A Brief Profile & History of the Town of Williamsburg
and the Village of Haydenville
Williamsburg is a scenic, quiet little town at the "foothills" of the Berkshires and is the last stop on the Pioneer Valley bus system that connects the town to Northampton, Amherst and all of the rest of the educational, cultural and market opportunities that abound throughout the Pioneer Valley.
The current population descends from the agrarian settlers who cleared and harvested the hardwood forest in the latter eighteenth centuruy. These hearty pioneers intermarried with the influx of industrialists and immigrant mill workers who followed the industrial revolution up the river in the early-nineteenth century. Modern-day Williamsburg, with centers at "Burgy" and Haydenville, is populated by educators, artists, professionals and the many others who have come to enjoy the peace and tranquility of this rural New England town of approximately twenty-six hundred residents.
The fabric of the town's character, today, owes much to the events of its past, an unusual history that has gone largely untold for generations. In 1874, the bustling mill town suffered a calamitous industrial disaster when the huge, poorly constructed reservoir burst, demolishing many mills, businesses and homes, and sweeping away 139 lives along the course of the Mill River. Heroes, riding before the inundation, saved hundreds of lives. Volunteers retrieved the dead and revived the villages. Only a few of the mills were rebuilt; only Skinner's silk industry removed to another location and many mill workers looked for employment elswhere. This whole story, carefully researched, is wonderfully chronicled in the AASLH award-winning book, /In The Shadow of the Dam/ (by Elizabeth M. Sharpe - 2004) and in American Phoenix (by Sarah S. Kilborne – 2012).”
Time, of course, has healed those scars and the active and vibrant main street corridor features remarkable examples of Greek revival architecture of private homes and public buildings.
Everywhere today, the effects of volunteerism can be seen in the museums, libraries, schools, and activities of the youth and seniors alike. There remains a helping-hand attitude on every corner and a persisting live-and-let-live attitude that rises above the complexities of the outside world. There is an ongoing spirit, a civic pride, that encourages gifts and endowments in a time honored tradition and a certain solidarity in the organization of the town, its people, and the institutions and societies they have formed.
While the inhabitants of Williamsburg are aware of and honor their past, they are forward thinking folks, succeeding at making their town prosper at present while busily preparing it for the future.
- Ralmon Jon Black, Historical Commissioner
(revised by Tom Adams, 2009)