Massachusetts 1st District
The stony hills and green mountains of western Massachusetts, where more trees dot the landscape today than when Henry David Thoreau was writing in the 1840s and where stone fencing once bounded one working farm from another, look a lot like they did 300 years ago. This was the frontier in the 17th century, where Puritan preachers founded towns in the wilderness, farmed the rocky soil, and preached against declension. This was also the site of the Indian uprising known as King Philip’s War in 1676, and the Indian raid, supported by the French in Quebec, at Deerfield in 1704. This was Yankee New England’s western frontier for nearly 200 years. In the 19th century, the area was the home of writers and artists: Emily Dickinson lived quietly in Amherst, Edith Wharton grandly on her estate in Lenox. Herman Melville struck up a friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne after purchasing a farm near Hawthorne’s Pittsfield home, not far from where the Boston Symphony plays at the Tanglewood Festival each summer. Mill towns were here as well, jammed into valleys or along the wide Connecticut River. As the 20th century progressed, and trees grew on stony land once farmed, western Massachusetts came to look less settled. The exceptions were areas near giant factories like General Electric’s now-closed electric transformer plant in Pittsfield and the Crane paper factory in Dalton, which since 1879 has been the only company to print money for the U.S. Treasury. Armed guards protect the facility’s secret plating process, which is the benchmark for producing currency and preventing counterfeiting. The region’s rolling hills and charming New England towns support a thriving tourist trade, featuring attractions such as Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow, the only dance institution to be named a National Historic Landmark. There are year-round, weekend, and vacation homes throughout the Berkshires. Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who has a weekend home here, encouraged expansion of Internet access to many of these small towns. Truck farmers promote their sometimes-quirky products, including hard cider and pickles. But the area’s iconic local fairs have fallen on hard times in recent years.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Western Massachusetts has changed politically. For many years, it was a heartland of the Republican Party—flinty, thrifty, and chilly, just like the area’s most famous politician, Calvin Coolidge. But the area now contains some of the most liberal parts of the United States. Stockbridge attracted liberal artist Norman Rockwell, and Alice’s Restaurant in Great Barrington was immortalized by radical Arlo Guthrie in his antiwar song of the same name. The concentration of colleges and universities in the Pioneer Valley brought together a critical mass of liberal scholars and an even more leftist graduate student proletariat; the University of Massachusetts in Amherst is the largest of these. Although the area’s few remaining mills have shut down, the university continues to expand on former farmland. The results of the liberal trend showed up in election returns: Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama carried Amherst 87%-10% over Republican John McCain in 2008. Western Massachusetts also voted heavily for Democrat Shannon O’Brien for governor in 2002, even as she lost the rest of Massachusetts to Republican Mitt Romney.
The 1st Congressional District is the state’s largest congressional district geographically. It covers most of western Massachusetts—all of Berkshire and Franklin counties and their small towns; most of Hampshire County; Holyoke and West Springfield on the Connecticut River; and the more-working-class areas of northern Worcester County—and extends east to Pepperell in Middlesex County, about 40 miles from Boston. It borders four states and covers about 40% of the land area of Massachusetts. Over time, the solidly Democratic voting base has shifted from low-income mill workers in places like Holyoke and Pittsfield to liberal and radical academics in the college towns.