New Salem lies at the southeastern corner of Franklin Valley, with its lands extending southward between Hampshire County and Worcester County. The town is bordered by Orange to the north, Athol to the northeast, Petersham to the east, Ware to the south, Belchertown to the southeast, and Pelham, Shutesbury and Wendell to the west. Because of the Quabbin Reservoir, there is no land link between New Salem and Pelham, Belchertown or Ware. The town has a total area of 58.6 square miles and has a population of approximately 990.
Swift River Valley Historical Society, located in the Whitaker-Clary House and North Prescott Church on Elm Street. Photographs and memorabilia offer a look at the history of the four towns that were flooded to create the Quabbin Reservoir, as well as portions of New Salem that were lost. Displays include a fire truck, circa 1920, from the town of Dana and the New Salem guide post from the 1850's. The buildings housing the exhibits are historical structures. Open June through September, Wednesday and Sunday, 1:30 to 4:30 pm; or by appointment, call (978) 544-6882.
The Bear's Den, off Neilson Road, south of Lake Mattawa, a 100-foot deep gorge carved by the middle branch of the Swift River cascading off granite cliffs. Bear's Den is said to have been a meeting place for Indian tribes. Look for a sign reading "Trustees of Reservations."
Quabbin Reservoir, along Route 202, consists of 39 square miles of reservoir on 81,000 acres of reservation land. The Quabbin is a protected drinking water supply for nearly half the people of Massachusetts. Access is subject to many rules and regulations which are strictly enforced by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. Call (413) 323-7221 for further information.
New Salem Old Home Days, is an annual summer festival that features crafts, games, food and music. Held on the fourth Saturday in July. It is held in the center of town.
New Salem's history began on December 31, 1734, when the General Court granted a township six miles square to 60 residents of Salem, who then set about recruiting settlers. The first settler is believed to be Jeremiah Meacham, who paid 10 pounds for a lot and came to the area in 1737. The names of other early settlers included Trask, Southwick, Felton, Goodale, Wier, Cary, Childs, Kellogg, Powers and Rugg.
The town was governed by Salem until being incorporated on June 15, 1753. Up until that time, the settlers relied on farming for subsistence. Industries that eventually developed were sawmills, gristmills and tanneries. The town also became well known for the production of palm leaf hats and butter, and for supplying ferns and laurel to florists throughout North America.
The town was on the route taken by Captain Daniel Shays and his men in 1787 during Shays Rebellion. Route 202, which runs the length of New Salem, is named Daniel Shays Highway. Some 10 years before Shays' march, the town was part of the route traveled by 1,000 Hessian captives who were being taken from Saratoga, N. Y. to the Boston area. A road named Hessian Lane and a stone marker commemorate the occasion.
New Salem Academy, which served as both a private preparatory school and the town's high school, was established in 1795 and for many years was the center of educational and cultural life. The school remained in existence until 1968.
The town was impacted greatly by the building of the Quabbin Reservoir during the 1930's. Much of the town is off-limits wilderness controlled by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, which oversees the Quabbin. Three streets leading from the town common, which used to connect to towns now at the bottom of the reservior, dead-end at Quabbin gates.