Williamstown, Our Heritage
Throughout its history, Williamstown has been valued by its residents as both a gift of nature and a desirable place for building a residential community. Prior to its founding as a settlement, its position along the Mohawk Trail made it ideal as a Mohican hunting grounds. Its first settlers, in 1749, wanted to maintain the town, at first called West Hoosac, as a protective buffer against Dutch encroachment from New York state. Later, in 1756, to protect themselves and their town from attacks during the French and Indian War, the settlers built Fort West Hoosac on the highest hill in town (on the present site of the Williams Inn). After Colonel Ephraim Williams incorporated the town in 1765, he asserted two conditions under which the residents would inherit a large sum from him--that the town be named after him and that a free school be established, which became Williams College in 1793.
So Williamstown, from its beginnings, has been a dual treasure of natural open space and farm land, and a place where people want to live and build their homes and educate their children. This is a double heritage that the community wants to preserve. The town has the natural protection and restorative qualities of its close ring of blue and green mountains that extend along the western border of the state and meet the Green Mountains of Vermont to the north and the hills and farms of eastern New York to the west. These mountains overlook valleys that produced dairy farms, sheep herding and wool. Two rivers and five brooks run through the town, providing water power in the 19th and early 20th centuries for a growing industry of sawmills, gristmills, twine and textiles. In the 20th century, this impulse to maintain prime farm land was extended to the establishment of Mount Hope Farm, one of the outstanding experimental farms in the country.
The people of Williamstown today have a different face from the early settlers, and are making demands on the town land and community that were unknown to those 18th century residents. In 1850, according to US census records, the population was 2,626. The 2010 US census shows a total population of 7,754, reduced somewhat from over 8,000 in the 2000 census. The town is governed by the Open Town Meeting system and an elected Board of Selectmen who hire a Town Manager. The 2000 census reported a population spread across age groups and household types: the total of 2,753 households ranged from 24.7% with children under the age of 18 living with them, to 51.3% married couples living together, to 15.7% living alone who were 65 years of age or older. The median income for a household was $51,875, with about 1.7% of families and 5.5% of the population below the poverty line, including 1.3% of those under age 18 and 6.8% of those age 65 or over.
Despite these demographic differences between then and now, the main issue challenging Williamstown is one that the town has always faced--how to balance its dual assets, how to balance the need to preserve open space and farm land for providing local crops and restorative ties to natural beauty, with the need to continue developing the town as a residential place that serves the range of its population, a need presently identified as building "affordable housing." It is the preserving of this balance that our website will be addressing.
Main Street 2013
Main Street 1907