The Pioneer Valley is the region around the Connecticut River valley in Western Massachusetts.
The three counties of the Pioneer Valley from north to south:
Connecticut River Valley
This valley is about 20 miles wide at the Connecticut state line but narrows northward. It holds much of New England's best farmland and was settled early in New England's colonial history. Farms have been encroached on by urban and suburban development but still produce a variety of market crops.
New England's very finite amount of good farmland and abundant water power made industrialization an attractive alternative to subsistence farming. Industries grew up along the river, especially at falls at Holyoke. Industrialization encouraged growth of a string of cities from Northampton south through Holyoke and Springfield to Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut. Transportation and communication improvements increasingly integrated this regional urban corridor into the BosWash megalopolis.
With industrialization, education became more universal and lasted more years. The valley became a major educational venue, perhaps because it was considered sufficiently removed from the evils of the largest cities, yet not too remote from the blessings of progress.
Industry declined in the 20th century, but higher education has continued to grow. In the early years of the 21st century the valley's greatest need is for economic revitalization, perhaps based on educational resources.
The Hill Towns or Hilltowns
A somewhat distinct and very rural subregion is the Hill Towns. This is the western part of the three counties, beyond the Connecticut River Valley. Higher elevation, later settlement, limited agricultural potential and cultural differences give the hilltowns a character similar to rural Vermont. Further west the hilltowns merge seamlessly into the Berkshire Hills, although tourism and second home development spreading out from the New York City metropolis have impacted the hilltowns less than Berkshire County.
Before the 20th century, highlands east of the Connecticut River developed along the same trajectory as the hilltowns to the west; however development of Quabbin Reservoir during the 1930s created a large depopulated area in the northern 2/3 of this subregion. To the south, there has been modest population growth and development along the Massachusetts Turnpike and U.S. Route 20.
Some of the major cities and towns are:
- Springfield - The largest city in Western Massachusetts; home of the Basketball Hall of Fame  and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site .
- Greenfield - The northern hub at the start of the Mohawk Trail.
- Northampton - The artistic and cultural center of Hampshire County and arguably of the Pioneer Valley; home to Smith College.
- Amherst - Home to University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College.
- South Hadley - Home to Mount Holyoke College.
- Easthampton - A somewhat artsy town.
- Westfield - Gateway to the Hilltowns; largely residential, industrial in parts; home to Westfield State College and Stanley Park.
- Agawam - Largely residential, home of Six Flags New England.
- Deerfield - Home of Yankee Candle, Historic Deerfield, and Deerfield Academy.
The Connecticut River flows through a branch of the rift zone where the supercontinent Pangaea broke apart 180 million years ago to create the Atlantic Ocean. Points of geological interest include Trap Ridges where lava intruded into fracture zones. The resulting basalt resists erosion and now rises prominently out of the valley floor. Dinosaurs roamed the ancient rift valley, leaving fossil footprints in South Hadley and other locations. Hills west of this valley abruptly rise as much as 1,000 ft (300 m) along ancient fault zones.
Pleistocene glaciers scraped away New England's soil, but melted to form ephemeral Lake Hitchcock where fine sediments settled to create New England's most productive cropland.
Puritans believed in self-improvement, particularly education. Although no Pioneer Valley schools are nearly as old as Harvard (1636), this ethos founded the private secondary boarding schools Deerfield, Williston and Mount Hermon-Northfield. For higher education the Amherst-Northampton area has the Five Colleges Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith Colleges as well as the University of Massachusetts' main campus. Just to the south, the Springfield-Holyoke-Westfield area has American International, Baypath, Holyoke Community, Springfield, Western New England, and Westfield State Colleges.
Other educational venues near the Connecticut River to the south in Connecticut State (Trinity College, University of Connecticut and Yale University) and to the north in New Hampshire (Dartmouth College) are linked to the Pioneer Valley's schools by Route 10, often called the College Highway.
Amherst, Northampton and South Hadley all have pronounced college town ambiances, and Westfield increasingly so as its manufacturing base dwindles.
Puritans from England were settling in the alluvial and fertile Connecticut River Valley by the 1630s and began growing cash crops so they could buy imported goods. Vegetables, fruit and high-quality tobacco are still grown there commercially, although urban and suburban developments have encroached.
Uplands east and west of the central valley had only as much soil as weathered from bedrock and glacial debris in the past 10,000 or so years. This soil was thin, rocky and often infertile, but better land in the valley was spoken for. Settlement in the hills did not begin until the 1700s when new immigrants were mainly Scotch-Irish -- Scottish Presbyterians who had migrated to Northern Ireland before coming to the New World. Upland farming was mostly hardscrabble subsistence. Where valley farmers with cash crops could afford goods imported from England, hill farmers with very limited cash income made do with what they could produce at home or barter for. Traditional hill farmers -- mostly a departed breed now -- conformed much more to Yankee stereotypes than farmers in the Connecticut River Valley.
Decline of subsistence farming and Industrialization
After the Revolutionary War, land that was better than most of New England's opened up in western New York state and in the Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin). Children moved west from upland farms to pioneer while parents and one or two siblings remained behind.
The early 1800s brought the First Industrial Revolution powered by falling water, especially at cascades and rapids where rivers could be dammed. Holyoke became an industrial city at cascades on the Connecticut River with a power potential of some 70,000 horsepower (50 million watts). Smaller mill towns developed along the tributary Millers, Westfield, Montague and Deerfield Rivers.
The upland population figured prominently in early industrialization since local crafts in lieu of imported goods developed mechanical aptitude and insight, while employment was a source of cash to buy goods that could be mass-produced much more efficiently than at home or in small preindustrial workshops. Women played an important part in the early industrial workforce, and employment was surprisingly genteel with farm girls chaperoned in boardinghouses and the new industrial communities very much on the lecture circuit.
Development of coal- and wood-powered steam engines began liberating industrialization from falling water, although valley sites were still preferred for their proximity to rail lines that took advantage of easy grades along rivers instead of climbing and descending over hill and dale. This was the Second Industrial Revolution starting around 1850. It created more jobs than upland Yankees could fill. Employers turned to immigrants from Canada, Ireland and then other parts of Europe, paid them low wages, and worried less about workers' morals and living conditions. Poverty and cultural differences -- immigrants were more likely to be Catholic and to speak some other language besides English -- promoted social distinctions persisting even today.
Industries were affected by boom-and-bust cycles of war and depression, but remained viable into the 1960s. They included paper and industrial textiles in Holyoke and West Springfield, bicycles in Westfield, and a series of smaller mill towns along the Westfield River in Russell, Huntington and Chester that mainly produced various kinds of paper and industrial textiles. Strathmore Paper Company produced fine stationery and art paper. It was established in Woronoco by Horace Moses, who was a social visionary as well as a formidable capitalist. Moses developed Woronoco into a company town with high-quality housing, sufficient wages, and remarkably good social and community services. A trolley line connected towns along the Westfield River with Westfield and Springfield, until automobile ownership became ubiquitous.
Construction of the Massachusetts Turnpike in the 1950s, and then Interstate 91 improved connections throughout the region and nearly halved travel times. However by the 1960s wage competition and obsolescence began taking a toll. Mills and factories were downsized, and then closed. The larger, most industry-dependent cities -- Springfield and Holyoke -- suffered economic decline, however the postwar growth of higher education kept cities and towns with colleges and universities afloat, and warehousing developed on the outskirts of Westfield where open land was available.
In the hilltowns, remaining subsistence farmers continued to die off. Old farmsteads were often converted to exurban residences, but fields fell into disuse and reverted to forest. Logging lagged behind growth and rural roads were no longer maintained. Patchy forests converged and matured into an approximation of wilderness. By 1960 deer were probably more abundant than they had been since 1760. Beaver, coyotes, wild turkey and black bears were reintroduced or returned from northern sanctuaries. By the end of the century even moose were showing up.
U.S. Interstate 91 connects the Pioneer Valley to Connecticut and Vermont. The Massachusetts Turnpike connects it to Boston. Driving time from the Pioneer Valley to Boston is approximately two hours; to New York City, it is approximately three and a half hours.
Rail service via Amtrak is available to Springfield.
Greyhound/Peter Pan bus service is available to Springfield and other cities.
You will probably want to have access to a car.
The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA)  has routes all over the Pioneer Valley. Although the system is fairly extensive for such a decentralized area, buses are somewhat infrequent and not all route run nights and weekends, especially outside of the school year (September - May).
- By far the best people watching around the five colleges is downtown Northampton, near Smith college. The area has become a radical feminist enclave, but on weekends a small horde of mostly straight college students of both genders materializes from local colleges and as far afield as Yale and Dartmouth.
- Fall leaf Action - particularly concentrations of maples around old farmsteads where 'sugar bushes' were maintained for sugaring and on relatively moist upland sites. Oaks -- predominating on dryer, rockier sites -- are less spectacular.
- Downhill Skiing
- Crosscountry Skiing
- Whitewater Boating
- Maple Sugar
- Local Produce
- Church Socials
- Specialty Wines (blueberry etc.)
Tough cities and neighborhoods
Springfield, the region's largest city, has been named as one of the top twenty-five most dangerous cities in past editions (eleventh and twelfth) of City Crime Rankings by Morgan Quitno Press . It has dropped out of the "Top 25" in the most recent (thirteenth) edition, but continues to experience problems with crime. To stay safe, stick to major routes during daylight hours.
- Winter driving
- Aggressive, careless and drunk drivers
- bad roads
- deer, maybe moose in roads
- staying un-lost in the woods
- water sports
This page was last edited at 15:37, on 9 March 2009 by Eric Polk. Based on work by David, Chris, David Mason, Bill Johnson, Philip, stev0, Todd VerBeek, Ravikiran Rao and Evan Prodromou, Wikitravel user(s) Morph, Texugo, Kliz76 and Huttite, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.