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Where is the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area?

The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area is the watershed of the upper Housatonic River in Western Massachusetts and Northwest Connecticut.  It extends 60 miles from Kent, CT, to Lanesboro, MA. It includes 26 communities stipulated in the Upper Housatonic National Heritage Area Study Act of 2000; three communities that requested inclusion have been added.

What municipalities are included in the Heritage Area?

The Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area includes nine towns in Connecticut and twenty in Massachusetts. The Connecticut towns are Canaan, Colebrook, Cornwall, Kent, Norfolk, North Canaan, Salisbury, Sharon, and Warren. The Massachusetts towns are Alford, Becket, Dalton, Egremont, Great Barrington, Hancock, Hinsdale, Lanesboro, Lee, Lenox, Monterey, Mount Washington, New Marlboro, Pittsfield, Richmond, Sheffield, Stockbridge, Tyringham, Washington, and West Stockbridge.

The Upper Housatonic National Heritage Area Study Act outlined eight criteria for evaluating the significance, suitability, and feasibility of the upper Housatonic Valley to become a national heritage area. Analysis of the upper Housatonic Valley in light of these criteria demonstrates that the area contains nationally important resources and represents important national themes.

What are the themes of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area?

During the Feasibility Study stage of formal designation, the National Park Service identified a number of themes of National importance in the Upper Housatonic Valley.  These themes included:

  • Cultural Resort
    The upper Housatonic Valley is noted for a long-standing literary tradition, the work of prominent artists and architects, and world-class music, dance, and theater. The region is home to dozens of world-renown cultural institutions that provide exploration of, education in and enjoyment of performing arts.  A diverse range of galleries and museums provide access to the rich body of work of visual artists, past and present.  Monuments to the enduring work of famous authors dot the landscape, affording visitors a glimpse into the world that shaped the story line of some of our most loved books.
  • Shaping a Scenic Landscape
    A phenomenon occurred in the Upper Housatonic Valley of identifying natural resources at risk, the unrealized potential of the landscape, and the planning for restoration and implementation of restoration and beautification on a large scale.By the early 1800s, much of the area had been cleared for farming. The iron industry required extensive tree-cutting to make charcoal to fuel the furnaces. After the Civil War, when the papermaking industry started to use wood pulp as a raw material, that industry put further pressure on the forests. In 1850, 75% of the region was deforested, while today 75% of the land is covered with trees.
  • Cradle of Industry
    Two of America’s earliest industries had a conspicuous presence in the upper Housatonic Valley. The iron industry began to develop in the 1730s, drawn by the presence of high-grade iron ore. Forges and furnaces manufactured cannons and supplies for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. During the 19th century, the region’s iron industry manufactured armaments, tools, and train wheels. After the Civil War, the region’s industry became less competitive, and the last iron furnace closed in 1923.
  • Revolutionary War Era and Development of Democracy
    The upper Housatonic Valley was the site of several important events during the American Revolution. Among these – The Sheffield Declaration, an early petition of grievances against British rule, was drafted at Colonel John Ashley’s House (maintained by the Trustees of Reservations) in 1773. Militias from Ethan Allen’s original home in northwest Connecticut joined the “Green Mountain Boys” in their capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775.
  • Other Heritage Themes: Mohican Indians, Shakers, Historic Towns
    At the time of European colonization, the Mohican Indians were lightly settled in the upper Housatonic. Stockbridge’s Mission House was the home of Reverend John Sergeant, who oversaw a mission to convert local Indians to Christianity starting in 1734. This was a center for a Christian Indian community until it departed to the west in 1783, eventually relocating to Wisconsin as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.Western Massachusetts and upper New York State were hospitable to the Shakers, who were one of 19th-century America’s best-known communitarian sects. The Hancock (MA) Shaker Village is one of the country’s foremost interpretive sites of Shaker culture.

The upper Housatonic Valley has an extensive collection of historic buildings dating as far back as 1734, when English settlement began in the area. The historic town centers have a plethora of meetinghouses, commons, houses, and public buildings, many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places.