Mount Holyoke Summit, Hadley, Mass

A group of visitors sitting on the rock ledges near the summit of Mount Holyoke in Hadley, around the 1860s or 1870s. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post, Mount Holyoke is a traprock mountain on the Metacomet Ridge, which runs roughly south to north from Long Island Sound to near the Massachusetts-Vermont state line. Although relatively low in elevation compared to the mountains of the nearby Berkshires, the ridge runs through the middle of the Connecticut River Valley providing dramatic views from atop the steep rocky cliffs. At 935 feet in elevation, Mount Holyoke is a few hundred feet lower than the highest peaks on the ridge, but it offers perhaps the most impressive views of any mountaintop in southern New England. Here, the Connecticut River flows through a narrow gap between Mount Holyoke to the east and Mount Nonotuck to the west, and the river is visible for miles in both directions.

The river takes a meandering course through the flat river valley to the north of Mount Holyoke. The most famous of these meanders is the Oxbow, a three-mile-long U-shaped bend in the river at the base of the mountain. This prominent natural feature was the focal point of Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting The Oxbow, which portrays the scene from near this spot at the summit. His work went on to become one of the most important 19th century American landscape paintings, but the actual view here from Mount Holyoke changed dramatically only a few years later. In 1840, a flood cut through the narrow neck of land in the middle of the bend, and the main current of the river shifted to the new shorter route, turning the Oxbow into a side channel.

The first photo was taken only a few decades later, and it shows the wide river passing through the lower right side of the scene, with the circular Oxbow beyond it in the distance. By this point, Mount Holyoke was a popular destination for visitors, including the well-dressed group of women sitting on the rocks in the foreground. Directly behind them, barely visible on the far left side, is the corner of the Summit House, also known as the Prospect House. This hotel was built in 1851, replacing an earlier building on the site, and it provided accommodations and refreshments for guests who either hiked up or took the inclined railway to the summit. The man in the center of the photo could very well be hotel owner John French or one of his employees, as the hotel provided telescopes for mountaintop visitors.

The hotel steadily expanded during the second half of the 19th century, and at some point a porch was added to the northern side of the building, as shown in the present-day photo. However, by the early 20th century mountaintop hotels had passed their heyday. Thanks to modernization efforts of Holyoke silk manufacturer Joseph Skinner, the Summit House remained viable for many years, but it ultimately closed after sustaining heavy damage in the 1938 hurricane. A large wing of the building, which had been added in 1894, was demolished after the hurricane, and in 1939 the property was donated to the state, becoming the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park.

Today, this scene at the summit of Mount Holyoke is still easily recognizable from the first photo, despite a conspicuous lack of women in hoop dresses. The Summit House is still standing, after having been restored in the 1980s, and it is now open seasonally as a museum. Further in the distance, the Oxbow is still there, although somewhat less prominent than in the first photo.

Part of the reason for this might be because of the increased tree growth along its banks, but also because the Oxbow has been heavily altered in the 20th century. It is now closed off from the upstream side, with only a narrow channel on the downstream side to link it to the Connecticut River. Along with this, Interstate 91 now passes directly over it, and a large chunk of the land inside the curve has been carved out to create a marina. As a result, it bears little resemblance to the undisturbed natural feature that Cole painted nearly 200 years ago, but it remains an important landmark that has long been associated with this view from Mount Holyoke.

Connecticut River and Mount Tom from Mount Holyoke, Hadley, Mass

The view looking south from the Mount Holyoke Summit House in Hadley, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019

One of the most important geological features in the Connecticut River Valley is the Metacomet Ridge, a long narrow traprock formation that runs roughly parallel to the river. It passes through central Connecticut and western Massachusetts, running from Long Island Sound to just south of the Vermont border. Its peaks are relatively low in elevation compared to the mountains of the Berkshires further west, with few reaching above a thousand feet, but the ridge stands out in the landscape because it rises so high above the surrounding low-lying river valley.

Because of this prominence, the Metacomet Ridge offers expansive views from atop its steep traprock ledges. However, perhaps none of these views are as celebrated as those from Mount Holyoke, which sits on the border of Hadley and South Hadley, Massachusetts. The 935-foot mountain is in the middle of a ten mile section that features some of the highest elevations of the entire ridgeline. This section is bookended by the two highest peaks of the Metacomet Ridge, with the 1,200-foot Mount Tom at the southern end and the 1,106-foot Mount Norwottuck to the east.

Although Mount Holyoke is comparatively lower in elevation, it has a unique position. Here, the ridge takes a sharp 90-degree turn across the Connecticut River, forming two perpendicular ranges bisected by the river. Mount Holyoke is located directly east of the river, so the top of the mountain provides dramatic views of the river as it winds its way through the surrounding farmland. Most famously, these scenes inspired 19th century artist Thomas Cole to paint The Oxbow, one of the most iconic landscape paintings in the history of American art.

The view captured in The Oxbow is not the same direction as the two photos shown here in this post. Cole’s painting faces almost due west, while these two photos were taken facing south, looking downstream on the river with the city of Holyoke in the distance on the left and Mount Holyoke on the right. Unlike the views to the west or north from the summit, this southern view is not nearly as celebrated in paintings or photographs. Part of this might be because the viewer is typically facing into the sun in this direction, creating a backlit scene. Another reason might be because the mountain has a much more gradual southern slope, so the landscape seems more distant when compared to the views from atop the steep northern and western cliffs.

Either way, the scene in the first photo shows some interesting contrasts. The jagged spine of the Metacomet Ridge runs across the horizon of the photo, parallel to the gently curving Connecticut River in the center of the scene. Further to the left, the prosperous industrial city of Holyoke in the distance contrasts with the open fields and scattered farmhouses of the foreground. The view is somewhat different in the present-day scene, as the trees now obscure most of the foreground, but both the river and the ridgeline remain dominant features in the landscape.

Both of these photos were taken from the porch of the Summit House, which was built in 1851 and expanded several times in the second half of the 19th century. At the time, mountaintop hotels were particularly popular, and the Summit House here on Mount Holyoke was just one of three in the vicinity; the others included the Eyrie House atop Mount Nonotuck, and the Summit House on Mount Tom, which is visible in the distance on the right side of the first photo.

It is difficult to tell, but the Mount Tom hotel in the photo appears to have been the first of three successive hotels at the summit. This one burned in 1900, probably soon after the photo was taken, and it was subsequently rebuilt twice in the early 20th century. The Eyrie House likewise burned in 1901 and was never rebuilt, yet the Mount Holyoke hotel has managed to avoid such a fate, and the building is still standing today as a museum.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, and nearly two centuries after Thomas Cole made the mountain famous, much has changed in the view from Mount Holyoke. The land is actually far more forested now than it was at the turn of the 20th century, so in some ways there are actually fewer obvious signs of human development. However, the abundance of trees also makes very clear the swath that Interstate 91 cuts across the modern-day landscape, about halfway between the river and the mountains.

Despite these changes, though, the view from Mount Holyoke remains perhaps the most impressive landscape view in southern New England. Although overnight guests no longer stay at the Summit House, the mountain remains a popular destination, with visitors driving up the auto road or climbing the relatively short hike from the base. In 1939, the summit and the surrounding land became the Joseph Allen Skinner State Park, after its namesake donated the land to the state. Much of the remaining land along the Holyoke and Mount Tom ranges has similarly been preserved, and the area affords some of the best hiking and other outdoor recreation opportunities in the Connecticut River Valley.

Randall and Second Streets, Adams, Mass (3)

Looking north on Second Street toward the corner of Randall Street in Adams, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These photos were taken from the same spot as the ones in the previous post, just facing further to the north. The original photos, including ones featured in blog posts here and here, may have actually been intended as a panorama, because they line up with just a bit of overlap; the duplex on the far left here is the same building on the far right in the previous post.

In any case, these historic photos were taken in the early 20th century, when Adams was a fast-growing factory town. Its population had doubled in the 20 years between 1880 and 1900, and this period saw the development of new residential neighborhood, including these streets on the hillside immediately to the east of the center of town. Some of the houses here had already been built by the time the first photo was taken, but there were sill many vacant lots, and the streets were simply narrow dirt paths.

As mentioned in the previous house, the 1900 census shows that the duplex on the left, at 40-42 Randall Street, was the home of two different families. On the left side was Fred Wilder, a teamster who lived here with his wife Ida, their daughter, and a boarder. The other side of the house was rented by Grace Welch, a 23-year-old woman who lived here with her three children.

Also during the 1900 census, the house in the center of the photo, at 44 Randall Street, was owned by Arthur Randall, whose family may have been the namesake of the street. He was 26 years old at the time, and he, like several of his neighbors, worked as a teamster. At the time, four generations of the family lived here, including Arthur and his wife Azilda, their infant son Everett, Arthur’s father Levi Randall, grandfather Gilbert Harrington, and niece Ella Randall. Levi, who was 58 years old in 1900, worked as a carpenter, and according to the 1904 county atlas he was the owner of the duplex at 40-42 Randall Street.

The other house visible in the first photo is at 14 Second Street, located beyond and to the right of the Randall house. In 1900 it was owned by 43-year-old Marcus Harrington, the uncle of Arthur Russell. He was a blacksmith, and he lived here with his wife Elizabeth and their three children: Walter, Velma, and Earl. According to the 1904 atlas, he also owned the neighboring house at 16 Second Street. However, this house does not appear on the census, so it may have been either unbuilt or vacant in 1900.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much has changed in this scene. The roads look very different, having been widened and paved, and the exteriors of the houses have also changed, including the removal of the shutters, installation of modern siding, and alterations to the front porches. Overall, though, the turn-of-the-century houses are still standing here, and this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo.

Randall and Second Streets, Adams, Mass (2)

The view looking northwest from the corner of Randall and Second Streets in Adams, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These two photos were taken from the same spot as the ones in the previous two posts, which face to the southwest and west. This particular view looks toward the northwest, with the town of Adams in the foreground and the Greylock Range in the distance. The present-day photo does not line up perfectly with the first one, as the line of sight from the original spot is blocked by the house on the far left, but the two photos show the same overall scene, including the two houses on the right side of the first photo, which still stand here in the second photo.

The houses here in the foreground were, for the most part, built around the late 19th century. During this time, Adams was growing in population, becoming an important manufacturing center on the Hoosic River, and residential neighborhoods were steadily making their way up the hillside to the east of town. Many of the house lots were still undeveloped by the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the century, as indicated by the cornfield in the foreground, but most of these would soon have houses on them.

The two houses on the right side of the first photo were both built sometime around 1900, and they are both included in that year’s census. At the time, the one furthest to the right, at 40-42 Randall Street, was occupied by two families. The left side was the home of 34-year-old teamster Fred Wilder, his wife Ida, their daughter Bertha, and a boarder who also worked as a teamster. On the right side was 23-year-old Grace Welch, who lived here with her three children. They ranged in age from 10 months to 7 years, and according to the census she had been married for nine years. It also listed her as being a widow, although subsequent censuses show her as being married to Melvin Welch, so this part of her record was likely in error.

To the left of the duplex is a single-family home at 38 Randall Street. In 1900 it was owned by Ai Davis, a 47-year-old stonemason who lived here with his wife Nora and their five children, the oldest of whom was 23 and the youngest was 5. Their oldest, Hiram, was a teamster, and two other children were listed as attending school. Like her neighbor Grace, Nora had also apparently married very young, because she was 39 years old in 1900 and had already been married for 24 years.

Further in the distance, the most visible building in downtown Adams is the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company. Founded in 1889, the company grew quickly over the next few decades, and by the time the first photo was taken in the early 20th century it consisted of a large factory complex with a number of buildings in the center of the scene. In 1904, the company had around 2,400 people, making it a significant employer in a town that, at the time, had around 12,000 residents.

In more than a century since the first photo was taken, many changes have occurred here in this scene. The cornfield in the foreground is gone, having been replaced by the house on the far left side at some point around the 1920s. In the distance, the slopes of Mount Greylock are now far more wooded than they had been in the first photo, and much of downtown Adams is also now obscured by trees. The houses at 38 and 40-42 Randall Street are still standing though, as are some of the buildings in the Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing Company complex.

During the 20th century, Berkshire Cotton Manufacturing went through a series of mergers in the 20th century, eventually merging with Hathaway Manufacturing in 1955 to become Berkshire Hathaway. It continued to produce textiles here into the second half of the 20th century, and came under the control of a young Warren Buffett in 1965. The factory ultimately closed, and many of the buildings have since been demolished, but the company itself still exists. No longer a small-town cotton mill, Berkshire Hathaway is now a major multi-national holding company headquartered in Omaha, although its name continues to serve as a reminder of its origins here along the Hoosic River in Adams.

Mount Greylock from Adams, Massachusetts

The view of Mount Greylock as seen from the corner of Randall and Second Streets in Adams, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

These two images do not line up perfectly; the first one was taken a few yards to the south of where the 2019 one was taken. However, the view from that spot is now blocked by a house that stands where the cornfield in the foreground used to be, so the present-day photo was taken a little closer to the corner of Randall Street. However, the overall scene is the same in both photos, showing the town of Adams at the bottom of the hill, with the summit of Mount Greylock as the backdrop in the distant center.

Standing 3,491 feet above sea level, Mount Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts. It is part of the Taconic Mountains, a range within the Appalachians that runs roughly along the New York-Massachusetts border, and it is also one of the most topographically-prominent mountains in New England, rising nearly 2,500 feet above all of its surrounding valleys. As a result, it is visible for miles in every direction, and it is the most distinctive landscape feature within the town of Adams.

The east slope of the mountain, shown here in this scene, is its steepest. From the summit, it drops more than 2,700 feet in less than three miles to the floor of the Hoosic River valley. The town of Adams was settled here along the river, and during the second half of the 19th century it developed into a thriving industrial community. The town was divided in half in 1878, with the more populous northern half becoming North Adams, but Adams continued to grow, and by the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century its population had risen to over 10,000 residents.

The photo shows the downtown area of Adams, as seen from the hills immediately to the east. By this point, this area was in the process of being developed for housing, and the 1904 county atlas shows that the land in the foreground had already been subdivided into individual lots. Some of the houses had already been built by then, but other lots were still vacant, including the cornfield here in the first photo. However, within a decade or two this site would also be developed, and there is now a 1920s-era house that stands just out of view on the left.

Today, Adams is no longer a major factory town, and its population is actually smaller than it was at the turn of the last century. Overall, though, this view is not significantly different from the first photo. Probably the single most noticeable change is the increased number of trees. In the foreground, downtown Adams is mostly hidden by the trees, although there are several buildings visible, most notably the First Congregational Church, which stands in the center of the scene. Beyond the town, the slopes of Mount Greylock are much more wooded today than in the first photo, and at the summit is the Veterans War Memorial Tower, which was dedicated in 1933 in memory of Massachusetts residents who died in World War I.

Randall and Second Streets, Adams, Mass

The view looking southwest from the corner of Randall and Second Streets in Adams, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Berkshires became an important industrial center, with a number of factories located along the Housatonic and Hoosic Rivers. Here in Adams, near the northwest corner of Massachusetts, the town saw rapid growth during this period because of its industries. It lost nearly two thirds of its population in 1878 when its northern half was partitioned off as the town of North Adams, but over the next 20 years it doubled in population, ultimately reaching its peak at just over 13,000 people by 1910.

The first photo was taken around this time, facing southwest from the hillside just to the east of the center of town. A portion of downtown Adams is visible in the distance, including the steeple of First Baptist Church, which stands in the center of the photo. Further beyond the town is the southern end of the Greylock Range, which features the tallest mountains in the state. The highest, Mount Greylock, is just out of view on the far right side, but the state’s second-highest peak, Saddle Ball Mountain, is evidently visible in this scene.

In the foreground of the first photo is a corn field. At the time, this neighborhood was only partially developed, consisting of a few late 19th century homes interspersed with empty lots such as this one. However, by this point the area was already eyed for future development, with the 1904 county atlas showing that this land had already been subdivided into new streets and house lots, which were owned by the Bonnie Brae Land Company. Many of the houses and streets were ultimately never built, perhaps because the population of Adams plateaued after 1910, but this former corn field was developed sometime after the first photo was taken. As shown in the present-day scene, it is now the site of a bungalow-style house that, based on its architecture, was probably built sometime around the 1920s.