Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Highland Street Foundation's Free Fun Fridays For August

The Highland Street Foundation's Free Fun Fridays program, offering free admission to cultural venues throughout the Bay State to all who would partake, has a great schedule of events for August, 2011.

This season, the Highland Street Foundation expands its reach west for entertainment, with Tanglewood and the Springfield Museums joining successful participants of last summer's Free Fun Fridays - including the Basketball Hall of Fame, Old Sturbridge Village and the Berkshire Museum - to provide quality, free Friday fun for a memorable summer.

Here's the schedule of sponsored Western Massachusetts events for August:

August 5:
Springfield Museums
21 Edwards Street-Springfield

August 12:
Tanglewood (BSO)
297 West Street-Lenox

August 19:
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 West Columbus Ave – Springfield

August 26:
Old Sturbridge Village
1 Old Sturbridge Village Rd – Sturbridge
Berkshire Museum
39 South Street – Pittsfield

For a schedule of all Free Fun Friday events across the state and information:

Please support the McGrath family and this great organization in its awesome efforts to improve the lives of children and families in Massachusetts and beyond. To learn more, visit the foundation's website at:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Free Croquet Match at The Wicket Grounds in Tolland this Sunday

Croquet matches FREE for all backyard players ages 13 and up at The Wicket Grounds, 1043 Burt Hill Road, Tolland, Ma, Sunday, July 31, from 1 to 5 PM.

"The Bicentennial Cup II" awards three trophy cups to the top three points scorers. Bring a mallet or use one of ours. Cool, leafy, friendly afternoon of croquet in the mountains where it has been played since 1935. Free traditional strawberries and whipped cream!

For more information, contact or visit

More about the history of The Wicket Grounds and directions for getting there:

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Pittsfield Hoopla Festival Returns To Springside Park

(Pittsfield, MA - PRESS RELEASE) On Saturday, July 30, from 10am to 10pm, the Pittsfield City Hoopla festival will return to the public gardens of Springside Park - Pittsfield, Massachusetts’ largest public park, located at 874 North St - for its third year of festivities inspired by the craft, craze and creativity of the hula hoop. Boasting a full day of hoop related classes, contests, jams, art, vending and performance, the Pittsfield City Hoopla is a unique family-friendly event that celebrates the value of the movement arts in our everyday lives and community.

In addition to free hooping workshops for all ages and abilities on the lawn with professional teaching hoop dance artists from the Boston Hoop Troop and Hooping Harmony between 12 noon - 3pm there will also be more focused smaller workshops available for a fee.


Workshops with Pittsfield based movement professionals include:

10am: Openings: A Yoga Class for Entering the Hoop with Rachael Plaine of Berkshire Pure Movement and Yoga Depot

3pm Intro to HoopTap with festival maker and founder Stefanie Weber

6pm Hip Hop for the Hooper with dancer Marie Georgefils

7pm Sundown Stretch & Flow with Gillian Gorman of Radiance Yoga.


Workshops from visiting guest artists include:

11am Hoop Tutorial with Robin Rapture of Hoopium in New Hampshire

3pm Putting the Dance in Hoop Dance with Laura-Marie from Hooping Harmony in Greenfield , MA,

4pm On & Off Body Axis Flips & Twists with Lolli Hoops and Core Hooping: Navigating Between Waist and Neck with Rachel, both from the Boston Hoop Troop.

Space is limited for the above workshops and pre-registration is suggested. The cost is $10 per workshop and lower if you attend 3 or more.


Participants can begin the day by making their own hoop on site at 10am for $25 guided by Hoopla artists. Pre-registration is required and space is limited.

This year’s Hoopla will introduce some new activities for participants. ‘Yogaslacker’ Danielle Gismondi from Frog Lotus Yoga in North Adams will facilitate a slackline throughout the day. According to, slacklining is the sport of walking a small, flat nylon rope between two points. It is practiced in the backyard, on college campuses and city parks, and even 3000 feet above the ground. Some people do it for fun, others for the obvious athletic benefits, and others still for a meditative purpose, in seeking a higher state of mind. Since slacklining’s development in the late 1970s, slacklining has grown into an international craze, and is a common and popular pastime within the outdoor community. Also a part of the circus arts scene, slacklining is making it way back to the stage in more creative ways.

Artist Bridgit Noone will facilitate a table for coloring mandalas. The Mandala Project, founded by Lori Bailey Cunningham, explains a "mandala" as being from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit loosely translated to mean "circle”. “Far more than a simple shape, it represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself--a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds”, she states. Both Navajo and Tibetan cultures are known for their colorful mandalas.

Returning again this year, David Frazier from the Vincent Hebert Arboretum will be leading walks along the trails at Springside Park for any one interested in learning more about the trees, gardens, and history of the grounds.

At 5pm the Hoopla will offer its first-ever hooping contest featuring prizes from local businesses. Sign-ups for the contests will occur through out the day and are open to all interested.

Food will be available for purchase on site and vendors will be selling handcrafted hoops and other creative items.

The grand finale of Pittsfield City Hoopla begins at 8pm with an “enchanted illuminated spin extravaganza” featuring live drumming by Aimee Gelinas and her Rhythm Keepers from Pittsfield, and fire hoop and dance performances by Lita Lundeen-Setchfield, Angyl Fyre, Maria Mariposa and more.

Pittsfield City Hoopla is created by Stefanie Weber/Creatures of Habitat in partnership with Pittsfield’s Office of Cultural Development and is supported in part through funding from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Pittsfield Cultural Council and Greylock Federal Credit Union. Additional community supporters and sponsors include Mark Tomasi, Day Mountain Sound, The Earth Shoppe, BerkshireGirl, Elm St. Barber Shop, New Image Salon, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Community Day, Lenox Community Center and Berkshire Dance Theater.

The 3rd annual Pittsfield City Hoopla festival will be held Saturday, July 30th, from 10am to 10pm, rain or shine. For more information visit To pre-register for a workshop email or call 413.281.6734.

Pittsfield City Hoopla festival
Free, family friendly, outdoors, rain or shine
Saturday, July 30th, 10am to 10pm
Springside Park
874 North Street, Pittsfield, MA 01201

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Monday, July 25, 2011

A Memorable RV Vacation in Massachusetts

Western Massachusetts is home to exactly the kind of attractions avid RV campers like to find. Historic settings, first-class outdoor recreation venues and heart-stopping scenery promise a memorable RV vacation. Here's a three day itinerary that includes something for everyone.

Day One: Pittsfield State Forest

Start your trip near the New York/Massachusetts border at Pittsfield State Forest, home to excellent campgrounds and a whole host of outdoor play possibilities. Bring your fishing poles to fish Berry Pond and plan to hike at least one of the forest trails to find waterfalls and other Taconic Mountain mysteries. The Taconic Crest Trail, in particular, draws hikers and mountain bikers from all over America.

Day Two: Historic Western Massachusetts

Just down the road from the state forest you'll find the historic town of Pittsfield, sometime home of literary legend Herman Melville. Melville's Arrowhead is the farm on which he finally settled with his family and wrote Moby Dick, as well as other famous works. You can tour Arrowhead and also enjoy the venue's fascinating historical exhibits.

Once you've enjoyed Arrowhead, turn the RV toward another of the area's historic sites, Hancock Shaker Village. This living history museum, on the outskirts of Pittsfield, celebrates the life of the Shakers, who came to America in the late 1700s seeking religious freedom. Visit the exhibits, watch live demonstrations of crafts and skills and hike the Village's trails that lead into the surrounding Berkshires.

And then it's time to travel I-90 east about an hour to visit Holyoke Heritage State Park. An urban historic park in the canal-lined mill town of Holyoke, it offers visitors the chance to see regional history exhibits, ride the antique carousel and tour the Volleyball Hall of Fame. Stay to walk the charming streets of Holyoke and enjoy the quaint architecture.

Day Three: Massachusetts Small Town Charm

The final day of our Western Massachusetts RV itinerary takes you back west on I-90 to the town of Lee, Massachusetts which bills itself as the "Gateway to the Berkshires." You'll find excellent hiking, boating and fishing opportunities at nearby October Mountain State Forest, as well as an RV campground. Nature photographers will enjoy the stunning scenery at Goose Pond Reservation, ten minutes south of Lee. You can catch a ride on the vintage Berkshire Scenic Railway four miles away in Lenox, MA, or you can decide to slow things down on your final day and simply enjoy the small town charm for which Lee is famous.

Decide to spend some time RV camping in Western Massachusetts and you'll gain singular vacation memories to treasure. The beauty of the Berkshires and the region's historic villages come together to make this region one you won't soon forget.

About the Author

Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV Rentals. Be sure to check out their new Professional Football (NFL) Tailgating and RV Tailgating Tailgating to College Football Games pages in preparation for the upcoming seasons.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Main Street Moment, North Adams, c1908

Still damp from a recent pass of the watering wagon, Main Street, North Adams, stands frozen eternal, the calendar forever turned to 1908.

Amidst the bustle, a pair of barefoot boys stop to examine a window full of magic. Posters proclaim: The circus is coming to town!

Main Street's commercial offerings include druggists and (painless) dentists, loans and lunch.

On steel rails slicing the center of the street, a streetcar runs its rounds: Unshackled from the horse team only to be bridled to the wire.

Drivers and cyclists and folks on foot are caught in the camera eye unaware, life forever paused on a dry plate negative.

The sidewalk has long since dried in front of Wilson department store, the people have moved on. For though the moment's before us, time waits for no one.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

More on EWM...

Map: Bird's-eye View of North Adams, 1881:

Photo source: Library of Congress; Prints and Photographs Division; Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection; Call Number: LC-D4-70516;

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Map of Franklin County, Mass., c1879

Franklin County, Mass., c1879

Late 19th century Franklin County is represented in this small slice of the A. Williams & Company Railroad & Township Map of Massachusetts, published in 1879 at the Boston Map Store and printed by lithographers J. Mayer & Company.

Formerly part of Hampshire County, Franklin was relatively young in 1879, born by act of the state legislature on December 2, 1811.  On July 1, 1875, according to state census figures, the population of Franklin County was 33,696. The land those folks owned had a total monetary value of  $16,579,435, as recorded May 1, 1875.

The map notes both population and property value for each town. Post routes criss-cross the county,  each circle along the road a post office, with distance in miles between stops noted accordingly. The offices with double circles sell money-orders.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

More about Franklin County...

Here is a link to the Franklin County segment of the History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts (1879), by Louis H. Everts, featured on the Western Mass. History & Genealogy website (an excellent resource):

From EWM...

Photographs: A Fall Farm Stand in Franklin County, October, 1941:

Motoring the Mohawk , October 1941:

A Walk Around Greenfield (circa 1903):

Cemetery: Old Deerfield Burying Ground:

Map source: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division; Digital ID: g3760 rr002350;;

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Monday, March 7, 2011

This Month in Western Massachusetts History: March


2 Mar 1904 - Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss - (2 Mar 1904 - 24 Sept 1991) - Author; Illustrator, Green Eggs and Ham, etc. - Born and raised in Springfield

5 Mar 1955 - Penn Fraser Jillette - (5 Mar 1955 - ) - Illusionist; Magician; Entertainer - Born and raised in Greenfield

12 Mar 1948 - James Vernon Taylor - (12 Mar 1948 - ) - Grammy Award-winning Musician, Member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - Resident of Washington

17 Mar 1951 - Kurt Vogel Russell - (17 Mar 1951 - ) - Actor, Silkwood, etc.; Baseball Player - Born in Springfield

26 Mar 1850 - Edward Bellamy - (26 Mar 1850 - 22 May 1898) - Author, Looking Backward 2000-1887 - Born and died in Chicopee Falls

26 Mar 1874 - Robert Lee Frost - (26 Mar 1874 - 29 Jan 1963) - Pulitzer Prize-winning Poet; English Teacher at Amherst - Lived in Amherst

27 Mar 1969 - Johnny April - (27 Mar 1969 - ) - Musician; Drummer, Staind - Resided in Springfield


13 Mar 1906 - Susan Brownell Anthony - (15 Feb 1820 - 13 March 1906) - Temperance Activist; Abolitionist; Suffragette - Born in Adams

16 Mar 1985 - Edward William (Eddie) Shore - (25 Nov 1902 - 16 Mar 1985) - NHL Hockey Player; Player, Owner, AHL's Springfield Indians - Resided and died in Springfield

19 Mar 1988 - Estelle Condit (Suzy) Frelinghuysen - (1911 - 19 Mar 1988) - Abstract Artist; Opera Singer, Philanthropist - Married to George L. K. Morris - Resided in Lenox

22 Mar 1785 - Jonathan Edwards - (5 Oct 1703 - 22 Mar 1785) - Fervent Preacher; Theologian - Lived in Northampton

22 Mar 1798 - Justin Morgan - (28 Feb 1747 - 22 Mar 1798) - Composer; Horse Breeder, Morgan Horse - Born and lived in West Springfield

24 Mar 1882 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - (27 Feb 1807 - 24 Mar 1882) - Professor; Poet, Paul Revere's Ride, etc. - Resided in Pittsfield


Mar 1643 - Springfield settlers vote to build a bridge over the Mill River in Springfield.

Mar 1648 - The section of Springfield known to natives as Woronoko is annexed to create Westfield. Springfield had acquired the land per an order of the General Court in 1647.

Mar 1750 - Residents of South Hadley, requiring more space for worship and civic affairs, vote at assembly to build a new meeting-house. Fifty meetings and thirteen contentious years later, the structure is finally built.

Mar 1847 - Springfield's Main Street train station burns beyond repair. It is replaced with a larger, brick structure.

Mar 1848 - With debate whether to advance from town to city growing, a committee of the state legislature sitting in Springfield is presented with opinions pro and con.

Mar 1931 - The aqueduct connecting the Ware River and Wachusett Reservoir is completed, as Boston looks west to increase fresh water supplies to the city and its suburbs.

Mar 1674- Ferry service is established on the Connecticut River, just south of inlet of the Agawam (now the Westfield River). The ferry shuttled passengers, animals and freight across the river at this spot for almost 200 years, until the construction of the South-end bridge in 1879.

1 Mar 1651 - Joshua Parsons, young son of Hugh and Mary Parsons, passes away, leading an already-unnerved Mary to declare her husband a witch and murderer to Magistrate Pynchon, confirming many Springfield residents' suspicions. Mary, claiming to be possessed by Satan, recanted her story shortly after, taking responsibility for the death of the boy. Joining her jailed husband in Boston, she was held for trial. Although Mary was exonerated on the charge of being witch, she was convicted in May, 1651, and sentenced to death for Joshua's murder. Too sick to be hanged on the scheduled day, Mary was found dead in her cell on the next. Hugh Parsons was also convicted, but ultimately was spared the hangman's noose, leaving the area in due haste.

1 Mar 1842 - The Northampton and Springfield railroad corporation is formed.

2 Mar 1798 - The Berkshire County town of Clarksburg is incorporated.

3 Mar 1802 - West Springfield grows in area with the annexation of Westfield land.

4 Mar 1629 - King Charles I grants charter to the Company of the Massachusetts Bay.

4 Mar 1816 - Enfield holds its first town meeting. Enfield was one of four Massachusetts towns disincorporated in 1938 to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir, part of Boston's water-supply system.

6 Mar 1762 - The Franklin County town of Bernardston, formerly known as Falltown, incorporates.

6 Mar 1762 - The Berkshire County town of Sandisfield is incorporated.

6 Mar 1762 - The town of Tyringham, in Berkshire County, is incorporated.

6 Mar 1930 - Frozen food makes its worldwide debut as seven markets in Springfield offer curious patrons a variety of Clarence Birdseye's icy edibles for the first time in history.

7 Mar 1888 - The Springfield Daily Union newspaper offices on the corner of Main and Worthington Streets are swept up in a rapidly spreading fire, causing several deaths and injuries. Some victims jumped from the upper floors, where fire had trapped them. Others met their end in the blaze itself, unable to get out of the building. The tragic event prompted the city to buy the fire department's first aerial ladder.

7 Mar 1938 - Dana holds its last town meeting. The Swift River Valley town (and three others) would cease to exist on April 28, 1938, drowned by the man-made Quabbin Reservoir, a massive undertaking to expand Boston's water supplies.

9 Mar 1848 - Main Street, Springfield, was a somber scene as the body of President John Quincy Adams passed mourning dignitaries, military companies, politicians and residents on its way to First Church at Court Square.

9 Mar 1855 - The town of Norwich changes name to Huntington.

11 Mar 1864 - The Westfield Athenaeum is incorporated by legislative act.

12 Mar 1783 - The Hampshire County town of Middlefield is established.

12 Mar 1830 - The Massachusetts railroad corporation is established. The corporation's mission is to build a railroad between Boston and the Hudson river near Albany or Troy by January 1, 1835, passing through Springfield.

14 Mar 1793 - Cheshire is incorporated as a town in Berkshire County.

14 Mar 1805 - Great Island, in the Connecticut River, is annexed to the town of Gill, effective April 1, 1805.

15 Mar 1833 - The Western Railroad Company is established by charter of the Massachusetts legislature. The incorporation is charged with extending the western end of the Boston and Worcester railroad to the state's border with New York.

16 Mar 1854 - Holyoke firm Lyman Mills is incorporated.

16 Mar 1868 - The Springfield Street Railroad Company is incorporated. Before electrification, the rail cars were pulled by teams of horses

17 Mar 1801 - Dana holds its first town meeting.

20 Mar 1651 - Hugh Parsons, accused of witchcraft, is brought from Springfield to Boston to stand trial.

20 Mar 1784 - The town of Dalton is incorporated in Berkshire County.

20 Mar 1837 - The Westfield - Southwick border is adjusted.

21 Mar 1785 - Heath holds its first town meeting.

21 Mar 1936 - Springfield and other Connecticut River towns are devastated by a major flood.

21 Mar 1940 - Quabbin Reservoir receives its first flow of water from Ware River diversion. Quabbin reaches full capacity on June 22, 1946, 412 billion gallons.

25 Mar 1938 - Enfield Town Hall serves as site of town's farewell gathering, an emotional night well-attended by residents and friends alike. Just over a month later, Enfield is no longer, officially disincorporated to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir.

26 Mar 1855 - The border between Northampton and Easthampton is defined.

28 Mar 1938 - Final plans are filed by the Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission for the massive land-taking required for the creation of Quabbin. In all, 117 square miles become watershed property. By the year 2005, the reservoir quenches the thirst of over 2.2 million people in eastern Massachusetts daily.

31 Mar 1933 - The Civilian Conservation Corps is created as a result of the Reforestation Relief Act. The Corps was also referred to as the "3 Cs". Taming Holyoke's Mt. Tom State Reservation was one of the first local projects the Corps tackled.

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Berkshire Brook in Black & White, c1906

"A View near Greylock, Berkshire Hills, Mass, c1906"
Hawthorne in Berkshire

Mountains and valleys! dear ye are to me:
Your streams wild-wandering, ever-tranquil lakes,
And forests that make murmur like the sea;
And this keen air that from the hurt soul takes
Its pain and languor:-Doubly dear ye are
For many a lofty memory that throws
A splendor on these heights.-'Neath you low star,
That like a dewdrop melts in heaven's rose,
Dwelt once a starry spirit; there he smote
Life from the living hills; a little while
He rested from the raging of the world.
This Brook of Shadows, whose dark waters purled
Solace to his deep mind, it felt his smile-
Haunted, and melancholy, and remote.

~Richard Watson Gilder, 1897

Photo: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection,
Poem: The Century; Volume 55; Issue 2; Dec 1897

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A Ride on the Mt. Tom Railroad, Holyoke

Electricity, entrepreneurship and an eye for entertainment transformed the highest peak on the Mt. Tom Range from a knuckle in the stone spine of the Metacomet Ridge into the happening local destination of the 1890s and beyond, thanks to William S. Loomis, owner of the Holyoke Street Railway Company.

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
No self-respecting turn of the 20th century mountain resort was without a crowning summit house. Locally, proprietor William Street's Eyrie House hotel and resort had perched at the apex of Holyoke's Mt. Nonotuck for 36 years - the summit house atop Mt. Holyoke in one form or another for much longer - by the time the Mt. Tom Summit House opened in 1897. The fresh and fierce competition for patrons, coupled with a calamitous fire, drove William Street from the pleasure business into bitterness and seclusion by 1901. Mt. Holyoke's summit house fared better, operating as the Mt. Holyoke Hotel into the 1930s.

Lower station, Mt. Tom Railroad, Holyoke, Mass., between 1905-1915
Key to the success and popularity of the Mt. Tom Summit House as a satellite of Mountain Park, despite its location atop the highest peak of the Mt Tom Range, was the construction of the Mt. Tom Railroad in 1897. An offshoot of the Holyoke Street Railway Company, the two lines' convenient connection at Mt. Tom's lower station made the steep, uphill climb a painless, even pleasurable, experience for patrons.

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 Mt. Tom Railroad was uniquely engineered to master the steep, uneven terrain using two special elevating cars, designed with seats that automatically leveled themselves to the immediate incline for passenger comfort. Each car could carry up to 80 fares.

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
With two cars shuttling passengers on one line, it was necessary to incorporate a turn-out, or bypass, on the Mt. Tom Railroad constructed to be capable of allowing the overhead electric cables of each car to pass unimpeded on their meeting.

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
Basalt barriers blasted, mountain flora cut to earth: a mile of wooden ties and steel racks were tacked to rugged stone slope to create the Mt. Tom Railroad, linking Mountain Park and the Mt. Tom Summit House, 700-feet above. Bordered by traprock piles, desolate in their displacement, the railroad's construction cut what would be a time-consuming - or even impossible for some - on-foot ordeal into a short, 10-minute ride to the top, accessible to anyone with the price of the fare, twenty-five cents (as recorded in 1912).

Approaching Mt. Tom Railroad's upper station, between 1900-1906
The Elizur Holyoke appears in the distance climbing toward the Mt. Tom Railroad's upper station. The two cars on the line, as well as the upper and lower stations, were linked by telephone, affording ease in communication and providing an extra level of safety and service. A full-service telephone was available for public use at the Mt. Tom Summit House.

The Elizur Holyoke crests the final rise of the Mt. Tom Railroad, between 1900-1906
Trade union publication, The Railroad Trainman, with an appreciative eye for the innovative, took note of the newly-built Mt. Tom Railroad in its July, 1898, issue:
"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
President William McKinley and First Lady Ida were very important passengers on the Mt. Tom Railroad on an outing to the Mt. Tom Summit House in 1899. The 25th president of the United States, accompanied by Massachusetts governor Roger Wolcott, was taking in the local sights while visiting Western Massachusetts to attend his niece Grace's June 20th graduation from the esteemed Mt. Holyoke College. Re-elected to a second term in 1900, McKinley perished September 14, 1901, assassinated by an angry anarchist at the age of 58. McKinley was the last sitting president to have served in the Civil War and the first to be captured on film in a 'moving picture.'

Upper station, Mt. Tom Railroad, Holyoke, Mass., between 1905-1915
Over a thousand feet above sea level, the vista outside the Mt. Tom Railroad's upper station exploded in stretching immensity, offering striking, breathtaking views of the valley and beyond. Visitor conquerors of the jagged cap of Mt. Tom Range alighted in the heavens from electric chariots full-lunged and fresh, ready to enjoy the amenities and entertainment scattered about the peak for their pleasure.

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 original Mt. Tom Summit house, built in 1897, was destroyed by fire on October 8, 1900. The Holyoke Street Railway Company wasted no time rebuilding, employing laborers over the winter to work post haste to replace the profitable asset with an even bigger and better version. On May 15, 1901, the new Mt. Tom Summit House (above), complete with golden dome, 300-person capacity hall, and 3,920 square-foot, glass-enclosed upper observation deck, opened for business.

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
On his 1899 visit, President McKinley declared the view from Mt. Tom "the most beautiful mountain out look in the whole world." Perhaps had he enjoyed the opportunity on his trip to visit more of the several summits standing sentinel above the Pioneer Valley, witnessing perfection in constant laid out below, he would have expanded his generous summation to reflect what locals truly know: Western Massachusetts is the most beautiful place in the world.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Explore more...

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:

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:

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:

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:

Here's a nice website with information and images, including the original Mt. Tom Summit House:

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:

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:

Check out the EWM channel on YouTube for a collection of vintage clips and videos of Holyoke history in motion:

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:

Take a photo-hike around Mt. Tom's Lake Bray with EWM post, A Misty Morning on the Bray Loop Trail:

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:

Photo source: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection:

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mystery Cat Prowls Massachusetts

It seems fitting that a photograph of a mystery cat snapped in West Brookfield should wind up in the EWM in-box on the same day that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) declared the eastern cougar officially extinct, recommending its removal from the endangered species list. The question of whether Massachusetts hosts a wild mountain lion presence will always tease the interested though, so far unanswered it seems. The catamount is a creature elusive and, despite the USFWS' official edict, the aura of the big cats' presence continues to shadow the hills, valleys and flatland of the Bay State, fed by relatively frequent and credible encounters reported by locals. Indeed, the fact that a gray wolf (a creature long thought to be extinguished from Massachusetts) was killed in Shelburne in October, 2007, illustrates the constant possibility of the unknown among us.

The image below is cropped from a photograph taken by Kevin Sloan of West Brookfield this past Saturday (February 27, 2011). Kevin and his wife "scrambled to get the camera" and were fortunate enough to capture this big cat passing through their back yard.

The cat undoubtedly has powerful, muscular features and a full-length, heavy tail. It certainly seems much beefier than a house cat. The tawny color, although darker than expected, is close to that of an eastern cougar. Unfortunately, the uncropped, original photograph (below), with the snow covered expanse between the swing set and the cat skewing the perspective, makes determining the actual size of the creature by eye extremely difficult.

By Kevin's estimate, the cat was about 150 feet away when the above photograph was snapped, with the camera lens adjusted to 10X-12X optical zoom. Tracks in the snow on the left can be seen marking the animal's path. Adult mountain lions are 24 to 30 inches tall at the shoulder and range in length from 5 to 9 feet head to tail tip. Males can weigh over 200 lbs. Females are generally smaller.

The feline that cut through Kevin's yard left the tracks shown in the photograph above, snapped by Kevin soon after the cat was gone. Skeptics have rightly pointed out that the raised features of the tracks are unusual for a track left in snow.

A closer look at the tracks. The proximity of the animal's feet in their positioning is a typical indicator of a cougar moving at a quick pace.

The above graphic, kindly shared with EWM by Bill Kettler, author of the blog, Southwest Backcountry, illustrates both what a mountain lion track looks like as well as the positioning of a lion's feet in motion. To this amateur eye, the images in the graphic and the tracks in Kevin's yard are strikingly similar.

Here is another graphic comparing shapes of tracks; bobcats, dogs and coyotes known denizens of Western Massachusetts. The mountain lion tracks are again very close in appearance to the ones in Kevin's yard.

What do you think? Could the cat in the photograph be a mountain lion? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or email

Thank you to the Sloans for sharing their photographs with EWM and its readers. It is much appreciated.

Update March 6, 2011: Having seen the photographs above and a later one taken by Kevin for size reference by placing a household tub with set dimensions in the same spot as the cat, Bill Davis, District Supervisor at the Mass. Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, has determined that the cat in the photograph is not a mountain lion. In correspondence Kevin shared with EWM, Mr. Davis wrote: ..."you’ve taken a nice photo of a domestic cat, albeit a large, chubby one! The prints in the snow confirm this as a cat and are consistent with house cat."

For more on mountain lions in Massachusetts, visit previous EWM post, Massachusetts Mountain Lions and Quabbin Gray Wolves: Putting the "Fur" in Furtive, which has developed a very active comment thread (including numerous reports of local lion and wolf sightings) since its August 4, 2010, publication.

A February 7, 2011 article, On the Trail of the Unusual, in the Telegram mentions the EWM comment thread and explores the cougar question. Here is a link:

Here is a link to the USFWS press release declaring the eastern cougar extinct:

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

This Month in Western Massachusetts History: February


3 Feb 1894 - Norman Percevel Rockwell - (3 Feb 1894 - 8 Nov 1978) - Artist; Illustrator; Recipient, Presidential Medal of Freedom, 1977 - Lived and died in Stockbridge

5 Feb 1837 - Dwight Lyman Moody - (5 Feb 1837 - 22 Dec 1899) - Evangelist; Publisher; Founder of Northfield and Mount Herman Schools - Born in Northfield, where he died

9 Feb 1826 - Samuel Bowles - (9 Feb 1826 - 16 Jan 1878) - Editor of the Daily Republican Newspaper - Springfield native and resident

10 Feb 1974 - Elizabeth Banks, born Elizabeth Maresal Mitchell - (10 Feb 1974 - ) - Actress - Pittsfield native

11 Feb 1939 - Jane Hyatt Yolen - (11 Feb 1939 - ) - Award-winning Author; Editor - Resident of Hatfield

15 Feb 1820 - Susan Brownell Anthony - (15 Feb 1820 - 13 March 1906) - Temperance Activist; Abolitionist; Suffragette - Born in Adams

22 Feb 1881 - Joseph Buell Ely - (22 Feb 1881 - 13 Jun 1956) - Lawyer; Politician; 52nd Governor of Massachusetts - Born and lived in Westfield

23 Feb 1868 - William Edward Burghardt Du Bois - (23 Feb 1868 - 27 Aug 1963) - Scholar; Author; Civil-rights Activist - Born and raised in Great Barrington

24 Feb 1965 - Jane Maria Swift - (24 Feb 1965 - ) - Politician; First Female Governor of Massachusetts - Born in North Adams, resident of Williamstown

27 Feb 1807 - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - (27 Feb 1807 - 24 Mar 1882) - Professor; Poet, Paul Revere's Ride, etc. - Resided in Pittsfield

28 Feb 1747 - Justin Morgan - (28 Feb 1747 - 22 Mar 1798) - Composer; Horse Breeder, Morgan Horse - Born and lived in West Springfield


11 Feb 1963 - Sylvia Plath - (27 Oct 1932 - 11 Feb 1963) - Poet; Writer; Teacher, Smith College - Lived in Northampton

11 Feb 1982 - Eleanor Torrey Powell - (21 Nov 1912 - 11 Feb 1982) - Actress, Dancer - Born in Springfield

15 Feb 1967 - James Frank Duryea - (8 Oct 1869 - 15 Feb 1967) - Co-producer of first gasoline powered automobile; Co-founder of the Duryea Motor Wagon Co. - Springfield

16 Feb 1974 - John Cantius Garand - (1 Jan 1888 - 16 Feb 1974) - Firearms Designer, M1 Garand - Resided and died in Springfield

27 Feb 1864 - Edward Hitchcock - (24 May 1793 - 27 Feb 1864) - Geologist; Pastor; Professor; President, Amherst College; Author - Resided in Deerfield and Amherst


Feb 1786 - Judgements are filed against an astounding 333 debtors in the current county court's term, a sign of the difficult financial times many citizens faced after the Revolution. These court actions and the numerous foreclosures farmers and others faced prompted men like Daniel Shays and Luke Day to question the practices of the court and lenders, and to demand answers.

4 Feb 1787 - Shays's Rebellion ends with Pelham resident Daniel Shays' and his mens' defeat in Petersham by General Benjamin Lincoln's militia, who manage to surprise the group while they are preparing breakfast. Shays and some of his men escaped to Vermont, and were assisted by the Ethan Allen, among others. Shays was later pardoned by Governor John Hancock.

4 Feb 1842 - Dana increases its land area, acquiring acreage from Petersham and Hardwick through an act of the Legislature.

7 Feb 1803 - 'The Belchertown and Greenwich Turnpike Corporation' is established by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature.

7 Feb 1842 - English author Charles Dickens travels from Springfield to Hartford via the Connecticut river on a steamboat, a popular method of transportation at the time.

14 Feb 1938 - Greenwich has its last town meeting. This date is taken from Walter E. Clarke's book 'Quabbin Reservoir,' and differs from the date of April 21, 1938 given by the author J.R. Greene in his book 'The Day Four Quabbin Towns Died.'

15 Feb 1816 - The Town of Enfield is incorporated, created from parts of the towns of Belchertown and Greenwich.

18 Feb 1801 - Dana is incorporated as a town.

18 Feb 1822 - Prescott holds its first town meeting.

23 Feb 1774 - The boundary between Springfield and West Springfield is established.

27 Feb 1906 - Wachusett Reservoir Dam on South Branch of Nashua River in Clinton is finished. Construction on the 114 foot high dam was begun in 1897. The Quabbin and Wachusett Reservoirs are linked by a 25 mile long aqueduct, and supply water to the residents of Boston, and other Massachusetts cities and towns.

28 Feb 1774 - The town of Ludlow is created from the Stony Hill section of Springfield

29 Feb 1804 - The Petersham and Monson Turnpike is established by an act of the Massachusetts Legislature. The toll road ran from the Fifth Massachusetts Turnpike in Athol to Monson, crossing the Sixth Massachusetts Turnpike west of Greenwich Village.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Barney Demonstrates Skates at Forest Park

Everett Hosmer Barney (December 7, 1835 - May 31, 1916), Springfield resident and major benefactor of the city's Forest Park is probably best known for his invention of the clamp-on ice skate, for which he received his first patent in 1864.

One of Barney's many other patents, awarded in 1868, was for a perforating machine that could stamp the amount due on a check, or the words "canceled" and "paid."

Here Mr. Barney is seen demonstrating his prowess on his product in a photograph from the 1900 book, A Handbook of Figure Skating Arranged for Use on the Ice, written by George H. Browne, A. M., and published by the Barney and Berry Company in Springfield.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.