Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When Religion & Beer Compete

Triangle Street, Amherst

The current reconstruction of Triangle Street at the gateway to UMass is expected to be completed mid-to-late September.

But if the process followed the pattern of the original construction of the road back in 1820, it would take a l-o-t longer.  Amherst had its very own Civil War over the roadwork,  dubbed "The Triangle Street Fight" by Morehouse and Carpenter in their definitive "History of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts."

Amherst town center BoA: former home of "Boltwood Tavern"

Back then town center was known as the "West Village," and a prominent business -- the "Boltwood Tavern" --  was located where the ugly Bank of America now sits; while the "East Village" had a competing operation -- "Dickinson/Bagg's Tavern" -- located at the intersection of South East and Main Streets.

Since the Calvin Coolidge Bridge in Northampton was not yet built, travelers from the west had to cross over the Connecticut River in Sunderland and make their way south to Amherst where they would first encounter the tavern in town center, giving it a distinct advantage over  the one located a mile or so to the east.

 First Congregational Church, Main Street, Amherst

The First Congregational Church, founded 1739,  is also located on Main Street between the Dickinson Homestead and town center ("West Village") and it was in competition with the more recent 1782 break away Second Congregational Church.

The First Congregational Church was also more loyal to the British during the Revolutionary War, motivating the more patriotic parishioners to seek God elsewhere, as in the "East Village."  

East Village:  Former 2nd Congregational Church, now Jewish Community of Amherst

Thus Triangle Street became a more efficient route to points east but in so doing bypassed town center ... and the Boltwood Tavern and the First Congregational Church.  Town Meeting approved the road on December 4, 1820 but then ten days later that approval was overturned.

Main and Triangle Street intersection

Well the citizens of "East Village" did not take kindly to that and simply decided to build the road themselves.  The citizens in and around town center ("West Village") decided to enforce Town Meeting's vote to "discontinue" the road by sabotaging construction after workers went home for the night.

East Village: Dickinson-Bagg's Tavern South East/Main Street intersect, now legal offices

Former Dickinson-Bagg's Tavern

Road builders started stationing guards all along the new construction to keep watch overnight.  Frustrated workers on both sides would then come to blows.  Spectators from surrounding towns started showing up just to watch the nightly tussle.  

Anti-road activists took to building a fence across the road to block transit.  The pro-road builders destroyed the fence as quickly as it could be constructed. 

Finally, on May 17, 1821 Town Meeting voted to advise the Selectmen to "clear the encumbrances from the road and keep it clear."  The Selectmen, keepers of the public ways, dutifully agreed and the "Triangle Street Fight" concluded.

A clear victory for capitalism, God and country. 

Boltwood Tavern in town center became Amherst House in 1838, burned to the ground July 4, 1879

Lovell, John L., 1825-1903, "Amherst House before 1879," in Digital Amherst, Item #467, http://www.digitalamherst.org/items/show/467 (accessed August 13, 2013).


Anonymous said...

Now that is a story.

Anonymous said...

Amherst's rich history is obfuscated by its current aplomb.

Anonymous said...

Love the history lesson Larry. Good job! As a new(er) Amherst resident I am interested in the history of the area.

Walter Graff said...

What do you call it when NIMBYs and progress compete? Progress as in North Amherst developing more residential areas and a downtown with businesses and places for people to hang out as is currently being done with Cowls selling over 40 acres of the center of North Amherst?

Anonymous said...

was the woman's club built around that time?

Walter Graff said...

Life's a circle. So the Boltwood Tavern burnt to the ground. It's now the Bank of America. Justice was served as in July a few years back the bank of America on the north part of town burnt to the ground.

Larry Kelley said...

Woman's Club on Triangle Street was built in 1893.