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.

Mount Tom Railroad, Holyoke, Mass

The trolley Rowland Thomas on the Mount Tom Railroad in Holyoke, around 1905-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The early 20th century was the heyday of electric trolleys in the United States. In the years prior to widespread car ownership, most cities and even many small towns were served by networks of trolley lines that were generally run by private companies. In order to maximize profits, these companies often built picnic groves, amusement parks, and other recreational facilities along their lines. Known as trolley parks, these generated revenue not only through admission fees, but also through increased trolley ridership on otherwise-slow weekends.

Here in Holyoke, the Holyoke Street Railway Company opened Mountain Park in the 1890s. It began as a small park at the base of Mount Tom, but it soon added amenities such as a dance hall, a restaurant, a roller coaster, and a carousel. Most significantly, though, the company also built a summit house at the top of the 1,200-foot mountain, allowing visitors to enjoy the expansive views of the Connecticut River valley. Mountaintop resorts were popular in the northeast during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there were already several in the vicinity of Mount Tom, including the Prospect House on Mount Holyoke and the Eyrie House on Mount Nonotuck. However, unlike those establishments, the Summit House here on Mount Tom was not a hotel. Instead, it catered to day visitors, with a restaurant, a stage, and an observatory equipped with telescopes.

To bring visitors to the Summit House, the company constructed the Mount Tom Railroad, a nearly mile-long funicular railway that rose 700 feet in elevation from Mountain Park to a station just below the summit. It had an average grade of 14 percent, with a maximum grade of 21.5 percent at its steepest section. The lower part of the route was straight, as shown here in this view looking down from the midpoint, although there was a gentle curve right before the summit station. Like most funiculars, it consisted of two cars that were connected by a cable. As one car descended, it pulled the other car up the mountain, allowing gravity to do most of the work. The cable itself was unpowered, but the cars each had their own electric motors powered by overhead wires, in order to compensate for weight differences and energy lost to friction.

The two cars were named the Rowland Thomas and Elizur Holyoke, in honor of the early colonists who became the namesakes of Mount Tom and Mount Holyoke. Each car was 36 feet long, 9 feet wide, and could seat 84 passengers. They were connected to each other by a 5,050-foot-long, 1.25-inch steel cable, which passed over a large sheave at the summit. This sheave was mounted on an A-frame that was, in turn, bolted securely into the rock. In addition, the cars maintained constant telephone connection with each other, by way of telephone lines that ran alongside the tracks just above ground level, as shown in the lower left corner of the first photo. The cars connected to these by way of brush-like shoes that ran along the top of the wires as the car moved.

Because of the steep grade of the railroad, the cars’ braking ability was of critical importance, as an uncontrolled descent would likely have had deadly consequences. To prevent this, the cars had several independent braking systems. Each car was equipped with standard trolley brakes, but the cable itself was controlled by a centrifugal governor at the summit that automatically slowed the cable once it began moving faster than 1,400 feet per minute, or about 16 miles per hour. This second feature obviously only worked if the cable remained intact, but there was yet another braking system in the event of a catastrophic failure of the cable. As shown in the first photo, a third rail ran inside the tracks next to the cable. In an emergency, the motorman could activate a lever that would cause the car to clamp on to this rail. This could also be done automatically, by a governor that was set to engage the rail once the car exceeded 1,500 feet per minute, or 17 miles per hour.

In any funicular railway, one of the other challenges is determining how the two cars will pass each other. The simplest solution is to have two parallel tracks, with each car operating on its own track at all times. However, this requires a wider right-of-way, along with significantly more materials than a single-track railway. One alternative is a three-rail funicular, in which each car has its own outside rail and shares the middle one, diverging only at a short passing section. The other option is to have one track for both cars, with a turnout at the halfway point. This requires the least amount of land and materials, but it requires a complex track arrangement at the turnout to ensure each car takes the correct path and safely crosses over the cable.

Here on Mount Tom, the railroad engineers chose the third option, as shown in the first photo. The two cars met at a passing loop, which is visible in the lower center of the photo. At first glance it looks similar to a standard railroad switch, but the key difference is that it has no moving parts. Instead, the cars and tracks are designed so that each one can only take one path, which remains the same regardless of whether the car is heading up or down the mountain. As such, the Rowland Thomas always took the tracks on the north side (the left side when viewed from this direction), while the Elizur Holyoke always took the south side.

To achieve this, the two cars had different wheel arrangements. The wheels on one side of the car had a wider tread than on the other side, which caused them to be guided along deflector rails onto the correct track. For the Rowland Thomas, these wide-tread wheels were on the left side when it was headed uphill, and for the Elizur Holyoke they were on the right side. On the same side as these wheels, each car also had an extra set of wheels that were slightly raised above the others and hung out about 15 inches from the main wheels. Because the turnout required gaps in the main rail to allow the cable to pass through, there was a short section of rail next to these gaps. As the main wheels approached the gap, the auxiliary wheels would roll along this additional rail, preventing what would otherwise be a derailment.

Work on the railroad began in March 1897, and it was completed in time for the summer season, opening on May 25. It operated throughout the summer and into the fall foliage season, before closing for the winter at the end of October. Round trip fare was 25 cents, and included the trolley ride along with use of the Summit House. The trolleys were scheduled to run twice an hour, with extra trips as needed. However, by September this schedule was insufficient to keep up with demand, as indicated by a Springfield Republican article that criticized the railroad for dangerously overcrowded trolleys.

During the early years of the railroad, perhaps its most distinguished passenger was President William McKinley, who visited Mount Tom along with his wife Ida on June 19, 1899. A number of onlookers gathered at the lower station to catch a glimpse of the president, who sat in the front seat of the Elizur Holyoke trolley for the ride up the mountain. At the summit, he and Ida were likewise greeted by a large crowd, and they spent about an hour there, where they ate a light lunch at Summit House before heading back down the mountain.

As it turned out, the McKinleys would be the first of at least two presidential couples who would travel up the Mount Tom Railroad. About five years later, a young Calvin Coolidge and Grace Goodhue visited the mountain on a date. At the time, Calvin was a lawyer in Northampton and Grace was a teacher at the Clarke School for the Deaf. While at the Summit House, he purchased a souvenir plaque of the mountain, which became the first gift he ever gave her. They subsequently married in 1905, and he went on to become governor, vice president, and then ultimately president in 1923.

In the meantime, the original Summit House only lasted for a few years before being destroyed by a fire in 1900. Its replacement opened the following year, but this too would eventually burn, in 1929. By contrast, the Mount Tom Railroad itself appears to have avoided any major incidents throughout its history. However, there were occasional breakdowns that forced passengers to walk down the mountain, and in at least one instance causing a number of people to spend the night in makeshift accommodations at the Summit House.

On July 24, 1928, at around 9:15pm, the Rowland Thomas had to stop about 150 feet from the upper station because of a broken journal on one of its axles. This likewise caused the Elizur Holyoke to stop the same distance from the lower station. The passengers on the Elizur Holyoke were able to easily return to the station, but about 50 people were  stranded at the summit. Many chose to walk down the mountain in the dark, guided by railroad employees with lanterns, but 22 remained at the Summit House overnight. Some stayed up all night, playing bridge and dancing, and most descended the mountain after sunrise, although four guests stayed at the summit until railroad service was restored later in the day. A similar incident occurred less than a month later, when a spread rail stopped the trolleys at about 9:00pm. This time, 35 people walked down in the dark, but it does not appear that anyone spent the night at the summit.

After the 1929 fire at the Summit House, the railroad quickly constructed a temporary replacement at the summit. It had intended to then build a more permanent structure, but by the early 1930s the mountain faced declining numbers of visitors. Part of this was because of the Great Depression, which began just months after the fire here. Another factor was increased car ownership among the middle class, which meant that recreational activities were no longer limited to places that people could access by trolley.

At the base of the mountain, Mountain Park would remain a popular amusement park for decades, but both the Mount Tom Railroad and the Summit House closed in the late 1930s. The temporary Summit House was dismantled for scrap metal in 1938, and around the same time the railroad tracks were taken up and removed. The rails and other metal components were presumably reused or scrapped, but the wooden ties were discarded in piles alongside the right-of-way. More than 80 years later, many of these ties are still in remarkably good condition, and a few are visible in the lower right corner of the second photo.

The railroad ultimately sold the summit area and the right-of-way to the WHYN radio station, which constructed radio towers and transmitter buildings on the site of the old Summit House. The old railroad grade was paved over, and it became an access road for the radio station. As a result, the present-day scene looks very different from the first photo, although there are still a few remnants of the old railroad, including the ties, some discarded spikes, and metal support braces for the old utility poles that once supported the electrified trolley wire.

Eyrie House, Holyoke, Mass

The Eyrie House on the summit of Mount Nonotuck in Northampton (now Holyoke), around the 1890s. Image from author’s collection.

The scene in 2021:

During the mid-19th century, mountaintop hotels became popular destinations here in the northeast. Prior to this time, Americans generally viewed mountains unfavorably, as they were poor for farming, they formed barriers to transportation, and their slopes often sheltered wild animals. Few colonial-era settlers had any interest in climbing simply for the sake of it, but this started to change in the 19th century, with writers and artists who increasingly portrayed the mountains as places of natural beauty, in contrast to the rapidly-growing industrial cities of the northeast.

This influx of visitors to the mountains led to the construction of many mountaintop buildings and hotels in the northeast. The first of these was built just a few miles from here in 1821, at the summit of Mount Holyoke. This building was little more than a refreshment stand, but it was eventually rebuilt in 1851 as a true hotel, named the Prospect House. It was subsequently expanded several times, and it still stands atop Mount Holyoke today as a rare survivor among the 19th century mountain houses in the region.

In the meantime, the Prospect House faced competition in 1861 with the opening of the Eyrie House on Mount Nonotuck, which is shown here in the first photo. Like Mount Holyoke, Mount Nonotuck is a part of the Metacomet Ridge, a nearly unbroken line of traprock mountains that extends from Long Island Sound to the Massachusetts-Vermont border. The highest peaks on the ridge are located in the Mount Tom and Mount Holyoke Ranges of Massachusetts, which are separated from each other by the Connecticut River. The river flows through a narrow gap between Mount Holyoke to the east and Mount Nonotuck to the west, providing dramatic views of the river and the surrounding valley from the summits of both peaks. The view from Mount Holyoke was immortalized by Thomas Cole’s famous 1836 painting The Oxbow, but Mount Nonotuck also offered a similar view from the opposite direction.

Mount Nonotuck is located at the northern end of the Mount Tom Range, where it rises about 820 feet above sea level and nearly 700 feet above the river valley. It does not appear to have had a formal name until 1858, when Edward Hitchcock named it after the old Native American name for what is now Northampton. Hitchcock was a prominent geologist and former president of Amherst College, and he was responsible for naming many local hills and mountains, including several on the Metacomet Ridge. He tended to prefer Native American names, and in some cases replaced inelegant English names, such as Hilliard’s Knob, which became Mount Norwottuck after the Native American name for Hadley.

The “christening,” as newspapers described it, of Mount Nonotuck occurred on June 17, 1858, with a ceremony here at the summit. It was attended by Edward Hitchcock, who by this point had retired as president of Amherst College, and by his successor, William A. Stearns. About 500 other people gathered here, including dignitaries such as Lieutenant Governor Eliphalet Trask, Congressman Calvin C. Chaffee, and a number of local clergymen. Supposedly Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had also been invited, with the promise of naming the mountain “Hiawatha” in his honor, but he evidently declined, so the mountain became Nonotuck, which according to contemporary newspapers meant “mountain of the blest.” The formal honors of baptizing the mountain with the new name fell to Hitchcock, who scattered fragments of 12 stones that had been gathered from around the world, including specimens from the Alps, China, and Africa.

One newspaper account, published in the Massachusetts Spy, described how “[f]air women and brave men, toiled patiently up the steep ascent in a broiling sun, to enjoy the promised intellectual treat, breathe the pure mountain air, and drink in the extensive view.” Some of this is certainly embellished, as Mount Nonotuck is not exactly a difficult climb, yet it speaks to the motivations that drew mid-century New Englanders to the mountains. Similar articles appeared in newspapers throughout New England, and even in places as far away as Alexandria, Virginia.

It was perhaps as a result of the attention given to the newly-named mountain that, less than three years later, two local businessmen leased the summit area and built a small hotel in an effort to compete with the more established Prospect House across the river. The two partners, William Street and Hiram Farnum, sought advice from Edward Hitchcock on an appropriate name for their hotel, and he offered several suggestions. They ultimately chose Eyrie House, which according to Hitchcock’s memoirs was based on a line from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which reads “the eagle and the stork on cliffs and cedar tops their eyries build.”

The building, which would later be expanded several times, was originally small and roughly square in its dimensions, with two stories topped by an observatory on the roof. This original portion of the hotel is visible in the distant center of the first photo, showing the cupola still atop it. Upon completion, the building featured five guest rooms, but in its early years it seems to have focused primarily on attracting day visitors. Unlike those who came here three years earlier and “toiled patiently up the steep ascent,” visitors to the Eyrie House could choose between riding up the carriage road, or taking the mile-long footpath directly from the railroad station to the summit.

The hotel was formally opened on July 4, 1861. Appropriately enough, Edward Hitchcock was one of the speakers at the dedication. The previous day, the Springfield Republican ran an advertisement for the festivities, which included the following description:

A good TELESCOPE has been purchased for the use of visitors of the house, and arrangements are making for suitable amusements.

A good Band will be in attendance through the day.

All Refreshments desired can be had at the house or on the grounds. . . .

Excursion tickets will be sold from Northampton, Holyoke, and all the stations on the railroad, to the mountain, and as no pains will be spared to make the occasion one of interest, it is hoped the public will avail themselves on this opportunity to spend a pleasant day in listening to patriotic speeches and enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery.

Admission to the Grounds on the 4th, free; to the House, 15 cents; children 10 cents.

After opening day, Street and Farnum raised the admission to 25 cents for adults and 12.5 cents for children, which was identical to the rates at the Prospect House. However, unlike across the river, where only paying customers could access the grounds, the Eyrie House grounds remained open free of charge, and guests only had to pay admission if they wanted to enter the building. The Eyrie House also offered special discounted rates for schools and other groups, and an 1861 advertisement assured readers that parties “would be furnished anything desired at reasonable terms.”

The Eyrie House was open daily, except for Sundays, throughout July 1871. However, in early August the two owners dissolved their partnership. The hotel and grounds were closed for several weeks, but William Street ultimately acquired Farnum’s interest in the business, and he reopened the hotel by the end of the month. He was only in his early 20s at the time, but he ran the Eyrie House for the next 40 years. During this time, he developed a reputation as both a successful hotelier and also an eccentric recluse. A lifelong bachelor, Street lived here on the mountaintop, where he was known for, among other things, collecting rattlesnakes with his bare hands and keeping them in a den for curious visitors to see. Over the years he studied other native wildlife, and gathered specimens, both living and stuffed, for his collection here.

Eccentricities aside, Street developed Mount Nonotuck into a popular destination. The Eyrie House never achieved the same level of success as its more established competitor on Mount Holyoke, but the hotel prospered throughout the 1870s and 1880s. He expanded the building in 1870, increasing its capacity with five more guest rooms, and in 1875 he purchased the property from his landlord. He subsequently built several more additions, eventually increasing the hotel to a total of 30 guest rooms. He also built long promenades extending to the north and south of the building, along with a smaller promenade at the front of the building facing west. Here at the summit, the grounds also featured a pavilion, stables, a croquet court, a picnic grove, and a swing.

By the 1880s, the Eyrie House offered orchestral concerts every day during the summer months, with the exception of Sundays. In 1880, admission still cost 25 cents, with another 25 cents for those who wanted a ride to the summit. Overnight lodging was $8 per week in August and $7 in September, or $1.75 per day. Meals were 50 cents each, and the hotel’s restaurant offered a wide range of food each day. For example, an August 1880 advertisement in the Springfield Republican listed the following menu for Fridays:

FISH.—Baked Blue Fish, Cream Sauce.
ROAST.—Spring Chickens, Ribs of Beef.
COLD.—Corned Beef, Tongue, Ham.
VEGETABLES.—Sweet Potatoes, Mashed Potatoes, Beets, Onions, Corn.
RELISHES.—Pepper Sauce, Pickles, Mustard, Halford Sauce, Tomato Catsup.
PASTRY.—Mince Pie, Lemon Pie, Apple Pie, Cocoanut Pie.
DESSERT.—Peaches, Apples, Watermelons, Confectionery, Raisins Vanilla Ice-Cream, Tea, Coffee.

The first photo shows the building sometime around the late 1890s. It was taken from the south promenade, facing north towards the hotel. The original 1861 portion is visible in the distant center, with two women standing atop the observatory. Closer to the foreground on the right side is one of the newer wings of the hotel, and on the left side is the small front promenade. Beyond it is a glimpse of the view to the north, showing a portion of the river valley and the hills further in the distance.

Although this photo shows guests here enjoying the scenery, it also reveals the poor condition of the hotel and grounds. This is particularly evident here in the foreground, where many of the boards on the promenade appear to be in poor condition and portions of the fence are leaning inward or outward. Faced with declining visitors and an aging building, William Street embarked on extensive building project in 1893. His goal was to build a new stone hotel, which would be located immediately below the summit to the northwest of the existing building. Rather than taking a carriage road or footpath to the summit, guests would be able to ride to the top on an incline railway that would bring them directly into the ground floor of the new hotel.

Street worked on these projects in the mid-1890s, but he ultimately had to halt them because of financial troubles, perhaps as a result the economic recession caused by the Panic of 1893. Only a portion of the railroad grade had been completed by this point, and the stonework for the new building had not progressed beyond the ground floor. In the meantime, the old Eyrie House remained open, but it faced further competition in 1897 with the completion of the Summit House on Mount Tom, located about three miles to the south of here. Although not a hotel, this large building featured a restaurant, a stage, and an observatory. It was a much more substantial building than the deteriorating Eyrie House, and visitors could reach it by way of a mile-long trolley line that connected the summit to the Mountain Park amusement park at the base of the mountain.

As it turned out, the original Summit House would last just three years on Mount Tom, before being destroyed by a fire on October 8, 1900. It is impossible to say whether the loss of this building would have led to any substantial increase in business for William Street in the following year, but the Eyrie House ended up meeting the same fate just six months later.

Two of William Street’s horses had died at the summit during the winter of 1901, and it was impossible to bury them in the frozen, rocky ground here. He ultimately waited until the spring, and then decided to dispose of the remains by cremation. To that effect, he built a pyre about 50 feet from the barn and cremated the horses on the afternoon of April 13, 1901. At some point in the evening he left the fire unattended and went back to the hotel, about 200 feet from the barn. However, around 8:00pm he looked out the window and noticed that the barn was on fire. Making matters worse, the wind had shifted in the meantime, and was now blowing the flames in the direction of the hotel.

Street was alone on the mountain at the time. The first people to arrive here to help were Richard Underwood and his son William, who lived at the base of the mountain. They reached the summit around 8:45, but by this point one of the promenades was ablaze, and the flames had reached part of the hotel. However, their firefighting efforts had little effect, although they did manage to rescue a few items from inside the hotel, including the telescope. About an hour after the Underwoods arrived, a group of five men climbed up here, including an Easthampton firefighter. A few others later showed up, but there was little that they could do, and the Eyrie House was completely destroyed by 11:00pm.

William Street burned his hand while trying to fight the flames, but this was likely the least of his concerns in the aftermath of the fire. It was a significant financial loss, as he had only insured the Eyrie House for $2,000 of its estimated $10,000 value. In addition, the emotional toll was likely even worse for Street, who lost the place that had been his home and business for the past 40 years. Reporting several days after the fire, the Springfield Republican observed that he “appeared completely broken down by his loss. He had become greatly attached to his mountain home, and tears filled his eyes as he told of the loss he had sustained.”

Another article, published in the Republican the day after the fire, provided the following descriptions of Street and his hotel:

The old house, built originally over 40 years ago, was for years a popular resort in the days before the electric and cable roads made the southern promontory of the range easily accessible. There William Street, the picturesque hermit of the mountain, has lived for years, visited lately by few, and seemingly content to live in his lofty home apart from his fellow-men. The house formerly rang with the shouts and laughter of merry-makers, and the long dance hall was the scene of many gay parties in the days of the resort’s prosperity. Of late the house has fallen into decay and had presented a somewhat dilapidated appearance. . . .

William Street, the owner of Nonotuck, is noteworthy and individual;—there is nobody else like him. He has loved the mountain and his eyrie there, where for a great part of the year he has led a solitary life, which just suited him. He used to be fond of collecting various wild creatures to show his visitors, and his rattlesnake den, very carefully made on the north side of his old house, was an object of much interest, and had something to do with the popularity of it. He has lived so much in the midst of the forest that he knows a vast lot of things that happen therein, the ways of its denizens, the birds that have surrounded him so many springs and summers; the osprey’s nests he has seen, and the eagle he has personally become acquainted with. Mr. Street has become a silent man, as is the wont of those who dwell where more is said than meets the ear or can be put into words. But to those who appreciate the manner of man he is, he can discourse most interestingly. A tall, spare, rugged figure, absolutely careless of dress or grace of any sort, he is nevertheless worth knowing; and there are few who have seen him in his beloved Eyrie who will not sympathize with him in the destruction of the queer structure which has been his home so long.

The loss of the hotel was obviously devastating for Street, but he would soon lose the mountain itself as well. By the early 20th century, the state was eyeing the property as part of a proposed Mount Tom State Reservation, which would encompass much of the Mount Tom Range. They offered him $5,000 for his now-empty mountaintop property, but he refused, insisting on $25,000 instead. The state ultimately took the land by eminent domain, and deposited the $5,000 in a bank account in his name. In his later years he continued to live as a recluse, rarely receiving visitors or leaving his house in Holyoke, except for occasional trips to buy supplies every few months. He died in 1918 at the age of 80, supposedly without ever having touched the money that the state had given him for his land.

It is hard to say what exactly happened to the $5,000 that the state paid to William Street, but his property remains a part of the Mount Tom State Reservation nearly 120 years later. The days of croquet, concerts, and overnight lodging here on Mount Nonotuck are long gone, yet the mountain remains a popular spot for modern-day visitors, who are drawn here by the ruins of the hotel buildings and grounds. The most impressive ruins are the massive stone walls of the unfinished 1893 building, although these are located out of view in this particular scene, down the slope on the left side of the photo. Here at the summit area, the ruins of the original Eyrie House are a little less visible, consisting primarily of a few low stone walls and several pieces of iron embedded in the exposed rock at the summit. A portion of the building’s former footprint is now occupied by a beacon tower. It was built during World War II, and it is partially visible through the trees near the center of the 2021 photo.

Although the Eyrie House was located in Northampton, this site is now part of the city of Holyoke. For many years, the Mount Tom Range was part of an unusual exclave of Northampton, which was separated from the rest of the city by a narrow wedge of Easthampton. However, this arrangement led to disaffected residents of the Smith’s Ferry neighborhood at the base of the mountain, who believed that Northampton was failing to provide services for them. They successfully lobbied the state legislature to transfer the land, and in June 1909 it became the northern section of Holyoke.

Aside from the changes in ownership and jurisdiction, the other major difference here on Mount Nonotuck is the view. Once heralded as being the near-equivalent of the view from Mount Holyoke, the mountaintop is now almost entirely forested. There is a scenic overlook a little below the summit, at the end of a now-abandoned park road, but otherwise there are only limited views here at the site of the Eyrie House. Overall, though, this scene probably does not look all that different from how it would have appeared to Edward Hitchcock and the other attendees of the 1858 christening ceremony, before any buildings or other structures were added to the summit. Perhaps some of Hitchcock’s rocks from around the world are also still here on the summit, intermingled with the 150-year-old remains of the hotel and the 200-million-year-old basalt traprock of the Metacomet Ridge.

First Congregational Church, Holyoke, Mass

The First Congregational Church, at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant Streets in Holyoke, around 1910. Image from Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity (1910).

The church in 2017:

Holyoke’s First Congregational Church was established in 1799, as the Third Congregational Church of West Springfield. At the time, West Springfield encompassed the present-day towns of Agawam and Holyoke. The latter was variously known as the Third Parish or Ireland Parish, and was only sparsely settled, with most of its population was located along Northampton Street. The church had only 11 members when it was established, and shared space with the First Baptist Church. Not until 1834 did the Congregational church move into a building of its own, upon the completion of a modest Greek Revival-style church near the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets.

Holyoke was incorporated as a separate municipality in 1850, and the church became the First Congregational Church of Holyoke. Around the same time, the new town was undergoing a rapid transformation from a small farming community into a major industrial center. However, most of this new development was along the banks of the Connecticut River, far removed from the church on Northampton Street. Despite a significant growth in Holyoke’s population, the church actually declined in membership during this time, with many parishioners leaving to join the newly-established Second Congregational Church, with its more convenient location at the corner of High and Dwight Streets.

Faced with this decline, along with a revolving door of pastors throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the church finally decided to relocate closer to downtown Holyoke. In 1886, the church purchased this lot at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant Streets, and by the end of the following year it had completed a chapel on the site, which is visible on the far right side of both photos. Although still located some distance from downtown Holyoke, the new church was situated in the midst of a new upscale residential development, and within just a few years its membership had more than doubled, from 64 at the time of the 1887 move, to around 160 by 1890.

Church services were held in this chapel until 1894, when the church building itself was completed. The new church was the work of prominent Holyoke architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a Romanesque-style design that was common for churches of this period. The exterior was primarily brick, with brownstone trim, and included common Romanesque elements such as rounded arches, asymmetrical facades, and a mix of towers and turrets of varying heights. The overall design bore some resemblance to the new Second Congregational Church, which had been completed almost a decade earlier on Maple Street, although that church had been constructed entirely of brownstone instead of brick.

Throughout the 20th century, the First Congregational Church underwent a series of mergers and name changes. In 1961, it became First United Congregational Church after a merger with the German Reformed Church, and then in 1973 it became Grace United Church after merging with Grace Church. The members of Grace United continued to worship here until 1995, when the church merged with the Second Congregational Church, becoming the United Congregational Church of Holyoke. Following this merger, most religious services were held at the former Second Congregational building on Maple Street, but the church retained ownership of the former First Congregational building here on Pleasant Street, which was repurposed as the E. B. Robinson Ecumenical Mission Center. The church still owns the property today, and the historic building is still standing with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken, although it appears to vacant as of the 2017 photo.

Second Congregational Church, Holyoke, Mass

The Second Congregational Church, seen from Maple Street near the corner of Appleton Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The church in 2017:

The Second Congregational Church was established in 1849, at a time when Holyoke was just beginning its transformation into a major industrial center. Prior to this time, the area’s population was centered further up the hill from here, along Northampton Street. The First Congregational Church was located there, but this site proved inconvenient for those who were moving into the newly-developed area along the river. This led to the formation of the Second Congregational Church, which built its first meeting house at the corner of High and Dwight Streets in 1853.

At the time, the church had just 36 members, in a building that could seat 800. However, as Holyoke grew so did the congregation, and by the 1880s it had outgrown the old building. Its location, right at the intersection of two major streets, had also become undesirable because of the levels of noise outside, so in 1885 the church moved into this new building a few blocks away, at the corner of Maple and Appleton Streets. Like many churches of the era, it was built of brownstone and featured Romanesque-style architecture, including an asymmetrical main facade with a tall tower at one corner and a shorter one at the other. The book Story of the Holyoke Churches, published a few years later in 1890, provides the following description:

The church edifice is a most imposing structure. It is built of East Longmeadow stone, with a tower at the northwest corner, 112 feet high. The chapel is at the rear of the church auditorium, with an entrance from Appleton street, its rear elevation being upon High street. Its style is Romanesque. It is undoubtedly as fine a church edifice as there is in the State outside the city of Boston. It will comfortably seat 1,100 persons. All its internal appointments are exceedingly attractive and convenient. It is the pride, not only of the congregation worshiping regularly within its walls, but also of our citizens generally.

In 1912, the Skinner Memorial Chapel was added next to the church, as seen on the far right of the 2017 photo. It was named for the late silk manufacturer William Skinner and his wife Sarah, and was built with funds provided by their children. However, just seven years later, in 1919, the church was almost completely destroyed in a fire. The chapel survived, as did the large tower on the left side, but otherwise only a few fragments from the original building survived. The Boston architectural firm of Allen & Collens, which had designed the chapel, was hired to provide plans for the reconstruction of the rest of the church. The result was a Gothic-style design that matched the chapel, while also incorporating the original Romanesque-style tower.

In 1995, Second Congregational Church merged with Grace United Church, which had itself been formed by a merger of several churches, including First Congregational. Following this merger, it was renamed the United Congregational Church of Holyoke, and its members continue to worship here today. The building itself stands as one of the many historic church buildings in Holyoke, although these two photos illustrate the difference between the original 1885 design and the 1921 reconstruction.