It’s not hard to see why Northampton has won more than 25 awards, including best small city in America, top 10 town for craft lovers, walking and bicycle-friendly community, green community, and best downtown shopping district. Jenny Lind, a renowned 19th century singer, called this city the “Paradise of America” — and the nickname “The Paradise City” has stuck with this small city, tucked in a river valley 100 miles west of Boston.
Stroll along Main Street and it’s easy to see why. Northampton has a rich history, an artsy college-town vibe, cool shops and boutiques, an incredibly array of excellent restaurants, and a roster of annual events and activities that help build its strong sense of community.
Northampton’s past is, in many ways, still present. The Main Street spot where 18th century Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards had his meetinghouse is now home to a church that accepts all comers. Former slave turned abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth came to town in 1843 to join the Northampton Association for Education and Industry, a utopian, abolitionist community where anti-slavery statesman Frederick Douglass was a supporter and frequent guest speaker.
In 1910, a local lawyer named Calvin Coolidge became Northampton’s mayor, 13 years before he became the 30th U.S. president. The Calvin Theatre, opened in 1924 while Coolidge was in the White House, still operates at the corner of Main and Pleasant. Head up Main and onto West Street and you’ll reach the Forbes Library, home of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum.
At the head of Main Street is the Academy of Music, the nation’s oldest city-owned theatre. A right turn onto Elm Street leads to Smith College, founded in 1871, whose alumnae include U.S. first ladies, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, and many other notable and accomplished women. Smith’s campus features landscaped gardens, Paradise Pond, a conservatory and the Museum of Art. Not far from Smith are the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, where Alexander Graham Bell once taught.
Throughout the year, Main Street plays welcoming host to an array of downtown events that include First Night Northampton, LGBTQ Parade and Pride Day in May, and a number of public arts and music events. Past a railroad overpass, Main becomes Bridge Street and leads to Three County Fairgrounds, site of the country’s oldest continuously running agricultural fair.
You’ll want to explore Northampton for yourself — and A Visitors’ Guide to Paradise offers not one, but six self-guided walking tours of this multi-faceted community.
Downtown Lights photo taken by Sam Masinter, all other photos taken by Lynn Graves
Photos courtesy of Downtown Northampton Association