Pioneer Valley

From Academic Kids

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The southern portion of the Pioneer Valley looking south down the Connecticut River. The University of Massachusetts Amherst can be seen in the distance.

The Pioneer Valley is the demographic designation for the part geographical region known as the Connecticut River Valley located in Western Massachusetts.



The Pioneer Valley covers approximately the second lowest quarter of the Connecticut River Valley, a river valley formed by tectonic plate subduction millions of years ago and filled in by Lake Hitchcock and the Connecticut River over thousands of year ago.

Today the most geographically interesting parts of the valley are the basalt flows, South Hadley dinosaur tracks, the layers of rock deposit laid down by the river, and the Lake Hitchcock varves and deltas.


The Valley and the neighboring Hill Towns consist of three counties in the Connecticut River valley of Western Massachusetts:

Franklin County

The rural Franklin County, a land full of orchards, fields, barns, farmhouses, churches, and small shops in the one common, now vanishing stereotypical New England lifestyle.

Hampshire County

Hampshire County is a fairly affluent area with a large amount of small town spirit, and several colleges.

Of major importance is education: the county is home to five colleges and universities, including some of the nation's finest.

Hampden County

The mostly urban Hampden County is dominated by the river city metropolis of Springfield-West Springfield-Holyoke-Chicopee.

Other towns include Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Southwick, Westfield, and Ludlow.

Cities and towns in the Pioneer Valley include:


Although predominately white, the region is rapidly growing in diversity, particularly in its Latino population. The racial diversity varies greatly throughout the region as you move from urban areas to rural ones.


The Pioneer Valley is sometimes known to its inhabitants as "the Happy Valley", but more often this is used as a gimmick for tourists, and the residents refer to it as simply "the Valley". It is the "valley full o' Pioneer" in "the sleepy west of the woody east" of which the Pixies sang in the song "UMass."


One of the notable thing about the Valley is its resident's love of reading. Housing an independent bookstore in almost every town, several small publishers, and countless local authors, the valley could well be counted as a readers gem. Amherst has at least four bookstores, and Northampton at least three, with almost every independent bookstore covering two floors.


Valley residents also have a love of arts, both visual and performing, as demonstrated by numerous art galleries, countless theaters and performances, the residencies of both Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle in the valley, the visual Dr. Seuss Memorial in Springfield, and the Eric Carle Museum of picture book art.


The Pioneer Valley is home to a number of locally owned gaming stores, including one in Greenfield, one in Sunderland, two in Northampton, and one in Springfield, each with slightly different specializations. There are active gaming and science fiction clubs at most of the colleges in the area, many of which welcome non-students. These college clubs also hold several annual gaming conventions, the most notable of which are OurCon at UMass and ConBust at Smith College.


The Pioneer Valley has a broadly varied economic base.

Franklin County

Franklin County in the north serves as a significant agricultural region despite its size, due to the rich topsoil found in the area. The valley's sweet corn and asparagus are considered, especially among New Englanders to be some of the world's finest. Cow Corn, potatoes, and shade-grown tobacco are also major crops. Fields of all sort, particularly corn and tobacco fields, as well as numerous farmhouses and tobacco barns dot the landscape.

Two major corporations, Channing Bete and Yankee Candle, are headquartered in South Deerfield and Greenfield. Both corporations are currently wracked by fights as to whether to allow the proliferation of big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart. Greenfield received national attention when it decided to prevent Wal-Mart from opening up a store in town.

The country also garners tourism due to such attractions as a Butterfly Garden located in South Deerfield, and Historic Deerfield.

Hampshire County

With five colleges, including the state university, UMass Amherst and two women's colleges, Hampshire County has a thriving industry catering to college students, including numerous independent bookstores and stationery shops.

The area is also home to many restaurants, ranging in class from sports bars to steakhouses. Northampton (also known as NoHo) is the culinary capital of Western Massachusetts as well as having a reputation as a lesbian Mecca. The act of adding candy, crushed cookies, and nuts to ice cream was invented by Steve Herrell at Herrell's, his ice cream parlor in Northampton.

With the exception of a few supermarkets, almost all of the big-box retailers in Hampshire County are located in the town of Hadley with the rest of the region being a land of Mom and Pop stores and a spattering chain convenience stores.

Hampden County

With most of the large cites in Western Massachusetts, Hampden County generally has a more commercial-industrial economy than anywhere else in the region, a land of big box retailers and heavy industry.

Tourism is also popular, particularly from the rest of New England, due to the historic values, museum, observatory and fine dining in Springfield, and the theaters and frequent attractions such as The Big E, and Six Flags New England, an amusement park in Agawam. Holyoke, Chicopee, and Springfield are also popular destinations for shopping.

Far out areas such as Tolland are sparsely populated enough, and close enough to the Berkshires that outdoors activities such as camping can provide a large part of their economies.


Ecology is a big part of the Valley, with numerous private nature sanctuaries, parks and forests. One notable park is Mount Tom State Park which, joined with lands held by the Massachusetts Audubon Society, forms a long corridor of wildlife stretching across the Connecticut River.

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