The Village of Shelburne Falls: Shelburne and Buckland, Massachusetts
Nestled in the Northeast Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and bisected by the Deerfield River, the Village of Shelburne Falls is a haven for artists and artisans, shared by residents and businesses in the Towns of Buckland and Shelburne. Sharing the Village of Shelburne Falls requires that the two towns take a collaborative approach to planning and organizing the resources, events, and local economy.
History in the area dates to the Native Americans. When European colonists came, Shelburne Falls became the site of the most productive salmon fishing in Massachusetts through the early 19th century, and water power was later harnessed for industry. Today, the preserved buildings are becoming a center for small businesses and remain an historical and architectural backdrop of the village.
In 1999, a Buckland-Shelburne Master Plan was jointly completed, and collaborative planning has since been the approach to strengthening the local social, environmental, and economic resiliency. The towns' partner organization, the Greater Shelburne Falls Area Business Association — commonly called the Shelburne Falls Area Partnership — was established in 1995 in recognition of the importance of bridging the economies of Buckland and Shelburne. The partnership fosters economic development, planning, and infrastructure and capital improvement projects. Shelburne Falls has been shaped and maintained by many proactive and positive planning initiatives involving both towns.
Shelburne Falls is a National Register Historic District, and local initiatives and zoning codes encourage the preservation of the village’s historic layout through adaptive reuse of historic structures. The historic layout and scale make walking and biking in Shelburne Falls easy. Recent planning projects, including the Massachusetts Complete Streets Program, are intended to improve the infrastructure for people walking and biking in the village.
The diversity of housing types, including one subsidized housing complex reserved primarily for elderly residents, ensures that the cost of living in Shelburne Falls is relatively affordable compared to metropolitan areas, enabling artists and craftspeople to pursue their creativity and start businesses. In 2012, the village was designated as a Massachusetts Cultural District.
Art is woven into many aspects of village life, including in the creative Shelburne Farmers Market theme-day each month, a nonprofit film theater, and mosaic murals designed by a local artist and crafted by students at Mohawk Regional School depicting the rural history and life of the 10 towns in the “West County” area.
The village has a strong sense of community, and is a well-established destination for visitors. The partnership organizes community events throughout the year that draw people from around New England. One of the most fun events is the Annual Iron Bridge Dinner, which serves courses prepared by local restaurants at a 400-seat table spanning the length of the iconic iron bridge that dates to 1896. Through the partnership, Shelburne Falls has maintained resilience in the face of the changing rural economy and leveraged its wonderful historic and cultural resources to create a thriving community.
Defining Characteristics and Features
- The village’s Massachusetts Cultural District designation helps attract artists, encourage job growth, expand tourism, preserve and reuse historic buildings, enhance property values, and foster local cultural development.
- Many children can walk or bike to the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School located in the village.
- The Memorial Hall Association runs “Live at the Met” opera performances and “Potholes Pictures,” a local volunteer-run, nonprofit movie house that shows classic, foreign, and independent films on the big screen in the historic 420-seat Memorial Hall Theater. The association hosts special events like “Meet the Filmmaker” night and collaborations with local community organizations. Live, local musical acts play on stage for half-an-hour before each film.
- The Shelburne Senior Center hosts a weekly walking group, which recently participated in a training to learn how to complete walk audits, also known as pedestrian infrastructure assessments, meant to empower the local group to identify and advocate for pedestrian level infrastructure improvements in Shelburne Falls.
- Both towns are taking steps to reduce energy use. Buckland and Shelburne have been designated Green Communities by Massachusetts. The businesses in Shelburne Falls via the partnership participate in a collaborative composting program to reduce the volume of solid waste.
- There is a planned connection to link the trailhead and section of the long-distance trail (Mahican-Mohawk) to the village to make regional hiking resources accessible to residents.
The area in the village in Shelburne is bounded on the east and north by Route 2 (the Mohawk Trail opened in 1914; designated one on New England’s first Scenic Byway in 1952) and in Buckland on the west by Sears Street and the south roughly by Kendrick Road.
Franklin Regional Council of Governments Planning Department sites:
Town Open Space and Recreation Plans: