Historic Dam trail

Description: On May 16, 1874, The Mill River Flood disaster claimed 139 lives and devastated the villages of Williamsburg, Skinnnerville, Haydenville and Leeds. The flood resulted from the failure of a dam which had been constructed by local mill owners three miles north of the Village of Williamsburg. The 600 million gallons of water that burst from the dam destroyed dozens of mills and houses and changed the appearance and the course of our town's history forever.

The ruins of the dam still exist today in the woods north of Williamsburg, but until 2018 there was no access to the site for the general public. Adjacent landowners and the Northampton Water Department (which owns the site of the ruins) collaborated with the Trails Committee to develop a pedestrian trail from Ashfield Road to the Dam ruins. The trail tells the story of the Flood and also the 250 year history of the Hemenway family farm and forest management in the Hilltowns. The completed trail features three footbridges, several plank bridges, a kiosk, benches, and interpretive signs.

This trail is approximately 1.5 miles total, of moderate difficulty, with some steep/rugged portions. Sturdy hiking shoes are recommended. The trail is closed in winter.

The Trails Committee thanks all of the volunteers and supporters who have made this possible! Material costs were covered by grants, vendor donations, a town meeting request, and contributions from local businesses and individuals.

Trail Use Guidelines:

  • Carry in, carry out.

  • Respect the dam site and artifacts. Do not climb on or disturb the ruins.

  • Dogs are not allowed on the Historic Dam Trail.

  • No fires, camping, or motorized vehicles.

  • Please respect the land, and the generosity of the owners.

Location: From Williamsburg center take Ashfield Road approximately three miles. Parking is located just before the Judd Lane intersection. Look for the Historic Dam Trail sign.

Click HERE for an interactive Story Map. Many thanks to Jack Loveless, Associate Professor, Smith College Department of Geosciences and his talented students for producing this informative map.

Click HERE for trail map. (Trail closed in winter.)

This project was funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Photos of the dam ruins in 1874:

West remnant of dam, waste pipe outlet and gate valve, seen from downstream. Williamsburg Historical Society, Williamsburg, MA.
West remnant of core wall, waste pipe intake and dam keeper's house, seen from reservoir bed. Peter Banister, Williamsburg, MA.
West remnant and waste pipe outlet, seen from farther downstream. Forbes Library, Northampton, MA.
View from west to east end of dam, showing 250'-wide breach in center. Williamsburg Historical Society, Williamsburg, MA.
Nearly the full width of the dam (about 600'), looking southeast from upstream. Williamsburg Historical Society, Williamsburg, MA.
The remnant of core wall at the east end of the dam, seen from the middle of the main breach. Meekins Library, Williamsburg, MA
A closer view from the west end of the dam to the east. Meekins Library, Williamsburg, MA.
Visitors scramble over the ruins on the west side of the main breach. Williamsburg Historical Society, Williamsburg, MA.