Hawley, Massachusetts

It was on a genealogy trip in October 2013 that I took opportunity to stop by the small town of Hawley, Massachusetts. In the year 1792, an act to incorporate Plantation Number Seven, in the County of Hampshire (original county), into a Town by the name of Hawley was enacted.1 Hawley was named in honor of Joseph Hawley, a leading citizen of Northampton, Massachusetts. I do not have a source for the Town of Hawley being named for Joseph Hawley of Northampton, but it is mentioned on various websites. Today Hawley consists of homes, a firehouse, a large cemetery, town hall, and church or meeting house. 'Old Town Common', an archaelogical site marking the locations of buildings and roads that made up the original town of Hawley, was interesting to visit. I am not sure if any Hawley family members actually lived in Hawley.

All Photos of Hawley, Massachusetts

Hawley's Old Town Common

The following text is taken from Rediscovering Hawley's Old Town Common by John F. Sears2
Hawley’s old town common, located at the corner of what are now Forget and East Hawley roads, served as the religious, civic, social, and economic center of the town from 1794-1848. A meetinghouse stood in the middle of the common, which was about two acres in size. Two taverns, a blacksmith shop, and several houses stood close by, including the homes of Hawley’s first ministers and doctors. One of the taverns housed Hawley’s first post office. A third tavern existed for a brief time between 1798 and 1804. The townspeople gathered for religious services and town meetings in the meetinghouse, socialized at the taverns with each other and with people passing through or doing business in the town, and sometimes appeared for legal proceedings before one of the tavern keepers, who functioned as a magistrate. The taverns provided fresh horses for the stage coaches passing through and overnight accommodations for stagecoach passengers and drivers. Other activities, such as militia training on the common and dances in the taverns, may also have taken place, although documentation for such activities has not been found.

Over three hundred towns and cities in New England possess commons or greens. Most town commons have undergone change over time, often shrinking in size because of the pressures of development or through adaptation to new uses. Hawley’s town common is unusual because it vanished entirely from sight. In 1848-49 the Congregational church moved to its present location on East Hawley Road, about a mile and a quarter south of the common, and the town constructed a town house on Middle Road, about a mile and a half west of the common. At about the same time, Calvin Longley moved his inn and store to a site opposite the new meetinghouse where the Hawley Grove building now stands. The Sanford Tavern, which thrived in the early part of the nineteenth century, fell on hard times in the 1830s and was abandoned. By 1858 it no longer appeared on maps of the town. Stripped of the meetinghouse and the businesses that generated its vitality, the old town common began to disappear. By 1880 the area was known as “Poverty Square.” Although the Town of Hawley still owns most of the town common land, none of the buildings near it survive. The important functions performed at the common moved to other locations in Hawley or to surrounding towns. Never again would Hawley possess such a concentrated and active town center.












New England Stone Walls

(left) According to one estimate, approximately 240,000 miles of stone walls once criss crossed the New England landscape. Pioneer farmer began to build these walls when they cleared and started to cultivate the land, but they added most of the stones as deforestation permitted annual frost heaving to lift stones buried in the earth toward the surface. Often farmers skidded the stones to the edge of the field with a wooden sled pulled by oxen. Orginally places to deposit unwanted stones, the walls also marked property lines and functioned as fences, usually only after the addition of a wooden rail at the top. As industrialization and the opening of better agricultural land in the West drained population from New England farming communities, field and pasture returned to forest. Many of the walls still remain.








Abandoned Extention of First County Road

(above) Hawley's town common stood at a strategic crossroad that connected it both to the outside world and to the various districts within the town. This road is an extension of Hawley's first country road, begun in 1771 and connecting Hawley to Buckland. The old county road ran east to west along the route of what is now Forget Road and in front of the Sanford Tavern.




Sanford Tavern 1798

(above) The Sanford Tavern and Longley Tavern (next to this site) accommodated travelers and served as venues for male socializing outside the home. Both taverns housed stores. Town meetings sometimes adjourned to Sanford's tavern and Sanford sometimes tried lawsuits in it's "commodious hall."

Heavy drinking probably occurred at Hawley taverns until the temperance movement put an end to it. In 1831, a religious revival brought new members into the East Hawley church, many of whom took a pledge of abstinence from alcohol. From that year onward neither the Sanford nor the Longley tavern applied for a liquor license.

Profitable in its early years, the Sanford Tavern fell on hard times after Sanford's death in 1831, and his son lost it in a lawsuit in 1843. By 1858, it no longer appears on town maps.


Asher Loomis Site

A one story house, built by Asher Loomis in 1800 stood on this site. Loomis, a blacksmith, operated a blacksmith shop somewhere nearby.

Site of the first church of Hawley







This picture is an artist's perception of what the Hawley town common might have looked like in 1818. The painting was done by Judith Russell and was commissioned by the Hawley Bicentennial Commission for its 200 bicentennial event in 1992.



Hawley, Massachusetts Sources Photos
  • Hawley, Massachusetts Photos
Share