Rowe was the site of fishing and foraging for local Native American tribes. The area was first visited by white settlers in 1744, and was the site of a fort to guard against raids. In 1762, the town lands were purchased by the Rev. Cornelius Jones, who named it "Myrifield" after the Greek word for "thousand." The town had enough settlers by 1785 to have it incorporated as a town, renamed by the Massachusetts General Court presumably for John Rowe, a prominent Boston merchant. The town of Rowe grew around mills on the river, but also had other industries, including sulfur, talc and soapstone mining. This was nowhere more evident than in the now abandoned settlement at the Davis Mine. In the late 1880s, with the addition of the railroad along the river, the area had become somewhat of a small resort town. But, by the advent of the 1900's, most industry had begun to dry up, leaving the town fairly rural until the 1950s. At that point, with the "baby boom" underway, Rowe became the site of Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Station, the first nuclear power plant in New England, near the Sherman Dam along the Vermont border. The plant was in operation from 1960 to 1992, and the plant is now completely decommissioned, with the nuclear waste set to be transported to Yucca Mountain's containment facilities upon their completion in 2020.
Rowe lies along the eastern bank of the Deerfield River, which is dammed near the Vermont border to form the Sherman Reservoir. The town also has two other large bodies of water, the Upper Bear Swamp Reservoir and Pelham Lake, which feeds Pelham Brook, a tributary of the river. The town is hilly, with two main ridges on either side of Pelham Brook. Near the southwest corner of town is Negus Mountain, along the western ridge, and along the eastern ridge lies Todd Mountain and Adams Mountain, the highest point in town. Much of the land southeast of Pelham Lake is part of the Pelham Lake Park, which extends to the mountains. There are also two small units of Monroe State Forest in town.
Rowe is one of a handful of small towns in Massachusetts which has no state highways. (Nearly half of these towns are on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, with the majority of the rest in Central and Western Massachusetts.) The nearest state highways are Route 8A, which runs through neighboring Heath, and Route 2 (the Mohawk Trail), which runs through Charlemont and Florida. The nearest interstate, Interstate 91, passes through the center of the county, near the junction of the Deerfield River and the Connecticut River. A short section of railroad tracks leading westward to the Hoosac Tunnel passes through the southwest corner of town, but the town is otherwise not served by rail, bus or air service. The nearest bus and small air service is in North Adams, the nearest Amtrak service is in Pittsfield, and the nearest national air serivce can be reached at Albany International Airport in New York.
There were 154 households out of which 22.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.1% were married couples living together, 5.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.8% were non-families. 26.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.28 and the average family size was 2.75.
In the town the population was spread out with 19.7% under the age of 18, 4.3% from 18 to 24, 21.1% from 25 to 44, 36.2% from 45 to 64, and 18.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 48 years. For every 100 females there were 90.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.2 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $41,944, and the median income for a family was $53,750. Males had a median income of $32,143 versus $28,438 for females. The per capita income for the town was $28,134. None of the families and 2.8% of the population were living below the poverty line, including no under eighteens and 3.1% of those over 64.
Rowe employs the open town meeting form of government, and is led by a board of selectmen. The town has a police station, which also patrols neighboring Monroe, as well as a fire station, a library connected to the regional library network, and a post office, all of which are located near the Town Hall at the center of town. The nearest hospital, North Adams Regional Hospital, is located in North Adams.
On the state level, Rowe is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives as part of the First Berkshire district, which includes the northern portion of Berkshire County as well as several towns in northwest Franklin County. In the Massachusetts Senate, the town is part of the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin district, which includes all of Berkshire County and the western portions of Hampshire and Franklin Counties. The town is patrolled by the Second (Shelburne Falls) Station of Troop "B" of the Massachusetts State Police.
On the national level, Rowe 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.
The nearest community college, Greenfield Community College, is located in Greenfield. The nearest state college is Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, and the nearest state university is the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The nearest private college is Williams College in Williamstown, with several others located southeast in the Northampton area.