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The Pioneer Valley is a region consisting of the three counties in Western Massachusetts through which the Connecticut River passes, and especially those towns that are in the lowlands of the Connecticut River Valley. A group of businessmen interested in promoting tourism gave the name to the region in 1939.


The Pioneer Valley covers approximately the second lowest quarter of the Connecticut River Valley, an ancient rift valley created by the breakup of the supercontinent Pangea along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge during the Triassic and Jurassic periods of the Mesozoic Era. The Connecticut River has been flowing through the Valley for millions of years, and was dammed to form glacial lake Hitchcock during the last ice age.

Geologically interesting parts of the valley are the basalt flows and dinosaur tracks in South Hadleymarker, a chain of basaltic traprock ridges along the ancient tectonic rift including the Mount Holyokemarker and Mount Tommarker ranges, layers of rock deposit laid down by the river, and the Lake Hitchcock varves and deltas.

Political geography

The river valley and the neighboring Hill Towns comprise the entirety of the Pioneer Valley.

Franklin County

The rural Franklin Countymarker is the most rural county of Massachusetts. Greenfieldmarker is the largest municipality.

Hampshire County

Hampshire Countymarker is the home of five prominent colleges. Significant municipalities are Northamptonmarker and Amherstmarker.

Hampden County

The mostly urban Hampden Countymarker is dominated by the cities of Springfieldmarker, Chicopeemarker, Westfieldmarker, and Holyokemarker (listed in order of population).



The ethnic and racial diversity varies greatly between urban and rural areas. Although long predominantly European-American, the region is rapidly growing in non-European diversity in urban areas, notably in Latino population. Among the European-American community, the population reflects the British Isles background of the original settlers and the immigrant population through the late-1800s, with large numbers of individuals with backgrounds of Irish, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, French Canadian, and Greek heritage. The Latino community has a significant Puerto Rican community. Amherst is home to the largest number of Asian-Americans, as well as South and East Asians. Russian and Ukrainian immigrants from the former Soviet Union are increasing in Springfield, West Springfield, Westfield and surrounding communities.

Educational institutions

The most well-known are the members of the Five Colleges consortium:

Other four-year colleges include:

Dedicated graduate schools include:

Community colleges in the area include:

In addition, there are private middle and high schools in the area, including:



The Pioneer Valley is sometimes known to its inhabitants as "Happy Valley", but more typically residents refer to it simply as "the Valley". It is the "valley full o' Pioneer" in "the sleepy west of the woody east" of which the Pixies sang in the song "UMass".


Valley residents also have a love of arts, both visual and performing, as demonstrated by numerous art galleries, countless theaters and performances, the residencies of both Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle in the valley, the visual Dr. Seuss Memorial in Springfield, and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Artmarker in Amherst.

Local media

Independent bookstores

With an independent bookstore in almost every town, several small publishers, and countless local authors, the Valley could well be counted as a reader's paradise. Amherst has at least four bookstores (including Amherst Books and Food for Thought Bookstore), South Hadley has at least one notable bookstore (The Odyssey Bookshop). Since the late 1980s, Montague has had The Bookmillmarker, and the World Eye Bookshop is in its 40th year in Greenfield. John Doe, Jr. used books and records opened in Greenfield the summer of 2009. Federal Street Books is another used bookstore in Greenfield. Northampton has least four independent bookstores (including Broadside Bookshop). One of the more popular, Raven Used Books, features a wide variety of titles and subjects. [33577]



The Pioneer Valley has a broadly varied economic base.

Franklin County

Franklin Countymarker in the north serves as a significant agricultural region despite its size, due to the rich topsoil found in the area. The valley's sweet corn and asparagus are considered, especially among New Englandersmarker to be some of the world's finest. Cow Corn, potatoes, and shade-grown tobacco are also major crops. Fields of all sort, particularly corn and tobacco fields, as well as numerous farmhouses and tobacco barns dot the landscape. Light industry is concentrated in the town of South Deerfield and the city of Greenfield, while service industries exist throughout the county. Increasingly Franklin County is becoming a place of bedroom communities, with the major transportation routes of Interstate 91, Route 2, and U.S. Route 5 facilitating a boom in residential building that has not kept pace with commercial development in many of the county's towns.

The Hallmark Institute of Photography is located in Turners Fallsmarker.

Two major corporations, Channing Bete and Yankee Candle, are headquartered in South Deerfieldmarker and Greenfieldmarker. Both communities have been had controversial zoning issues surrounding permitting variances to build big box stores such as Wal-Martmarker. Greenfield received national attention when its decision prevented Wal-Mart from building a store in town.

The county also garners tourism due to such attractions as Historic Deerfield (which hosts a craft fair in the summer and an even larger and more popular fall craft fair), and a Butterfly Garden located in South Deerfield. The annual arrival of thousands of American and foreign tourists to observe the area's spectacular autumn foliage is a welcome boost to revenue.

Hampshire County

With the Five Colleges, Hampshire County has a significant part of its economy devoted to serving college students, including numerous independent bookstores and stationery shops.

The area is also home to many restaurants, ranging in class from sports bars to steakhouses. Northamptonmarker (also known to some as "Hamp" and others as "Noho") is the culinary capital of Western Massachusetts as well as having a reputation as a lesbian mecca. The practice of adding candy, crushed cookies, and nuts to individual servings of ice cream, commonly called "smoosh-ins" or "mix-ins", was invented by Steve Herrell, proprietor of Herrell's ice cream parlor in Northampton.

With the exception of New England-based supermarkets (Big Y, Stop & Shop, Price Chopper), almost all of the big-box retailers in Hampshire County are located in the town of Hadleymarker where the Hampshire Mallmarker and the Mountain Farms Mallmarker are located. Save for Hadley, and perhaps Northampton, the rest of the region is a land of "mom and pop" stores and a smattering of chain convenience stores.

Hampden County

With most of the large cities in Western Massachusetts, Hampden County generally has a more commercial-industrial economy than anywhere else in the region, a land of big-box retailers and heavy industry.

Tourism is also popular, particularly from the rest of New Englandmarker, due to the museums at The Quadranglemarker, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famemarker, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, and CityStage in Springfieldmarker, and attractions such as The Big E in the town of West Springfieldmarker, and Six Flags New Englandmarker in Agawammarker. The Holyoke Mall at Ingleside in Holyokemarker, Memorial Drive in Chicopeemarker, Riverdale Street (often referred to by locals as "Riverdale Road") in West Springfieldmarker, and Boston Road in Springfieldmarker are popular destinations for shopping.

Outlying towns such as Tollandmarker are sparsely populated and close enough to the Berkshiresmarker that outdoor activities such as camping make up a large part of their economy.


Appreciation of the natural environs is a big part of the Valley life, with numerous non-profit nature sanctuaries, as well as state and municipal parks and forests. Because of the considerable natural and cultural resources of the Pioneer Valley, state environmental agencies have made a substantial investment in protecting undeveloped land in the region, particularly along the Connecticut River, and in the mostly rural "hilltowns" to its west. Government conservation efforts have targeted wildlife and rare plant habitat, recreational sites and corridors including the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, and the very rich agricultural soils in farming towns such as Hadley, Massachusettsmarker. Their efforts have been augmented and assisted by local and regional conservation land trusts, and state-wide and national conservation organizations. Many of these organizations also protect additional land through direct ownership of conservation areas and land held under conservation easement. Many municipalities in the area also have conservation holdings, usually under the aegis of the community's 'conservation commission', the appointed body which also applies local and state environmental regulations, or held as part of local water supply systems.

One notable area consists of Mount Tom State Reservation, Mount Holyoke Range State Park, and Skinner State Park, which, joined with the 600-acre Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary held by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, form a long wildlife corridor stretching across the Connecticut River.

See also


External links

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