As a Holyoke businessman dissatisfied with the pace of the street railway's line expansion, Loomis decided to take matters into his own hands, purchasing the four-year old company outright in 1888. Electrification of the lines came in 1891 and, despite a faltering economy, the Holyoke Street Railway grew apace under his ambitious stewardship.
In 1895, Loomis's railway began shuttling weekend passengers in search of respite and recreation to a 365-acre parcel on Holyoke's Mt. Tom that he had purchased and begun to groom some years before. Opened in 1894 and named Mountain Park, the new connection to the Holyoke Street Railway resulted in a steady increase of visitors and profits.
In 1897, with a state charter to build a pleasure resort in hand, Loomis strove to make his vision blossom, adding a restaurant (with open-air dining), a dance hall, and a 2,500-seat theater named The Casino. A unique switchback railway (a new type of roller coaster, the first of which had been built just 13 years before at Coney Island, NY) beckoned the daring soul, with a merry-go-round and water ride providing additional, less-challenging, amusement.
The Holyoke Street Railway's weekend trolley park on the mountain served both pleasure and profit, with day-off fares proffered by grateful workers free on holiday to board trains that would else sit idle as a Sunday factory: Indeed, a combined natural win for both city folk and stakeholder.
|Mountain Park & Mt. Tom Summit House, Holyoke, Mass., between 1900-1910|
|Lower station, Mt. Tom Railroad, Holyoke, Mass., between 1905-1915|
In the photo above, cars of the Holyoke Street Railway service passengers at the lower station platform. Access to the Mt. Tom Railroad is on the opposite side of the station.
|Mt. Tom Railroad elevating car, The Elizur Holyoke, between 1900-1920|
The duo were named in honor of contemporaries Elizur Holyoke and Rowland Thomas, 17th-century surveyors of the area from the down river settlement of Springfield and namesakes of Mt. Holyoke and Mt. Tom. Elizur Holyoke married Springfield settler and magistrate William Pynchon's daughter Mary in 1640, the first marriage recorded in Springfield.
|The Rowland Thomas, after passing turn-out, between 1905-1915|
In the photo above, the Rowland Thomas (foreground) climbs toward the Mt. Tom summit after passing the Elizur Holyoke, the turn-out visible between them.
|The Elizur Holyoke climbs Mt. Tom, Holyoke, Mass., between 1905-1915|
|Approaching Mt. Tom Railroad's upper station, between 1900-1906|
|The Elizur Holyoke crests the final rise of the Mt. Tom Railroad, between 1900-1906|
"The summit of Mt. Tom was not easily accessible until the construction of the Mt. Tom Railroad in the year 1897. Now, the street cars of Holyoke (which connect with the Springfield system of street cars, and with the Boston & Maine and N. Y., N. H. & Hartford railroads) run to the lower station of the Mt. Tom Railroad, and in less than ten minutes afterward the mountain cars deliver their passengers on the summit. The Mt. Tom Railroad is a cable-trolley-electric, modern mountain railway. The two cars are connected, and balanced by a 1 1/4 inch tested steel cable, made of 120 steel wires, twisted into the six minor cables which form the strong steel rope which runs over an eight-foot sheave at the top of the incline."Electric brakes were backed up by an automatic, speed-sensitive braking system, as well as a cable brake. Power to spark the whole line traveled through pole-supported electric wires from a generating source five miles distant.
|Pulling into upper station on the Mt. Tom Railroad, between 1900-1906|
|Upper station, Mt. Tom Railroad, Holyoke, Mass., between 1905-1915|
Steps away from the upper station beckoned the Mt. Tom Summit House - perched on a basalt tor defiant - with its maps and telescopes, sitting nooks and myriad wide windows inviting visitors to drink in the distant and near. The top-notch Top-O-Tom restaurant provided an upscale ambiance to the rugged natural surroundings offering diners both fine food and magnificent views in a classy atmosphere. The establishment was noted for its unique, ivy-covered interior walls.
|The Mt. Tom Summit House, Holyoke, Mass., between 1905-1915|
The imposing, seven-story tall structure served as a focal point of the valley and a day trip destination until its own demise by fire in 1929. A small building made of metal was constructed on the spot as a replacement, but, as growing automobile ownership expanded folk's choices, and increased competition for recreation revenue coupled with the onslaught of the Great Depression, the once-keen popularity of the Mt. Tom Summit House failed to rebound. The land became the seed for Mount Tom State Reservation, groomed by the Civilian Conservation Corps beginning in 1933, and still serves today as a piece of public paradise.
In 1938, the last summit house and the Mt. Tom Railroad were dismantled and sold for scrap, an ignominious exit for a vibrant era fast fading to sepia-toned memories.
Mountain Park, having marked its share of ups and downs navigating the past 117 years, has enjoyed a more illustrious and lasting legacy than its satellite in the sky, persevering in various forms and configurations until the end of the 1987 season, when its gates closed for what sadly appeared to be the last time.
Fortunately, the 60 acres that had been the heart of Mountain Park through the decades remained in private hands and were purchased in 2006 by local visionary and entrepreneur, Eric Suher, who entertains dreams of restoring the park of locals' memories. Generations apart, William Loomis and Eric Suher complete a century circle of commercial creativity and inspiration, promoting the hard acres of Mt. Tom, inventing and re-inventing the happy world of Mountain Park. Well-attended concerts organized by Mr. Suher in 2009 and 2010 breathed life into the dormant and dismantled park, public support for Mr. Suher's endeavors on display in the enthusiastic turn-out for the shows.
|View of Easthampton from Mt. Tom, Holyoke, Mass., c1908|
As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.
One ride from Mountain Park that can still be ridden is the 1929-built merry-go-round, relocated and still spinning at a buck a ride beneath a wonderful recreation of its original pavilion at Holyoke's Heritage State Park. For more information, visit the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round website at: http://www.holyokemerrygoround.org/
Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke maintains an excellent website, Chariots of Change, chronicling the history of the Holyoke Street Railway Company, including interesting links to a large collection of digitized reference material: http://wistariahurst.org/holyokestreetrailway/introduction/
The website, Mt. Holyoke Historical Timelines, presented by Robb Strycharz, is an excellent resource that captures the symbiotic relationship between Mt. Holyoke, Mt. Tom, and Mt Nonotuck throughout their commercial development: http://www.chronos-historical.org/mtholyoke/index.html
In 1912, the Holyoke Street Railway Company - under the management of Louis D. Pellissier - published Views on and about Mt. Tom and of Mt. Tom railroad, an illustrated promotional tool for the resort. Louis Pellissier and William Loomis worked together for years molding the mountain acreage into a profitable business. Pellissier purchased Mountain Park in 1929 and operated it until 1952. Here's a link to the publication, digitized at the Internet Archive: http://www.archive.org/details/viewsonaboutmtto00pell
Here's a nice website with information and images, including the original Mt. Tom Summit House: http://www.mounttom.com/
Jay Ducharme, author of the book, Mountain Park (Arcadia Publishers), is the local authority on the park's history. Here's a link to his website: http://www.karenandjay.com/mtpark/mtpark.html
Plan your visit to Mt. Tom State Reservation in Holyoke with directions, printable trail map and more, courtesy of the Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/central/mtom.htm
Check out the EWM channel on YouTube for a collection of vintage clips and videos of Holyoke history in motion: http://www.youtube.com/user/Explorewesternmass
Learn more about William Street, proprietor of the Eyrie House atop the summit of Mt. Nonotuck, with EWM post, The Eyrie House: William Street's Home in the Clouds: http://explorewmass.blogspot.com/2010/03/eyrie-house-william-streets-home-in.html
Take a photo-hike around Mt. Tom's Lake Bray with EWM post, A Misty Morning on the Bray Loop Trail: http://explorewmass.blogspot.com/2008/06/misty-morning-on-bray-loop-trail.html
EWM post The Federal Theatre Project Visits Mt. Park Casino features posters from the depression-era WPA Federal Theatre Project advertising shows at Mountain Park Casino: http://explorewmass.blogspot.com/2009/03/federal-theatre-project-visits-mt-tom.html
Photo source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection: