The following is provided courtesy of Craig Della Penna, in part from his book on rail trails in the region.
Typical of many New England towns, Easthampton, Massachusetts was a factory town with a large number of antediluvian mills—primarily textile mills. These complexes provided steady, well paying jobs for the residents. They also provided lucrative traffic to the railroad.
Easthampton’s industrial base was so extensive that it was served by two competing railroads—the New Haven Railroad’s Canal Division and the Mt. Tom branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad.
Prosperity reigned in Easthampton right up until the mid 1970s. In 1974, the PennCentral Railroad—successor of the New Haven Railroad—had over 4,000 cars a year terminating in Easthampton.
By the late 1970s, however, changes in environmental laws and relocation of businesses to places like North and South Carolina, brought about a shift that made the mill buildings in Easthampton largely dormant.
By the late 1980s, traffic was down to under 500 cars per year. By 1991, the Pioneer Valley Railroad (which had taken over all the trackage in town) instituted a several hundred dollar per-car surcharge on traffic terminating in Easthampton due to poor track conditions.
The last customer using the railroad in Easthampton was the W.R. Grace & Co.’s Zonolite plant and they too left town when the railroad wasn’t able to serve them at a price that worked for them. In 1992, the Pioneer Valley Railroad filed for abandonment of the approximately five miles of corridor in Easthampton.
By 1994, the idea of converting all the old trackage into a linear park or rail trail began to take hold. A local grassroots organization—the Friends of the Manhan Rail Trail—was created to help fundraise for the community’s portion of the cost to build and maintain the trail. In 1995, Town Meeting voted to support the acquisition from the Pioneer Valley Railroad. By 1999, the town had acquired the corridor and the tracks were removed.
Construction of the trail finally happened in 2003 and the trail’s “grand opening” was held in June of 2004.
- 1995-1996: Easthampton receives Federal Enhancements Award and Town Meeting votes to acquire the railroad property.
- 1997: Award for design of the Easthampton portion.
- 1999: Pioneer Valley Railroad removes track structure.
- 1999: Easthampton section design is 75% complete; MassHighway holds hearing.
- 2001: Rail trail from South St. to Fort Hill Rd. is cleared and graded.
- 2002: 100% design is completed and accepted by MassHighway. Project is put out to bid.
- 2002: Manhan Rail Trail Millenium Mural by Nora Valdez and community volunteers, is installed.
- 2003-2004: The Rail Trail is built by Lane Construction.
- June 19, 2004: Grand opening celebration is held for Phase 1!
- 2010: Manhan Rail Trail extension to the Northampton section opens.
- 2011: Manhan Rail Trail is extended south to Coleman Road in Southampton.
Some features and highlights
The trail is home to lots of interesting wildlife including raccoons, owls, and the occasional black bear.
Here is a nice video overview of some of the flora and fauna to be found along our trail:
And the Williston Northampton School wrote a nice piece called “The Depot” on their blog, which talks about the history of the building on Railroad Street that now houses the Tandem Bagel Company.
More about us
Nestled in the heart of the scenic Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, Easthampton’s Manhan Rail Trail offers unique recreational opportunities to people of all ages and interests. Bike, jog, roller blade, cross country ski or simply enjoy a leisurely stroll on what was once a viable rail corridor. The first section of the 5 mile (off-road) paved trail was
completed in 2003 after 10 years of planning and fundraising. A second section opened in the spring of 2011 and a third section is expected to open this fall. It is proposed that eventually, the trail will connect all the way from New Haven, Connecticut to Northampton, Massachusetts and beyond.
The north end of the trail begins at the Route 5 Trailhead (there is some “unofficial” parking here.) This area is commonly called “Mt. Tom Junction“. Back when the path was used as a railroad, a train engine fondly called “Tommy” ran back and forth along this route.
Heading south you will come upon a spectacular overlook of the Connecticut River Oxbow to your right. This loop of the river was cut off by land and now teems with wildlife. Look for osprey, ravens and great blue herons. It’s also a popular boating and water skiing area.
Further south, you’ll come to a sign marking the Pascommuck Trust Conservation Area. Take the stairs up the bank to find a nice picnic spot and a boulder marking the site of the 1704 Indian and settler conflict.
Continuing along the trail you might consider a side trip to the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. Take a right off the trail at Fort Hill Road and follow the road to Arcadia where you’ll find walking trails and a nature center.
Back on the trail you’ll notice the Mt. Tom Range which evolved through volcanic action, creating basalt columns visible from Easthampton. Its also prime hawk-watching territory – each fall thousands of hawks and other birds migrate past the mountain.
Next up, you’ll pass the Northeast Center for Youth and Families at 203 East Street which allows parking for trail users.
After crossing Gosselin Drive, Arthur Street and finally Ferry Street, you will come upon the newly developed Millside Park, which provides parking, rest rooms, an exercise course, basketball courts, picnic tables and a band shell.
Further along, you will travel behind Hampton Mills. Built in the late 1800’s, this extensive mill complex processed textiles for many years. Be sure to visit Eastworks, a mill building which houses shops, galleries, restaurants, artists studios and loft apartments.
Next you will cross Union Street in the center of Easthampton’s business district. Stop for a bite to eat, or peruse the many shops and galleries.
Just beyond Union Street, you will come upon the Manhan Rail Trail Millenium Mural. This mural was painted by community volunteers under the direction of artist Nora Valdez. It was completed in 2002. Directly opposite the mural, you will see the old train depot, now privately owned.
Next you will cross Payson Avenue. Taking a left down Payson will bring you to the picturesque Nashawannuck Pond. This landmark was created in 1847 by the damming of Broad Brook. On a clear, still day, look for the reflection of Mt. Tom in the water. This reflection is commonly known as “the bottle” and is featured on Easthampton’s municipal seal.
From the pond, you may take a side trip to Nonotuck Park by continuing up Williston Avenue. This city park has a swimming pool and sprinkler park, ball fields, picnic areas, tennis courts, trails and public rest rooms. (retrace your steps to get back to the Manhan Rail Trail)
Back on the trail just south of Payson Avenue, you will see the Williston Northampton School. This prestigious day and boarding school was founded in 1841 as the Williston Seminary.
You will enter a nice shady stretch of the trail which then crosses South Street, before continuing on to Coleman Road in Southampton. There is currently no official parking at the southern end of the trail.
A spur connecting the Manhan Rail Trail to Northampton trails opened in May 2011.
The spur begins at Ferry Street in Easthampton and runs adjacent to the western edge of the Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary before connecting to the Northampton trail at Earle Street (near the Smith College Equestrian Center)
The bridge over the Manhan River near Lovefield Street, installed in September 2011, is now open.
So with six beautiful miles of paved bikeway, with lots of restaurants, shops and galleries along the way, you are sure to enjoy the trail!