Mount Toby from South Sugarloaf Mountain, Deerfield, Mass

A panoramic view looking east from South Sugarloaf Mountain in Deerfield, toward Mount Toby in Sunderland, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2021:

These two photos were not taken from the exact same spot, as shown by the different angles of the bridges in the lower right, but they show the same general view of the Connecticut River, the town of Sunderland, and Mount Toby in the distance. Both were taken from near the summit of South Sugarloaf Mountain, a relatively small hill that forms the southern end of the Pocumtuck Range, which is part of the larger Metacomet Ridge. Sugarloaf is best known for its dramatic views of the valley to the south, but this eastern view is also offers impressive scenery.

South Sugarloaf is often referred to simply as Sugarloaf Mountain, although it is the smaller of the two summits that comprise the mountain. However, the northern peak, while nearly 200 feet higher in elevation, has only limited views from the summit, and is rarely visited. By contrast, the southern peak has long been a popular tourist destination. Rising to an elevation of 610 feet, it is about 500 feet higher than the Connecticut River, which passes just a third of a mile from the summit.

The first photo was likely taken from the Summit House, which was built here in 1864. These types of mountaintop hotels were popular in the northeast during the second half of the 19th century, and several others were located on nearby summits on the Metacomet Ridge, including the Prospect House on Mount Holyoke and the Eyrie House on Mount Nonotuck. Even Mount Toby briefly had a tower and hotel at the summit, but the buildings burned in 1882. This was a common fate for summit houses, given their isolated locations far above water sources, and the summit house on Sugarloaf Mountain would eventually be destroyed by a fire in 1966.

Mount Toby, which towers in the distance beyond the town of Sunderland, is geologically related to Sugarloaf Mountain. It is the highest peak on the Metacomet Ridge, and at 1,269 feet it is more than twice the height of South Sugarloaf. However, as the photos show, the mountain is not a single peak. Its rugged landscape has many different summits, the highest of which is on the northern side, on the far left side of both photos.

The mountain is said to be named for Elnathan Toby, supposedly the first white settler to climb it. In the 19th century, though, the prominent geologist Edward Hitchcock criticized this rather bland name. Hitchcock, who would later serve as president of Amherst College, published a report on the state’s geology in 1841. In it, he included Mount Toby, along with Sugarloaf and a number of other peaks, as part of a list of “uncouth and vulgar names” for Massachusetts mountains. Hitchcock tended to prefer Native American names, and he succeeded in renaming several peaks, including Hilliard’s Knob, which was renamed Mount Norwottuck in a large mountaintop ceremony in 1846. He made a similar attempt on Mount Toby three years later, naming it Mettawompe in honor of the Native American chief who had sold the surrounding land to white settlers. However, unlike Norwottuck, this name didn’t stick, apparently because of local opposition among Sunderland residents, and the mountain has continued to be known as Mount Toby.

Aside from the ill-fated attempts to operate a summit house on Mount Toby during the 19th century, the mountain has remained largely undeveloped, and today it looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken around 1891. The town of Sunderland has also retained much of its rural appearance, and many of the houses along Main Street are still standing, as is the 1836 First Congregational Church, which is visible on the right side of both photos. Another town landmark in this scene is the Buttonball Tree. Although not identifiable from this distance, it stands near the center of the scene in both photos, about a quarter mile north of the church. With a girth of over 25 feet, this sycamore tree is one of the widest trees in the region, and it is estimated to be over 350 years old. Overall, probably the only easily-noticeable difference in these photos is the bridge over the Connecticut River. The one in the first photo was built in 1877, and it spanned the river until 1936, when a bridge further upstream was washed away in a flood and crashed into this bridge.

In the meantime, here on South Sugarloaf, the mountain continues to offer some of the finest mountaintop views in the state. It is now part of the Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation, and there is an auto road to the summit, along with several short hiking trails. In place of the 19th century summit house, the mountain is now topped by an observation tower with several different levels of platforms.

Deerfield River Valley, Charlemont, Mass

The view looking east along the Deerfield River in the western part of Charlemont, around 1891. Image from Picturesque Franklin (1891).

The scene in 2021:

These two photos show the road heading toward the center of Charlemont, with the Deerfield River on the right and the distinctive summits of Mount Peak in the distance. Today, the road is known as the Mohawk Trail, and its route through the Berkshires offers some of the finest scenery in the state. However, the current road is largely an early 20th century creation, and its route over the mountains bears little resemblance to its predecessors.

The northern Berkshires have long been a major obstacle to east-west travel through the area. Unlike further south, there are no low-elevation mountain passes here. For a westbound traveler, heading in the opposite direction of where these photos are facing, the Deerfield River valley provides an easy route deep into the mountains. However, a few miles to the west of here, the narrow valley turns abruptly to the north at the base of the Hoosac Mountains. These mountains form a continual ridgeline for miles in either direction, with elevations exceeding two thousand feet.

In the pre-colonial period, Native Americans crossed the mountains by way of a footpath, but not until the 1750s did European settlers build a road across the mountain. This road was later improved and partially rerouted in the 1760s, and it appears to have followed the Deerfield River before ascending along the northern slope of Clark Mountain.  Then, in 1797, the Second Massachusetts Turnpike was incorporated to construct a toll road across the mountains. Rather than beginning the ascent at Clark Mountain, this road followed the river along present-day Zoar Road and River Road almost as far as the current site of the Hoosac Tunnel, before climbing up the mountain by way of Whitcomb Hill Road. However, many travelers chose to continue taking the older road in order to avoid paying tolls on the new turnpike, so the older road came to be known as a “shunpike.”

This information is relevant to this particular site here in Charlemont, because the rest area on the right side of the present-day photo is known as the Shunpike Rest Area. It features a historical marker, installed by the Mohawk and Taconic Trail Association in 1957, that reads:

To the Thrifty Travelers of the Mohawk Trail who in 1797 here forded the Deerfield River rather than pay toll at the Turnpike Bridge and who in 1810 won the battle for free travel on all Massachusetts Roads.

However, despite the claims of this sign, there seems to be little historical evidence to suggest that this spot in Charlemont was where shunpike travelers would ford the river. The turnpike bridge over the Deerfield River was some 3.5 miles further upstream from here, at the border of Charlemont and Florida. That bridge was also the eastern end of the turnpike; the company’s original charter allowed it to construct a turnpike over the mountain “from the west line of Charlemont.” In addition, that bridge was the point where the turnpike and the older road diverged, so it seems more likely that these “shunpikers” would have crossed the river somewhere near that bridge, rather than several miles downstream at this spot.

In any case, the first photo was taken sometime around the early 1890s, only a few decades before the road through the mountains was substantially upgraded with the construction of the Mohawk Trail. Heading west through Charlemont, it follows existing roads as far as this spot here, but just to the west of here, in the opposite direction of these photos, the Mohawk Trail crosses to south side of the Deerfield River. It then follows the steep, narrow gorge of the Cold River, a smaller tributary of the Deerfield, before making its final ascent to the plateau at the top of the ridgeline.

With its current route, the Mohawk Trail completely bypasses the earlier roads up the eastern side of the mountain, including both the turnpike and the earlier shunpike. It also does not go anywhere near the part of the Deerfield River where turn-of-the-19th-century shunpikers would have most likely forded the river. If that is the case, it raises the question of why this historically-dubious marker would have been placed here at this rest area.

The answer might have something to do with the date that this historical marker was installed here. The modern-day Massachusetts Turnpike, which bears no relationship to similarly-named roads of the 19th century, opened in 1957, the same year that this marker was installed. According to newspaper articles from the period, local residents along the Mohawk Trail were concerned that the new highway would hurt business here in the northern part of the state. So, the Mohawk and Taconic Trail Association created the slogan “Go turnpike—return shunpike” in the hopes of encouraging motorists to make a grand tour of western Massachusetts, rather than taking the turnpike in both directions.

Probably not coincidentally, this was the same association that, around the same time, dedicated this historical marker “To the Thrifty Travelers.” It would not have been possible to place such a marker on the Mohawk Trail at the seemingly more plausible site of the shunpike ford, since the road does not go there. Instead, the road’s promoters seem to have played fast and loose with the history in order to appeal to nostalgia and Yankee frugality, in order to boost tourism through here.

Regardless of the accuracy of the historical marker, though, this particular section of the Mohawk Trail has been part of the east-west route through the northern Berkshires since at least the 18th century, with maps as early as the 1790s showing it taking this same course eastward toward Charlemont. The road is very different from its appearance in the first photo, and the rest area now takes the place of the meadow next to the river, but the road is still in the same spot, and this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo because of Mount Peak in the distance.

Eastern View From Catskill Mountain House, Catskill, New York

The view looking east from the Catskill Mountain House, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

These photos were taken from the same spot as the ones in the previous post, but these are facing more to the east, directly across the Hudson River Valley. When the first photo was taken, this was the site of the Catskill Mountain House, a hotel that had been constructed here in 1824. Because of its dramatic views and easy accessibility from New York and other large cities, the hotel soon became one of the country’s most popular resort destinations. These views also helped to inspire a number of prominent artists, including Thomas Cole, the founder of the art movement that would come to be known as the Hudson River School.

Originally, most guests would have reached the Mountain House by taking a Hudson River steamboat to the village of Catskill, which is located in the distance on the far left side of these photos. From there, it was a 12-mile stagecoach ride to the Mountain House, which took about three or four hours. However, by the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, railroads had shortened this travel time to just 40 to 50 minutes. The narrow gauge Catskill Mountain Railroad took guests to the base of the escarpment, and then the remaining portion of the journey was by way of the Otis Elevating Railway, a 1.3-mile-long funicular railroad that rose more than 1,600 feet in elevation from the valley to the Mountain House. A portion of this railroad, including the large trestle near the base of the incline, is visible in the lower center of the first photo.

For guests at the Mountain House, one of the highlights of their stay was to watch the sunrise from this vantage point. Early in the summer season, the sun rises on the extreme left side of these two photos, but as the summer progresses the sunrise location migrates steadily to the west. By mid-October the sun rises directly above Mount Everett in the center of this scene, and by the winter solstice the sunrise is on the far right side, although few 19th century visitors would have seen it, since the hotel was only open during the warmer months.

Among those inspired by the sunrise here was artist Frederic Edwin Church, a student of Thomas Cole. One of his earliest paintings, Morning, Looking East over the Hudson Valley from Catskill Mountains (1848), shows the sunrise here, with an emphasis on sunlight and clouds that would become a major characteristic of his later works. Church would subsequently travel the world for subject matter for his landscape paintings, but in the early 1870s he returned to the Catskills and built his one, Olana, on the east side of the Hudson River, opposite the village of Catskill. This house still stands as a museum, and it is barely visible in the distance of the second photo.

Today, some 120 years after the first photo was taken, the Catskill Mountain House is long gone, having been deliberately burned in 1963 after sitting vacant for more than 20 years. However, the view from here is as impressive as ever, and from this distance there are not too many major changes to the landscape. Perhaps the most significant difference is the number of trees in this scene. When the first photo was taken, there were many open fields here in the valley. However, with the decreased importance of agriculture in this region, many of these fields have now been reclaimed by trees, resulting in a landscape that is far more forested than what the 19th century guests of the Mountain House would have seen.

Northeastern View From Catskill Mountain House, Catskill, New York

The view looking northeast across the Hudson River Valley from the Catskill Mountain House, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The view in 2021:

As explained in an earlier post, the Catskill Mountain House was built in 1824 on a ledge along the Catskill Escarpment. This site is located on the far eastern edge of the Catskill Mountains, about 2,200 feet above sea level. From here, the landscape drops abruptly to the east, with the Hudson River just eight miles away. As a result, this site offers dramatic views of the river valley, which is visible for many miles in either direction. Further in the distance, on the eastern edge of valley, are the Taconic Mountains, which run along the New York-Massachusetts border. Among the peaks visible in this scene is Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, located 54 miles to the northeast of here.

This view drew visitors to the Mountain House for well over a century, and it was often declared, rather hyperbolically, to be one of the greatest views in the country. While unquestionably an impressive view, it pales in comparison to those from some of the higher peaks in the northeast, let alone the many grand views in the mountain ranges of the west. However, this site was probably the finest view that was readily accessible to the masses during the 19th century, as it was within easy reach of New York City and other large population centers.

The Catskills began to wane in popularity shortly after the turn of the 20th century, not long after the first photo was taken. In part, this was because of expanded transportation options; rather than depending on steamboats or railroads to taken them up the Hudson River to the Catskills, Americans now had the luxury of transcontinental trains, along with private automobiles that could take them to previously unreachable vacation spots. The Mountain House ultimately closed after the 1942 season, and the building steadily deteriorated for the next two decades before being deliberately burned in 1963.

Today, the site of the Mountain House looks very different, with an empty field marking the spot of what had once been the country’s finest resort hotel. However, as shown in these two photos here, the view that enticed so many visitors throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries is still largely unchanged. The Hudson River Valley is certainly much more developed than it was more than a century ago, but it is hard to tell from this view more than 1,600 feet above the valley. From this distance, modern developments like highways and suburban sprawl tend to blend in with the rest of the landscape. It is also interesting to note that there actually appears to be more forested now than in the early 1900s, reflecting changing land use patterns and a decline of large-scale agriculture here in the river valley.

Boulder Rock, Catskill, New York (2)

The view of Boulder Rock along the Catskill Escarpment, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

As explained in the previous post, Boulder Rock is a glacial erratic that was brought here during the last ice age and deposited at the top of the cliff about 14,000 years ago when the glacier receded. It has remained here ever since, and during the 19th century it became a point of interest for guests at the nearby Catskill Mountain House and Hotel Kaaterskill. Some of these visitors left their mark on the rock, which has a variety of graffiti in the first photo. The first photo also shows the Hotel Kaaterskill in the distance to the right of the rock, a little over a half mile away at the summit of South Mountain.

Today, the grand 19th century resort hotels of the Catskills are long gone, including the Hotel Kaaterskill, which was destroyed in a massive fire in 1924. Boulder Rock still sees plenty of visitors, as it is located along the Escarpment Trail, a major hiking trail along the eastern edge of the Catskills. Modern visitors have generally been more careful to follow “leave no trace” principles, and there are no longer any names or other graffiti painted on the rock. However, there is at least one old inscription still on the rock from the first photo. Toward the right side of the rock was a painted name that ended in “RICK,” and just to the right of that someone carved the initials “BK.” The painted name is long gone, but those carved initials are still there, although barely visible from this distance.

Boulder Rock, Catskill, New York

Boulder Rock on the edge of the Catskill Escarpment, around 1900-1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

These two photos show Boulder Rock, a large glacial erratic that is perched atop the Catskill Escarpment, at the northeastern edge of Kaaterskill Clove. As with other glacial erratics, the rock was brought here by glaciers during the last ice age, and it was deposited here when the ice melted some 14,000 years ago. It has remained here ever since, despite its seemingly-precarious position at the top of a 1,500-foot drop. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, this area was the epicenter of tourism in the Catskills, with two major resort hotels nearby, and there was a network of trails leading to different points of interest, including this rock. From here, visitors could marvel at the size and position of the rock, while also admiring expansive views to the east and south.

Aside from the rock itself, the first photo also shows the Hotel Kaaterskill, which is visible in the distance near the center of the scene, a little over a half mile away at the summit of South Mountain. This was the second of the two major hotels here, and it opened in 1881 as a competitor to the older, more established Catskill Mountain House. It was built largely out of spite by George Harding, who had visited the Catskill Mountain House in 1880. While there, he had requested a meal of fried chicken for his daughter, but the kitchen refused to cook it because it wasn’t on the menu, and the owner suggested that he open his own hotel if he wanted fried chicken. Harding accepted the challenge, constructing a massive 600-room hotel that, only a few years after it opened, would be expanded to 1,200 rooms. It was larger and newer than the Catskill Mountain House, and it was also higher in elevation, allowing Harding and his guests to literally look down upon the rival hotel.

The caption of the first photo identifies the people here as “Mr. H.E. Eder and family.” Eder, whose first name was Harry, was the manager of the Hotel Kaaterskill. A native of New Jersey, Eder had previously been the manager of the Sierra Madre Villa near Los Angeles, and in 1899 he came to the Catskills as manager of the Haines Falls House. In 1900 he became the manager of the Hotel Kaaterskill, and he appears to have held this position through the 1902 season, although by 1903 he was the manager of the Grand Hotel, located a little to the west of here in the village of Highmount.

As a result, the first photo was likely taken sometime between 1900 and 1902, when he would have been in his mid-40s. He is obviously the person standing furthest to the left in the scene, but the identities of the three women are less certain. His wife Mary was likewise in her mid-40s at the time, and they had one daughter, Marion, who was a teenager. Based on the apparent ages of the women in the photo, Mary is probably the one furthest to the right, with Marion standing next to Harry. The identity of the woman in between them is unclear, although she may have been a cousin or another member of the extended family.

The Hotel Kaaterskill was said to have been the largest mountaintop hotel in the world when it was built, along with being the world’s largest wood-frame hotel. However, the combination of timber framing and isolated mountaintop location contributed to its destruction. On September 8, 1924, about a week after the hotel closed for the season, a fire started in the kitchen. It soon spread throughout the building, and by the time firefighters arrived there was little that they could do to save it. The fire started in the evening and it burned throughout the night, creating a spectacle that could be seen from miles around, reportedly even as far away as Massachusetts.

The hotel was a total loss, and it was never rebuilt. Today, all that remains from the sprawling hotel are the remnants of its foundation, which are mostly overgrown by trees. In the meantime, here at Boulder Rock, not much has changed since the Eder family posed in front of it some 120 years ago. The graffiti on the rock is long gone, and there are more trees here now than at the turn of the 20th century, but otherwise this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo. Boulder Rock continues to be a noted geological feature here in this area, and it is located along the Escarpment Trail, which runs for more than 20 miles along the eastern edge of the Catskills range.