Puneet Varma (Editor)

Amherst, Massachusetts

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
Country  United States
County  Hampshire
Incorporated  1759
Area  72 km²
State  Massachusetts
Settled  1703
Elevation  295 ft (90 m)
Local time  Tuesday 2:11 PM
Amherst, Massachusetts httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu
Weather  15°C, Wind S at 13 km/h, 35% Humidity
Colleges and Universities  University of Massach, Amherst College, University of Massach, Hampshire College

Amherst (/ˈæmərst/) is a town in Hampshire County, Massachusetts, United States in the Connecticut River valley. As of the 2010 census, the population was 37,819, making it the largest community in Hampshire County (although the county seat is Northampton). The town is home to Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, three of the Five Colleges. The name of the town is pronounced without the h ("AM-erst"), giving rise to the local saying, "only the 'h' is silent", in reference both to the pronunciation and to the town's politically active populace.


Map of Amherst, MA, USA

The communities of Amherst Center, North Amherst, and South Amherst are census-designated places.

Amherst is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. Lying 18 miles (28.9 km) northeast of the city of Springfield, Amherst is considered the northernmost town in the Hartford-Springfield Knowledge Corridor Metropolitan Region.


The earliest known document of the lands now comprising Amherst is the deed of purchase dated December 1658 between John Pynchon of Springfield and three native inhabitants, referred to as Umpanchla, Quonquont, and Chickwalopp. According to the deed, "ye Indians of Nolwotogg (Norwottuck) upon ye River of Quinecticott (Connecticut)" sold the entire area in exchange for "two Hundred fatham of Wampam & Twenty fatham, and one large Coate at Eight fatham wch Chickwollop set of, of trusts, besides severall small giftes" [sic]. Amherst celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2009. The Amherst 250th Anniversary Celebration Committee was established to oversee the creation and implementation of townwide activities throughout 2009. The Amherst Historical Society also organized events, including a book published by them and written by Elizabeth M. Sharpe, Amherst A to Z.

When the first permanent English settlements arrived in 1727, this land and the surrounding area (including present-day South Hadley and Granby) belonged to the town of Hadley. It gained precinct status in 1734 and eventually township in 1759.

When it incorporated, the colonial governor assigned the town the name Amherst after Jeffery Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst. Many colonial governors at the time scattered his name amidst the influx of new town applications, which is why several towns in the Northeast bear the name. Amherst was a hero of the French and Indian War who, according to popular legend, singlehandedly won Canada for the British and banished France from North America. Popular belief has it that he supported the American side in the Revolutionary war and resigned his commission rather than fight for the British. Baron Amherst actually remained in the service of the Crown during the war—albeit in Great Britain rather than North America—where he organized the defense against the proposed Franco-Spanish Armada of 1779. Nonetheless, his previous service in the French and Indian War meant he remained popular in New England. Amherst is also infamous for recommending, in a letter to a subordinate, the use of smallpox-covered blankets in warfare against the Native Americans along with any "other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race". For this reason, there have been occasional ad hoc movements to rename the town. Suggested new names have included "Emily", after Emily Dickinson.

Geography and climate

According to the United States Census Bureau, Amherst has a total area of 27.8 square miles (72.0 km2), of which 27.7 square miles (71.7 km2) is land and 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2) (0.14%) is water. The town is bordered by Hadley to the west, Sunderland and Leverett to the north, Shutesbury, Pelham, and Belchertown to the east, and Granby and South Hadley to the south. The highest point in the town is on the northern shoulder of Mount Norwottuck; the peak is in Granby but the town's high point is a few yards away and is about 1100 feet. The town is nearly equidistant from both the northern and southern state lines. For interactive mapping provided by the Town of Amherst, see External Links on this page.

Amherst's ZIP code of 01002 is the second-lowest number in the continental United States after Agawam (not counting codes used for specific government buildings such as the IRS).

Amherst has a humid continental climate that under the Köppen system marginally falls into the warm-summer category (dfb). It is interchangeable with the hot-summer subtype dfa with July means hovering around 71.4 °F (21.9 °C). Winters are cold and snowy, albeit daytime temperatures often remain above freezing.


As of the 2008 U.S. Census, there were 35,564 people, 9,174 households, and 4,550 families residing in the town. The population density was 1,283.4 people per square mile (485.7/km²). There were 9,427 housing units at an average density of 340.1 per square mile (131.3/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 76.7% White, 5.10% Black or African American, 0.21% Native American, 9.02% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 2.89% from other races, and 3.35% from two or more races. 6.19% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 9,174 households out of which 27.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.4% were married couples living together, 10.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.4% were non-families. Of all households 28.6% were made up of individuals and 8.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the town, the population was spread out with 12.8% under the age of 18, 50.0% from 18 to 24, 17.2% from 25 to 44, 13.4% from 45 to 64, and 6.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 22 years. For every 100 females there were 91.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.8 males.

The median income for a household in the town was $40,017, and the median income for a family was $61,237. Males had a median income of $44,795 versus $32,672 for females. The per capita income for the town was $17,427. About 7.2% of families and 20.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.3% of those under age 18 and 3.5% of those age 65 or over. The reason for the large population living below the poverty line is the large number of students that live in Amherst.

According to the 2010 5-year American Community Survey estimates, occupied housing units had a median household income of $50,063, which includes both renter and owner-occupied units. More specifically, owner-occupied units had a median income of $100,208, while renter-occupied housing units had a median income of $23,925. Large disparities in income between the two groups could explain the high poverty rate and lower median income, as students are the primary tenants of renter-occupied units within Amherst.

Of residents 25 years old or older, 41.7% have a graduate or professional degree, and only 4.9% did not graduate from high school. The largest industry is education, health, and social services, in which 51.9% of employed persons work.

These statistics given above include some but not all of the large student population, roughly 30,000 in 2010, many of whom only reside in the town part of the year. Amherst is home to thousands of part-time and full-time residents associated with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, and Hampshire College and many of those students are involved with the liberal politics of the town.


Data is from the 2009–2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.


Amherst is among relatively few towns of its size in Massachusetts without a mayor-council or council-manager form of government. Instead, it has maintained its traditional system, with a representative town meeting for the legislative branch and a select board for the executive. The Select Board hires a town manager for daily administrative issues.

By a special state law, Amherst's town meeting is modified from the traditional, by designating ten precincts, each with 24 elected representatives. With an additional 14 ex officio members (the 5 Select Board members; the 5 School Committee members; President of the Library Trustees; Chair of the Finance Committee; Town Manager; and a Moderator), the total membership of Town Meeting is 254.

In recent years, some have sought to abolish the 254-member Town Meeting with a new charter that would create a directly elected mayor and a nine-member Town Council. The charter was rejected by voters in spring 2003 by fourteen votes and defeated again on March 29, 2005, by 252 votes.

State and federal representation

In the Massachusetts General Court, Amherst is in the "Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester" Senatorial District, represented by State Senator Stanley Rosenberg, a Democrat. Representative Ellen Story, also a Democrat, represents Amherst for the 3rd Hampshire District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

Amherst is represented at the federal level by an all-Democratic delegation, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and by Representative Jim McGovern of the Second Congressional District of Massachusetts.


The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, funded by local governments and the Five College Consortium, provides public transportation in the area, operated by University of Massachusetts Transportation Services. Service runs well into the early morning hours on weekends when school is in session. Students attending any colleges in the Five Colleges Consortium have a fee included in their tuition bills (service fee for UMass Amherst students and student activity fees for the other colleges) for each semester that prepays their bus fares for the semester. UMass Transit buses operate via a proof-of-payment system, in which there are random checks of student identification cards and bus passes and transfers.

Peter Pan Bus Lines provides service between Amherst and Springfield, Boston, and other locations in New England. Megabus provides service between New York City, Amherst, and Burlington, Vermont.

Amtrak rail service is available in nearby Northampton on the Vermonter service between Washington D.C. and St. Albans, Vermont. More frequent Amtrak service to New York City and Washington, D.C. is available from Union Station in Springfield.

The closest major domestic and limited international air service is available through Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Bradley is located approximately one hour's driving time from Amherst. Major international service is available through Logan International Airport (BOS) in Boston, 90 miles away.

General aviation service is close by, at Northampton Airport, Westover Metropolitan Airport, and Turners Falls Airport.


Major employers in Amherst include University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, William D. Mullins Memorial Center, Hampshire College, and Amherst-Pelham Regional School District.


  • Games were played in town during the 1996 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships.
  • Sister cities

  • Nyeri, Kenya
  • La Paz Centro, Nicaragua
  • Kanegasaki, Japan
  • Historical

  • Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) born and lived in Amherst, one of the most prominent and celebrated American poets.
  • Robert Frost (1874–1963) Pulitzer prize-winning poet who taught at Amherst College and retired there.
  • Noah Webster (1758–1843) Author of An American Dictionary of the English Language
  • Edward Hitchcock (1793–1864) educator, early geologist and a founder of the science of ichnology
  • Osmyn Baker (1800–1875) born in Amherst, United States Congressman and lawyer
  • Mason Cook Darling (1801–1866) born in Amherst, United States Congressman from Wisconsin and first mayor of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
  • Edward Dickinson, (1803–1874), born in Amherst, lawyer, United States Congressman, and father of Emily Dickinson.
  • William S. Clark (1825–1886) Academician, politician, businessman; principal founder of the Massachusetts Agricultural College (now the University of Massachusetts Amherst), founder of the Sapporo Agricultural College (now the Hokkaido University).
  • Helen Hunt Jackson (1830–1885) born in Amherst, noted author best known for A Century of Dishonor and her novel Ramona.
  • Eugene Field (1850–1895) raised in Amherst by cousin, Mary Field French; poet and humorist who wrote children's poem Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
  • Arthur Lithgow (1915–2004) lived and died in Amherst, noted actor, producer and director of Shakespeare plays, founder of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival in Ohio (today known as the Great Lakes Theatre Festival), former director of the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, father of actor John Lithgow.
  • Harlan Fiske Stone (1872–1946), attended public schools in Amherst and Amherst College; dean of the Columbia Law School, 52nd Attorney General of the United States, and Chief Justice of the United States
  • Howard Roger Garis (1873–1962), children's author who wrote the Uncle Wiggily book series
  • Lilian Garis (1873–1954), author of juvenile fiction who under the pseudonym Laura Lee Hope wrote early volumes in the Bobbsey Twins series
  • Robert Francis (1901–1987), poet
  • Melvil Dewey (1851–1931), devised the Dewey Decimal System while an assistant librarian at Amherst College in 1876
  • Chinua Achebe (1930–2013), was a professor at the University of Massachusetts from 1972 to 1976
  • Paul Nitze (January 16, 1907 – October 19, 2004), born in Amherst, diplomat who helped shape defense policy over numerous presidential administrations.
  • Ebenezer Mattoon (1755–1843), born in North Amherst, Lieutenant in Continental Army during American Revolution, US Congressman (1801–1803).
  • Born or raised in Amherst

  • Annie Baker, playwright
  • Emily Dickinson, poet
  • P. D. Eastman, children's author, illustrator, and screenwriter
  • Michael Hixon, U.S. Olympic Athlete Rio 2016, men’s individual 3 meter springboard; 3 meter springboard synchro
  • James D. Hornfischer, military historian and author
  • James Ihedigbo, Detroit Lions defensive back
  • Martin Johnson, of rock band Boys like Girls
  • Amory Lovins, scientist and environmentalist
  • J Mascis, singer, guitarist and songwriter for alternative rock band Dinosaur Jr.
  • Eric Mabius, star of ABC show Ugly Betty, attended Amherst schools
  • Julie McNiven, actress with recurring roles on Mad Men and Supernatural
  • Ilan Mitchell-Smith, actor starring in 1985 film Weird Science, attended Amherst public schools
  • Helen Palmer Geisel, children's author and first wife of Dr. Seuss
  • Gil Penchina, Former CEO of Wikia, Inc., attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Steve Porter, music producer
  • Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, attended public schools in Amherst and graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Timothy Tau, writer and filmmaker
  • Uma Thurman, Oscar-nominated actress, whose father, Robert Thurman, taught at Amherst College
  • Martin M. Wattenberg, artist and computer scientist
  • Zoe Weizenbaum, child actress
  • Jamila Wideman, basketball player
  • Elisha Yaffe, comedian, actor, and producer
  • Kevin Ziomek, American professional baseball pitcher in the Detroit Tigers organization
  • Live in Amherst

  • Gavin Andresen, Bitcoin Foundation founder and Bitcoin Core contributor
  • Christian Appy, author of Patriots and Working-Class War, professor at University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Christopher Benfey, author of The Great Wave, professor at Mount Holyoke College
  • Holly Black, author of Tithe, Valiant, Ironside, and co-author of the Spiderwick Chronicles
  • Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors
  • Michelle Chamuel, singer, songwriter, producer
  • Cassandra Clare, author of the famous The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices
  • Tony DiTerlizzi, author of The Spider and the Fly and co-author/illustrator for Spiderwick Chronicles
  • Peter Elbow, compositionist and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Joseph Ellis, historian and author of Founding Brothers
  • Martín Espada, poet, professor at the University of Massachusetts and author of the 2006 The Republic of Poetry, among others
  • Black Francis, singer/guitarist of the alternative rock band the Pixies, attended UMass Amherst
  • Rebecca Guay, artist specializing in watercolor painting and illustration
  • Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth
  • Julius Lester, author and professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Michael Lesy, author of Wisconsin Death Trip, professor at Hampshire College
  • J Mascis of alternative rock group Dinosaur Jr.
  • Charles C. Mann (born 1955), journalist and author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
  • John Olver, politician who served in the US House of Representatives
  • John Elder Robison, author of Look Me in the Eye, also older brother of Augusten Burroughs
  • Joey Santiago, lead guitarist of the alternative rock band the Pixies, attended UMass Amherst
  • Archie Shepp, jazz musician and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Chris Smither, folk/blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter
  • James Tate (born 1943), poet and professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Carl Vigeland, author of In Concert and many other books
  • Roman Yakub, composer
  • Points of interest

  • Amherst Center Cultural District, formed in 2016
  • Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Amherst Cinema Arts Center: a local non-profit theater showing mostly arthouse and independent films
  • Beneski Museum of Natural History, including the Hitchcock Ichnological Cabinet
  • Emily Dickinson Museum, birthplace and lifelong residence of poet Emily Dickinson, now a museum. She is buried nearby in West Cemetery on Triangle Street.
  • Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
  • Mead Art Museum at Amherst College: 18,000 items with a particular strength in American art
  • Theodore Baird Residence, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright
  • W. E. B. Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: the tallest academic library in the United States
  • Yiddish Book Center
  • References

    Amherst, Massachusetts Wikipedia