This is the first in what is hoped to be a monthly column on historic preservation, taking a look at Amherst’s historic buildings and neighborhoods and the stories behind them. It may also, from time to time, explore the challenges of historic preservation in a town such as ours that is so rich in historic resources.
Imagine a local road where, even in the 18th century, you could drive by meadows and fields, high with corn, and picturesque areas of woodland in the shadow of the Holyoke Range. Here’s a hint: the thoroughfare connects Belchertown to Amherst and Hadley, and is now known as Bay Road. It is actually an ancient indigenous trail that became a popular dirt road in the 1700s on the Boston to Albany route. Along the route, was an important brick house and inn, known as the Albany Tavern and the road ended at the Hockamum Ferry before a bridge was built over the Connecticut River.
Bay Road hides as well as reveals its history. It is not just that it was a well-sited trail on a transportation network for local tribes like the Norwottuck and Nipmuck, but also because, on Hulst Road, you will discover the oldest operating Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) site in western Massachusetts, the beloved fields known as Brookfield Farm. There is a plan in place to make Bay Road a protected corridor via a National Register nomination, the Bay Road Corridor Area, that was submitted in 2018. This pending nomination includes the Nuttingville District. Quite literally ‘ville’ is the French word for town – so this is the ‘town’ of the Nutting families.
Nuttingville is bordered by Mechanic Street and South East Street – or East Street as it used to be known. This semi-rural landscape has roads lined with a mixture of low-density buildings, mostly barns and one- to two-story homes, some with detached garages; there are ranches, split levels, some with lovingly tended gardens or woodland.
One house, originally the 1787 home of orphan, “little John Nutting” (1762-1834) has changed much over time. One of his sons helped to build the South Amherst Congregational Church. Another distinguished house is a Greek Revival home, once the dwelling of Truman Nutting, that has an attached barn with a lantern. In the 1850s a Methodist church (now demolished) was built a few houses along Bay Road to the east, giving the neighborhood a wider choice of worship services for those who wanted them. Truman Nutting’s property anchors the corner of Bay Road and Mechanic St and Mechanic actually crosses Bay Road and dead ends at the base of Mount Norwottuck. It was here that Nutting’s sawmill and shop was located. Ebenezer Nutting had a shop closer to the main road.
Papers in the Jones Library Special Collections include cuttings from newspapers and historic print media about this interesting local family. There is a beautiful catalogue from Ebenezer’s shop of his bench planes and plane handles. My dad, a sculptor, would have loved this place! And the Nuttings of course live on, much like the native peoples who first traveled through this area. We have a Nutting Avenue in town, near the UMass campus and the AHA John Nutting Apartments, next to Chestnut Court, that is a complex of five contemporary units in three buildings for families who have a member with a mobility impairment. Each apartment is wheelchair accessible, has a roll-in shower and 3 or 4 bedrooms (one of which may be set aside for use by a live-in personal care attendant, if required).
What has changed and what is preserved in a town like Amherst is so much the result of how we interact with the built environment and with what people have left to us. Making it possible to see the town history revealed in its evidence, drawn from many sources (photographs, maps, print media) is always helpful – but the best material cultural resources for holding the memories alive are held in our trails, roads, neighborhoods, buildings and view-sheds of the town itself. The neighborhoods are as important as the downtown and each area helps to reveal what is unique and special about Amherst itself.
Hetty Startup lives and works in Amherst and is a member of the Amherst Historical Commission.