Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Photos: A Bash Bish Fall

You can't get much more Western Massachusetts than Mount Washington and you won't find any "single drop" waterfall in the Commonwealth higher than Bash Bish Falls once you get there. The Berkshires are an obvious draw for local and tourist alike on their annual fall foliage pilgrimage to pay homage at the altar of brilliant and natural color. The magnificence of an Autumn New England makes visitors wistful and natives' spirits soar. When our friends and neighbors say things like: "I'd like to move to a warmer climate...but I would miss the seasons," they are undoubtedly referring to the third season of the year, when surf and sand, magic and mystery, and snow and silence collide.

I've taken Route 23 west out to Bash Bish Falls State Park the two times I've visited, my latest visit this past Sunday, which turned out to be a beautiful day for leaf peeping. What was nicer is that my brother drove, allowing me to..well, I can't say relax, because of his driving habits...but at least look around more than I would normally get to do had I been behind the wheel myself. Maybe my eyes wide with terror helped soak more of the scenery in, who knows? (Just kidding, bro'!) What is scarier upon reflection is the realization that now, traveling the same roads we used to barrel down and around on our way to party in the western woods as youngsters, we pull over to let the faster traffic pass, and it is normal and certainly prudent. We are no longer the muscle car pushing from behind, but the sedan out for a Sunday drive. We have reached the Autumn of our years. Ah, melancholy.

For more information about and directions to Bash Bish Falls State Park, check out the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's (DCR) web page at:

Here are some photos of last Sunday's excursion.

The rocky bed of Bash Bish Brook is canopied by October trees below the Falls. The brook is fed by Wright and City Brooks to the east and Hill Brook to the south, as well as other brooks and springs scattered throughout the mountains and valleys of the area.

It was a gorgeous day for a walk. There's nothing quite like scuffing your feet through a kaleidoscope of leaves as others whisper their way to the forest floor around you, holding hands with someone you love.

Brilliant blue sky accompanied us on our journey west. Anyone who has seen the vivid and vibrant colors of late-year New England up close knows that no camera can capture the magic of the changing of the leaves. Experienced firsthand, the palette is a marvel.

Greens and golds and slender silhouettes...

We parked at New York's Taconic State Park to get to the Falls. There is an access point and parking further down Falls Road in Massachusetts, but it is a steeper and more taxing hike from that location. If you're looking for what the DCR web site considers a "moderate difficulty" walk, park at Taconic, if you're up for some adventure and a just plain "difficulty" walk, go to the Massachusetts lot. I have done both now. I must say I prefer "moderate difficulty," if indeed, "difficulty" must be involved at all. Plus, if you walk in from the Taconic State Park side, you get to cross the New York - Massachusetts border on foot. Twice. (Again, for directions, take a look at the DCR web site above.)

Another reason I'm glad to be a New Englander in Western Massachusetts.

Bash Bish Falls from above. There are stone steps leading down to the basin. The folks down below in the photo give a good indication of the height of the Falls. Although swimming is forbidden, when we visited last summer, folks were splashing around and jumping in and sunbathing on the rocks and just generally having a good old time. The water is sure a lot more inviting in July than in late October.

My sore legs were screaming at me the next day, but I hoofed it down the stairs to snap this photo of the Falls from brook-level. Heck, if my older brother can do it after walking about a mile mostly uphill, so can I! Right...

For more fall in Western Massachusetts posts here at EWM, check out Motoring the Mohawk , October 1941 and Photographs: A Fall Farm Stand in Franklin County, October, 1941.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care!

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Old First Church: In Search of Salvation

New Year's day usually signifies a clean slate, a fresh start. This coming January 1st will bring with it a tragic ending, as the landmark Old First Church on Court Square in Springfield closes its doors, its future as a meeting place and House of Worship cast to the Fates: A casualty of the rising costs of upkeep and dwindling community support. The congregation, members of the United Church of Christ, voted in September to disband and mothball the church, despite a two-year effort to find an alternative to such a sad and solemn course. A meeting this past June, well-publicized with articles in the Springfield Republican and on MassLive, only attracted 25 souls interested in the church, which itself has been the soul of the city for nearly 200 years, the cocoon of a congregation that dates to 1637, and that had outgrown three meeting-houses prior to the construction of the current thousand-seat structure, which was built in 1818. Officially recognized as a historical state landmark in 1971, the church was honored as a public treasure again in 1972, gaining a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

This drawing by Springfield architect George Clarence Gardner is found in the book, Springfield Present and Prospective, as illustrative accompaniment to the first chapter of that work, titled The Visible Charm: As it Was, Is and May Be, authored by Gardner's father, Eugene C. Gardner. The senior Gardner was also an architect, and was responsible for the design of Chestnut Middle School and the Westfield Sanitorium (now Western Mass. Hospital), along with many other well-known local structures. The illustration elaborates on Gardner's concept of the Old First Church as the heart of the city as follows:
"As in the old New England towns, almost without exception, the first church erected was the point from which all things emanated, toward which all things tended, and around which everything revolved. It not only dominated the green turf in front, and the sometimes dreary burial ground behind, or at one side, but it set the pace for all other local affairs, social, political and educational as well as religious. It has not always happened, however, as here, that this ethical and business center has remained the visible aesthetic center. And although but a comparatively small part of our best architectural growth has been adjacent to Court square, and other churches have shared the burdens and responsibilities of directing our temporal as well as spiritual concerns, the characteristic, though by no means ornate, or altogether graceful, spire of the First church remains, as regards locality, the civic center of gravity. A skeleton map of the situation as it is today is fairly represented by the foregoing sketch."

This Clifton Johnson photo of the First Church shows a cobble-stoned Main Street. The First Church was also called the (Fourth) First Church Congregational. Springfield's original meeting-house was built in 1645. Seats in the first (unheated) meeting-house were sold by subscription, with the prime seats coveted by the wealthiest residents of the young village, the pecking order of Springfield society well-established each time the community came together.

The soldier's monument, donated to the city by Gurdon Bill, is front-and-center in this C. E. Perkins photo of Court Square. A drinking fountain stands in the foreground. This photo, as well as the previous and next one, is scanned from the book 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' published by Pond & Campbell in 1905, giving one an approximation of the three photos' ages.

E. J. Lazelle captured this Court Square scene, complete with horse-and-carriage to the right in the photo, standing on what looks to be a wet Court Street. The leafless trees suggest early winter or spring. The court house can be seen to the left of the Old First Church. Not everyone was impressed with this structure, Springfield's third court house, as related by Judge A. M. Copeland and Edwin Dwight, co-authoring the chapter, The Story of Springfield, in the book Springfield Present and Prospective.
"The erection of the present - third - court house was authorized by the legislature in 1871, and it was finished and ready for use in 1874. The duty to see to this work was with the county commissioners, none of whom were lawyers or had any practical experience or any definite idea of the proper construction of a court house, or of those things essential to its convenient use. Those whose business best qualified them to suggest points of practical importance either were not consulted, or their opinions, if expressed, were ignored. The building was not what it should have been, though costing the sum of $304,543, including land, building and furnishings, and few years have passed since its occupation in which the county has not expended large sums of money in necessary alterations. A plan is now on foot for additional structures to meet the growing need of the county."

Court Square is referred to as Springfield's "civic center" in the caption of the above postcard from the donated Shaffer collection. Indeed, Court Square was originally known to residents as "Meeting-house Square," the vital functions of a growing community centered in the area for close to four centuries now. The municipal group of City Hall, the Campanile and Symphony Hall are across Court Street from 50 Elm Street's Old First Church. These three landmarks of architectural splendor, representing the city's finest hour, have also fallen into disrepair, threatening to fall into a point-of-no-return of dilapidation and prompting a drive in 2006 to secure financing through bonds to renovate the structures.

Another postcard view of First Church and Court Square, from the Robbins family collection. This linen-postcard hails from the early forties. The Court Square Theatre is to the left, on the south side of Court Square.

This photo from Veteran's Day, 2001, captures the dueling spires of the Old First Church and the Campanile against a beautiful November sky. The church was built by Captain Isaac Damon of Northampton, who also built the bridge spanning the Connecticut river that stood for 100 years prior to the construction of the current Hampden County Memorial Bridge.

Here are a few links to articles from the Springfield Republican reporting the church's disheartening saga:

Historic Old First Church could close within months
Posted by The Republican Newsroom June 23, 2007 14:00PM

Old First Church pleads for help
Posted by The Republican Newsroom June 28, 2007 11:52AM

Church in Springfield votes to disband
Saturday, September 15, 2007

4 WMass sites among 10 most endangered
Monday, October 01, 2007

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Photographs: The Spokes of Park Square, Pittsfield, Massachusetts (c 1900-1920)

Author Frank W. Kaan, in his article 'Historical Sketch of Pittsfield,' published in the January, 1885, issue of The Bay State Monthly, describes the layout and character of that town in the late 19th century as such:
"The four principal streets of the town, named from the points of the compass, meet at the Park. North street contains the bulk of the stores and business places. On the corner of West street is the building of the Berkshire Life Insurance Company, which was incorporated in 1851, and has always included among its Directors and Managers the best business men in the town and county, who naturally take great pride in it as one of the soundest Life Insurance Companies of the country. In the same building are three national and one savings bank, besides the town and other offices. Immediately beyond is Mr. Atwoods drug store, an establishment of long standing, which would bear favorable comparison with any similar store as regards either attention or knowledge of a druggists duties. Farther along the same street are Central Block and the Academy of Music. In other parts of Pittsfield broad streets, lined with tall elms and shady horse-chestnut trees, invite our footsteps. The dwelling-houses are mostly of wood, built in the cottage and villa styles of architecture; many are stately edifices; many are hospitable mansions; all show unmistakable evidence of being comfortable homes. Scattered over the township, each springing up around a mill or two, are miniature villages. Their population is largely made up of foreigners, Irish and Germans, whose condition appears to be somewhat better than that of the same class in cities. Both sexes are represented among the operatives. The mills, mostly small, are located with a view to an opportunity for using water power, yet none are without steam power as well. In the same neighborhood are the large farms and expensive estates of the mill-owners, the wealthiest class in the community. Between the villages, in fact, upon all the roads, every turn brings in sight pleasing views which never repeat themselves or become monotonous."
Relatively soon after Kaan's short history was published, in 1891, Pittsfield - originally incorporated as Pontoosuck Plantation in 1753 - was incorporated as a city. Perhaps Kaan was a bit off in his observation six years before, that: "Pittsfield, although one of the largest towns in the country, is not ambitious to try a city form of government."

The following photographs from the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection show the young city's Park Square and its spokes of streets - named with the simplicity of the compass - in the early 20th century.

Park Square, circa 1906. The First Congregationalist Church on Park Place is the building on the left in the photo. To the right of the church, obscured by trees, is Pittsfield's City Hall, located on the corner of Park Place and Allen Street. The streetcars were operated by the Berkshire Street Railway. The soldier's monument is on the west side of Park Square.

Looking up North Street from South Street/Park Square, circa 1905-15. The first building in the right of the photo is the Berkshire County Savings Bank, located on the corner of Park Place and North Street. The six-story building on the left is the Wendell Hotel, on the corner of South and West Streets. Across West Street from the Wendell is the Berkshire Life Insurance Company, which marks the beginning of North Street.

North Street, circa 1906. The Berkshire County Savings Bank is the building to the far right in the photo. The building further up North Street - in the center of the photo - with the tall dome-roofed steeple, is the First Baptist Church. Narrow, and hardly discernible, School Street separated the church from the Geer Block to its south - to the right of the church in this photo. At the end of School Street, where it met Allen Street, was Pittsfield's Central Fire Department station.

Looking south down North Street towards Park Square, circa 1905-15. The distinctive domed spires of the First Baptist Church are conspicuous against the gray and raining sky.

South Street from the east, circa 1905-15. The South Congregational Church is seen through the trees, on the corner of South and Church Streets.

East Street, circa 1905-15.

East Street from Park Square, circa 1910-20.

West Street from Park Square, circa 1900-15. The Wendell hotel is the building on the left, occupying the corner of South and West Streets. Across the street, to the hotel's right , is the Berkshire Life Insurance Company building. on the corner of North and West Streets. Union Station, Pittsfield's railroad depot, was straight ahead up West Street. It didn't take long from the time the first locomotive rolled into Pittsfield on May 4, 1841, for rail service to become an important facet of the city, linking its mills and people to Albany and Boston and points beyond.

For a look at 1899 Pittsfield from a pigeon's perspective, check out the EWM post, Map: Bird's-eye View of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 1899.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and take care.

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

Westfield's Bridge Project, Five Months On

July 25, 2007 - The north riverbank east of the Great River Bridge in Westfield is cleared and construction is underway in this photo taken roughly 2 1/2 months after the May 11, 2007, groundbreaking for the new bridge that will connect the north and south sides of the city. The unobstructed view of the Westfield River looking from either side takes some getting used to for folks who are accustomed to the heavy vegetation and trees that lined the banks for decades, and before that, factories and mills. Buildings razed on the north side for the Great River Bridge Project include a structure along the river that had housed a woodworking shop and, further up North Elm street, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Church. For before, during and after photos of the demolition of the church, check out the August 12, 2007, EWM post, Westfield's Blessed Sacrament Parish Breaks New Ground.

August 5, 2007 - The crane is in place and ready to assist in the building of a temporary bridge spanning the river as a kind of scaffolding to work off of during the construction of the new bridge. The temporary bridge must be built strong enough to hold the weight of the crane and other heavy equipment. Recently, an interesting and ancient retired construction worker reminded me of the difference between a steelworker and an ironworker when I happened to misspeak. A steelworker makes the steel, an ironworker puts it together and builds things with it. Both tough jobs, requiring a tough breed of human.

August 19, 2007 - The first section of the temporary bridge is in place on the north riverbank and the crane sits idle. In mid-August, a permit dispute between contractor, J. F. White, and the Massachusetts Highway Department has halted construction on the structure, the building of which, although necessary for the safe and efficient construction of the new bridge, had apparently not had the proper state permits pulled by the contractor, according to the Highway Department. The contractor disagrees with the department's assessment, as related in an August 21, 2007, CBS 3 News article. The crane would sit idle for weeks before work on the temporary bridge resumed.

October 6, 2007 - The morning mist has yet to lift over the north side in this photo, taken yesterday. Construction has resumed on the temporary bridge, with two sections now complete and pylons driven for a third. About five months have passed since the groundbreaking for the project. It is interesting to note the drop in the water level of the Westfield River in this succession of photos. The river's flow is somewhat controlled by the Littleville Dam on the middle branch and Knightville Dam on the east branch, both in Huntington, Mass., and under the charge of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. The west branch of the river is unregulated, and further east, the Little River is also, for the most part, free in its flow as it empties into the river, pushing towards the Connecticut.

More about the Great River Bridge traffic improvement project on EWM.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Photos: Autumn in Western Massachusetts

Rainbow - Westfield, Mass.

Stanley Park - Westfield, Mass.

Forest Park - Springfield, Mass.

Forest Park - Springfield, Mass.

State Street - Springfield, Mass.

Dusk - Westfield, Mass

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