|A Brief History of the Town of Easthampton:
By: Edward Dwyer
On June 17, 1785, Easthampton became a separate political entity in Massachusetts. The actual beginning of the community occurred a century earlier, while Easthampton was still a section of Northampton. On December 13, 1664, land was granted to John Webb, the first settler of European heritage. The next year, Webb began the process of establishing a community.
The community grew, as various settlers and saw mill operators took residence in the area near the Manhan River as well as in the Village of Pascommuck.
Pascommuck, a Nipmuck word that means "where it bends", refers to the Ox-Bow area of the Connecticut River. The European community was under constant threat of attacks from Native Americans. On May 24, 1704, the Village of Pascommuck was attacked by a war party of some 72 Native Americans. 19 of the 38 villagers were killed.
Gradually, settlers returned to the villages of Pascommuck and the village near the Manhan River continued to grow.
Eventually, there were enough settlers to form a district, --an independent political entity separate from Northampton. In those days, a town was established in order to form a Meeting House, what we would call a Congregational Church today.
In 1789, the first minister of the town was ordained. His name was Payson Williston.
By 1809, Easthampton changed its charter and become a town.
Through the first half of the 19th century, Easthampton was an agrarian community. The town was a close community of just a few families.
One of the highlights of this time was the establishment of Williston Seminary. The Seminary is now the Williston Northampton School, a prep school.
A major change in the town's economy occurred in 1847. Samuel Williston, son of the town's first minister, established a new company. The Williston-Knight Button Company became the first mill to open in Easthampton.
Following the success of the button company, several new manufacturing operations were created. In 1848, the Nashawannuck Company, an elastic company was opened. After that, the Glendale Company, another elastic maker was established. The Easthampton Rubber Thread was created to make rubber fabric. The Williston Mills were created to manufacture cloth from cotton.
Several social changes occurred as the town's population grew. The first high school was established in 1864. The Easthampton Savings Bank was established in 1869. By 1871, the railroad began to make runs through town.
There were some other social changes. A modern Town Hall was dedicated in 1869, it still serves that purpose today. The public library was established in 1881. Street cars began operating in 1895.
By the turn of the century, the economic and social fabric of the town underwent major changes.
The first changes occurred in 1899, when two new manufacturing companies moved to Easthampton.
One company, The West Boylston Manufacturing Company, produced cloth. The second, the Hampton Company, processed cloth by dying, mercerizing, or bleaching the product.
Another major change occurred in 1912, when the elastic companies merged and the United Elastic Company was formed.
These companies attracted thousands of new immigrants to town. The three major immigrant groups to settle in Easthampton in the 20th century were Irish, French Canadian, and Polish.
The post World War I depression hit Easthampton hard. The button company closed in 1922. The West Boylston closed in 1932.
A second economic boom occurred as World War II defense contracts were awarded to many Easthampton manufacturers. This boom continued in the post war years of the 1950s and 1960s.
Beginning in the second half of this century, the town suffered through several economic slumps. The Hampton Company was closed in 1962. United Elastic closed in 1972. Stanley Home Products, which help lead the post World War II boom, closed in 1995.
The town, however, continues to adopt and grow. In 1972, the 'Plains' section of Easthampton --- a major housing development--- was constructed.
Easthampton now has two complementing economic bases. As a suburb, and as an ideal location for light manufacturing.
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Pro Basketball in Easthampton:
by: Edward Dwyer
During the 1920s, pro basketball players played for semi-pro teams. Such a team was located in Easthampton and used the present upper Town Hall as their home. The NBA and the current popularity of basketball did not yet exist. The most talented teams were barnstorming squads that used New York for their base of operations such as the New York Celtics, the Original Celtics, and the New York Whirlwinds. Players moved rather freely between teams. An opponent one night could be a teammate the next. No arenas existed in those days, so large areas, such as a town hall floor, would be partitioned off with chicken wire, (the source of the name 'cagers' for players), and a game would be played. A band and dancing would usually follow the game. The Easthampton team was an offshoot of the Turn Verin (a local athletic club), basketball team. According to the 1935 Anniversary Book, the team started with local players, but gradually recruited outside talent. The first mention of the professional team in the Daily Hampshire Gazette was in 1920.
The Easthampton Team played in the Interstate League. Also in this circuit, were teams from Holyoke, Springfield, Adams, Turner's Falls, Westfield, Albany, NY and Thompsonville, CT. The 1921 and 1922 teams had some good players. The stars of the team were Barney Sedran, the self described 'midget guard', and forward Marty Friedman. Together, they played as a combo for many teams. Nat Holman, long time coach for the City College of New York, regarded both as super-stars of the era and Sedran as one of the greatest guards ever. Both had injuries that curtailed their playing time in Easthampton.
The third star was Honey Russell, a guard. Although only 18 when he came to Easthampton, he had been a pro since his midteens. He was a defensive specialist. Russell played for many years and later coached Seton Hall in the 1940s and 50s. He was also the first coach of the Boston Celtics.
Freedman, Sedran and Russell have been inducted in the Hall of Fame in Springfield. Sedran's plaque has him in his Easthampton uniform. Freedman's biography at the Hall mentions playing here. All three began playing in town in 1921.
Another player was Em Grayson, a forward. He was captain at Mass Aggie (now University of Massachusetts, Amherst) in 1916-17 and 1919-20, he later coached there and at Amherst College. Harry 'Man-o-War' Riconda was a forward in 1921 and 22. Once with the Original Celtics, he had the reputation as a tough player. 'Hot' Haggerty of Springfield had several stays in Easthampton. In 1922, he left Springfield's team to play for Easthampton then quit to play for the Original Celtics. He again played for Easthampton in 1923. From newspaper accounts, he was a very popular player.
Others came and went. A player named Bernot was at center for a few games in 1922, left and came back in 1923. Billy Sullivan played in 1921 and moved to the Adams team. 'Stretch' Meehan, a 6'9" center was used as a drawing card in 1921. Bob Jackson, a center also played in 1921.
The league suffered financial difficulties. To recoup some losses, the Original Celtics came in 1922 to play each team in the circuit. An ad billed them as the World Champs of the previous year. Easthampton emerged victorious by the score of 18 to 12. Sedran led all players with 7 points and held Celtic star Nat Holman to gust one point.
After the season, Sedran, Friedman, Russell and Riconda all left to play other circuits. On February 5, 1923 the team moved to Northampton. The season and the entire league ended the next month.
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