Florida Massachusetts, 1890

Florida is a mountainous and wooded town in the northeastern part of Berkshire County, intersected by the Fitchburg Railroad, whose station at Hoosac Tunnel, near Deer-field River, on the eastern line, is 135 miles from Boston. The territory is quite irregular in form, the western part extending to the Vermont line, while the square township of Monroe lies between the latter and the eastern part of Florida; on the east are Rowe and Charlemont; Savoy bounds it on the south, and North Adams on the west. The assessed area is 14,253 acres. Of this, 8,643 acres are forest, consisting of hard and soft wood (spruce and hemlock) in about equal proportions. The underlying rock is calcareous gneiss and the Quebec group, with talcose slate; while flint bowlders are numerous. The town is finely watered by the Deerfield River, which forms a large portion of the eastern line, separating it from Rowe; by Fife Brook, which flows from the northwest to southeast through the midst of the town; and by Cold River on the southern line. These streams and their sparkling tributaries furnish motive power for several mills. North Pond, a beautiful sheet of water covering twelve acres, beautifies the southwestern angle of the town. The Twin Cascade, near the entrance of the Hoosac Tunnel, is one of the most charming waterfalls of the country. Two rivulets, coming from different directions, approach, and leap over the rocks a distance of 40 feet into the same basin below; and hence the appropriate name, The people of this elevated town are principally engaged in farming and lumbering, though there is less of the latter than 20 years ago, — when there were five saw-mills, two of which were driven by steam. There are also a grist-mill and the Glen Pulp Company's mill,— a rather rude structure of stone, quite in character with the region. The latter employs 15 persons. The aggregate value of the manufactures in 1885 was $20,625. There are 101 farms, whose wood product is proportionately large. The entire farm product in the last census year was valued at $88,737. The valuation in 1888 was $177,770; and the tax was $22 on $1,000. The population was 487, including 113 voters; and they were sheltered in 85 dwelling-houses. There are six public school-houses, valued at about $4, 000. The Hoosac Tunnel Library and the Baptist Sunday school have each a small collection of books. Florida and Hoosac Tunnel are the post offices.

Dr. Daniel Nelson, of Stafford, Conn., settled on the territory of this town in 1783; and Sylvanus Clark, Paul Knowlton, Jesse King, Esq., and others, had come to live here anterior to 1795. The town was incorporated June 15, 1805; and a Baptist church was formed here in 1810. Four deserters from Burgoyne's army came to this town, and supported themselves mainly by hunting and fishing for many years.

[Deerfield River and Hoosac Tunnel.]

The Hoosac Mountain, rising 1,448 feet above Deerfield River, is the striking feature of the town. From the carriage-road over it most magnificent views of this wild region are obtained.

The entrance to the Hoosac Tunnel is on the right bank of the Deerfield River, in the eastern centre of this town.

In 1854 the State gave its credit to the amount of $2,000,000; and the work of excavating the tunnel was commenced by E. W. Serrell and Company in 1855.

In the ensuing year, a contract was made with H. Haupt and Company, by which they agreed to complete the road and tunnel for $3,880,000; and the work was carried on at the east and west end of the tunnel until 1861, when the contractors abandoned the enterprise. In the year following, the State itself undertook to prosecute this gigantic scheme under an appropriation of $4,750,000.

Messrs. Walter and Francis Shanley, of Canada, entered into a contract with the State commissioners to complete the work by March 1, 1874. These gentlemen prosecuted the undertaking with indomitable energy, cutting their way by the aid of a boring-machine, driven by compressed air and nitro-glycerine, through solid mica-slate, until the passage through the mountain was completed; the distance being 25,031 feet, or a little less than five miles. The first train went through on Feb. 9, 1875; a second track was laid Sept. 27, 1882, and electric lights introduced Jan. 1, 1889. The entire cost of the work to the State is stated at $26,915,938.97. The tunnel is arched with brick. The rock of the mountain is mica slate, with occasional veins of quartz,—except at the west end, where a secondary formation overlaps the primary. The rock, in some places, is hardly to be told from granite in hardness; while all through small seams are found filled up by dirt carried by water, forming a kind of dry soapstone and mica, and containing beautiful specimens of sulphate of iron. Hoosac Mountain has two summits, the valley between being, at the lowest, 801 feet above grade. From this the ventilating shafts descend. The top of the tunnel is a semicircle, with a radius of 13 feet; and the sides are arcs of a circle, with a radius of 26 feet.

The opening of this tunnel shortens the distance from Boston to the Hudson River by about 9 miles, and has reduced the enormous prices for transportation. While aiding the development of the resources of the northern section of the State, it also affords the most attractive line of travel through the alpine regions of the Commonwealth.

pp. 209-311 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890