Springfield and Chester were involved in a great experiment 178 years ago: building a railroad over a mountain and through the woods.
Today, representatives of organizations in the two municipalities are collaborating to find ways to be involved and to share museum exhibits or speakers, to offer intellectual enrichment in both communities and to explore culture and history with a regional perspective.
They find a connection through the railroad that went 150 miles from Worcester to East Greenbush, New York, making it the longest railroad in the world at the time. Over the Berkshires at 1,459 feet, it was also the highest railroad, and it crossed the Connecticut River at 1,258 feet making that bridge the longest in the world. In Chester, the mountains were entered with a series of stone arch bridges, which became the first cluster of stone railroad bridges in America.
"It is the shared view of the participants that participating organizations can engage more people by bringing respective resources of their organizations to audiences and other venues within this historic and beautiful Gateway Hilltown rural area in the foothills of the Berkshires where Chester is historically referred to as 'The Gem of the Valley,' within a one-hour drive of Springfield," commented one of the meeting organizers, Richard B. Holzman, senior advisor for external affairs for the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and Springfield and member of Chester's municipal Planning Board, who is involved in various area organizations.
"My hope is that the positive business and infrastructure development in the area, connected to existing cultural and educational institutions including schools, higher education initiatives like the UMass Center will highlight the extraordinary opportunities for quality of life and economic success," he said. "In my view, the more we can orchestrate and integrate business, cultural, artistic, recreational and residential planning, the greater the opportunity to benefit from the positive energy that is now present."
David L. Pierce is president of the Chester Foundation, which oversees the Chester Railway Station museum and Friends of the Keystone Arches. "Our museum celebrates this accomplishment, but we are sadly aware that the narrative and the import of what occurred here are largely unknown," he said.
He hopes that sharing this research and artifacts with the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History - where Duryea automobiles and Indian motorcycles are celebrated along with other innovations to rise out of the area - "could only add to their visitors' enjoyment and appreciation of the ingenuity displayed in this great state."
The chief engineer of the project, Maj. George Washington Whistler,, who was the father of the famed painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, was provided a mansion by railroad management during construction, which sat on the site of the museum.
Pierce hopes that interest generated in the railroad at the museum could bring visitors to Chester and that speakers and artifacts could be shared.
"The feeling is that other ideas will develop out of this beginning," he said.
Organizations represented at an August initial collaboration include the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, the Springfield Museums, the Chester Historical Commission, the Hilltown Collaborative, Chester Foundation, Friends of the Keystone Arches, Lightfield Foundation and the Gateway Hilltowns Collaborative.
Source : http://www.masslive.com/living/index.ssf/2017/09/springfield_chester_groups_working_together_to_explore_culture_history.html