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.

Boston and Albany Railroad Arch Bridge, Becket, Mass

An early 20th century postcard showing the view looking east along the Boston and Albany Railroad, with a stone arch bridge on the left side and the Westfield River on the right. Image from author’s collection.

The scene in 2021:

The first railroads in the United States were constructed starting in the late 1820s. These were mostly concentrated in the northeast, and they tended to be relatively short lines that linked neighboring cities. Here in New England, Boston soon emerged as an important railroad hub, and by the mid-1830s it had three different lines that radiated outward as far as Lowell, Providence, and Worcester. However, railroad investors had far more ambitious plans, including one proposal that would extended the line west of Worcester all the way to Albany.

Throughout the colonial era, and into the early 19th century, Boston had been one of the most important seaports in the present-day United States. However, as settlers moved west, and as the country acquired new territory, Boston found itself on the far eastern edge of a nation that was rapidly expanding westward. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 further threatened Boston by linking New York City with the Midwest, making it the primary seaport for trade with the inland regions.

As early as 1826, the Massachusetts state legislature had begun exploring the possibility of a railroad from Albany to Boston. This would prevent Boston from becoming economically isolated from the rest of the country, by providing an alternate route to the sea for goods transported along the Erie Canal. The state subsequently hired prominent civil engineer James F. Baldwin to examine potential routes through the state. The most promising was a southerly route, which would head west from Worcester through Springfield and Pittsfield before crossing into New York. This is, more or less, the route that would ultimately be opened a little over a decade later.

To achieve this goal, the Western Railroad was incorporated in 1833, although construction work did not start until 1837. The eastern half of the railroad, from Worcester to Springfield, was relatively easy to build, and it opened on October 1, 1839. However, the western portion, which crossed the mountains of the Berkshires, was a far more challenging engineering feat. By this point, railroad technology was still in its infancy, and there were still significant questions about the ability of steam locomotives to operate on steep grades. Some doubted whether a locomotive could handle grades greater than one percent (one foot of vertical rise for every hundred feet of track), and many early railroads used steam-powered inclined planes to pull trains up steep sections of the route. However, any crossing of the Berkshires would require consistent grades in excess of one percent, in some places even exceeding 1.5 percent.

To reach the divide between the Connecticut River and Housatonic River watersheds, the route of the railroad followed the Westfield River to the west of Springfield. In the town of Huntington, the river splits into three main branches, with the railroad continuing upstream along the west branch. From there, the river valley becomes increasingly narrow and winding, particularly in the last 13 miles from Chester to the watershed divide in Washington.

In order to oversee this project, the railroad hired George Washington Whistler as chief engineer. An 1819 graduate of West Point, Whistler was one of the nation’s leading civil engineers, and he was involved in the construction of many early railroads. He would go on to earn international fame from his accomplishments here on the Western Railroad, and Czar Nicholas I of Russia subsequently hired him to build the Saint Petersburg–Moscow Railway. However, Whistler’s fame would ultimately be eclipsed by his son, the prominent artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who was a young child living with his family in Springfield when George Washington Whistler built the Western Railroad.

For Whistler, the most difficult part of the project would be the 13 miles between Chester and Washington, where the railroad rose in elevation from 600 feet in Chester to 1,459 feet at the watershed divide. This was a serious challenge, given the concerns about the technical limitations of steam locomotives, but Whistler also had to build this railroad within the confines of a narrow, sinuous river gorge. This meant the railroad would require a series of deep rock cuts and high embankments, along with repeated crossings of the river, in order to maintain a reasonable grade. Even so, the finished railroad would have a six-mile section with an average grade of 1.51 percent, and a maximum grade of 1.57 percent.

Probably the most distinctive feature of this section of the railroad is its many bridges. The railroad crossed the river a total of 21 times in these 13 miles, and ten of these bridges were masonry arch bridges, including the one shown here in these two photos. The original intent had been to use simpler bridges with rubble masonry abutments, but these would have been vulnerable to spring flooding, so the railroad opted for more substantial arch bridges. This required excavating down to bedrock to anchor the abutments, and it also meant bringing in quarried stone from elsewhere, since the local stone proved to be of inferior quality. This was a significant expense for the railroad, as these quarried blocks—which weighed upwards of a thousand pounds each—had to be transported along rough roads to these remote work sites along the river.

Aside from the bridges, other labor-intensive work included the many cuts and fills along the railroad bed. A little to the east of the bridge in this photo, just beyond the curve in the distance, is a deep rock cut, measuring about 575 feet long and 30 to 40 feet deep. In the days before dynamite and other high explosives, this work would have been done using only black powder and hand tools such as picks and shovels. Beyond this rock cut was an embankment, with a long stone retaining wall that had to be built to keep the railroad bed from sliding off the steep cliff down to the river. A few miles to the west of the stone bridges, at the highest point of the railroad in the town of Washington, was an even larger rock cut. It was about a half mile long, and 55 feet deep at its deepest point.

All of this work, including the unanticipated need for stone arch bridges, led to significant cost overruns for the Western Railroad. In 1838, prior to the start of construction, the cost of building section of the railroad to the west of the Connecticut River was estimated at $2.1 million. The actual cost turned out to be a little over $2.5 million, including nearly $1 million just to build a 13-mile section here in the Berkshires. The single most expensive mile was just a little to the east of the scene in these photos, between mile markers 127 and 128. Within that mile, the railroad crossed the river three times on large stone arch bridges, and cost nearly $220,000. The company’s January 1841 annual report explained some of the reasons for these added expenses, quoting the engineer (presumably Whistler), who wrote about the challenges of building the railroad through this section along the Westfield River:

With the limited knowledge of the character of the stream here, at the time of the original estimate, and, judging of its effects in times of freshets, from the comparatively unstable character of the structures then existing on the turnpike, occupying almost the immediate line of the rail-road, in tolerable security, it was then judged that structures of the more ordinary kind, with common rubble masonry for bridge abutments and side walls, would give ample security to the road, and such was estimated for. But the experience in time of our personal knowledge of the effects of freshets in this stream, proved the necessity of abandoning such structures, and resorting to others of a more costly and permanent character. Stone arches of large openings were adopted, requiring masonry of a very different and superior character to support them;—rendering it necessary too to resort to great depths in search of permanent rock foundations below the bed of the stream. This was the more readily acceded to at the time, from the belief (as every appearance indicated) that materials suitable for such structures would be obtained from the rock cuts in their immediate vicinity. But soon after they were commenced, and the character of the stone exposed by the opening of the cuts, it proved entirely unfit; and the contractor was compelled to resort to quarrying and hauling the stone from a distance, and over roads almost impassible;—thus rendering it necessary to increase his prices to meet this additional cost.

The work of actually building the railroad was largely done by immigrant laborers, primarily the Irish. At one point there were several thousand workers employed here, and this is evident in the 1840 census, which was conducted in the midst of the railroad construction. In a sort of precursor to the later railroad boom towns that would follow the First Transcontinental Railroad several decades later, the town of Middlefield—located on the north side of the river—saw a particularly dramatic increase in population. From a population of 720 in 1830, Middlefield grew to 1,717 in 1840, with the census noting that 686 were from “Middlefield proper,” while the rest were counted as “extraneous population.”

These workers generally lived in temporary shantytowns along the river, and the census indicates that most were in their 20s or 30s, with few over the age of 40. The 1840 census does not provide much specific demographic information, and only the heads of the households are individually named, but the census data suggests that most of these men lived here with their families. Most of the households included both a man and a woman who were between the ages of 20 and 40, along with several young children who were generally under the age of 10. The surnames of the heads of household were overwhelmingly Irish, with Murphy being a particularly common name among the workers in Middlefield.

The arrival of so many foreign immigrants in a small, rural community was not without controversy. Early in the construction process, in the spring of 1839, the Hampshire Gazette published an article titled, “The Irish on our Public Works,” which addressed concerns about the societal impact of the Irish immigrants who were working on the railroad. The article warned that, “[i]f some measures are not taken for the education and moral reformation of the multitudes of Irish and other foreign emigrants that swarm the country, our republic will be much in danger from them.” Perhaps in response to these concerns, a few months later a resident of Middlefield began raising funds to establish three schools for the children of the laborers. It seems unclear as to whether these contributions were motivated by genuine altruism or by nativist fears about an under-educated immigrant class, but a subsequent article in the Boston Evening Transcript declared that the students were “learning rapidly, and doing credit to the labors of their benefactors.”

These workers remained here throughout the summer of 1841, and the railroad was ultimately completed in the early fall, with the final tracks laid at the rock cut in Washington on October 2, 1841. The railroad opened two days later, linking Boston and Albany. In the process, the railroad set a number of records. It was, up to that point, the longest and most expensive railroad in America, and it was also the first to be built through mountains without using steam-powered inclined planes to assist locomotives. As such, it was a significant engineering milestone, and it was enough to gain the attention of the czar, who brought Whistler to Russia as soon as his work here on the Western Railroad was finished.

However, despite the completion of the railroad, there would continue to be challenges, including a fatal accident that occurred on October 5, 1841, just a day after the line opened. The railroad originally just had one track, with occasional passing sidings for trains heading in opposite directions, including ones at Chester and Westfield. On this particular day, both the eastbound and westbound trains were given instructions to meet at Chester before proceeding. However, the eastbound conductor apparently never received this message, and was expecting to meet the other train further down the line in Westfield. This resulted in a head-on collision about four miles west of Westfield, killing the conductor of the eastbound train and one passenger, along with injuring many others. The accident was a personal tragedy for George Washington Whistler, whose niece, Caroline Bloodgood, was on the train. She was among those injured, and her young son was the one passenger who was killed in the accident.

The Western Railroad did manage to help dispel the myth that steam locomotives were unable to ascend steep grades under their own power, but the section of the railroad here in the Berkshires was nonetheless challenging for trains. Whistler had selected locomotives that were built by Ross Winans of Baltimore, a friend of his whose daughter Julia would later marry his son George. Nicknamed “crabs,” presumably because of their eight drive wheels and Maryland origins, these locomotives proved unreliable here on the Western Railroad, and the railroad ultimately resorted to custom building their own mountain locomotives at their shops in Springfield.

Despite these setbacks, the railroad overall proved to be a success, and for many years it was the only east-west railroad through the Berkshires, providing an important transportation link between Boston and the rest of the country. Although it was originally built as a single-track railroad, Whistler had wisely designed the bridges and other structures to accommodate a second track. This made the initial construction costs higher, but in the long run it saved the railroad money by making it easy to add a second track without having to reconstruct all of the bridges.

For travelers along the route, this section through the Berkshires was a highlight of their journey. The 1847 travel guide A Chart and Description of the Boston and Worcester and Western Railroads, published only six years after the railroad opened, provides the following description:

No language that we are master of could give the traveller any proper description of the wildness, the grandeur, or the obstacles surmounted in the construction of this portion of the route. The river is exceedingly crooked, and the lofty mountains, which are very steep and rugged, and of solid rock, shut down quite to the river on both sides, their sharp points shooting by each other, rendering crossings at every bend of the stream indispensable. In addition to this, the points of the hills must be cut away, and for many miles these rock cuttings and bridges follow each other in regular and rapid succession. . . . Nor does the passing traveller, hurling along as rapidly as he is, see much of the beauty of this mountain gorge. It is not until he has seen, from the base of these mighty structures of art, the passage of the cars, that their magnificence is really felt.

The Western Railroad would ultimately merge with the Boston and Worcester in 1867, forming the Boston and Albany Railroad. This company would, in turn, be leased by the New York Central starting in 1900, although this line retained the Boston and Albany name well into the 20th century. In the meantime, the railroad continued to make improvements to the route, including some changes here along the banks of the Westfield River. A few of the original bridges were replaced, including the easternmost one, which was replaced in 1866 with the current double arch bridge. The next bridge upstream from there was replaced in 1912 with the current steel deck truss girder bridge, although the original stone abutments appear to still be there, encased in poured concrete. Much further upstream, the westernmost two bridges were apparently reconstructed in 1928 after having been damaged in a flood, although it is possible that portions of the original bridges are still underneath the concrete.

However, the most significant change to this portion of the railroad occurred in 1912, when about a mile of the railroad was rerouted, including the section shown here in these two photos. The first photo was probably taken only a few years before this occurred. The postcard is undated, and does not have a postmark, but it has an undivided back, suggesting that it was printed before 1907. As part of this realignment, the railroad shifted to the south side of the river, eliminating two of the river crossings. One of the original bridges, located about 300 yards west of here, was demolished as part of this project, in order to make room for a new bridge. Three other original bridges were simply abandoned, including this one here, which is the westernmost of the three.

Today, more than a century after the railroad was rerouted, these three bridges are still standing. One of them, the easternmost, is still on land owned by the railroad, and it is directly adjacent to the active rail line, so it is not accessible to the public. However, the other two bridges, along with the 3,000-foot section of abandoned railroad right-of-way between them, are now owned by the state as part of the Walnut Hill Wildlife Management Area. The bridges are accessible by way of the Keystone Arch Bridge Trail, a 2.5-mile long trail that starts in Chester. Despite being over 180 years old, and despite not having been maintained in well over 100 years, these bridges remain in good condition, clearly fulfilling Whistler’s goal of creating bridges of “a more costly and permanent character.”

As the travel guide had indicated back in 1847, it is hard to get a sense of the scale of these bridges from the railroad. Even today, it is hard for visitors to tell just how big these bridges are while standing atop them, and photographs are likewise unable to capture the full scope of these structures. Only by climbing down to the river and looking up at the arches can a visitor fully appreciate the size of the bridges, and the work that went in to building them in the middle of a river gorge in one of the most remote areas of the state.

Of the three surviving bridges, the one here in this scene is the largest. Including the wingwalls, the structure of the bridge is over 500 feet long, the bridge deck is about 25 feet wide, and the top of the bridge rises about 75 feet above the river. The bottom of the arch is about 60 feet above the water, and the total span of the arch is 54 feet. The bridge is mostly in its original condition, although about three-quarters of the parapet stones are gone, having apparently been pushed over the edge by vandals over the years.

In 1980, this bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing structure in the Middlefield–Becket Stone Arch Railroad Bridge District. Then, in 2021, the two surviving stone arch bridges on public property, including this one, were designated as National Historic Landmarks as part of the Western Railroad Stone Arch Bridges and Chester Factory Village Depot district. The district is also comprised of the railroad bed in between the two bridges, including the large rock cut and stone retaining wall, along with the historic railroad station in the center of Chester, several miles to the east of here. This station is owned by the Chester Railway Station and Museum, which features an extensive collection of artifacts relating to the Western Railroad and the construction of these bridges.

For more information on the history of these bridges, the National Historic Landmark Nomination Form is an excellent resource. The Friends of the Keystone Arches also has an excellent website, with plenty of historical information and photographs, along with information about hiking to the bridges.

Middle Street, Hadley, Mass

The view looking north on Middle Street towards Russell Street in Hadley, around 1900. Image from History of Hadley (1905).

The scene in 2021:

Hadley is one of the oldest towns in western Massachusetts, having been first settled by European colonists in 1659 and incorporated as a town two years later. Its terrain is mostly flat, and it is situated on the inside of a broad curve in the Connecticut River, giving it some of the finest farmland in New England. The main settlement developed in this vicinity, with a broad town common on what is now West Street. This common was the town center during the colonial period, and it was the site of three successive meetinghouses beginning in 1670.

The third meetinghouse, which is shown here in these photos, was completed on the town common in 1808. This location was a matter of serious contention, as by the turn of the 19th century much of the town’s development had shifted east toward what is now Middle Street. Tradition ultimately prevailed, and the third meetinghouse was built on the common. However, this proved to be only temporary, because in 1841 it was relocated. The intended location was to be a compromise, located halfway between the common and Middle Street, but the movers ignored this and brought the building all the way to Middle Street, to its current location just south of Route 9.

Architecturally, this meetinghouse reflects some of the changes that were occurring in New England church designs. Prior to the late 18th century, the region’s churches tended to be plain in appearance. Many did not have steeples, and those steeples that did exist tended to rise from the ground level on the side of the building, rather than being fully incorporated into the main section of the church. This began to change with prominent architects like Charles Bulfinch, who drew inspiration from classical architecture when designing churches and other buildings. Bulfinch’s churches tended to feature a triangular pediment above the main entrance, with a steeple that rose from above the pediment, rather than from the ground.

Bulfinch does not appear to have played a hand in designing Hadley’s church, but its builder was clearly influenced by his works. It has a pediment with a steeple above it, and it also has a fanlight above the front door, and a Palladian window on the second floor. Other classically-inspired decorative elements include pilasters flanking the front entrance and dentils around the pediment. As for the steeple itself, it does not bear strong resemblance to the ones that Bulfinch designed, but the builder likely took inspiration from other 18th century New England churches. In particular, it bears a strong resemblance the steeples of churches such as Old North Church in Boston and the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, Connecticut.

Aside from moving the church to this site, the other major event of 1841 that solidified Middle Street as the town center was the construction of a town hall here. Prior to this point, town meetings were held in the church, as was the case in most Massachusetts towns in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Massachusetts was slow to create a separation between church and state, and not until 1833 did the state outlaw the practice of taxing residents to support local churches. Here in Hadley, this soon led to a physical separation between the church and the town government, although as shown in this scene the two buildings stood side-by-side on Middle Street.

While the church features Bulfinch-inspired architecture, the design of the town hall reflects the Greek Revival style of the mid-19th century. This style was particularly popular for government and other institutional buildings of the period, as it reflected the democratic ideals of ancient Greece. The town hall is perhaps Hadley’s finest example of this style, with a large portico supported by four Doric columns, along with Doric pilasters in between the window bays on all four sides of the building.

The first photo shows Middle Street around the turn of the 20th century, looking north toward the church, the town hall, and Russell Street further in the distance. The photo also shows a house on the foreground, just to the right of the church. Based on its architecture, this house likely dated back to about the mid-18th century, but it was gone by 1903, when the current house was built on the site. This house was originally the home of Dr. Frank Smith, and it was designed by Springfield architect Guy Kirkham.

Today, the town of Hadley is significantly larger than it was when the first photo was taken more than 120 years ago. Russell Street is now Route 9, a major east-west thoroughfare that has significant commercial development thanks to Hadley’s position at the center of the Five Colleges region. Likewise, Middle Street is far from the dirt road in the first photo, and it is now Route 47. However, much of Hadley has retained its historic appearance, including its extensive farmland and its many historic buildings. Here on Middle Street, both the church and the town hall are still standing. They have seen few major exterior changes during this time, and the church is still an active congregation, while the town hall remains the seat of Hadley’s town government. Both buildings are now part of the Hadley Center Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Mount Tom Railroad, Holyoke, Mass (3)

The trolley Elizur Holyoke approaching the summit on the Mount Tom Railroad, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The first photo shows the trolley Elizur Holyoke, one of two that operated on the Mount Tom Railroad. Together with the Rowland Thomas, these two cars formed a funicular railway; they were connected by a cable that allowed the descending car to use its weight to help pull the other one up the mountain. This cable, which is seen in the foreground in the middle of the tracks in the first photo, was not powered by a motor at the summit, but instead each car had its own motors, which drew power from overhead wires by way of a trolley pole, as shown atop the Elizur Holyoke in the photo.

The Mount Tom Railroad opened in 1897, allowing visitors to reach the newly-constructed Summit House atop the 1,200-foot Mount Tom. It was just under a mile in length, and it rose 700 feet in elevation, with an average grade of 14 percent and a maximum of 21.5 percent. Most of the route was straight, with the exception of a curve near the summit, which is shown here in this scene. The cars typically ran once every half hour, although they could be operated more frequently depending on demand. Each car could seat 84 passengers, and over the course of an average season the railroad typically carried about 75,000 people to and from the summit.

Aside from the railroad itself, this scene also offers a view of the northernmost portion of the Mount Tom Range, along with part of the Holyoke Range. Appropriately enough, the first photo shows the Elizur Holyoke directly below Mount Holyoke. Both the mountain and the trolley share the same namesake, and the mountain also lent its name to the city of Holyoke, where Mount Tom is located. Further to the left of Mount Holyoke is Mount Nonotuck, which is visible near the upper left corner of the first photo.

When the railroad and Summit House here on Mount Tom opened in 1897, both of these mountains already had long-established hotels at their summits, with the Prospect House on Mount Holyoke and the Eyrie House on Mount Nonotuck. Unlike those businesses, though, the Summit House did not offer overnight accommodations, and instead catered entirely to day visitors. In any case, the aging Eyrie House was never a major competitor to the Summit House, and it ultimately burned in 1901. As for the Prospect House, its 20th century history would largely mirror that of the Summit House, and both ultimately closed in the late 1930s amid declining business during the Great Depression.

The Summit House was demolished around 1938, and the railroad tracks were removed around the same time. Then, in 1944 the property was sold to the radio station WHYN, which built towers and buildings at the summit and converted the railroad right-of-way into a paved access road. Overall, though, this scene has not changed much, aside from the loss of the railroad tracks. The slopes of Mount Tom still look much the same as they did when the first photo was taken, as do the mountains in the distance, although some are obscured by tree growth in the present-day photo. Even the Prospect House on Mount Holyoke is still standing, and it is barely visible as a tiny white speck just to the left of the summit in both photos. Now preserved as a museum, this historic building is one of the few surviving 19th century mountaintop resorts in the northeast, having long outlived its newer competitors on Mount Nonotuck and here on Mount Tom.

Mount Tom Railroad, Holyoke, Mass (2)

The trolley Elizur Holyoke passing through a rock cut on the Mount Tom Railroad, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Holyoke Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

As explained in the previous post, the Mount Tom Railroad was a nearly mile-long funicular railway that brought visitors up to the Summit House at the top of Mount Tom. It opened in 1897, and it featured two trolleys connected by a cable. When one car descended, its weight helped pull the other car up the mountain. Each car also had its own electric motors, powered by overhead wires, which provided additional power to compensate for differences in weight and energy lost to friction. Most of the rail line what a single track, aside from a short turnout at the midpoint to allow the cars to pass.

The railroad rose 700 feet in elevation, with an average grade of 14 percent and a maximum grade of 21.5 percent. The route was mostly straight, although there was a gentle curve near the summit. Along the way, this route required several rock cuts and fills, to maintain a consistent grade. The largest of these cuts is shown here in these photos, about a third of a mile below the summit station. Here, trolleys would pass between two walls of Mount Tom’s distinctive basalt traprock, with its step-like formation.

The first photo shows the trolley Elizur Holyoke, named for the early settler who became the namesake of Mount Holyoke. According to tradition, he and fellow pioneer Rowland Thomas led an expedition up the Connecticut River, with Holyoke traveling up the east side and Thomas on the west side. After reaching an area where the river passes between two mountain ranges, the two men decided to name the eastern one for Holyoke, and the western one for Thomas. Appropriately enough, the other trolley here on the railroad was named the Rowland Thomas.

The Mount Tom Railroad remained in service for about 40 years. Its operating season generally lasted from May through October, and in a typical year would average around 75,000 visitors during the season. Among the most famous of these was President William McKinley, who visited with his wife Ida in 1899 and rode up the mountain on the Elizur Holyoke. Calvin Coolidge and his future wife Grace Goodhue also rode up the railroad in the early 20th century, although with far less fanfare than McKinley had enjoyed, since Coolidge was still an obscure young Northampton lawyer at the time.

The Summit House suffered two disastrous fires, first in 1901 and again in 1929. The second was particularly devastating to the railroad, since its small, hastily-constructed replacement failed to draw the same number of visitors to the summit. This, combined with increased car ownership during the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s, ultimately led to the Summit House and the railroad closing by the late 1930s. In 1938 the Summit House was dismantled, and around the same time the railroad tracks were torn up and removed.

During its many years in operation, the Mount Tom Railroad had a good safety record, and it does not appear to have had any major incidents. However, less than a decade after the railroad closed, this spot here would become the site of a deadly transportation disaster. On the night of July 9, 1946, an Army Air Corps B-17 airplane was en route from Goose Bay, Labrador to Westover Field in Chicopee. The plane had a crew of four, and it also carried 21 passengers who were returning from active duty in Greenland, including 15 Coast Guardsmen, four Army Air Corps servicemen, and two civilians. While attempting to land at the nearby airfield in the dark on a rainy night, the plane instead crashed into Mount Tom, hitting the exposed rock along this section of the railroad grade. The impact disintegrated the plane, killing all 25 men instantly and starting a large fire here. A group of people at nearby Mountain Park climbed up the railroad right-of-way, but they could not get close to the crash scene because of the intense heat, and in any case there was little that they could have done to assist at that point.

Today, more than 80 years after the railroad closed, its route is now a paved access road for the telecommunications towers that occupy the former site of the Summit House. However, there are still remnants of the old railroad along the road, including piles of discarded ties and metal support braces for the utility poles. On a more somber note, however, there are also many remnants of the B-17 crash throughout this area, including pieces of twisted metal and fragments of melted aluminum. The site of the crash is now marked by a monument that is inscribed with the names of the 25 men who died here. It is located about 100 yards in the distance, atop a rocky outcropping on the left side of the road. The monument itself is not visible in the present-day photo, but it can be reached via a short path that starts at the green bush in the distant center of the photo.