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Mount Holyoke

Mount Holyoke, a traprock mountain, elevation 935 feet (285 m), is the westernmost peak of the Holyoke Range and part of the 100-mile (160 km) Metacomet Ridge. The mountain is located in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, and is the namesake of nearby Mount Holyoke College. The mountain is located in the towns of Hadley and South Hadley, Massachusetts. It is known for its historic summit house, auto road, scenic vistas, and biodiversity. The mountain is crossed by the 110-mile (180 km) Metacomet-Monadnock Trail and numerous shorter trails. Mount Holyoke is the home of J.A. Skinner State Park which is accessible from Route 47 in Hadley, Massachusetts. The mountain was named after Elizur Holyoke, an early resident of Springfield, Massachusetts and immigrant from Tamworth, England, who was the first European to explore the mountainous region that came to bear his name. The city of Holyoke, Massachusetts, the Holyoke Range, and the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) were all named after this mountain, Mount Holyoke, and not directly after Elizur Holyoke. However, Elizur Holyoke’s name is still invoked in many references to the mountain.

In 1821, an 18-by-24-foot (5.5 by 7.3 m) guest cabin was built on Mount Holyoke by a local committee—one of the first New England summit houses. The property changed hands several times between 1821 and 1851 when it was bought and rebuilt as a two-story, eight-room hotel. Local entrepreneurs John and Frances French were the primary owners; between 1851 and 1900, the hotel and property were subject to a number of upgrades and related construction projects including a covered tramway to the summit of the mountain (first drawn by horse, then mechanized), a railroad from the base of the mountain to a steamboat dock on the Connecticut River, and the construction of a number of outbuildings and trails. With passenger steamship to the connecting summit railway established, the Mount Holyoke “Prospect House” became a popular tourist destination. The steamship would pick up guests at the Smiths Ferry railroad station across the Connecticut River in what was then Northampton, ferry them to a tramway leading to the Half Way House. From there guests could take a steep (600 feet long, rising 365 feet) covered inclined tram to the summit. The track for this tram was first laid in 1867 and the system electrified in 1926. Competing establishments were soon built on Mount Tom and Mount Nonotuck across the Connecticut River, and on Sugarloaf Mountain and Mount Toby to the north. The Prospect House property passed hands again in the early 1900s, to chain hotelier Joseph Allen Skinner, who eventually donated the hotel and property to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a state park in 1939 on the condition that the park be named after him (now the J.A. Skinner State Park). Don’t forget to check out this place in Holyoke too.

The summit house’s 1894 annex had suffered from storm damage during the Great Hurricane of 1938 and had been demolished; in 1942 the enclosed tramway to the summit house broke down. A heavy snow storm in 1948 collapsed sections of the roof. Despite proposals to repair the tram it never ran again. The tram was finally demolished in 1965. State funds for maintenance of the summit house during the 1950s and 1960s were never adequate and by the mid-1970s there were proposals to condemn and demolish the summit house. This led to a public outcry and in the mid-1980s the summit house, consisting of the original 1851 structure and the 1861 addition, was restored by the state and through the efforts of local volunteers. Mount Holyoke, like much of the Metacomet Ridge, is composed of basalt, also called trap rock, a volcanic rock. The mountain formed near the end of the Triassic Period with the rifting apart of the North American continent from Africa and Eurasia. Lava welled up from the rift and solidified into sheets of strata hundreds of feet thick. If you are ever in need of a cabinet maker, click here.

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