Stockbridge was first settled in 1734 as a mission for the Mahican Indian tribe known as the Stockbridge Indians. The township was set aside for the tribe as a reward for their assistance against the French in the French and Indian Wars. The Reverend John Sergeant from Newark, New Jersey was their missionary. First chartered as Indian Town in 1737, it was officially incorporated on June 22, 1739 as Stockbridge, named after Stockbridge in Hampshire, England.
Although the Massachusetts General Court made an assurance that the Indians' land could never be sold, it was rescinded. Despite their further help during the Revolutionary War, the tribe was relocated first to New York State, then to Wisconsin. The village was taken over by English settlers. With the arrival of the railroad in 1850, Stockbridge developed as a summer resort for the wealthy. Many large houses called Berkshire Cottages were built in the area before World War I and the advent of income tax. One estate on the Lenox border, Tanglewood, is today the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Stockbridge was also the home to Elizabeth Freeman, late in her life. The former slave who was one of the petitioners in the lawsuit that had slavery declared unconstitutional in Massachusetts, Freeman worked in the household of the Massachusetts statesman Judge Theodore Sedgwick. She is buried in Stockbridge's downtown cemetery.
Famed 19th century literary figure, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, was born in Stockbridge in 1789. She is the author of six novels including her most famous, Hope Leslie (1827). The town has a tradition as an art colony. Sculptor Daniel Chester French lived and worked at his home and studio called Chesterwood. Norman Rockwell painted many of his works in Stockbridge, home to the Norman Rockwell Museum.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 23.7 square miles (61.4 km²), of which, 22.9 square miles (59.4 km²) of it is land and 0.8 square miles (2.0 km²) of it (3.25%) is water. Stockbridge is bordered by Richmond to the northwest, Lenox to the north and northeast, Lee to the east, Great Barrington to the south, and West Stockbridge to the west. The town is located 13.5 miles south of Pittsfield, 45 miles west-northwest of Springfield, and 130 miles west of Boston.
Set among the Berkshire Mountains, Stockbridge is drained by the Housatonic River, which runs through the center of town. the river also is fed by several marshy brooks and lakes, including Mohawk Lake to the west, Agawam Lake to the south, Lake Averic in the northwest, and Lake Mahkeenac, also known as the Stockbridge Bowl, to the north. Stockbridge Bowl is the site of a town beach, a boating club, and a summer camp, Camp Mahkeenac. North of the bowl lies parts of Tanglewood. To either side of the bowl lie West Stockbridge Mountain and Rattlesnake Hill. To the south, Monument Mountain peaks on the Great Barrington town line, and Beartown Mountain peaks to the east, closer to the Lee town line.
The town is nearly bisected by Interstate 90, also known as the Massachusetts Turnpike. There are exits in neighboring West Stockbridge and Lee. Several state routes, including Route 102, Route 183 and U.S. Route 7 all pass through town, with Routes 102 and 7 sharing a short stretch in downtown Stockbridge, and Routes 102 and 183 meeting in the village of Larrywaug. In this village are the Berkshire Botanical Gardens and the Norman Rockwell Museum. South of there, in the village of Glendale, lies Chesterwood.
The Housatonic Railroad, the main rail line between Pittsfield and Great Barrington, passes through the town and lies mostly on the southern bank of the river. The town lies along a line of the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority (BRTA) bus line, which provides service between Pittsfield and Great Barrington. Pittsfield is also the site of the nearest regional bus service, as well as regional Amtrak service. There are local airports in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and the nearest national air service is located at Albany International Airport in New York.
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,276 people, 991 households, and 567 families residing in the town. By population, Stockbridge ranks twelfth out of the 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County, and 285th out of the 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts. The population density was 99.2 people per square mile (38.3/km²), which ranks 12th in the county and 281st in the Commonwealth. There were 1,571 housing units at an average density of 68.5/sq mi (26.4/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 96.92% White, 1.23% African American, 0.04% Native American, 0.44% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 0.97% from other races, and 0.35% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.90% of the population.
There were 991 households out of which 18.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.4% were married couples living together, 6.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.7% were non-families. 36.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.67.
In the town the population was spread out with 15.2% under the age of 18, 6.3% from 18 to 24, 22.5% from 25 to 44, 33.5% from 45 to 64, and 22.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 49 years. For every 100 females there were 91.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.5 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $48,571, and the median income for a family was $59,556. Males had a median income of $32,500 versus $27,969 for females. The per capita income for the town was $32,499. About 1.7% of families and 8.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.2% of those under age 18 and 4.1% of those age 65 or over.
On the state level, Stockbridge is represented in the Massachusetts House of Representatives by the Fourth Berkshire district, which covers southern Berkshire County, as well as the westernmost towns in Hampden County. In the Massachusetts Senate, the town is represented by the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin district, which includes all of Berkshire County and western Hampshire and Franklin Counties. The town is patrolled by the First (Lee) Station of Barracks "B" of the Massachusetts State Police.
On the national level, Stockbridge 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.
Today, Stockbridge, along with West Stockbridge and Great Barrington, are members of the Berkshire Hills Regional School District. All students in the district attend school in Great Barrington, with elementary students attending Muddy Brook Regional Elementary School, middle school students attending Monument Valley Regional Middle School, and high school students attending Monument Mountain Regional High School. In addition to public schools, there are private and religious schools located in the neighboring towns.
The nearest community college is the South County branch of Berkshire Community College in Great Barrington. 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 Bard College at Simon's Rock, also in Great Barrington.