New Salem, Massachusetts

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New Salem is a town in Franklin County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 929 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area.



New Salem was first settled in 1737 and was officially incorporated in 1775, named for the settlers from Salem that founded the town. New Salem benefited greatly by the building of the Quabbin Reservoir - though mostly geographically. Prior to its building, New Salem, which has always been the southeast corner of Franklin County, did not extend much further south than the village of Cooleyville, now along U.S. Route 202. However, with the forming of the reservoir, the town received all lands above the water line between the two forks of the reservoir, as it was the only land connection to the peninsula. With its southern borders now following former branches of the Swift River, New Salem now includes most of the former town of Prescott (except for a small corner east of the Middle Branch of the Swift River, which is now in Petersham), and parts of Greenwich and Enfield. (It is worth noting that all of the northern half of Prescott had once belonged to New Salem; the southern half was originally part of Pelham, but was annexed to Prescott in the latter nineteenth century.) All the lands gained by the annexation were once part of Hampshire County.

Today most of the lands it gained are off-limits, protected as part of the Quabbin Reservation, which is administered by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR). The Five College Radio Astronomy Observatory lies along what was once the Prescott-Greenwich town line, and researchers from the Five Colleges are allowed access to it. Additionally, members of the Swift River Historical Society take a yearly tour of the area in the peninsula by bus. No other access is permitted. Joshua Mason Macomber, MA, MD,. a famous early New England educator, was born in New Salem.

Geography and Transportation

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 58.8 square miles (152.2 km²), of which, 45.0 square miles (116.5 km²) of it is land and 13.8 square miles (35.7 km²) of it (23.44%) is water. Thanks to the lands of the Prescott Peninsula, New Salem is the largest town by area in Franklin County and the largest community by area in Western Massachusetts (defining Western Massachusetts as Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties). It is the twenty-first largest out of 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth. New Salem's modern southern town lines are dictated by the former West & Middle Branches of the Swift River, which are now submerged as part of the Quabbin Reservoir. The land of the two forks of the reservoir is now known as the Prescott Peninsula, containing the highest points in town, at Mount Pleasant and Prescott Hill (the latter of which, ironically, was not a part of Prescott, but Pelham). The town owns several islands in the reservoir as well, including those around Russ Mountain and Mount L. Much of the original town land was high ground, sloping down eastward towards the marshes near Lake Rohunta, along the Athol town line. A small section of state forest is located near this lake, with other small sections scattered in the western part of the former town.

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