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This website provides information about our town government and services. The menu above should lead you to any information you might need. Hawley is more than its government, however.
The town was settled in 1771. It was incorporated in February 1792 and named after Revolutionary War patriot Joseph Hawley of Northampton.
Our rocky, hilly town is on the eastern slopes of the Berkshires and the western border of the Pioneer Valley. Hawley was settled by younger sons of prosperous families to the south and east. Many early settlers migrated from Cape Cod.
When asked where they lived, Hawleyites would traditionally joke that they resided “on the edge of Hawley.” The saying derived from the fact that there is no center of town. There was a town common in East Hawley between 1792 and 1848. After that, the buildings on and around it—a meetinghouse, taverns, a post office, a smithy—moved elsewhere or were abandoned. It is now a collection of cellar holes, although it has been revived in recent years as a historic site with interpretive signs.
Even before the demise of the common, Hawley’s remote location and steep topography prohibited many from venturing there often. By the 1880s the old town common was known as Poverty Square, an apt name for all of Hawley. Farmers found the soil rocky, and the town’s hills shaded many residents from sunshine.Read On
Hawley’s population peaked in 1820 at 1089. In that year, the Erie Canal extended to Utica. Hawley’s subsistence farming, much of it on rocky hillsides, and its small-scale manufacturing gave way to a more regional and national model, and Hawleyites began a mass exodus. In 1940, the town had only 257 residents.
In many ways, our history is one of abandonment.
And yet … Hawley’s story is also one of community. At the town’s first Thanksgiving in 1772, all 22 residents gathered to feast on chicken pie, apple pie, pudding, and mince pie made with bear meat—and to acknowledge their blessings.
Over the years, Hawleyites banded together to sew bandages for soldiers in wartime. Men, women, and teenagers did their bit in World War II by taking shifts at an airplane observation tower. Hawleyites also fought for their country. Some of them died for it.
In the 1980s, townspeople and residents of neighboring towns banded together to battle the U.S. Air Force’s plan to erect giant transmission towers in Hawley potato fields. Community members saw the proposed towers as a blight on our landscape and rural character. They used their brains, their hearts, and all their political clout. The Air Force canceled the project.
Today, the town has about 320 residents. Hawley’s volunteer emergency-services team works to fight fires and help Hawleyites who fall ill. Others volunteer their time on committees to keep the town’s government functioning.
The Sons & Daughters of Hawley, our historical society, document the town’s history. They also contribute to Hawley’s present and future community vitality with annual events. These include the summertime reunion known as Hawley Day, a fall harvest supper, and a magical illumination party at the Hawley Meeting House in December.
Hawleyites are a varied group. Some farm. Some commute. Some spend only weekends here. Increasing numbers work remotely from home. Our diversity is our strength.
Composer Alice Parker summed up the town’s character in “The Hawley Song,” written for Hawley’s bicentennial in 1992. The first few verses enumerate town landmarks and recall the one-room schools that formerly dotted the landscape. The last verse and its chorus celebrate the spirit of inclusion that has endured since that first Thanksgiving in 1772.
There are old folks and little ones,
First farmers and newcomers.
Summer, winter, and all year round:
Living, dying, giving birth.
And we’re all Hawley, home in the hills.
We’re all Hawley.
East and west, we love it best,
Our home in the hills of Hawley.
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