Similar to the Charles Leonard House a block away, the Colton House on Main Street in Agawam remains as a historically and architecturally significant Federal style home in Western MA. The home was built in 1806 for Rufus Colton (1776-1862), a couple years after he married his first wife. The home was likely constructed by a local builder who took inspiration from Asher Benjamin’s early plan books and Captain Leonard’s home nearby. The house was later owned by Martin Luther who operated the home as a tavern for travelers along the route from Hartford to Boston. It was later owned by Isaac Cooley and documented under the Historic American Buildings Survey. Architecturally, the house features a stunning broad entry surround which incorporates a generous elliptical fan-light with leaded glass above a paneled door. Directly over the main entry on the second floor is a Palladian window with the side panels showing the urn and leaf pattern, seen only in high-style Federal homes.
This stunning High School building in Agawam was built in 1921 as the town’s first high school. William Pynchon purchased land on both sides of the Connecticut River from the local Pocomtuc Indians known as Agawam, which included present-day Springfield, Chicopee, Longmeadow, and West Springfield, Massachusetts. The purchase price for the Agawam portion was 10 coats, 10 hoes, 10 hatchets, 10 knives, and 10 fathoms of wampum. Agawam and West Springfield split in 1800, with Agawam incorporating as a town on in 1855. The town stayed fairly rural until the 20th century with the proliferation of the personal automobile and suburbanization from the industrial and urban center of Springfield. This increase required a new, modern high school to be constructed in town. The building was converted to a middle school in 1972.
The Thomas and Esther Smith House in the Feeding Hills area of Agawam, Massachusetts is a 1½ story, vernacular Georgian style house with a gambrel roof. Feeding Hills, so named for its bountiful soils, is an agricultural plain approximately five miles west of the Connecticut River at the eastern foot of Provin Mountain. The land was highly sought after by farmers, with many agricultural uses still taking place here to this day. This parcel of land was purchased by Thomas Smith, a carpenter, in 1757, who likely built the home soon after for his new family. The family occupied the home into the mid-19th century, harvesting crops and raising cattle for sustenance and sale. The agricultural property was subdivided numerous times and now sits on just an acre. The home and remaining land was purchased by the Agawam Historical Society in 2002, who maintain the property and educate on Agawam’s agricultural heritage.
In most Massachusetts cities and towns, habitual truants (children who stayed away from school) and juvenile delinquents had normally been committed to local almshouses and prisons. By 1873, state law updated policies to “humanize” the children and guide them on a better path. Habitual truants (age seven to fourteen), habitual absentees (age seven to sixteen), and habitual school offenders could be committed to a county truant school for a term of up to two years. At least one of these types of schools were found in each of Massachusetts’ counties, which seemed to get more crowded every passing decade. In the early 20th century, the outlook on shaping children’s growth changed and to reflect this, the truancy schools were renamed “Training Schools”.
The former Hampden County Truancy School in Springfield was outgrown and outdated. The county petitioned the state for a new school on open land, and a site was acquired in nearby Agawam. The choice of location was intended to provide a rural farm environment and to avoid the temptations of the city. The isolated location, surrounded by farmland, ensured that students could not easily walk away from the school to rejoin their friends and families. Despite the remote location, the Hampden County Commissioners report of 1918 noted that 36 boys still ran away from the training school a total of 69 times and that 5 were still at large at the end of the year.
Starting in the 1940s, the County Training Schools were seen as a waste of taxpayer money and many staff at these institutions were under-educated themselves to deal with emotional or social issues that some of the children exhibited. Many county schools were closed, with the Hampden County Training School closing in 1972.
The school building and grounds sat vacant for over a decade until funding was released to renovate the building for use as a police academy training center in 1984. The exterior of the building remained relatively unchanged during this time, and many of the original classroom spaces were left as found. The building served in this capacity for over twenty years until it was closed in 2005. In 2017, Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization that provides housing and supportive services for military veterans, rehabilitated the former school and now provides 51 permanent housing units here. The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (a report where much of this information came from) and was rehabilitated using Federal Tax Credits.
The Classical Revival-style Hampden County Training School was designed by the prolific Holyoke-based architect George Perkins Bissell Alderman. Alderman was well known throughout western Massachusetts and Connecticut for his monumental, classically derived designs for residences, schools, commercial blocks, civic buildings, and churches.
Located in Agawam Center this interesting architectural example of a late-Tudor Revival school building really caught my eye. The building replaced a 1870s town hall and two-room schoolhouse which were both outgrown as Agawam’s population increased due to the proximity of nearby Springfield. The architect was Paul B. Johnson, who was based out of West Springfield and ran a small architectural office there. He attended Cornell and MIT for architectural training and worked primarily around Springfield. The school building is constructed of a deep red brick, laid in varied relief for a rough faced surface and a cast stone Tudor arch around the main entrance for contrast. The school was later renamed after Benjamin Phelps, the first superintendent of schools in Agawam.