Northampton was originally arranged around the Mill River as it feeds into the Connecticut through the meadows. Northamptonites spent time and treasure to re-arrange their lives around the Mill River floods and to divert it away from its original course out into the Connecticut, then re-divert it more toward its 17th century flow.
The Mill River matters because it provided the flowing water to power the mills that ran the industries that fed, sheltered, and clothed the residents (grist/saw/fulling) and later ran the textile and other industries that were exported to the wider world. And the Mill River matters because it is perhaps the most important recreational element in the landscape of Williamsburg and Northampton, as well as the home for trout and perch, wood ducks and mallards, green and great blue herons, crawfish, frogs, salamanders, insects, and a host of mammals from mink and muskrat to beaver and fisher.
Summary by The Mill River Greenway Initiative
During your time in this class (and beyond), you will learn that historic preservation is an infinitely nuanced term. It can be a positive process or negative one, ongoing or static. Because historically designated sites vary so much in form, history, and intent, there is not one clear cut-and-dried way of approaching preservation. The purpose of this page is to explore the various ways in which historic preservation is undertaken using our very own Northampton as a case study.
As you might imagine, the process of preserving an open-air space versus a built structure are quite different. In this tab, we will be exploring preservation processes of the Mill River as an open-air example and two different architectural styles as structural examples. The sites' clear physical differences require tailored upkeep. For instance, the preservation of the Mill River as an open-air space requires a more interpretive approach, one which is able to outline the history of the city of Northampton and how it came to be settled, while also leaving room for understanding how the site has and will change over time. The Mill River Greenway Initiative effectively works to create an ongoing narrative of the river. In contrast, the houses of Northampton (we will be looking at bookend styles, Georgian and Post-Colonial) are preserved in a more direct way with a focus on maintaining the structures' historic stylistic features. This preservation style creates a sort of snap-shot from the past, frozen in a specific time. The key to understanding historic preservation is understanding all aspects of the site in question.
Several readings for this class discuss this very issue at length, many of them are grouped under the 'Critics and Defenders of Historic Preservation' heading on Professor Moga's moodle site, although many of the readings throughout the course also touch on the topic. Additionally, I've linked some helpful resources on this topic in action in Northampton on the left side of this page.
In accordance with Elm Street Historic District Design Standards:
No building or structure within the Elm Street Historic District shall be constructed, altered, or demolished in any way that affects exterior architectural features visible from a public way, except those activities exempted in Section 195-5 of the Elm Street Historic District Ordinance, without the proper certificate (permit) from the Historic District Commission.
All projects fall under one of the following three categories:
1. Exempt: Projects that can be undertaken without any review. (Building permit requirements still apply.)
2. Potentially Exempt and requiring a Certificate of Non-Applicability: Projects that require staff review and a permit issued by the Office of Planning and Development.
3. Non-Exempt and requiring a Certificate of Appropriateness or Hardship: Projects that require review by the Commission at a public hearing, a permit from the Commission, and an associated permit fee.
Image 1. Old Downtown Northamptpon. Digital image. Historic Northampton. Museum and Education Center, n.d. Web. 4 May 2015.
Image 2. A View of the Connecticut River - Whately, MA. Digital image. Mill River Watershed Project. UMass Amherst, n.d. Web. 3 May 2015.
Images 3, 4, 5. Various Historic Northampton Houses. Digital image. Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System. Massachusetts Historical Commission, n.d. Web. 4 May 2015.
Images 6, 7. Maps of the Mill River. Digital image. The Mill River Greenway Initiative. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 May 2015.