Mount Holyoke Summit House and Inclined Railway, Hadley, Massachusetts

The inclined railway leading up to the Summit House on Mount Holyoke, around 1867 to 1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, the summit of Mount Holyoke was the site of one of the first mountaintop hotels in the United States. At just 935 feet in elevation, it is not a particularly tall mountain, yet it rises high above the surrounding landscape in the otherwise low, flat Connecticut River valley. It is part of the Holyoke Range, a narrow ridgeline that runs east to west for about eight miles. This, in turn, is a sub-range within the much longer Metacomet Ridge, a traprock ridge that extends from Long Island Sound in Connecticut to just south of the Massachusetts-Vermont border.

Mount Holyoke is not the highest peak in the Holyoke Range, as it stands nearly 200 feet lower than Mount Norwottuck. However, it forms the western end of the ridge, with the Connecticut River passing through a narrow gap between Mount Holyoke and the Mount Tom Range. This prominent location makes it a major landmark for travelers in the river valley, and it also means that the summit has nearly 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape.

The combination of dramatic views and proximity to large large population centers made Mount Holyoke a popular destination in the 19th century, and the first building at the summit was built in 1821. In the spirit of a traditional barn raising, it was built with the help of nearly 200 townspeople who climbed to the summit to lend a hand. Consuming, as one 19th century account described it, “a little water with a good deal of brandy in it,” the group completed the summit house in just two days. It was a modest structure, measuring just 18 by 24 feet, but it was dedicated with much fanfare, including a speech by Northampton native and U. S. Senator Elijah H. Mills.

This first building was soon joined by a rival establishment nearby, but the two buildings were consolidated under the same ownership in 1825. The business operated here for several more decades, and during this time the view from the top of the mountain was made famous by Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting The Oxbow, long regarded as a masterpiece of 19th century American landscapes.

However, despite the mountain’s growing popularity, the accommodations at the summit remained primitive until mid-century. This began to change in 1849, when Northampton bookbinder John French and his wife Frances purchased the property. They soon began making improvements, most significantly a new hotel at the summit, which was completed in 1851. It was named the Prospect House, and it had two stories, with a dining room, sitting room, and office on the first floor, and six guest rooms on the second floor. Above the second floor was a cupola, which was equipped with a telescope. The hotel was later expanded several times, but this original 1851 structure still survives as part of the present-day building.

In addition to constructing a more substantial building, French also improved access to the summit. Prior to his ownership, it was relatively easy to reach the spot where these two photos were taken, whether on foot or by carriage. In terms of elevation, this spot is more than halfway up the mountain, but from here the slope becomes significantly steeper, as is made particularly evident in the first photo. The only options for visitors during the first half of the 19th century were either to take the long, winding, narrow carriage road to the summit, or hike the short but steep path up the mountainside, gaining over 350 feet in elevation in just 600 horizontal feet.

Neither option was ideal for most visitors, and the situation also made it difficult for French to bring supplies up the mountain. Even water had to be either carted or carried up to the summit, requiring him to sell it for around three to five cents per glass, or about $1.00 to $1.50 today. However, in 1854 he solved both problems with the construction of an inclined railway. It began here at this spot, next to French’s residence, which was known as the Halfway House, and it rose to the top of the mountain. It was originally powered by a stationary horse here at the base, although in 1856 French switched to steam power. The railway itself was rebuilt several times, but it had largely assumed its final form by 1867, as shown in the first photo. By then, the railway had two tracks, was completely enclosed, and brought its passengers directly into the basement of the hotel.

In the meantime, the hotel also grew, with the first major addition coming in 1861, when it was expanded to ten rooms. Then, in 1871 French sold the property to South Hadley businessman John Dwight. However, John and Frances French remained here to manage the hotel, and they continued in that role until their deaths in the 1890s. Then, the hotel was expanded even further in 1894, with the addition of a large wing on the south side of the building. This increased the hotel’s capacity to 40 guests, along with a dining room that could seat 200 people.

By then, the hotel had several local competitors on the nearby Mount Tom Range, with the Eyrie House atop Mount Nonotuck, and the Summit House on Mount Tom. However, both of these were plagued by fires, which was a constant danger for wood-frame buildings on isolated mountaintops. The Eyrie House, built in 1861 and later expanded, burned in 1901, and the same fire also destroyed the partially-built structure of what would have been a new hotel. The Summit House on Mount Tom faced similar problems, with the original 1897 hotel burning in 1900, and its replacement suffering the same fate in 1929.

However, although older than the other nearby hotels and built of similar materials, the hotel here on Mount Holyoke managed to avoid catastrophic fires. It faced different challenges, though, most significantly the declining popularity of mountaintop hotels in general. John Dwight died in 1903, the property was subsequently acquired by a group of prominent locals, including Holyoke silk manufacturer Joseph Skinner. The new owners made significant improvements, including electricity and modern plumbing. The railway was also electrified, and the first automobile road to the summit opened in 1908.

Skinner would ultimately acquire full ownership of the hotel, and he continued to modernize it throughout the early 20th century. It continued to face challenges though, particularly with the onset of the Great Depression, but the hotel was ultimately closed after the September 1938 hurricane. The older section of the building survived, but the storm destroyed the large 1894 addition. A year later Skinner donated the property to the state, and it became the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park.

Both the hotel and the inclined railway deteriorated after the park was established, and much of the roof over the railway was destroyed in a heavy snowstorm in 1948. The remains of the railway were removed in 1965, and the hotel itself was also threatened with demolition around this time. Despite many years of neglect, though, the building was ultimately restored in the 1980s, and it is now a museum.

Today, nearly all of the historic 19th century mountaintop hotels in the northeast are gone, most having been lost to fire, neglect, or both. However, the Summit House on Mount Holyoke is still standing as one of the few surviving examples. This scene has changed considerably since the first photo was taken around 150 years ago, including the loss of the railway and the significant tree growth on the previously bare slopes, but the Summit House is still visible from this spot.

Mount Holyoke Halfway House, Hadley, Mass

The Halfway House on the northern slope of Mount Holyoke in Hadley, around 1867-1885. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

For the past two centuries, the view from the top of Mount Holyoke has been one of the most celebrated mountaintop scenes in New England. Although only 935 feet above sea level, the traprock mountain rises abruptly from the low valley floor, providing nearly 360-degree views of the Connecticut River and the surrounding countryside. As a result, the mountain has drawn countless visitors over the years, and its view has been the subject of many works of art, including one of the most iconic American landscape paintings, Thomas Cole’s The Oxbow.

During the Romantic era of the early 19th century, a new emphasis on nature helped to spur interest in landscapes and scenery. Mountains, which had previously been regarded as impediments to travel, became destinations in their own right, leading to a proliferation of mountaintop hotels, particularly here in the northeast. Among the first of these was a small cabin that was built at the summit of Mount Holyoke in 1821. A second, rival structure was built a few years later, but it would be another three decades before a real hotel was built at the summit.

In 1849, Northampton bookbinder John French and his wife Frances purchased the property at the summit, and soon began construction on a new, more substantial structure. Completed in 1851 and named the Prospect House, the hotel was two stories in height, with a dining room, sitting room, and office on the first floor, and six guest rooms on the second floor.

French originally intended to live in the hotel year-round, but the windswept summit proved too cold and isolated in the winter, so in 1852 he and his family moved into a house on the northern slope of the mountain, shown here in the upper right side of both photos. It was known as the Halfway House, and in terms of elevation it is just over halfway from the valley floor to the summit. However, beyond here the climb becomes significantly more difficult. Up to this point, it is a steady but moderate ascent, but after the Halfway House the most direct route to the summit is up a steep slope, gaining over 350 feet in elevation in just 600 feet.

When the Prospect House opened, the only way up to the hotel from the Halway House was either by riding along a winding, narrow carriage road, or by climbing the short but steep path to the summit. Not only was this challenging for visitors to reach the hotel, but it also made it difficult for French to bring supplies. With no springs anywhere near the summit, water was a particularly scarce commodity, as it all had to be carted or carried up these same routes. As a result, visitors were charged for the water that they drank, paying between three and five cents per glass, or about $1 to $1.50 today. In addition, other liquid refreshments sold for considerably higher on the mountain than elsewhere.

In order to solve these problems, in 1854 French built an incline railway from here at the Halfway House to the summit. It was originally powered by a stationary horse, but two years later French replaced it with a steam engine. The entire railway was 600 feet in length, and by the late 1860s it was completely enclosed by a wooden shed. These two photos were taken from around the spot where the railway began, and from here it brought visitors directly into the basement of the Prospect House, allowing them to reach the hotel without even stepping outside.

John French expanded the hotel in 1861, and in 1867 he added a second track to the railway. Throughout this time, he and Frances resided at the Halfway House. The 1870 census shows them here with their 21-year-old daughter Frances. At the time, they also had three employees who lived here with them, including a clerk, a domestic servant, and a teenager who was listed as a “boy of all work.” The census listed the value of French’s real estate at $20,000, plus a personal estate valued at $8,000, for a total net worth equivalent to around $575,000 today.

French ultimately sold the hotel a year later in 1871 to South Hadley businessman John Dwight. However, Dwight retained John and Frances to manage the hotel, and they continued to live here in this house. The 1880 census lists them here along with a number of employees, including a telegraph operator, two cooks, a waiter, and an engineer. However, it seems unlikely that they would have all lived together in this small house, so they may have lived in other nearby buildings, or perhaps even in the hotel itself.

John French lived here until his death in 1891, and Frances until she died in 1899. By then, the hotel had been expanded even further. with an 1894 addition that gave the building a capacity of 40 guests. However, despite this growth the hotel entered a decline in the early 20th century. It was eventually acquired by wealthy Holyoke silk manufacturer Joseph Skinner in 1915, and he set about modernizing the building. Despite these improvements, though, the the heyday of mountaintop hotels had passed, and the Great Depression further compounded the problem. Then, the 1938 hurricane caused substantial damage to the hotel, requiring the demolition of the 1894 addition.

Skinner ultimately donated the hotel and its property to the state in 1939, with the land becoming the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park. However, the state showed little interest in the buildings on the property, which were largely neglected for many years. The inclined railway was last used in the early 1940s, and it was badly damaged after the roof of the shed collapsed in a heavy snowstorm in 1948. The remains of the railway were ultimately removed in 1965, and the hotel itself was also nearly demolished in the second half of the 20th century. However, it was instead restored, and it now serves as a museum.

Today, despite the loss of the railway, the Halfway House itself is still standing. It has been enlarged since the first photo was taken, with the addition of a second story above the rear part of the building, but otherwise it is still recognizable from its 19th century appearance. Although there are no longer any overnight accommodations at the summit, Mount Holyoke remains a popular destination. Most visitors still pass by the Halfway House on their way up the mountain, either by way of the auto road on the left side of the scene, or the hiking trail that crosses the road here before ascending steep slope to the summit.

83-89 Walnut Street, Springfield, Mass

The apartment building at 83-89 Walnut Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2019:

This apartment building was constructed in 1906 on the east side of Walnut Street, about halfway between the corners of Union and Oak Streets. Its design was typical for Springfield apartment blocks of the period, with four stories and a Classical Revival exterior that featured elements such as an ornate cornice, along with bows that projected from the building’s facade.

According to current city records, the building has 16 units, and this was likely the case throughout its history, with census records showing anywhere from 9 to 16 families living here during the first half of the 20th century. The 1910 census, for example, lists 13 different families. Some of these families had roomers living with them in their units, and there were a total of 42 residents here at the time. A few were employed at the nearby Springfield Armory, but most worked for private companies or individuals. These included several clerks and traveling salesmen, a physician, a dressmaker, a silk winder, a manicurist, a chauffeur, a real estate broker, and a locomotive inspector. However, the youngest employed resident here was nine-year-old Chester H. Scott, who worked as a newsboy in the days before child labor laws.

By the time the first photo was taken in the late 1930s, the building was evidently filled to capacity, with the 1940 census showing 16 families and a total of 56 residents. Most paid between $30 and $40 per month in rent (about $550 to $750 today), and as was the case 30 years earlier, many took in roomers, presumably to help offset the cost of the rent. Despite the significant increase in the number of residents from 1910, though, there were actually fewer people here who were employed, with only 24 having an occupation listed on the census.

Most of those in the 1940 census who did work earned between $1,000 and $1,500 per year (about $18,500 to $27,700 today), and the highest-paid residents were railroad conductor William R. Braney and factory foreman Joseph Webber, who each earned $2,000. Other workers here included several machinists, a bartender, a truck driver, a radio repairman, a laundress, and a bookkeeper. Only two residents worked at the Armory, although this would likely have changed within a few years, as the Armory dramatically increased its workforce in order to meet wartime demand during World War II.

Today, around 80 years after the first photo was taken, remarkably little has changed in this scene. The house on the far right side is gone, and there are no longer any horse-drawn wagons parked here on the street, but the building looks essentially the same, and it survives as a well-preserved example of an early 20th century apartment block.

Dennison O. Lombard House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 69-71 Walnut Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This house was apparently built around 1900 by Dennison O. Lombard, an iron foundry foreman who had previously lived in an earlier house on this lot. Lombard had acquired the property around 1889, after the death of its prior owner, Elisha D. Stocking. He lived there for about a decade before building the current house, which features a Queen Anne-style exterior that was popular for Springfield homes during the late 19th century. The lot also includes a smaller house, visible behind and to the left of the main house. This may have been built at the same time, but it is also possible that it is actually the original house, which could have been moved to the rear of the property when the new one was built.

During the 1900 census, Lombard was 54 years old, and he was living here with four of his children and his father. He was listed as being married at the time, but his wife was evidently not living here. They may have been separated for some time, because Lombard’s name appears in the newspaper archives in 1895, when his wife Nellie sued him for support. The census also shows butcher Alonzo A. Baker living on the property, presumably in the rear house. A year earlier, he had married his wife Ida, and by 1900 he was living here with his wife Ida and her 16-year-old daughter Elsie B. Kennedy. It was the second marriage for both Alonzo and Ida, as they had each been previously divorced, which was unusual for the late 19th century.

Lombard moves out of Springfield by 1903, and he died a year later. By the 1910 census, there were two different families living here, evidently with one in the main house and the other in the rear house. The first family was headed by Mary E. Murphy, a 48-year-old widow who lived here with nine of her ten children. They ranged in age from 7 to 24, and the five oldest were all employed. Alice was a stenographer for an ice company, Edward was a salesman for a baker wagon, Grace did office work for an art company, Samuel was a stenographer for a blank book company, and Ruth did office work for a publishing company.

The other residents on this property in 1910 were Charles and Catherine Wright, who were 48 and 37 years old, respectively. They lived here with five children, ranging from their 16-year-old daughter Grace to their three-year-old son William. The Wrights had a sixth living child who had presumably moved out already, and they also had three other children who had died young. Charles was the only person in the household who was employed, and he worked down the hill from here at Smith & Wesson.

By the early 1910s, this property was sold to Mary C. Gerrard, an Irish immigrant whose husband James had recently died. She lived here for several years until her death in 1915, but the house would remain in Gerrard family for many decades afterward. The 1920 census shows two of her children, Raymond and Catherine, living here, with Raymond working as an assembler at the nearby Armory.

Catherine was still living here when the first photo was taken in the late 1930s. She evidently rented rooms to lodgers, based on classified ads that frequently appeared in the newspaper during the mid-20th century, but during the 1940 census she only had one lodger, 67-year-old Florence Barker. Otherwise, she appears to have lived in the house without any other family members during this time, and she resided here until her death in 1976 at the age of 83.

Today, about 80 years after the first photo was taken, the house does not look significantly different. The buildings on the far left and far right sides of the first photo are now gone, but both the main house and the building in the rear of the property are still standing, with only minor exterior changes such as the removal of the shutters and the replacement of the porch railing.

State Street Baptist Church, Springfield, Mass

The State Street Baptist Church, at the corner of State and Dwight Streets in Springfield, around the 1870s or 1880s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

The State Street Baptist Church, also known as the Second Baptist Church, was established in 1864 as an offshoot of the First Baptist Church. A year later, the church began construction of a new building here on State Street, and it was completed in 1867. It featured an ornate High Victorian Gothic exterior, which was designed by Boston architect Sheperd S. Woodcock, and it was constructed at a cost of just over $41,000, including purchasing the property.

The building was formally dedicated on December 18, 1867, in a ceremony that included a number of local and regional Baptist clergymen. C. D. W. Bridgman, of the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Albany, preached the sermon, and other speakers included Rufus K. Bellamy of Chicopee, whose son Edward Bellamy later became a famous novelist. The church was filled to capacity for the occasion, and it was followed by a social gathering attended by members of the city’s two Baptist congregations, along with about a hundred guests from out of town. Then, the evening was marked by a second ceremony, which included a sermon preached by Justin D. Fulton of the Union Temple Church in Boston.

At the time, the pastor of the church was Albert K. Potter, an 1859 graduate of Brown University who spent five years at a church in South Berwick, Maine before coming to Springfield in 1865. He served here at the State Street Baptist Church for 18 years, before leaving for a church in Boston. The second pastor, who came here in 1884, was 25-year-old William Faunce. Like his predecessor, he was a Brown graduate, but he only remained at this church for five years, before becoming the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in New York. There, his most famous parishioner was John D. Rockefeller, who was already well on his way to becoming the richest man in the world. Faunce subsequently became president of Brown University, serving from 1899 to 1929. After his death in 1930, the school’s Rockefeller Hall was, at the request of the Rockefeller family, renamed Faunce House in his honor.

In the meantime, Springfield’s various Baptist churches underwent a series of mergers during the early 20th century. First Baptist, which had relocated to a new building on State Street around 1888, united with Highland Baptist around 1907, becoming the First Highland Baptist Church. The new congregation worshiped in the Highland Baptist building at the corner of State and Stebbins Streets, and in 1920 the State Street Baptist Church similarly merged, vacating their old building here on the lower part of State Street.

By this point, downtown Springfield had grown considerably since this building was completed more than 50 years earlier, and this area was now valuable commercial real estate. So, the old church building was ultimately demolished in 1927, and it was replaced the Arcade Theater, a 1,200-seat cinema that opened in 1931. This theater was located here until 1971, and it was demolished a year later in order to open a new road connecting Dwight Street to Maple Street, as shown in the present-day photo.

James W. Kirkham House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 265 State Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2019:

This house was completed in 1883 as the home of James W. Kirkham, a banker who, at the time, worked as the assistant cashier for the First National Bank. It was built at a cost of $13,000, and he moved into the house in January 1883 along with his wife Fanny and their infant son William. They went on to live here for the next 15 years or so, before moving to Maple Street in the late 1890s. Kirkham remained involved with the First National Bank throughout this time, and eventually became its president in 1905. By then, the family had moved into the former home of Orick H. Greenleaf on Maple Street, where Kirkham lived until his death in 1927.

In the meantime, this house on State Street was sold to Robert W. Day, the treasurer of the Morgan Envelope Company. Day had been with the company since its early years, starting as a 20-year-old office boy before steadily moving up in the ranks. In fact, it was the company founder, Elisha Morgan, who suggested that Day purchase this property, as it was located directly adjacent to his own home at 273 State Street. Day followed this advice, and he made some alterations to the house, which originally had a very different roof. The front gable, for example, is not original to the house, and it was likely added as part of these renovations.

In 1898, around the same time that Day moved into this house, the Morgan Envelope Company merged with nine other manufacturers to form the United States Envelope Company. Headquartered in nearby Holyoke, this company controlled about 90 percent of the nation’s envelope production, and Day retained his position as treasurer of the company, although he would later become vice president. In addition, he was involved in other area businesses, serving as vice president of the Springfield National Bank and president of the United Electric Company and the Indian Orchard Company.

During the 1900 census, Robert W. Day was 48 years old, and he was living here with his wife Ida and their children Pauline, Robert, Winsor, and Morgan, who ranged in age from seven to 21. The family also employed four servants who lived here with them, including one who was a coachman. A decade later, only the two youngest children were still living here with Robert and Ida, but they still had four servants, who were listed in the census as a waitress, a cook, a chambermaid, and a butler. Robert lived here until his death in 1926, and Ida remained here until at least the mid-1930s, although she subsequently moved to a house on Maple Street.

The first photo was taken around 1938 or 1939, and the house was apparently vacant by this point. However, within a few years it would be converted into commercial use, and for most of the 1940s it was the home of the Wesmas Candy Corporation. Starting in 1949, Western Mass Theaters, Inc. was located here, and both the house and carriage house on the property had several other commercial tenants during the second half of the 20th century.

Both buildings were vacant by the 1990s and were badly deteriorated, but they were ultimately restored in an extensive project that was completed in 2006. Since then, the house has been used as law offices, and today there are few noticeable differences from the first photo. The house is one of the few surviving 19th century homes on this section of State Street, where it serves as a reminder of the days when this area was home to some of the city’s most affluent residents.