Enfield (Mass.) Collection, 1800-1939
Call no.: MS 010
Situated at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Swift River in western Massachusetts, Enfield was the largest and southernmost of the four towns inundated in 1939 to create the Quabbin Reservoir. Incorporated as a town in 1816, Enfield was relatively prosperous in the nineteenth century on an economy based on agriculture and small-scale manufacturing, reaching a population of just over 1,000 by 1837. After thirty years of seeking a suitably large and reliable water supply for Boston, the state designated the Swift River Valley as the site for a new reservoir and with its population relocated, Enfield was officially disincorporated on April 28, 1938.
The records of the town of Enfield, Mass., document nearly the entire history of the largest of four towns inundated to create the Quabbin Reservoir. The core of the collection consists of records of town meetings and of the activities of the town Selectmen, 1804-1938, but there are substantial records for the Enfield Congregational Church. The School Committee, Overseers of the Poor, the town Library Association, and groups such as the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Bethel Masonic Lodge.
Background on Enfield, Mass.
Situated at the confluence of the east and west branches of the Swift River in western Massachusetts, Enfield was the largest and southernmost of the four towns inundated to create the Quabbin Reservoir. Laid out in June 1787 as the South Parish of the town of Greenwich, Enfield was officially incorporated from parts of Greenwich and Belchertown on Feb. 18, 1816, and named in honor of one of its early settlers, Robert Field.
With a population reaching nearly 1,100 by 1850, Enfield was the largest of the Quabbin towns and for most of its existence, it was the most prosperous in a generally impoverished region. While agriculture remained the primary source of income for most residents, it was also the site of an early grist mill and whetstone production, and by the 1820s, it was home to the Swift River Valley’s only printers, Solomon and John Howe. The relative abundance of water power from the Swift River promoted manufacturing too, resulting in a flourishing of textile mills (cotton and wool) and the manufacture of wood products, leather goods (including boots and shoes), shingles, pearl buttons, and palm-leaf hats. Smith’s Village, the upper of two villages in Enfield, was virtually a company town for the Swift River Company, a textile manufacturer, which operated there from 1821-1935, while the Minot Manufacturing Company chartered a woolen mill in the lower village in 1837. A spur of the Boston and Albany Railroad (the “Rabbit Run”) was built through Enfield in 1871 connecting the town to Athol to Greenwich, New Salem, and Athol to the north and to Springfield to the South.
Like other towns in the Swift River Valley (Dana, Greenwich, and Prescott), Enfield’s fortunes declined sharply after the turn of the twentieth century. Confronted with a critical demand for water in the Boston metropolitan region in 1895, the Commonwealth authorized the new Metropolitan Water District to seek new supplies in the western parts of the state. Construction of the Wachusett Reservoir along the Nashua River (1897-1908) bought time, but ultimately failed to meet projected demand, and by 1922, the MWD officially signaled its intention of damming the Swift River Valley, signifying an end to habitation there. All residents were ordered removed from the valley, with homes, farms, and places of business systematically destroyed, the land cleared, and graves removed.
Work on the Quabbin Reservoir began in 1926 with construction of the Ware River Diversion, a tunnel connecting the Wachusett Reservoir with the Ware River, followed in 1936 by construction of the Goodnough Dike and Windsor Dam. After the town’s official disincorporation on April 28, 1938, the above-water portions of Enfield were annexed to nearby Belchertown, New Salem, Pelham, and Ware. On Aug. 14, 1939, the reservoir began to fill.
The records of the town of Enfield, Mass., touch on nearly the entire history of the largest and most vibrant of the four towns that were inundated to create the Quabbin Reservoir. The core of the collection consists of records of town meetings and the town Selectmen, 1804-1938, but there are substantial bodies of material documenting the Enfield Congregational Church, School Committee, Overseers of the Poor, the town Library Association, and groups such as the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Bethel Masonic Lodge. This finding aid includes both materials held by SCUA and those held at the Swift River Valley Historical Society in New Salem, Mass., that were part of a cooperative digitization project centered on the records of the Quabbin towns.
Of particular interest in the Enfield collection are significant sets of records relating to three women’s organizations: the Women’s Auxiliary and Women’s Missionary Society of the Congregational Church, and the Enfield Mother’s Club. The collection also includes ephemera relating to events such as the Centennial celebration in 1916 and the welcoming home reception given to servicemen returning from the First World War, and numerous photographs.
This finding aid includes materials digitized in partnership with the Swift River Valley Historical Society in 2014, where the originals remain.
Original materials in this collection were the gift of Donald W. Howe, 1960; digital content made possible through a collaboration with the Swift River Valley Historical Society, 2014.
Processed by I. Eliot Wentworth, Ken Fones-Wolf, Linda Seidman, and others, 1984-2014.
Additional material relating to the history of the four Quabbin towns is indexed in SCUA’s online catalog, UMarmot, and includes the following materials of note:
The Swift River Valley Historical Society contains other records for the Quabbin towns that have not been digitized. These include photographs of residents of the town and materials relating to town finances and taxation.
Cite as: Enfield (Mass.) Collection. Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.
- Enfield (Mass.)--History
- Enfield (Mass.)--Politics and government
- Enfield (Mass.)--Religious life and customs
- Enfield (Mass.)--Social life and customs
- Quabbin Reservoir Region (Mass.)--History
- Quabbin Reservoir Region (Mass.)--Social life and customs
- Women--Societies and clubs
- Daughters of the American Revolution. Captain Joseph Hooker Chapter (Enfield, Mass.)
- Enfield (Mass. : Town)
- Enfield (Mass. : Town). Overseers of the Poor
- Enfield (Mass. : Town). Prudential Committee
- Enfield (Mass. : Town). School Committee
- Enfield Congregational Church (Enfield, Mass.)
- Enfield Congregational Church (Enfield, Mass.). Women's Auxiliary
- Enfield Congregational Church (Enfield, Mass.). Women's Missionary Society
Types of material
- Account books
- Church records