13 Railroad Street Amherst, MA 01002
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||Jill Hathaway and Nicholas Fay|
|Parking Lot Ownership||Amherst Depot, LLC.|
|Platform Ownership||New England Central Railroad (NECR)|
|Track Ownership||New England Central Railroad (NECR)|
|3 Long Term Parking Spaces||5 Short Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Waiting Room||Dedicated Parking|
(202) 906-3918 (ph)
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The Amherst station is located a short distance from the campus of Amherst College and the former home of famed poet Emily Dickinson. In fact, Dickinson would still recognize the depot; built in 1853, as it is one of the oldest station structures on Amtrak’s national rail network. Situated in the Connecticut River Valley, Amherst is a popular stop with many of the students who attend the area’s “Five Colleges” which include Hampshire, Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Erected by the Amherst and Belchertown Railroad, the one-story Amherst depot was the only station on the line to be constructed of brick. Similar to many small town stations built in the 19th century, it has a basic rectangular floor plan and is topped by a simple gabled roof with deep eaves that protect passengers from inclement weather as they wait outside for the arrival of the train.
Designed in the then-popular Italianate style, the station features romantic flourishes such as a central wooden cupola with a fancy cornice. All of the door and window openings—grouped in sets of three—are capped with round arches whose soft curves are pleasing to the eye. The building is also visually divided into three sections through the use of central, projecting, rectangular bays on the principal facades. The trackside bay has windows on all three sides that allowed the station master to peek out and monitor traffic on the rail line. At one time, a wooden baggage room was added to the south end, but it was later removed.
Passenger service to Amherst had ended by World War II. A photograph taken in the late 20th century shows the depot in a rather sorry state—cupola gone, a wide roll down door punched through the southern wall—but a 1992 restoration addressed these unsympathetic changes and returned the building to its original appearance. At present, the station interior is divided into two rooms: a small waiting area and a commercial space.
When European settlers first moved into the upper Connecticut River Valley in the vicinity of what is now Amherst, it was mainly occupied by the Norwottuck American Indians, whose name appropriately translates to “in the midst of the river.” The American Indians used the area as a hunting ground and for the seasonal collection of foodstuffs such as acorns and nuts. Some of the Norwottucks’ traditional paths were co-opted by the early settlers and even today form part of the local road network. In 1658, John Pynchon moved from Springfield north along the river where he soon purchased lands from the Norwottuck for wampum and other material goods. Within a year, the village of Hadley was established on Pynchon’s parcel and settlers began farming near the shores of the river while reserving other acreage for grazing.
In 1727, a group of Hadley residents moved eastward onto the former grazing lands and established the village of East Hadley. As the population expanded, settlers called for the creation of their own district so that they could govern themselves and no longer be subject to the control of Hadley. In response, the governor of the Massachusetts colony created a new district which he named “Amherst” after General Jeffrey Amherst. A popular English military commander during the French and Indian War, Amherst is largely credited with Great Britain’s victory over the French in Canada. His conquest of Montreal in 1760 effectively spelled the end of the French presence in North America, and Canada then came under British control.
Amherst prospered as an agricultural settlement and entrepreneurs took advantage of the region’s natural water power to erect saw and grist mills that were essential to frontier life for their respective ability to provide finished wood boards and refined grains. Less than 100 miles from Boston, Amherst residents participated in the American Revolution and afterwards returned to their farms and dairies. Rather than one large town, Amherst was really a collection of smaller villages separated from one another by fields, swamps, and swaths of forest.
As the town gained in wealth and population, the need for an educational institution became apparent, and local leaders formed the Amherst Academy in 1814; one of its trustees was the famed wordsmith Noah Webster. Seven years later, backers of the academy supported the creation of Amherst College, which formed a campus in Amherst Center south of the old Common. The liberal arts coursework was designed to prepare men for the Christian ministry.
New England and its strong flowing rivers gave birth to the American Industrial Revolution, and similar to many other towns with access to water power, Amherst developed a manufacturing base that included paper products, wool and cotton textiles, and hand tools. In the decade prior to the Civil War, western Massachusetts gained rail links to New England ports such as Boston and New London that allowed raw materials to be shipped in while finished products were distributed to cities up and down the coast. In 1847 the Connecticut legislature chartered a railroad to run between New London on Long Island Sound and Springfield, the principal city of southwestern Massachusetts. Three years later, the line opened, but ended at Palmer rather than Springfield.
Palmer was only 20 miles from Amherst, and local leaders began to agitate for an extension of the line. In 1851, the Amherst and Belchertown Railroad was incorporated to lay tracks northward through Massachusetts within 4 years. On May 3, 1853, the first train reached Amherst Center from New London in under an hour, and townspeople celebrated with a parade. Within a decade, the Amherst and Belchertown Railroad was leased to the New London Northern Railroad, which also constructed depots at South Amherst and North Amherst; the latter structure still stands, but has been converted to commercial use. The New London Northern would later come under the control of the Central Vermont Railroad, and connections were made to the major cities of New England.
Amherst would also gain stops on the Massachusetts Central Railroad which planned to build a line running across the state. After some debate, townspeople consented to back a subscription to support the rail line and bring it to town. Although chartered in 1869, financial struggles slowed progress and the railroad was not in operation through Amherst until 1887. Stations were constructed at South Amherst and Amherst Center; the latter one still stands along South Pleasant Street near the campus of Amherst College, and has been converted into a commercial enterprise.
The Massachusetts Central would eventually fall into the hands of the Boston and Maine Railroad, which through a calculated campaign of acquisition and consolidation leased numerous regional short lines and competitors to become the dominant passenger and freight railroad in the far Northeast. Passenger service along the route ended in 1932, and freight followed in 1979. The abandoned right-of-way was purchased by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and was reborn in 1993 as the recreational Norwottuck Rail Trail.
Many regions of Massachusetts developed niche industries such as shoe or cloth manufacturing. Around Amherst, palm hats became central to economic health, and the town dominated the industry. Leonard Hill began the first hat factory on East Main Street in 1829. Importing palm leaves from Cuba, Hill initially employed local women to braid the hats, but they were later produced through a mechanized process. Bleached, split, and dyed, the palms were then pressed into a hat mold, trimmed and boxed for shipment across the country. Hill’s success spawned competition. As the primary producers of palm hats in the country, the factories thrived until the Great Depression when financial troubles and changing fashions forced them to close.
Observing the changes wrought in Amherst by the railroad and new industries, poet Emily Dickinson created a body of work that was known in her lifetime to a few close confidants. Dickinson grew up at the Homestead, the family house on Main Street in the middle of Amherst Center. Her family had been prominent in many undertakings such as the founding of Amherst College, the improvement of the town commons, and the wooing of the railroads. A few years after her death in 1886, a collection of her poems was finally published, but it was heavily edited by those who thought strange her unique punctuation and capitalization. Not until the mid-20th century would her true work be known, leading to increased popularity. Fans of the poet and American literature may visit the two Dickinson family homes in Amherst for an idea of how the writer lived and to learn more about her poetry.
In 1863, Amherst was chosen as the site of a state agricultural college whose campus was established to the northwest of the town center. While instruction in farming and science was emphasized, courses in the liberal arts were also offered. In 1947, the school was reorganized as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and is now a major research institution. A large expansion in the student population in the second half of the 20th century demanded new facilities, many of which were designed by the leading American architects of the period, such as Marcel Breuer, Edward Durell Stone, and Gordon Bunshaft.
Amherst’s increased prosperity was reflected in the construction of a new city hall building in 1889. The structure, constructed of red brick with light brown granite accents, was designed by Boston-based architect H.S. McKay in the then-popular Romanesque Revival style. It originally housed all city government services, the public library, and an auditorium. Today, it is a prominent downtown landmark recognized by its clock tower and high pitched cross gables.
For much of the 20th century, Amherst remained dedicated to agriculture and dairy farming as well as education. After World War II, returning servicemen took advantage of the GI Bill to attend college and earn advanced degrees. The four colleges near Amherst buzzed with activity, and a generation later they worked together to create Hampshire College, known for its approach to alternative education in which the student’s interests guide the course of study. Collectively known as the “Five Colleges,” the institutions share resources such as libraries, and a student at one school may take courses at any of the others. All of the schools are recognized as leaders in their respective fields and are consistently ranked as some of the best in the nation.
The academic programs have attracted some of the nation’s top talent, such as poet Robert Frost who taught at Amherst College for various periods between the 1910s and 1940s. Researchers interested in his work and that of Emily Dickinson come to town to explore their original manuscripts and letters, and in the case of Frost, audio recordings. Charles Green, the first director of the town’s Jones Library, was instrumental in amassing the collections, which together contain almost 20,000 objects.
When classes are in session, the population of Amherst doubles; residents are free to take advantage of the schools’ art and natural history museums, performing arts venues, and other special events such as lectures and academic conferences. On the campus of Hampshire College, visitors young and old delight in the familiar and beloved drawings that line the walls of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Carle, a well-known illustrator and author of numerous children’s books, helped establish the museum in 2002. Rotating exhibits, films, lectures, a reading library, and storytelling sessions help the young appreciate books and art while planting the seeds of a lifelong reading habit.
The Vermonter is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation. Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at the Amherst station, which is served by two daily trains.