The people who migrated to the Gateway “Hilltowns,” were primarily of British or Scots- Irish decent. Many came from Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts in search of inexpensive land for agriculture and religious freedom. These people were said to have been hardworking and independent.

Each town began as part of proprietary plantation that was auctioned in Boston at the close of the French Indian/ Seven Years War.  The original proprietors had the land surveyed and then conferred it on settlers for a low price and strict criteria for the clearing of land, the size of dwellings, the establishment of a meeting house (church)with a minister and a school. If all of the criteria were met within 5 to 6 years the title of the land would be given to the family and their posterity.

In early Massachusetts, each town on incorporation became a parish. Every town was required to promote and support religious organizations. A minister would  be employed by the town at the expense of the people and  public worship was to be observed by all.

All of the towns began with their primary settlement on a hilltop. This may have been to avoid the flooding that occurred along the Westfield River in spring, as well as the belief that the mountain air was healthier. Fortunately, the region has many streams and ponds, so finding a source of water was not a concern. Due to the large land area of the towns and travel limitations, each town eventually had multiple centers.

While the rocky soil of the region posed its challenges to agriculture, the rocks were removed and used to build the abundant stonewalls seen throughout the area. These walls were used as boundary lines as well as enclosures for the many sheep and cows that roamed the farmland here.

With agriculture as the primary pursuit of the early settlers, other associated cottage industries, such as grist mills, tanneries, sawmills, black smith shops, fulling and carding mills flourished along the small streams and brooks of the region.

Town meetings were held in the taverns and meeting houses of the area. All of the towns continue to operate with an open town meeting format (one man one vote) and are run by an elected select board of three.

Historically, Massachusetts has had a strong commitment to education. With the passage of the Massachusetts Education Law of 1647, Massachusetts was the first state to require towns to establish a grammar school  or provide a teacher in each town. This mandate was incorporated into the state constitution in 1789. Consequently, schools were established in every town. This law also stated that  schoolhouses had to be accessible (within a one mile walking distance) to students. As a result, the “Hilltowns” had a number of small schoolhouses in each.

Several roads that went through this area were considered connectors between Boston and Albany. Route 23 through Blandford and the Russell Pond area were heavily traveled. Many weary travelers found respite in taverns and inns in Blandford. This route was made famous when General Henry Knox brought the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga to Dorchester Heights in Boston through this area. It was a successful mission and as a result, the British were ousted from Boston.

In the 1800’s, the “Industrial Revolution,” came to the “Hilltowns” as paper, woolen and other manufacturing companies were built along the Westfield River. The coming of the Boston & Albany Railroad furthered this prosperity, with depot stops in Russell, Huntington, Chester and Middlefield, and stage coach connections to Blandford and Worthington. People from Springfield, Boston and New York flooded the area for fun, recreation and  the cool breezes that gave respite from illness and city heat.

Fire was a constant threat in the early settlements, most buildings were wooden structures heated with open fires in many cases. When an alarm was sounded neighbors from near and far would  come to form a bucket brigade. Water was collected from a nearby source and passed bucket by bucket down a long line of volunteer fire fighters.