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The Town of Monroe is the smallest town in Franklin County, covering about 12 square miles and named for President James Monroe. It is an isolated town within the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts with rugged uplands and an overall terrain that was not enticing to early settlers. During the Colonial years, there was a small native population but only occasional hunters or lumbermen from Rowe, Charlemont or Heath using the town. The native population increased as they were pushed out of more desirable areas by increasing European populations but the limited access to Monroe and its limited resources for farming or water power production tended to slow its development by colonists. The first permanent settlement appears to have been in 1800 but even by 1830, Monroe had only 265 people, the smallest population in the Connecticut Valley. Residents relied on a strictly agricultural economy and there was only one immigrant, an Irishman, listed in the census of the community in 1855. As late as 1879, Monroe had no formal churches, organized villages or mercantile businesses, but in 1887 there was an explosion of development in Monroe which included the establishment of the James Ramage Paper Company and the construction of the narrow-gauge Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington. These changes brought increased population and increased immigration, especially of Austrians. The Hoosac opened up the town known as "The Switzerland of America". There was increased growth around 1900 in the use of hydro-electric power in the whole Deerfield Valley which brought the establishment of four plants along the Deerfield River. The town now lies between Yankee Atomic Electric and Bear Swamp Hydroelectric. Ultimately, however, the drop in the fortunes of the paper mills depressed the industrial activity of Monroe and the town returned to its historical reliance on dairy farming. In modern times, there has been a gradual development of the recreational potential of the town, including the Monroe State Forest, which is a 4240 acre woodland preserve, and a modest return to lumbering operations. (Seal supplied by community. Narrative based on information provided by the Massachusetts Historical Commission)
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