The Oxbow from Mount Holyoke, Hadley Mass

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

563_1900c loc

The scene in 2015:

This scene from the summit of Mount Holyoke was made famous in 1836 when artist Thomas Cole painted “View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm,” a work also known as “The Oxbow” because of the prominent meander in the river.  Cole’s depiction of the scene is below:

The top of Mount Holyoke has long been a sightseeing destination, starting even before Cole’s 1830s visit.  In 1821, a small cabin was built at the summit, which was replaced in 1851 by a much larger hotel, which still stands today.  The 2015 photo, and presumably the 1900 photo, were both taken from the porch that surrounds the building, and they reveal some of the changes that have occurred in the landscape over the past 115 years.  However, probably the most obvious change here occurred long before the first photo was taken, and not long after Thomas Cole painted his famous work.  In 1840, a flood broke through the narrow neck, giving the Connecticut River a more direct route downstream and turning the former riverbed into a lake.  It also made travel easier; traffic no longer had to follow the meandering river, and the 1900 scene shows the railroad tracks that had been built across what was once the river.  Today, Route 5 parallels the railroad tracks, and Interstate 91 crosses the Oxbow just a little further to the west.

When the 1900 photo was taken, the Oxbow played an important role in river commerce as a holding place for logs that were floated downstream.  Each spring in the late 1800s and early 1900s, logs from upstream in Vermont and New Hampshire would be floated down the river to the paper mills in Holyoke.  Since it is just a short distance upstream of Holyoke, the Oxbow made for a convenient holding place away from the main channel of the river.  The last such log drive occurred in 1915, and since then it has been used primarily for pleasure boats, with the Oxbow Marina located on the inside of the curve.  There are no dams between Holyoke to the south and Turners Falls to the north, so this section is one of the busiest on the Connecticut River for recreational boating.

Mt. Washington Cog Railway

The Mt. Washington Cog Railway, near the summit, probably in the early 1870s. Photo courtesy of New York Public Library.


The scene in 2013:


The first photo was probably taken within a few years of the opening of the Mt. Washington Cog Railway.  By the mid 19th century, the White Mountains had become a popular summer destination, and Mount Washington in particular became a favorite destination.  The only problem was getting to the top; this was first solved by the Mount Washington Carriage Road (today the Auto Road), but even before the road opened, another man had an even more ambitious idea – to build a railroad to the top.

Railroads were still in their infancy in America in 1852, and many major cities still did not have rail connections, but Sylvester Marsh had a plan to build a cog railway to the top, something that had never been done up the side of a mountain before.  The New Hampshire legislature gave him a charter in 1858, with one legislator reportedly remarking that they should give him a charter to make a railway to the moon, indicating how impossible it seemed to build a railroad to the top of the tallest peak in the Northeast.

The railroad was completed to the summit in July 1869, only a couple months after the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.  It is about 3 miles long, with an average grade of about 25%, and it set the stage for future mountain-climbing railroads such as the one up Pikes Peak.  The locomotives in the first photo indicate that it is an early photo of the railroad; they appear to be the George Stephenson and the Hercules, which entered service in 1869 and were replaced in 1878 and 1874, respectively.

The present-day scene here is remarkably similar; the trains are still operating (most of the locomotives are modern biodiesel ones, but several date back to the 1870s), and there seems to be as many people riding in the 2013 photo as there were nearly 150 years earlier, although clothing styles have changed a bit.  It’s not visible from here, but the road to the top is also still there, although it is no longer the Carriage Road but the Auto Road.  There are a lot more buildings at the top than there were in the 1870s, although the Tip Top House is still there; it is older than either the Auto Road or the railroad.

Mt. Tom Summit House, Holyoke, Mass. (2)

The view of the Mt. Tom Summit House between 1905 and 1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


The view in 2014:


These photos were taken from around the location of the upper station of the trolley line; from here, visitors would walk up to the summit. Today, the Metacomet & Monadnock Trail traverses the summit and goes past the location where the photos were taken, on its way from the Connecticut state line to the summit of Mt. Monadnock in southern New Hampshire.

Mt. Tom Summit House, Holyoke, Mass. (1)

The view of the Mt. Tom Summit House around 1900-1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The same view in 2019:

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, mountain-top hotels were all the rage. Among other things, they offered spectacular views, along with cooler weather during the hot, humid New England summers in the days before air conditioning. There were three such hotels in the Mt. Tom vicinity alone, including this one at the summit of the highest point along the range. However, along with being very popular, their isolated location also made them vulnerable to fire. The building in this photo was the second built on the summit; the first, which opened in 1897, burned in 1900. This one would eventually burn as well, in 1929. A third one was built, but closed in 1938, a victim of the Great Depression as well as changes in demand.

Today, the foundation of the hotel is there, but it is filled with the antennas and related equipment, and is fenced-in and off limits to the public.  Hikers to the summit can still walk along the boardwalk, or at least what’s left of it. The part seen in the second photo has collapsed, and other parts of the boardwalk are in various stages of decay, but today it is the only obvious reminder of that was once at the summit.

View looking north from the Mt. Tom Summit House, Holyoke, Mass.

The view looking north from the Mt. Tom Summit House, between 1900 and 1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

As with the previous photo, it wasn’t possible to perfectly re-create the original image, because it was taken from atop a building that no longer exists. However, the 2019 photo shows the same general view, although from ground level.  I took the photo from around the same spot as the concession stand in the lower right corner of the first photo.  According to the sign on the building, they offered “Salted Peanuts and Kibbe’s Corn Cakes” for five cents.  The building further away on the right-hand side of the photo is the upper station of the railway, which ran trolleys up and down the mountain, carrying passengers for 25 cents per ride.  The boardwalk in the first photo leads down to the station, where the people in the photo most certainly arrived at the summit – I can’t imagine any of them climbing up in such clothing.

Mt. Tom Summit House View, Holyoke, Mass.

The view of Easthampton from the Summit House on Mt. Tom, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.


Approximately the same view in 2014:


It’s almost impossible to get an identical view, because the Summit House no longer exists, and the actual site of it has radio towers that are behind fences.  However, these two photos both show the same general section of the boardwalk that once went across the summit. The 2014 photo was probably taken around the spot in the lower left of the 1908 photo where a flat rock protrudes above the boardwalk. Compare to a similar “before” view, and a 2010 view of the location.