Southwick is a town in Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States. The population was 9,502 at the 2010 census, up from 8,835 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Springfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area.
Southwick was originally inhabited by either the Matitacooke, Mayawaug or Woronoake Native American tribes.
In the mid-17th century, pioneering English explorers moving up the Connecticut River Valley, seeking fertile farmlands and game, discovered the area and settled Southwick. It became a farming community, defined as the Southern (South-) village (-wick) part of the town of Westfield, Massachusetts. Early on, it was nicknamed “Poverty Plains” because the land was thought to be infertile. Its first residential home was built by Samuel Fowler and his wife Naomi Noble on what is now College Highway (US 202 and MA 10), about a quarter-mile north of the current town center.
In colonial times, church attendance was mandatory. The 800 Christian residents of Southwick in the 1760–70s were required to travel to Westfield to congregate. Only by establishing their own church community could they establish their own parish, as they desired. On November 7, 1770, Southwick was incorporated as a separate district of Westfield. The area of Southwick became somewhat smaller in 1770. The southernmost portion of Southwick joined Suffield, Connecticut, as the result of a simultaneous secession of citizens in that part of the village.
Ultimately, Southwick became a fully independent town in 1770. The town remained divided until 1793, when Massachusetts claimed the area (known as the “jog”). A border dispute continued until 1804, when the current boundary was established through a compromise between Connecticut and Massachusetts. As a result of this border resolution, Southwick is the southernmost town in western Massachusetts.
In the early 19th century, the Farmington Canal and Hampshire and Hampden Canal were built to link New Haven, Connecticut, to Northampton, Massachusetts, through Southwick. Irish immigrants came to the area to labor on this project. Developers spoke of Southwick’s potential, calling it the “Port of the World”. Farmers worried that the canal would drain the area’s lakes. It was reported that citizens would kick in the banks to damage the canal. Traces of the canal can still be found in the Great Brook and Congamond Lakes area. Due to winter freezings, summer drought and wildlife impact (beaver dams, etc.), the canal was phased out in favor of the railroad.
Completed in the late 1840s, the New Haven and Northampton Company’s railroad was built alongside the canal (more or less) as a revolutionary mode of travel to and through Southwick. With the railroad came the ice industry and the tourist resorts around the Congamond Lakes (which were named Wenekeiamaug by the previous Native peoples). Several ornate hotels and dance halls were built, as well as a small amusement park. During the Industrial Era, summer vacationers and daytrippers would escape the hot and dirty cities connected by the Northeast Railroad Corridor from New York City, Albany, Boston, Worcester, Hartford and especially Springfield. There was a special stop near the lakes where visitors would disembark to swim and/or pile into canopied pleasure boats.
During the First and Second World Wars, trains loaded with soldiers would pass through town. It has been noted that local girls would gather letters thrown by the soldiers from the train – and forward them to the intended recipients at the post office. The last train to pass along these tracks was around 1976. As of 2008, the old railway is in the process of being converted into a rail trail leading to Granby, Connecticut.
All of Southwick’s grand hotels and ornate train stations have since been torn down. Babb’s Roller Skating Rink (on the Suffield side of Congamond Lakes) is all that remains of the amusement park.
Southwick has three schools that serve the towns of Southwick, Granville and Tolland, all headed by Superintendent Jennifer C. Willard, Ed.D. The Woodland Elementary School serves Pre-Kindergarten through second-grade students. The Powder Mill School serves third through sixth graders. The Southwick Regional School serves seventh through twelfth graders. A vote in May 2012 in Southwick approved a $62M school renovation and construction project that was completed in 2015.
The Granville Village School was shut down in 2017, only a few years after Granville was admitted to the district. The school board with almost unanimous support voted to shut down the Granville Village School. This move was met with huge opposition from students and parents, who protested the action. The protesters were, however, unsuccessful.
As of the census of 2000, there were 8,835 people, 3,318 households, and 2,418 families residing in the town. The population density was 285.4 people per square mile (110.2/km2). There were 3,533 housing units at an average density of 114.1 per square mile (44.1/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 97.41% White, 0.51% African American, 0.20% Native American, 0.37% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.34% from other races, and 1.15% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.72% of the population.
There were 3,318 households, out of which 36.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 60.0% were married couples living together, 8.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 27.1% were non-families. 21.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.66 and the average family size was 3.13.
In the town, the population was spread out, with 26.5% under the age of 18, 6.3% from 18 to 24, 32.2% from 25 to 44, 23.2% from 45 to 64, and 11.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 100.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.2 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $52,296, and the median income for a family was $64,456. Males had a median income of $41,863 versus $30,889 for females. The per capita income for the town was $21,756. About 3.8% of families and 6.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.3% of those under age 18 and 9.8% of those age 65 or over.