From Paper to Whips – The Cities of Pioneer Valley

There are only nine cities in the Pioneer Valley: Westfield, West Springfield, Agawam, Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, Easthampton, Greenfield, and Northampton. But there are a bunch of towns, like Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Granby, and on and on. And this distinction isn’t me being some sort of weird pedant; Massachusetts actually distinguishes between city and town forms of government. But more on that in a future blog post, maybe.

city map
Cities are in Green and Purple. Connecticut River in blue.

 

I’ve been looking up the nicknames to the cities in the valley. Here they are:

  • Holyoke – Paper City, so named because of the paper mills that made the city at one time an economic powerhouse.
  • Springfield – City of Homes, so named because of the numerous Victorian mansions populating the city’s housing stock; Hoop City, so named because basketball was invented there; City of Firsts, so named because of a list of “firsts”, some of which I find questionable (e.g. “Springfield Rifle”).
  • Chicopee – Crossroads of New England, because there are so many highways crisscrossing it (I’ve written about those highways, and why they are actually awful).
  • Westfield – Whip City, by far my favorite nickname, so named because of their dominance in the buggy whip industry.
  • Northampton – Paradise City, so named because of the 19th-century utopian transcendentalist and abolitionist community that sprang up there.
  • West Springfield – Crossroads of New England, apparently, because there can’t just be one crossroads.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find any nicknames for Easthampton, Greenfield, or Agawam. We can just also call them “Crossroads of New England”; I’m sure some roads intersect there.

Nicknames are a great way to brand a town, county, or region, for better or worse. Even the term “Pioneer Valley” has recently come under fire for being old-fashioned and stigmatized, and business groups are looking at ways to rebrand the entire region (with predictable push-back). I really like the term, because it makes me feel like I’m out here blazing a trail into unknown territory, or something. People from the region were pioneers in the abolitionist movement, in indoor winter sports, in making paper, in whipping things. Seems an appropriate name, and one that I’d like to keep.

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