such as stone carvers and blacksmiths were located on or along the green in the Town.
East Longmeadow had begun to attract Longmeadow families as well. An important draw for people in the eastern part of town was work in the sandstone quarries. By the 1820's, that eastern part of the Town had built its own house of worship.
The Early Industrial Period 1839-1870
In 1844, with the introduction of the Hartford and New Haven Railroad, a transportation route running north to south along the Connecticut River was created. The early to mid-nineteenth century continued to see Longmeadow’s economy firmly rooted in agriculture, dairy farming, and smaller trade industries. Stone quarry work continued to be important in the eastern part of Longmeadow. The 1850 and 1860 Industrial and Manufacturer’s Census Schedule indicates the presence of a button factory and spectacle and thimble manufacturer, as well as a sawmill, gristmill, wheelwright, blacksmith, and firearms businesses in Longmeadow. In the western part of the village, forty year leases granted to shopkeepers on the green initiated a plan by the Town of Longmeadow to clear the area for the purpose of creating an open park. At the end of forty years between 1859 and 1874, commercial leases expired and the First Church was moved off of the town green to its present location facing the green. By 1898 the green was completely clear of buildings.
By the end of the early industrial period, a new school had been built to take the place of one at the southern end of Longmeadow Street that burned in 1859, and the only remaining commercial structure along the central green was the "Country Store" at 776 Longmeadow Street.
A trolley heads down Longmeadow Street
The train route along the meadow continued to operate, but it was the streetcar, or trolley, system and its route down the center of Longmeadow Street that brought significant change to this small rural town. Beginning in 1896, this new mass-transit accessibility to Longmeadow from Springfield and vice-versa, resulted in a period of rapid change in lifestyle in Longmeadow. Easier access to employment in the businesses, factories, and shops in Springfield resulted in more people seeking to build homes and raise families in the areas of town closest to the streetcar line. Longmeadow was no longer reliant on agriculture as a major source of income for town families. Longmeadow's population nearly doubled between 1870 and 1920 from 1,376 residents to 2,618, despite the fact that East Longmeadow became a separate town from Longmeadow in 1894 and their population was counted separately on censuses thereafter.
Until 1880, Longmeadow had grown primarily along Longmeadow Street. Shortly after the installation of streetcar rails, several early subdivisions began to advertise houses and land along Longmeadow Street. South Park Terrace at the northeast section of the town was a 45 acre Colton Estate before it was subdivided into house lots in 1898. The area around Crescent Road at the south end of the green was subdivided about the same time on land that was the former Birnie estate.
Postcard showing Longmeadow Street in 1956 (Longmeadow Historical Society Collection)
The explosion of building in Longmeadow reflected a national trend and continued into the 1920's. Building did slow during the 1930's and 40's due to the financing problems of the Depression and the unstable war economy of the 1940's.
This major growth obviously led to change in Longmeadow. Public buildings such as the Town Hall and the Community House were built to accommodate civic and religious functions. The increase in population also required the building of more schools. In the 1920's a new Center School building joined the first Junior High School on the green. Just prior to that in 1916, the Converse School and the Norway Street School were built to accommodate growing elementary school populations.
New churches were built to accommodate a more religiously diverse population. In 1925 Saint Andrew's Episcopal Church was built as a small stone church north of the green on Longmeadow Street, and in 1931 Saint Mary's Catholic Church was completed, replacing an earlier one that had stood on Williams Street. Additionally, a Christian Scientist Church was established in what is now the Hatch Library at Bay Path University in 1924 and later moved to a new structure at the corner of Williams Street and Frank Smith Road in 1962.
Institutional growth continued in the 1930's. The second Richard Salter Storrs Library was erected in 1933, replacing a smaller one that had quickly become too small to meet town interest and needs. At that time, the eighteenth century Richard Salter Storrs house next door became the home for the Longmeadow Historical Society.
Attention was also given to parks in this period. The former water works site of Longmeadow was made into Laurel and Bliss Park in the 1920's. The Olmsted Brothers firm was again called in to create a park design, which it did, filling the landscape with pools, open spaces, tennis courts, and an amphitheater. This plan was never carried out to its fullest extent and was abandoned with the onset of the Depression. Turner Park evolved more naturally. An established German Turnverein on the property was the scene for many social activities including swimming and dancing. When the restaurant burned in 1947 it continued to function in an adjacent building until 1968 when the park was closed.
Until the turn of the twentieth century, Longmeadow had very little in the way of commercial structures, and again with the increase in population, supplementary services were necessary. Remaining examples along Longmeadow Street show a continued concern for aesthetics as is exemplified by the decorative parapet roofs of the small plazas near the present CVS and 149 Longmeadow Street. In the 1920's and 30's automobiles became more ubiquitous among American families. In residential architecture, this new luxury is recorded by the advent of car garages. This new addition to transportation also required maintenance, and in response, gas stations, such as the former Esso and Texaco station at 410 Longmeadow Street were built.
Mid to Late 20th Century
Since the 1930’s Longmeadow, and nearby Springfield, have seen the growth of a vibrant Jewish population, making them the first non-Christian based faith group to become a part of the fabric of Longmeadow’s community. The Springfield JCC campus, located on the Springfield/ Longmeadow line, has offered programs for both Jewish and non-Jewish since its inception in the 1950’s. A Jewish day school operates on campus as well.
Most of the United States experienced a residential growth explosion in the 1950's and 60's, and Longmeadow was no exception, with an average of 125 new buildings per year. Prior to 1940 most development occurred west of Laurel Street and Burbank Road. After 1940 new developments and subdivisions were laid out in the eastern part of town. The ranch house and split level house have prevailed although more recently a return to Colonial Revival motifs has dominated building styles. In 1945 Bay Path Junior College moved from Springfield to Longmeadow to the former Wallace Estate. Since then, the college has grown, adding existing and newly constructed buildings to its campus. Today, their name, Bay Path University, reflects this growth and added opportunities for its students.
It was also during the 1950s that many new school buildings were erected. Wolf Swamp and Blueberry Hill Elementary Schools began to serve the town's youngest students. Glenbrook and Williams Middle Schools took the place of an aging Junior High that had been located on the green. Today, the old Junior High has been incorporated into Center School and houses its gymnasium, kindergartens, and cafeteria. The first ever Longmeadow High School opened its doors in 1956, replacing the need for Longmeadow’s older students from having to travel into Springfield to attend one of their high schools.
The most important transportation change came in 1958 when Interstate 91 was built in the meadows parallel to Longmeadow Street. Also, in the 1950's, construction was begun at Longmeadow's commercial area of highest density, the intersection of Williams Street and Bliss Road. Since the 1950's Longmeadow has physically grown at such a rapid rate that very little development space remains.
Longmeadow in the 21st Century
.A new high school was built in 2013. A significant remodel of the 1885 Brewer-Young Mansion brought new life to an aging, but beautiful, space in 2019 when it was converted into a space for professional offices. A new Adult Center was built on Maple Road to serve the senior residents of town and began offering programming to the community in 2021. New restaurants in the plaza along Longmeadow Street and at the Longmeadow Shops have established loyal followings of customers.
Per the United States Census Bureau’s website, as of 2020, Longmeadow’s population stands at 15,853 residents located within 9.7 square miles. People over 65 years of age make up 23.3% of the population, and people under 18 make up 23.9%. Racially, 84% of the population identifies as White, 7% Asian, 6% Hispanic or Latino, 1% Black or African American, 2.6% as two or more races. Foreign born residents make up 12.7% of Longmeadow’s population.
History is our stories of the past up until yesterday. Longmeadow has much more history to write.