First-ever Dwight Day in Belchertown will bring forgotten part of town to life on Saturday

Belchertown  04-10-2023

Belchertown 04-10-2023

By EMILEE KLEIN

Staff Writer

Published: 06-14-2024 7:01 AM

BELCHERTOWN — The first-ever Dwight Day on Saturday will celebrate the historic village in northern Belchertown with several history talks, a historical reenactment, and a cemetery tour intended to revive the glory and legacy of those who lived in the area during the 19th century.

The event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Dwight Chapel at 885 Federal St., will highlight the legacy and claim to fame of the 19th century railroad destination. In addition to the historical activities, Dwight Day offers food trucks, children’s activities, antique autos and live musical performances from Jaques “Pop” Hooten and the Ne’er-Do-Wells. Several artists from Dwight will show a variety of works, and Hilary Woodcock of Woodcock Farms will demonstrate spinning wool into yarn.

Dwight was a 10-square-mile village along the Boston & Maine Railroad that attracted visitors to the world-renowned flower garden Pansy Park, once home to the second largest water lily in the world. Named after a prominent family and first railroad agent Harrison Dwight, the area is now known for its hiking and biking trails, scenic views, waterfalls and swimming ponds.

“Being a writer, researcher, student of sorts and teacher, I looked into this place and I’ve been fascinated with the fact that it used to be this bustling village with two railroad depots, a church [and] schools,” event co-organizer Michael Carolan said. “[I] found it was a neglected part of Belchertown history.”

Carolan had originally come up with the idea for Dwight Day when he moved to Belchertown, but it didn’t come to fruition until he teamed up with Stone House Museum Archivist Cliff McCarthy. The two received a grant from the Belchertown Cultural Council to put the day together and contacted Christ Community Church, once known as the Dwight Chapel, to host the event.

“The Dwight family was a notable family, just so happened that the oldest surviving son of the family didn’t like the church in Belchertown so he came up and built a cabin in Dwight,” Carolan said. “There’s was a bit of a rebellious spirit in this place.”

A majority of the village’s history is documented in the hundreds of detailed letters Ira Goodell sent to his parents and nine siblings after he moved to Greenwich Village in the mid-1800s. The letters are less about Goodell himself and more about the family’s neighbors and friends. Artist Elizabeth Pols originally sought out the letters in Jones Library to find information on Goodell’s artistic thinking, only to become enthralled in the gossip and personal stories of the family and townsfolk.

Pols said Goodell gave “a very thorough history of all the families in the area. He knew where they all immigrated from, where their children were.”

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Goodall wrote to his nephew Lafayette Washington Goodell, horticulturalist of the famed Pansy Park, with such accuracy that she’s been able to use the letters from the 1870s and maps from the 1860s to sort out property issues. She will be reading excerpts of the letters on Dwight Day.

While Pansy Park can no longer be seen today, Carolan will present slides of the experimental flower garden’s former glory. Lafayette sent his seeds all over the world for research, and participated in his own cross-breeding and growth experiments.

In addition to highlighting two prominent families in Dwight, the event will shine light on two famed figures whose history intertwines with the village.

Living History reenactor Dennis Picard will perform a speech by abolitionist minister Henry Ward Beecher, who is believed to have given his first sermon at a schoolhouse in Dwight.

Famed author, historian and advice columnist Josiah Gilber Holland was born in Dwight. As the author of the one of the first biographies on Abraham Lincoln and a documentation of the history of western Massachusetts, Holland sold more books in his lifetime than Mark Twain.

“He was like this intimate friend in the newspaper columns and books that people turned too,” Carolan said.

Besides celebrating part of Belchertown’s history, the event gives neighbors a place to gather and a name to connect over.

“It gives us something to gather around and talk about and everybody is interested in history to some degree,” Carolan said.

“This was a way to sort of bring joy of research and writing about history to the larger audience.”

Emilee Klein can be reached at eklein@gazettenet.com.