Montague Center is the site of the town’s original settlement in the early eighteenth century (1715-30). Early development of the village was encouraged by the availability of abundant waterpower and productive agricultural land. Agricultural prosperity together with intensive industrialization of the Connecticut River and its major tributaries, including the Sawmill River, led to a rapid increase in population, particularly as the eastern regions of New England became overpopulated and pioneers gradually pushed farther west. By 1830, Montague Center had grown and matured into an established rural village serving a productive agricultural region.
As the location of early industrial sites on the Sawmill River and the nexus of transportation routes, Montague Center became a hub of commercial activity in central Franklin County in the mid 1700’s. Surrounded by productive farmland, the village was ideally sited for settlements. As the Connecticut River became more industrialized in nearby Turners Falls, Greenfield and Hadley in the mid-nineteenth century, small manufacturers appeared in Montague Center along with factory housing, which increased the size and density of the small rural community. As a result, it acquired a diversity of type and scale in its architecture that was unusual for a village its size. As the industrial economy of western Massachusetts declined in the twentieth century, Montague Center gradually returned to its earlier pastoral inclinations. Today, the factories no longer exist and the mills have been put to other uses. As it did one hundred years ago, Montague Center’s distinctive plan, a crossroads village organized around a village green, vividly conveys the image of a mid-nineteenth century rural New England town.
Connecticut River Scenic Farm Byway
The Connecticut River Scenic Farm Byway winds its way through the village of Montague Center on Route 63 and Route 47. Opportunities to appreciate the history, culture and beauty of the area exist along the entire length of the byway, however, side trips into the surrounding area are a must. Visit the historic Village Center where the original Town Hall (1858), the Congregational Church (1834) and the Montague Grange Building face the Town Common along with numerous other outstanding examples of Greek Revival architecture located on the Main Street. The Montague Center Historic District was recently listed on the National Historic Register of Places, and boasts some of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture, commonly regarded as America's first uniquely American architectural style. The influence of Asher Benjamin’s popular pattern books is particularly evident in the house merchant Edward L. Delano built (c1838) on Main Street. While impressive, this house seems in contrast to the largest and most extravagant Greek Revival temple-form house built for the son of Montague’s most wealthy resident in the 1840’s, merchant John Sanderson Ward. The builder relied on Minard Lefever’s more florid Greek Revival design models illustrated in his books The Modern Builder’s Guide (1833) and the Beauties of American Architecture (1835). As is the case along the entire length of the farm byway, however, there are many more examples of less ornate Greek Revival-style dwellings built on Main and Center Street during this period. In addition to their classical facades, most of the large houses of this period were erected at the front of a string of connected back buildings that terminated with substantial barns. The village was laid out with long lots with narrow frontages that had agricultural functions in the back. The simplified version of the Greek Revival architectural style is far more common along the Connecticut River Scenic Farm Byway, and is certainly more consistent with this predominantly agrarian area.
If you have more time, visit the Montague Wildlife Management Area, which is located five minutes (by foot) from the Town Common. The management area, a popular spot with local residents, offers opportunities for leisurely nature walks, picnics and bird watching, and hunting in season. Alternatively, visit the Montague Mill, formerly the 19th century Alvah Stone Grist Mill, which houses a used book store, artist galleries, antique shops, a small cafe and a restaurant which overlooks the Sawmill River and the remnants of the former dam.
Special events are also held in the village throughout the year. If you time your visit right, you can enjoy the May Day Celebration on the Montague Town Common which includes a performance by a troupe of Morris dancers or join in the may pole dance. In August, the village puts on its annual Montague Old Home Days event, which includes musical entertainment, an auction, road race, games and many other festivities. Admission to both events is free. The Montague Common Hall (formerly Montague Grange #141) is also the site of Contra and English Dancing throughout the year.
Recreational and Scenic Attractions
Montague Center also offers a wide array of recreational and scenic attractions, many of which are located on the back roads off the scenic byway. The existence of many working farms and the availability of fresh produce, nursery and other agricultural products at local farm stands and nurseries, including Hunting Hills and Depot Gardens help to give the village a distinct rural character. The flood plain of the Connecticut River contains some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country. In Montague, more than 300 acres of farmland is permanently protected under the state’s agricultural preservation restriction (APR) program. Large working farms include those operated by Garbiel, Smiarowski, and Mieczkowski. Take the time to enjoy the outstanding scenery along Montague Center’s country roads. Meadow Road, Old Sunderland Road and Taylor Hill offer excellent bicycling opportunities and outstanding scenery in all seasons. If you should decide to go by car, respect the farm vehicles that also use these roads and must travel at a slower pace.