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Friday, April 13, 2018

Hi, friends:

Last week, I mentioned that I’d been leafing through some old issues of Hampshire Life, and I particularly enjoyed a little recurring feature called “Lifeline.” In this long-running column, readers wrote into the Gazette with nagging questions they’d had about some aspect of life here in the Pioneer Valley, and “staffers” investigated and answered those questions, I said. Well, a few days ago an email popped up in my inbox from Margot Cleary, a beloved former Gazette employee, who schooled me on a few things.

“I was tickled to read that Hampshire Life may resurrect the Lifeline column,” she wrote. “Your timing is impeccable — right down to the month and week.” Well, this was news to me, but she’s absolutely right: The first column appeared in April of 1977, with a question about when robins officially return to Hampshire County, post-winter. (Someone from Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary had spotted one as early as March 17 that year, as it turned out.)

Anyhoo, according to Margot, “Lifeline” appeared for 34 years — more than 1,700 columns in total. “It was the brainchild of Hampshire Life’s founding editor, Nancy Frazier, who enlisted me to be Lifeline’s first writer,” Margot noted. “I was also its final writer. And the writer of every column in between. I chuckled when I read in your editor’s note that Lifeline’s questions were answered by Hampshire Life ‘staffers.’ That would be exactly one staffer: yours truly.”

Unfortunately, Margot has moved onto other things, so she wasn’t on hand to answer the first question that came in, from Williamsburg resident Stuart Krantz, who writes:

We’re native Floridians. We discovered the P.V. and Burgy by fortunate accident about 4.5 years ago when we were looking for a home in the Berkshires. Lucky for us. We live here full-time. The Meekins is celebrating the artist Greta Carey this month. I notice the Mill River seems to be “different” in Greta’s pictures, four of which are at The Brewmaster. Can you please tell me: Was the Mill River’s path changed at some point to make a path for the present (and soon to be upgraded) Route 9?

Editor’s note: I wrote to the people at the Mill River Greenway Initiative for an answer, and after some sleuthing, they connected me to Eric Weber, president of the Williamsburg Historical Society. Below is what he said in response:

“The valley of the Mill River is narrow enough at virtually all points above the Northampton Country Club to keep deviations in its main thread to a minimum. In the great flood of 1874, the swollen river — really more like an avalanche of water and debris — carved a new bed for itself across Route 9 at the used car lot just east of Williamsburg center, through what is now the Highway Department yard, and back to its pre-flood channel near the Route 9 bridge at the Pharmacy. But in the succeeding months, it was laboriously diverted back into its original course, and has remained there.

“Apart from slow bank erosion moving the centerline of the river this way or that a couple of feet a year in what used to be the Brassworks millpond, I don’t think there has been any significant shift in the river’s course anywhere in Williamsburg since the town was settled. If it looks different in Mrs. Carey’s paintings, I would attribute that to artistic license. She did move things around a bit in order to get more of them inside the frame, particularly in the murals that now hang once again at the Brewmaster’s Tavern.”

So there you have it, Stuart. Thanks for the question.  

Brooke Hauser