Approaching the center from the north

Montague “City”, located in the south-western portion of the Town of Montague, was settled by industrious German immigrants in 1792. In 1795, the Proprietors of the Upper Locks and Canals laid plans for a commercial waterway—canal— whose source was to be constructed at Montague City and run 3-miles where its mouth would be located just above the falls in Connecticut River where today the headgates of the Turners Falls Power Canal reside.

The purpose of the canal with its nine locks was to enable regularly commercial barge traffic to bypass the falls. Due to the anticipated importance of the canal it was initially believed that Montague City would become an important river port. The canal opened for business in 1798 and by 1800 there was regular freight traffic by boat from Long Island Sound to Brattleboro, Vermont. For 30 years, the “proprietors” did a profitable business, collecting enough to pay their stockholders an average of 4%.

Declining profits due to competition from burgeoning railroad traffic in the 1850s led to a decision by the “proprietors” to sell their holdings. The final barge passed through the locks in 1856. The South Hadley, MA canal (1795) was the first commercial waterway in the United States. Second was the Pawtucket Canal in East Chelmsford, MA (1796). The Montague Canal was the third commercial shipping canal in the country (1798).

This 1826 map shows the “Barge Canal” (yellow). The Montague City area was then known as “Montague Canal.”

Change is in the wind. Enter Alvah Crocker and his newly incorporated Turners Falls Company (1866). Under his leadership, the company plan is hatched to develop an industrial community at the soon-to-be village of Turners Falls, which derives its name from the significant natural water fall that bisects the Connecticut River and the towns of Gill and Montague.

The demise of the locks and canal system concluded that Montague City would never achieve the greatness that many anticipated. However, in 1885, the village becomes generally known as the home for the Montague Rod and Reel Company, producers of world-famous split bamboo fishing rods. Montague City is also reputed to be the location of the famous Maple tree that once stood on the grounds of the Farren Memorial Hospital that supposedly inspired Joyce Kilmer to pen his renowned poem, “Trees.” Kilmer visited the Farren Hospital on numerous occasions.

Farren Memorial Hospital ca. 1920
Montague City Rod Shop west facade ca. 1920

Montague City Today

Today, Montague City is an attractive residential neighborhood which is also the location for one of the largest hydroelectric generating facilities in Western Massachusetts; Cabot Station. The Silvio O. Conte* Northeast Anadromous Fish Research Center, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Fisheries and Wildlife is located in Montague City. The laboratory is located near the south end of Migratory Way (truncated bikeway) which runs for a mile adjacent the power canal’s west bank. The mission of this laboratory is primarily research oriented; it does provide selected educational programming for the public.

Montague City – 2020. View to the north. Cabot Station’s forebay in the Turners Falls power canal is shown.

*Silvio Ottavio Conte (1921-1991) was an American lawyer and politician. He was a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives for 16 terms, representing the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts from January 3, 1959, until his death in Bethesda, Maryland in 1991. He strongly supported legislation to protect the environment, as well as federal funding of medical and scientific research.