Chapter 2 - Northfield

Table of Contents

Northfield Not a Modern Town - The First Settlers - The Second Settlement - After the Revolution - The House in Which Moody was Born - The Character of the Town.

It is pleasant to think that the privilege should have been given to Mr. Moody of absorbing his earlier training and of associating his later work with so charming a place naturally as Northfield. God's children are not denied the fair, the beautiful things of Nature. It is just like our Heavenly Father to give the best to one who walked so close to Him as did this dear friend.

Those of us who knew Mr. Moody well remember how he loved beautiful things. The song of the brook was music to his soul; the coming of the leaves and flowers of spring was a parable; and his own dear Northfield was beloved by him to the end. He was perfectly happy when driving about through the beauties of the surrounding country.

In view of his love for Nature, and the unusual beauty of his early environment, it is, perhaps, not surprising that the first doubts to assail the faith of the boy Moody, after his conversion, were pantheistic. He himself has related how a pantheist approached him and told him of God as Nature, and how it troubled him. But his doubts resolved themselves into a firmer belief in Nature, not as God, but as God's handiwork.


Its elms whisper a long story of days when men who sought to worship God in freedom of conscience martyred themselves by denial of the comforts of their homes in the old world and faced the terrors of bitter want and of crafty savage foes in the wildernesses of New England.

Long before this particular spot in the valley of the Connecticut was occupied by the white man, large tribes of Indians dwelt there, living upon the fruits of a generous lowland soil and the trophies of the chase.

The streams abounded in shad and salmon. The plenty of fish gave the place its Indian name, Squakheag, which signifies, in the Indian tongue, a place for spearing salmon. Wigwams clustered on nearly every knoll and bluff, and along the banks of the river ran the narrow trail of the aborigines.

A little way back from either side the river, and following its windings, extends a range of hills. Brush Mountain, one of these hills, was regarded by the Indians with a superstitious veneration, as the abode of their Great Spirit. Did not his breath come forth every spring, from a cleft in the rock, and melt the snow? To-day the traveller who climbs Brush Mountain will be shown an opening whence comes a blast of air, warm enough in the winter to keep the snow from accumulating in the immediate vicinity.


In 1669 'a small party of whites, following the trail along the Connecticut northward from Northampton, came upon the lands of the Squakheags. The natives had suffered severely a few years before from the raid of a large party of Mohawks, who had come from the West, laying waste their fields and destroying their villages. To the eyes of the white men the land seemed very fair. About Northampton the tillable soil had been quite completely taken up, and the Squakheag region seemed to offer a good situation for a new settlement. As the Indians were not unwilling to part with their lands, a petition was made to the General Court of Massachusetts by thirty-three settlers, for permission to purchase the land from the Indians. The permission was granted on the condition that not less than twenty families should settle there within eighteen months after the first move.

The settlers took up the land in 1673, and for two years lived in amicable relations with their Indian neighbours. Then, when King Philip's war broke out, the Squakheags were moved by the rude eloquence of the chief's emissaries to take part in the uprising. One morning they attacked the whites in the fields, killing many, and driving those who remained to seek refuge within the stockade. The position of the sixteen families in the fort was perilous. A relief expedition from Deerfield was ambushed while on the way, and fled home with great loss. Another company succeeded in reaching Northfield and rescuing the beleaguered ones, who left the settlement and returned to their former homes.


Not for seven years did the proprietors of the land take steps towards its re-occupation. Then about twenty families returned. Houses were built along a main street, and were protected by two forts, in 1688 eleven Indians, sent. on the warpath by the French in Canada, six persons in Northfield, and so alarmed the rest that more than one half left the settlement. 'This so weakened the town that it was abandoned by those who remained.

The final settlement was made in 1713, and Northfield now prospered, although in 1723 it was again exposed to attacks from savages, who had been incited to make depredations upon the New England villages by the French Governor of Canada. It is said that men were then able to harvest their crops only in armed parties of forty or more. A fort was built a few miles up the river, and a cannon was placed there, that its voice might give warning of the approaching enemy. Peace came after the death of the Governor of Canada.

The existence of the hamlet continued for a long time precarious, for it was an outpost among the settlements, and therefore especially exposed to danger from the savages. During the French and Indian War Northfleld was in constant terror. Thereafter such dangers gradually disappeared, and time was given to develop the natural resources of the place. Northfield sent her quota to take part in the War of the Revolution, nor did she hesitate to assert the principles of liberty, even to the extent of forcing her parson, against his first desire, to omit from his prayer the usual petition for blessing on "his majesty," the King of Great Britian.


After the war the town rapidly acquired a certain culture. A hotel building, erected in 1798, was purchased by a company of citizens in 1829, and made into an academy which did honourable service for education during many years. About this same time the town was deeply affected by the wave of Unitarianism, which was then spreading throughout New England. Schisms arose in the village church, and a new parish was formed.

Northfield lies where three States meet Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. Just south of the Massachusetts State line is the village, scattered for the most part along the main street, two miles long and 160 feet wide, on the east side of the river. On either side of the street is a double row of elms and maples, which have grown old with the village until they bend their lofty heads over the quiet roadway like the nodding guardians of some useless post. Savage neighbours arc no longer near to enforce in alert sentinelship.

Several roads cross this avenue, and all lead to scenes purely pastoral. Flanking the main street are dwellings, for the most part set well back among their lawns and fragrant gardens. These homes were built to last. They seem as substantial to-day as when they were built, although many of them are very old. The house occupied by Mr. William Alexander, for instance, has been in the hands of his family for one hundred and fifteen years. The present day tendency to flock to the large cities has somewhat affected the younger generation of Northfield's old families, but the elms and the old houses are still there to perpetuate the atmosphere of old New England days, and better than all this the town has been so sanctified by the labours of her own best-known son that she will be remembered as the home of good works long after pompous cities have crumbled.


Mr. Moody's birthplace is a plain, small farm-house, which still stands on the hillside. It looks upon one of the country roads, which winds up from the main street in an easterly direction. The building is two stories high, with green blinds, and is protected from the sun by stately trees. There is one tree, of especial majesty, under which Mr. Moody is said to have planned some of his greatest sermons.

The home in which Mr. Moody and his family were domiciled after his work had so broadened as to make necessary a larger house than the homestead, stands near the north end of the town, and is not far from his mother's house. It was purchased for about $3,000. A plain, roomy building it is. From time to time, as the requirements came up, Mr. Moody had additions built to the house, until it spread out its arms with a suggestion of hospitality most inviting to the visitor. The building fronts upon the main street. Mr. Moody's study is on the first floor, only a few steps within from the entrance. The atmosphere of the house, with its simple but substantial furniture, suggests the home of a man who desires to shape his environment to make it suit his work.


When Mr. Moody returned to Northfield after his evangelistic tour of Great Britain, he went home to Northfield to rest. With his eyes sharpened by travel, and with his usual alert observance of the needs of those about him, he conceived a plan of making possible education for girls who were born to the unstimulating routine of farm life. The germ of Northfield Seminary lay in this conception. In 1878 Mr. Moody purchased the first sixteen acres of land toward the two hundred and seventy acres which are now owned by the Seminary. Mr. H.N.F. Marshall, of Boston, was a guest of Mr. Moody at that time, and the decision to purchase the land was arrived at with the advantage of his advice. As he and Mr. Moody came to a decision, the owner of the land walked up the street. They invited him in, asked his price for the sixteen acres, paid the money, and had the papers made out before the owner had time to recover from his surprise.

Work was begun on the building the following year. It was intended to establish this school as a high-class seminary for girls. When it was opened in 1879, twenty-five pupils entered. At first they studied and recited at Mr. Moody's home, the first dormitory not being opened until 1880. Bonar Hall, the second dormitory, was burned a few years later, but Marquand Hall was opened in 1885. Other buildings have followed. At present the school possesses seven dormitories, a library, a gymnasium, a recitation hall and an auditorium.

The buildings have been erected with a view to artistic effect as well as adequate accommodations, and add much to the beauty of the situation. From the slopes of the school grounds, one looks up the river valley to the distant green hills of Vermont and New Hampshire, while the placid river meanders through fertile fields which show rich with the fruits of the farm. Well built roads wind through the grounds; shade trees and groups of shrubbery have been set out. Moreover, the land yields practical returns as a farm under the supervision of Mr. Moody's brother. Six horses and fifty head of cattle belong to this school farm, and from ten to fourteen men are constantly employed. The school now numbers about four hundred pupils, its graduates being admitted to Wellesley, Smith and other high - grade institutions.


When Mr. Moody was conducting his earliest mission work in Chicago, he laid close to his heart a plan to provide some day a school where boys could secure training in the elementary branches and the Bible. With this still in mind he purchased, in 1880, two farms of 115 acres each, with two farm-houses and barns. They were situated on what was known as Grass Hill, four miles from Northfield Seminary, and in the town of Gill. This school was incorporated as the Mt. Hermon School for Boys. The present buildings include five brick cottages, a large recitation hall, a dining hall and kitchen, Crossley Hall and Silliman Science Hall. This school now numbers about 400 students, and here as at the Seminary the industrial system is a prominent feature, but at Mt. Hermon nearly all of the work of the farm and house is done by the boys.

The auditorium of the Northfield Seminary was built in 1894 and was planned by Mr. Moody for the use of the summer conferences. It seats nearly 3,000 persons. A grove of white birches on a hillside back of the Seminary becomes, during the summer meetings "Camp Northfield ", where young men spend their summer outing periods.

Henry Drummond describes somewhere his first astonishment at finding this little New England hamlet with a dozen of the finest educational buildings in America, and of his surprise when he stopped to think that all these buildings owed their existence to a man whose name is perhaps associated in the minds of three-fourths of his countrymen, not with education, but with the want of it.


The eastern part of the town has of late years become known as East Northfield, and has its separate Post Office and stores. New streets have been laid out and new houses have been built. Northfield, in fact, is coming to be known as a summer resort, but not of the usual type. Frivolous recreation gives way there to sane occupation and wholesome exercise. Intemperance, the use of tobacco, card playing and dancing have no place there; but the heart of nature is opened to those, who, with minds bent upon the best things, seek her reverently.

Northfield then is both a typical New England town and the result of the individual impression of one man's life. All that is best in American culture is there epitomised, and the elms and the hazy hills and the homes of by-gone generations are witnesses of the regenerating influences which can be brought into play through the devotion and singleness of purpose of one man.

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