When the first permanent English settlements arrived in 1727, this land and the surrounding area (including present-day South Hadley and Granby) belonged to the town of Hadley. It gained precinct status in 1734 and eventually township in 1776, shortly before the colonies declared their independence.
Upon its incorporation, the colonial governor assigned to them the name Amherst after Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst. Many colonial governors at the time were scattering his name amidst the influx of new town applications, which is why several towns in the Northeast bear the name. Amherst was a hero of the French and Indian War who, according to popular legend, singlehandedly won Canada for the English and banished France from North America. He supported the American side in the Revolutionary war and resigned his commission rather than fight for the British. This too made him quite popular in New England. Amherst is also infamous for considering, in a letter to a peer, the use of smallpox-covered blankets in warfare against the Native Americans. It is for this reason that there have been occasional ad hoc movements to rename the town. Among the new names suggested for the town has been "Emily" after Emily Dickinson (see Notable Residents below).
In 1786, as the American Revolution was ending, many soldiers returning home found themselves in debt as they were unable to attend to business and property while they were away fighting. Farmers who were unable to pay taxes and debts had their property and livestock confiscated by the courts. Daniel Shays, a Pelham resident who was promoted from the ranks to be a Captain in the Revolutionary Army, organized Shays's Rebellion.
| Historical population of|
As of the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 34,874 people, 9,174 households, and 4,550 families residing in the town. The population density was 1,258.2 people per square mile (485.7/km²). There were 9,427 housing units at an average density of 340.1/sq mi (131.3/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 79.33% White, 5.10% Black or African American, 0.21% Native American, 9.02% Asian, 0.09% Pacific Islander, 2.89% from other races, and 3.35% from two or more races. 6.19% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 9,174 households out of which 27.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.4% were married couples living together, 10.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.4% were non-families. 28.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 2.97.
In the town the population was spread out with 12.8% under the age of 18, 50.0% from 18 to 24, 17.2% from 25 to 44, 13.4% from 45 to 64, and 6.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 22 years. For every 100 females there were 92.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.8 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $40,017, and the median income for a family was $61,237. Males had a median income of $44,795 versus $32,672 for females. The per capita income for the town was $17,427. About 7.2% of families and 20.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.3% of those under age 18 and 3.5% of those age 65 or over. The reason for the large population living below the poverty line is because of the large number of students that live in Amherst.
Of residents 25 years old or older, 41.7% have a graduate or professional degree, and only 4.9% did not graduate from high school. The largest industry is education, health, and social services, in which 51.9% of employed persons work.
These statistics include some but not all of the large student population, many of whom only reside in the town part of the year. Amherst is home to thousands of part-time and full-time residents associated with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, and Hampshire College.
|Voter Registration and Party Enrollment as of October 18, 2006|
|Party||Total Voters||Percentage||Democratic||8,350||49.18%||Republican||1,076||6.34%||Unaffiliated||7,228||42.57%||Other Parties||326||1.92%|
In recent years, some have sought to abolish the 254-member Town Meeting with a new charter that would create a directly-elected mayor and a nine-member Town Council. The charter was rejected by voters in Spring 2003 by fourteen votes, and defeated again on March 29, 2005 by 252 votes.
The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA), funded by local governments and the Five Colleges, provides public transportation in the area.
Rail service is available through Amtrak at the Amherst station (AMH) on the daily Vermonter service between Washington D.C. and St. Albans, VT. More frequent service to New York City and Washington D.C. is available from Springfield. (Approximately 30 minutes driving time from Amherst.)
The closest major domestic and limited international air service is available through Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Hartford, Connecticut. Bradley is located approximately one hour's driving time from Amherst. Major international service is available through Logan International Airport (BOS) in Boston, 90 miles away.