North Adams was first settled in 1737 and, separating from Adams, was officially incorporated in 1878. The city is named in honor of Samuel Adams, a leader in the American Revolution, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and governor of Massachusetts.
For much of its existence, North Adams was a mill town. Manufacturing began in the city before the Revolutionary War, as its location at the confluence of the two branches of the Hoosic River provided water power for diverse, small-scale industries. By the late 1700s and early 1800s, businesses included wholesale shoe manufacturers; a brick yard; a saw mill; cabinet-makers; hat manufacturers; machine shops for the construction of mill machines; marble works; wagon and sleigh-makers; and an ironworks, which provided the pig iron for armor plates on the Civil War ship, the Monitor. North Adams would be headquarters for construction of the Hoosac Tunnel.
In 1860, the O. Arnold and Company was established with the latest equipment for printing cloth. Large government contracts to supply fabric for the Union Army helped the business prosper. During the next four decades, Arnold Print Works became one of the world's leading manufacturers of printed textiles. It also became the largest employer in North Adams, with some 3,200 workers by 1905. Despite decades of success, however, falling cloth prices and the lingering effects of the Great Depression forced Arnold Print Works to close its Marshall Street operation in 1942, consolidating at smaller facilities in Adams.
Later that year, the Sprague Electric Company bought the former print works site. Sprague physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, and skilled technicians were called upon by the U.S. government during World War II to design and manufacture crucial components of some of its most advanced high-tech weapons systems, including the atomic bomb.
With state-of-the-art equipment, Sprague was a major research and development center, conducting studies on the nature of electricity and semi-conducting materials. After the war, its products were used in the launch systems for Gemini moon missions, and by 1966 Sprague employed 4,137 workers in a community of 18,000, existing almost as a city within a city. From the post-war years to the mid-1980s, Sprague produced electrical components for the booming consumer electronics market, but competition from abroad led to declining sales and, in 1985, the company closed operations on Marshall Street.
The campaign to build political and community support for the proposed institution, which would serve as a platform for the creation and presentation of contemporary art, and develop links to the region's myriad cultural institutions, began in earnest. The Massachusetts legislature announced its support for the project in 1988. Subsequent economic upheaval in Massachusetts threatened the project, but broad-based support from the community and the private sector, which pledged more than $8 million, ensured that it continued to move forward.
The eventual proposal utilized the unparalleled scale and versatility of the complex's industrial spaces, while establishing a dialogue between the facility's past and the new life it would have as the country's largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts.
Since its opening Mass MoCA has provided the catalyst and anchor for a larger economic transformation in the region centered on cultural, recreational, and educational offerings. In the past five years, North Adams has become home for several new and well-regarded restaurants, contemporary art galleries and cultural organizations. In addition, once shuttered area factories and mills are being rehabilitated as live/work lofts for artists.
North Adams is located at (42.693899, -73.115096).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 20.6 square miles (53.3 km²), of which, 20.4 square miles (52.9 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (0.63%) is water. North Adams is bordered by Clarksburg to the north, Florida to the east, Adams to the south, and Williamstown to the west.
North Adams is located in the valley created by the Hoosic River, which has been walled and floored with concrete in portions to prevent floods. The city's Natural Bridge State Park contains the only natural white marble bridge in North America. Formed by glacial melt by 11,000 BC, the arch and abandoned quarry have long attracted attention from hikers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1838, who wrote of it (among other local features) in his An American Notebook. To the east, the city is bordered by the western face of the Hoosac Range, with visibility on its West Summit extending throughout the tri-state area. To the southwest, the city has the northern end of Mount Greylock State Reservation, which ends at Mount Williams. The Appalachian Trail passes through the western part of the city, crossing the summit of Mount Williams and briefly passing through Williamstown before heading north towards Vermont.
North Adams is the western terminus of the Mohawk Trail, which ascends to the West Summit along a steep, curving road. While the trail ends here, Route 2, which the trail is coextensive with, continues westward into Williamstown and towards New York. Route 8 also passes through the city, passing from Adams, through the city and northward into Clarksburg. Route 8A, also known as 8A-U (for "upper"), runs parallel to Route 8 east of the main route, and is located entirely within city limits.
The city is the northern terminus of several lines of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority, and also has regional service. The freight rail line which passes through the city extends through the Hoosac Tunnel towards the east. North Adams is also home to Harriman and West Airport, a small regional airport. The nearest interstate is Interstate 91 to the east, almost an hour away, and the nearest airport with national service is Albany International Airport.
As of the census of 2000, there were 14,681 people, 6,311 households, and 3,635 families residing in the city. The city, which is the smallest in Massachusetts, ranks second out of 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County by population, and 127th out of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. Along with Pittsfield, the two cities are the only communities in the county with more than 10,000 residents. The population density was 718.3 people per square mile (277.3/km²), ranking it 2nd in the county and 140th overall. There were 7,088 housing units at an average density of 346.8/sq mi (133.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 94.99% White, 1.67% African American, 0.27% Native American, 0.80% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.80% from other races, and 1.44% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.03% of the population.
There were 6,311 households out of which 26.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.1% were married couples living together, 13.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.4% were non-families. 36.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.87.
In the city the population was spread out with 22.4% under the age of 18, 11.8% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 18.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 86.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,601, and the median income for a family was $37,635. Males had a median income of $30,292 versus $23,012 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,381. About 13.5% of families and 18.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.1% of those under age 18 and 9.9% of those age 65 or over.
On the state level, North Adams is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives by the First Berkshire district, which covers northern Berkshire County, as well as portions of Franklin County. In the Massachusetts Senate, the city is represented by the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin district, which includes all of Berkshire County and western Hampshire and Franklin Counties. The city is patrolled by the Fourth (Cheshire) Station of Barracks "B" of the Massachusetts State Police.
On the national level, North Adams is represented in the United States House of Representatives as part of Massachusetts's 1st congressional district, and has been represented by John Olver of Amherst since June 1991. Massachusetts is represented in the United States Senate by senior Senator Ted Kennedy and junior Senator John Kerry.
North Adams operates its own public school system, with three elementary schools (Brayton Elementary School, Greylock Elementary School and Sullivan Elementary School), one middle school, Silvo Conte Middle School, and a high school, Drury High School, which also serves several neighboring towns. The town is also home to Charles H. McCann Technical High School, as well as several private and parochial schools.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts enrolls about 1,850 students. The most popular programs are English/Communications, Business, Education, History, Fine & Performing Arts, Psychology, and Sociology. Founded in 1894 as North Adams Normal School, in 1932 the Normal School became the State Teachers College of North Adams. In 1960, the college changed its name to North Adams State College and added professional degrees in Business Administration and Computer Science. In 1997, the name changed to Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), reflective of specialty school status within the Massachusetts State College system. In recent years, MCLA has begun to develop more academic programming in the fields of fine arts and arts management, reflecting the region's growth as a center of arts and cultural affairs.