The History and Future of the Cowls Family Homestead by Cinda Jones, as presented to the Amherst Club in February 2011
Daughters of the American Revolution, Amherst Chapter, A History of Cowls, Speech of Cinda Jones. March 18, 2003
Interview with Cinda Jones, Neighbor to Neighbor, Amherst Community Television, February 23, 2011
See how timber from Cowls forests was manufactured in North Amherst: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU8Ot-3MJns
W. D. Cowls, Inc. is a unique agricultural, sustainable forestry, real estate and building materials business that blends the best of the last three centuries with the best of the new. In October 1741, Jonathan Cowls brought his family across the Connecticut River from Hatfield, Massachusetts, and settled on land he bought in what is now North Amherst. The Cowls were among the first families to settle in Amherst, then part of Hadley. That original Cowls' "Home Farm" in North Amherst has been under continuous cultivation and evolution ever since. Today, Cowls Building Supply, North Amherst Village Center and Cowls' 270+ year old timberland offices are still on this site as well as an Auction Barn and active agricultural land.
Cowls' 9th generation, siblings Evan Jones and Cinda Jones, still make their living on the family farm. On company-owned timberlands, Cowls grows and harvests hardwood, pine, oak and hemlock and other forest products and retails lumber, paint, hardware and building materials through its full-line full service home center.
In the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century silviculture overshadowed agriculture as lumbering became Cowls' predominant activity. In the early days it was too costly and cumbersome to bring logs to a permanent sawmill. Instead crews hauled portable mills into the woods to saw logs into lumber on site. Lumber milled by Walter Dickinson Cowls supplied railroad ties, posts, poles and lumber for the Amherst-Sunderland Street Railway in the late 1800s. The trolley depot was on Cowls' Home Farm in North Amherst.
In the early 1900's this same W.D.Cowls hired Massachusetts Agricultural College student Gerald Jones to help him. Gerald fell in love with Sarah, his boss' only child. With their marriage and the birth of their only child, Walter C. Jones, the Jones family name lives on, while the Cowls name is perpetuated by the Company.
At the turn of the century dairy farming was still an active business of the Cowls/Jones family. But as the new century advanced, so did technology. Improvements in milling equipment, trucking and roadways made it feasible to bring logs from the forest to a permanent mill. W.D.Cowls died in 1928. Less than a dozen years later, Gerald and his son Walter built on the old family farm what may have been New England's first electric sawmill. Later they built a planing mill. This allowed them to oversee all aspects of lumber manufacturing, from growing trees to producing a wide variety of finished products.
Logs are harvested from several thousand acres owned by Cowls in 28 towns in Hampshire and Franklin counties and sold to several mills around New England. The Cowls Tree Farms are managed by a full-time forestry division within the company and provide valuable open space made available for recreation and wildlife habitat.
In 1980 Paul Jones built Cowls Building Supply, a retail store that featured Cowls sawmill products as a specialty. He expanded the planer mill operation to include a timber sizer and a new planer-notcher, and finished locally harvested sawmill products for retail sales.
In 2010 Cowls shuttered its unprofitable sawmill operations. Today rather than going to Cowls’ sawmill, our logs are sold to other regional mills and diverse manufacturers.