The town of Russell, Massachusetts, is nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in Hampden County and bordered by the towns of Westfield to the east, Granville to the south, Blandford to the west, Montgomery to the north, and Huntington to the northwest. Covering approximately 17.9 square miles, Russell’s hilly landscape is mostly forested, with some open fields used for agriculture. Though only 20 miles from Springfield and 8 miles from Westfield, two of western Massachusetts’ major commercial centers, Russell has maintained its quiet, rural character. Russell’s current population is below 2,000.
The Town of Russell was incorporated in 1792 in response to a petition by residents of “New Addition”, a piece of land belonging to Westfield and valued because of its marble quarry and excellent building stone. The earliest settlers were located on Glasgow Mountain, now known as Russell Mountain--farmers and loggers who utilized the heavy growth of timber on Glasgow Mountain to supply building operations in fast-growing neighborhoods.
The railroad came to Russell in the late 1830’s, and the center of town moved to the river valley at the foot of the mountains (Russell’s downtown has recently been designated a National Historic District). Streams flowing into the Westfield River, and the Westfield itself, were harnessed to power sawmills and grist mills. The Town continued to grow, with brick and tile works, a tannery, charcoal kilns, stores, and taverns.
A major paper industry also developed along the Westfield River, beginning with Chapin and Gould in 1858, followed by Salmon Falls and Fairfield in 1872, and the Westfield River Paper Company in 1902. Russell became a bustling hub of paper manufacturing, known as “The Paper Town”. The three distinct villages within Russell developed around the three paper mills, which were built on the sites of former gristmills, charcoal kilns, and brick and tile companies. Traditionally, most citizens of the town were employed by the mills, and the paper companies constructed the villages of Woronoco, Crescent Mills, and The Grove in Russell as housing for their workers. Today, the only remaining paper manufacturer in Russell is USM Texon Materials, Inc., on the former Chapin and Gould site in Crescent Mills.
Although Russell was originally a self-sufficient entity, state requirements have led to collaboration in several areas. In 1965, Russell voted to join the Gateway Regional School District, which comprises seven Hilltowns. Russell also partners with other towns in sharing and supporting the Huntington Ambulance, as well as regional finance and select board sub-committees. In the area of recreation, the Town of Blandford shares the recreation facilities of Russell Pond, and all sports teams are now under the auspices of the Gateway Youth Athletic Association.
Although some parts of Russell might be considered “bedroom” communities, with workers commuting to larger commercial centers such as Springfield, the majority of residents work either in town or in neighboring Westfield. New business has been brought to the area, notably by the Mennonites, who have opened a large furniture factory and a bakery. There is also the possibility that a biomass energy plant may be built on the former Westfield River Paper Company site.
Last Updated (Saturday, 07 November 2009 16:56)