Following an 1851 performance at the Old Church, the famous 19th century singer and actress Jenny Lind – the Swedish Nightingale – referred to Northampton as the “Paradise of America.” She was unaware that at that moment, she had provided the city with an epithet that endures to this day: Paradise City.
Of course, Ms. Lind was merely making an observation that had been made many times before – and since. Northampton was first settled in 1654, and travelers and residents alike have always admired Northampton’s particular “half-rural” balance: a vibrant urban center encircled by mountains and the meandering Connecticut River, all contained within the picturesque Pioneer Valley.
But Northampton has never been content with distinction in geographical beauty alone.
The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards first delivered his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” from his church in Northampton, and is renowned for his role in the First Great Awakening and for his prominence as a philosopher and theologian.
Sojourner Truth – the pioneering women’s rights activist and abolitionist – arrived in Northampton in 1843 and joined a utopian community in the area of the city known as Florence. She later recalled her time there as marked by "equality of feeling," "liberty of thought and speech," and "largeness of soul." Fellow members of the community included abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Wendell Phillips.
The 1894 Forbes Library – with its distinct Romanesque Revival architecture – is host to large and extensive collections including an art gallery, local history resources, and the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library and Museum. The massive building – with its stone, slate, and copper exterior – was designed by architect William Brocklesby and bequeathed by local Judge Charles E. Forbes. The library is on the Register of Historic Places.
The prestigious institution of higher learning for women – Smith College – was founded in 1871 by Sophia Smith and prides itself on maintaining a “dynamic relationship between innovation and tradition.” The college is home to the Smith College Museum of Art, which boasts an internationally known collection of French impressionist paintings and many other collections and exhibits. The college, its activities, students, and staff contribute significantly to the city’s downtown vibrancy.
Local philanthropist Edward H. R. Lyman envisioned a grand venue for culture and theater in Northampton, and realized his goal upon the completion of the 800-seat Academy of Music Theatre in 1891. The theater – an example of Renaissance Revival style – hosted legendary French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt, film star Mae West, and illusionist Harry Houdini in the early 20th century. Today, it serves as a venue for live theater, dance, film, music and arts education as well as the home of the Pioneer Valley Ballet.
Named for the Norwottuck tribe, which translates to "in the midst of the river," the Norwottuck Rail Trail is an 11-mile path across Northampton, Hadley, and Amherst. The path's level terrain provides safe passage for various activities along a picturesque route.