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History of Pelham Massachusetts

Settled in 1739 by Scottish Immigrants, Pelham was incorporated as a town in 1743. Its most famous citizen was Capt. Daniel Shays, who led a year-long rebellion against officials who were seizing farms from families made poor after the Revolution. Planned in the local meeting place, Conkey's Tavern, this rebellion of 1786 is credited with bringing about the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in 1787. Pelham's Old Meeting House, built in 1743, is the oldest town hall in continuous use in the nation and is still the site of the Fall Town Meeting.

Pelham once had extensive fields and farms. Water-powered grist and wooden turning mills dotted the streams. West Pelham served as a terminus of the regional electric trolley system and was the site of the Orient Springs health resort, as well as the first factory to produce bamboo fishing rods in the United States. Building stone was quarried from several locations in town and shipped throughout the region. Old Chapel at the University of Massachusetts and Johnson Chapel at Amherst College are faced in Pelham stone. In the 1930s, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took the eastern third of Pelham's remeining land to create the Quabbin Reservoir, uprooting residents of the Bobbin Hollow section. The Quabbin also interrupted the major east-west highway running through Pelham.

As Pelham industries rose and fell, the population of the town changed dramatically. From a high of 1,278 in 1829, the number of residents declined throughout the 19th century to 462 in 1900. Since the 1960s, however, this trend has reversed, as Pelham, along with most other communities of the Pioneer Valley, has experienced a rapid growth in population. As of 2003, Pelham had 1,441 residents.

The Town of Pelham is 24.82 square miles and is bordered by Shutesbury, New Salem, Belchertown, and Amherst. The western branch of the Quabbin Reservoir lies along the town's eastern border. Pelham is roughly 31 miles north of Springfield, 47 miles west of Worcester, 85 miles west of Boston, and 168 miles from New York City. It is largely a bedroom community with its focus of activity in the Pioneer Valley, principally Amherst. Many of Pelham's residents are employed in education. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, and Smith College are all within a 10-mile radius.

Today, most of Pelham is forest, interspersed with residences along 21 miles of roads. Large forest tracts in Pelham are owned by the Town of Amherst for drinking water supply, and by the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College for research and recreation. Because of its wooded, hilly terrain and zoning regulations, Pelham's growth has been somewhat slower than that of surrounding communities.

Pelham has one elementary school, renovated in 2004, for Preschool through sixth grade. For the 2004-2005 school year, 115 students attended the elementary school. The regional middle and high schools are located on separate campuses in Amherst. The Amherst-Pelham regional school district is considered one of the top public school districts in Western Massachusetts.