Easthampton, Massachusetts – Hampshire County

April 22, 2024

Easthampton, Massachusetts

Rich with Beauty and Opportunity


A vibrant, accessible center of community enterprises and high-quality living set against a stunning natural backdrop

In Western Massachusetts, hugging the Connecticut River, the small city of Easthampton lies tucked away – a hidden gem among other bustling cities in the Pioneer Valley. Equally rich in cultural heritage and rustic beauty, this community is on the cusp of sweeping modern changes that will breathe economic life into the area while still preserving the area’s salt-of-the-earth charm.

As a former mill town, Easthampton’s character is on display everywhere you look. When the mills closed down in the mid-20th century, new opportunities were born. A manufacturing hub emerged, while old mill spaces offered blank canvases for blossoming artists who’ve retooled gray parts of this small city into wells of color and culture.

Over the last several years, Easthampton has seen a riveting combination of cultural, artistic, and economic influence embed itself into residents’ lives.

“There’s a lot of excitement in those who live and work in Easthampton,” says Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle.

With Mount Tom, an iconic natural landmark standing tall over Easthampton’s core, a transformation is underway. The city is more interconnected than ever before providing the needed momentum for the year ahead.


A Sustainable Housing Solution

When asked what the top priority is for Easthampton, the mayor quickly answered that “number one is housing.”

“Unfettered access for developers, planners, and residents. Public informed planning, Building it, Moving in.”

Many American cities are dealing with housing shortages as prices escalate and like so many of its counterparts, Easthampton is taking actionable steps toward a solution in 2024. The city is beginning with an ambitious residential project designed to house over 200 people. LaChapelle proudly notes this in-progress development will be a net-zero project offering affordable housing to residents of mixed incomes.

The project  accounts for 52 acres of land, but only 21 acres will be used for housing. The rest of the land will be preserved and put under the control of a land trust. When the project is completed, residents will not only reap the benefits of affordable housing, but they’ll also immerse themselves in what LaChapelle calls a “stunning” conservation area attached to flowing riverbeds.

“What could have easily been 10 McMansions that house less than 100 people is now going to be home to more than 200,” says LaChapelle. “And it’s right on a major road; it’s across the street from our bike path. We’re really excited – this is exactly the project we want to shepard to realization.”

The aesthetic beauty and sustainability elements of this pending project are important, but affordability is the key here. Easthampton is already growing more and more popular for its local artistry and social amenities. A dedication to affordable housing will only make the city more attractive for families, renters and elders struggling to stay in Easthampton and break into the larger surrounding communities, such as Northampton, Springfield, or Holyoke.

In the meantime, Easthampton will continue to prioritize the relationship between environmental sustainability and urban development. Thanks to a seamless partnership between an affordable housing director and a private landowner, there are 96 additional affordable housing units in the works that will connect Easthampton’s two most disenfranchised neighborhoods.

“The building itself will be in part modular, so it can go up much quicker than bricks and sticks,” says LaChapelle.

LaChapelle believes that within the next two years, there needs to be a rush to improve Easthampton’s housing situation, even with the projects already listed. Go, go, go – it’s been her motto from the start.

“We’re sailing onward, but the local economy’s “vessel” will struggle to stay afloat unless we can inject more housing units into our market within the next 18 months,” LaChapelle remarks.

‘A Skip in Our Step’: Easthampton’s Growing Social Outlets

LaChapelle says the town concentrated on redesigning its downtown core with an emphasis on arts, culture, and, you guessed it, housing production. In the center of that downtown area, Easthampton collaborated with a developer to construct 19 apartments, most of which are rented by young people, many of them students at local dance conservatories or aspiring artists between the ages of 18 and 26.

With a youthful new demographic, Easthampton’s downtown energy has radiated to the rest of the community. The Cultural Chaos Festival, which takes place each summer, drew its largest crowd ever in 2023, bringing folks together with live music, dance, poetry, and visual art performances. On top of that, Easthampton’s offering of free concerts in the Mill District inspired over 2,000 people to visit last August and September. Combined, these events have encouraged business expansion and housing production in the downtown district.

“The energy is palpable, not just when those free concerts are happening, but 365 days a year,” beams LaChapelle.

There’s a magnetic attraction to after-hours activity in Easthampton – “a skip in our step,” LaChapelle calls it – and the master plan wouldn’t have succeeded without a commitment to improving the downtown walkability. Curving sidewalks are being built in key areas, and the town has updated its sidewalk infrastructure, so each slab is more water-resistant when Massachusetts rain and snow roar through the area.

LaChapelle draws attention to another big collaboration that has her Easthampton residents excited. With help from a local bank and a nearby independent school, Easthampton’s library will be moving to a larger, more accessible space in the historic Main Street district.

The best North American cities connect their amenities to each other. That’s why LaChapelle helped secure grants to interlink Easthampton’s natural resources – like bike paths and walking trails – to important community hubs. The latest grant, a $2-million sum, creates a walkable path from the city’s downtown area to a recently opened pre-K through eighth-grade school, a 26-acre beauty beneath the shadow of Mount Tom.

“Getting our school community and our students a safe way to get in and out of town is so important,” says LaChapelle. “So, we’re consciously going after that money.”

Re-working the Mill District and Empowering Small Businesses

The Mill District is the heart of Easthampton. It brought jobs to the area during both World Wars and into the mid-20th century before closing down. Those mill buildings still remain, many of them occupied by manufacturing companies, and under LaChapelle, that area has brightened.

Maintaining the status quo and helping the existing businesses succeed is important, even as the city eyes expansion.

“We shouldn’t underestimate not only retaining those businesses that are not as cool and flashy, but also helping them to expand,” LaChapelle says.

Beyond that, LaChapelle has supported the mill owners’ efforts to connect with additional manufacturers and retailers. One owner leased out their space to a vertically stacked cannabis company, the first of its kind in Easthampton. Ideally, Easthampton’s economic growth will lure in bigger businesses down the road.

Outside the mill district, the city of Easthampton secured a grant to host a co-starter program where mom-and-pop stores, especially side businesses that began during the COVID-19 pandemic, receive online support. These stores are particularly key to the small-town economy, as each owner has a vested interest in the community and can offer personalized products and services while preserving Easthampton’s year-round charm.

That means if an Easthampton entrepreneur is keen on starting a small business, they’ll get help with their business plan, fire and building inspections, and other ground-level services that’ll allow them to thrive. The Easthampton Chamber of Commerce is recruiting business owners now with the goal of launching the co-starter program in two months, LaChapelle says.


Paving the way for 2024 and Beyond

Along with its social and economic transition, Easthampton is undergoing some physical changes, including a major federally funded transportation project. The city is wrapping up a $7-million construction endeavor that saw a main road in the upper downtown district excavated to replace its wooden pipes with a more modern setup. That effort should be all squared away come summertime, LaChapelle says.

The city also received an additional $13-million grant to re-do the roads in the downtown district, which pretties up the strip but also brings it up to grade for modern traffic.

“The sleepy town where you can kind of still see how a horse and buggy would make their way through downtown really doesn’t suit the traffic that we get,” LaChapelle says, adding that Easthampton receives a healthy mix of residential and commercial traffic on its main streets.

In order to establish a broad base for city functionality, LaChapelle is waiting on an additional $1 million for water repair upgrades on city highways, plus the mayor has plans to improve bicycle lanes and overhaul a particularly tricky intersection in Easthampton that’s seen its traffic increase by 50%.

Easthampton will look dramatically different by 2030, the estimated completion date for these substantial infrastructure upgrades, however the town won’t lose its authentic feel. Mayor LaChapelle paints a picture of a cozy Northeastern haven, where Easthampton makes impressive strides in affordable housing, environmental sustainability, and accessibility. Under LaChapelle’s watch, major steps toward that goal are well underway.


Easthampton, Massachusetts

What: An eclectic small city focused on increasing affordable housing, upgrading city infrastructure, and furthering the community’s colorful culture.

Where: Hampshire County, Massachusetts

Website: https://easthamptonma.gov/


Williston Northampton School – www.williston.com

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