The portion of the Connecticut River valley that lies in Massachusetts is known as the Pioneer Valley. A mostly rural area, the valley lies amid rolling hills in Western Massachusetts, with the Berkshires to the west and the Quabbin Reservoir to the east. It was first settled by Europeans in 1635, when William Pynchon formed a settlement named Agawam, which was later renamed Springfield.
During the Revolutionary War, Washington established a federal arsenal in Springfield. Later, in 1794, Congress established the Springfield Armory, the first federal arms manufactory in the United States, which manufactured the Springfield rifles used by the U.S infantry in the Civil War, World War I, and other conflicts.
In the middle of the valley, midway between Vermont and Connecticut, lie Northampton and Amherst. While Springfield is the largest city in the valley, Northampton and Amherst, home to the Five Colleges, are central to the valley's reputation as one of those "20 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality" places.
Culturally, the valley has been home to writers from the puritan Jonathan Edwards to poets Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Sylvia Plath, as well as Dr. Seuss.
Both basketball and volleyball were invented in the valley. Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield in 1891. Four years later, in 1895, William G. Morgan, athletic director at the Holyoke YMCA invented Volleyball as a sport that required less physical contact than basketball.
Other miscellaneous valley facts:
Calvin Coolidge was mayor of Northampton before becoming a state senator, governor of Massachusetts, and eventually president.
The graham cracker is named for Sylvester Graham, an eccentric vegetarian Northamptonite with controversial ideas about sexuality. (In his day - the mid-1800's this made him unusual.)
The valley was the site of one of the earliest known instances of biological warfare. More recently, it is the source of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Springfield is home to blues musician Taj Mahal, as well as Smith & Wesson revolvers and the Indian Motorcycle.