Picture this: Northfield pictorial history book on sale Monday
The now-closed Schell Memorial Bridge is seen under construction in 1902.
Photo from the Northfield Mount Hermon School archives, reprinted with permission from "Images of America: Northfield."
Cattle take refuge from the flood of 1936 on the porch of the farmhouse at Zabko Farm.
(Photo from the Dickinson Memorial Library collection, reprinted with permission from the publisher of "Images of America: Northfield.")
Only two of the Tenney Farm's 350 cattle survived the flood of 1936.
Photo from the Northfield Historical Society, reprinted with permission from the publishers of "Images of America: Northfield."
Northfield's Main Street, circa 1893.
Photo from the Northfield Mount Hermon School archives, reprinted with permission from the publishers of "Images of America: Northfield."
NORTHFIELD — From the first farms and forts of the village of Squakheag to the internationally attended Dwight L. Moody religious conferences and beyond, a new pictorial history portrays Northfield through the ages.
“Images of America: Northfield,” co-written by locals Marie Ferre, Susan Ross and Joan Stoia, goes on sale Monday at local bookstores and online retailers.
The authors will sign copies during a launch party from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday in Centennial House.
Hundreds of black-and-white photographs mix images of everyday life with the spectacle of fires, floods and natural disasters, as well as long-gone landmarks like the Chateau Northfield and the Northfield Inn teeming with guests. The pictures are a combination of photos from the Northfield Historical Society, the Northfield Mount Hermon School archives and private collections.
At the beginning
The book begins with a photograph of several stone tools left behind by the Squakheag Indians and discovered by early European settlers.
First settled in 1669 and deeded to settlers by the Squakheags in 1691, it would be nearly 150 years before the camera’s invention. The book shows the sites of early landmarks like the town’s first fort and the oak tree under which the town’s first church service was held in 1673, now marked by stones and plaques.
The now-closed Schell Memorial Bridge makes several appearances throughout the book, from its construction in 1902 to the flood of 1936, when the Connecticut River swelled and flowed over the ends of the 515-foot-long truss bridge. Still standing, it has been closed to vehicle and foot traffic since 1987, but may be rebuilt as a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, once again connecting the east and west sides of town.
Other bridges are also featured, such as a double-decker railroad and carriage bridge destroyed in the 1936 flood, when the Vernon Dam burst. While it stood, trains crossed the Connecticut River on its upper deck, while horsedrawn carriages used the enclosed lower deck, and “Passengers complained about hot coals falling through the tracks onto their carriages,” according to the book.
The Connecticut River played a large role in the history of Northfield, as the only Massachusetts town with land on both banks.
Prior to road and rail bridges, seven ferries shuttled passengers and freight across the river, operating between 1686 and 1936.
The river was also used to transport lumber, with loggers floating their timbers down to riverside sawmills. Until 1915, workers could be seen riding the logs downstream, breaking up log jams with long poles.
The river both provided and took away from the little town. Small annual floods enriched the soil at its banks, but severe flooding took its toll from time to time, wiping out crops and wreaking havoc on homes.
Northfield and beyond
Some of the town’s history extends beyond its borders.
In 1934, Isabel and Monroe Smith opened the nation’s first American Youth Hostel, based on the European model they’d seen in their travels to Germany. Within a year, 30 such hostels operated in New England. The American Youth Hostel movement spread across the country, peaking at 153 hostels in 2001.
Northfield native Dwight L. Moody, born in 1837, went on to become an internationally known Protestant evangelist and missionary, settling back in the town of his birth and opening the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies in 1879 and the Mount Hermon School for Boys in 1881. They later merged and became the Northfield Mount Hermon School, still in operation on its Gill campus.
Two full chapters are devoted to Moody, the school and the world-famous summer conferences he held. Now vacant, the Northfield campus can be seen in full swing in the book’s photographs.
For years, Northfield boasted the largest white birch in the world, the tree measuring 18 feet around, and 80 feet high. It was certified as such in 1923, but burned later in the 20th century.
That tree, like many other facets of Northfield past, lives on in the 126 pages of the new book, captured in a moment and preserved for the ages.