Amherst, Massachusetts

From Academic Kids

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Location of Amherst in Massachusetts

Amherst is a town located in Hampshire County, Massachusetts. As of the 2000 census, the town had a total population of 34,874. It is located in the Connecticut River valley. It is home to Amherst College, Hampshire College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, three of the Five Colleges. The name of the town is properly pronounced without the h: "Ammerst".

For geographic and demographic information on specific parts of the town of Amherst, please see the articles on Amherst Center, North Amherst, and South Amherst.



According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 71.9 km² (27.8 mi²). 71.8 km² (27.7 mi²) of it is land and 0.1 km² (0.04 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 0.14% water.

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Downtown Amherst. Shops along the west side of South Pleasant Street, February 2005.


As of the census2 of 2000, there are 34,874 people, 9,174 households, and 4,550 families residing in the town. The population density is 485.7/km² (1,258.2/mi²). There are 9,427 housing units at an average density of 131.3/km² (340.1/mi²). The racial makeup of the town is 79.33% 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 are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

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

In the town the population is 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 are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 22 years. For every 100 females there are 92.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 90.8 males.

The median income for a household in the town is $40,017, and the median income for a family is $61,237. Males have a median income of $44,795 versus $32,672 for females. The per capita income for the town is $17,427. 20.2% of the population and 7.2% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 9.3% of those under the age of 18 and 3.5% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.

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 are seriously affected by the large student population, and would look very different if they included only full-time residents of the town.


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 Chickwolopp. 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). When Amherst celebrates its 350th anniversary in 2008, as the nearby City of Northampton has recently done, they will implicitly be celebrating this initial purchase.

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 1776, shortly before the colonies declared their independence.

Upon its incorporation, the colonial governor assigned to them the name Amherst after Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst. Amherst was a hero of the French and Indian War who, according to popular legend, singlehandedly won Canada for the English and banished France from North America. Many colonial governors at the time were scattering his name amidst the influx of new town applications, which is why several towns in the Northeast bear the name. Jeffery Amherst was also famous for considering, in a letter to a peer, the use of smallpox-covered blankets in warfare against the Native Americans.

Amherst was the birthplace and lifelong residence of Emily Dickinson. The house of her birth has since become a Mobil gas station; the house she spent her life in, the Dickinson Homestead, is now a museum [1] (; she is buried in a cemetery located between the two. Amherst was also home to the poets Robert Frost and Robert Francis.

On October 29, 1901 nurse Jane Toppan was arrested in Amherst for the murder of the Davis family of Boston by an overdose of morphine.


Amherst is relatively unique among towns of its size in not having moved to a mayor-council or council-manager form of government. Instead, it has maintained the traditional town meeting (legislative) and select board (executive), though with the important modification, allowed through a special state law, whereby Town Meeting is made up of elected representatives of each precinct in the town.

Perhaps because it has often clashed with town officials and business interests (particularly over land use issues), 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 a mere fourteen votes, and defeated again on March 29, 2005 by 252 votes. Since it has now been defeated twice, it may not appear on the ballot in the same form in the near future.

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, funded by local governments and the Five Colleges, provides public transportation in the area.

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