Mount Holyoke, a traprock mountain, elevation 935 feet (285 m),
is the western-most peak of the
Holyoke Range and part of the 100-mile
(160 km) Metacomet Ridge. The mountain is located in the
Connecticut River Valley
Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, and is the namesake
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,
1.1 Origin of name
2 Geology and ecology
5 See also
6 Cultural references
8 External links
Origin of name
The mountain was named after Elizur Holyoke, an early resident of
Massachusetts and immigrant from Tamworth, England, who
first explored 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
Mt Holyoke Hotel, showing summit house and covered electric tram circa
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 (shown in
drawing at right). 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).
The summit house's 1894 annex had suffered from storm damage during
Great Hurricane of 1938
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 south ledges along the Metacomet-Monadnock
Connecticut River in background
Geology and ecology
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.
Subsequent faulting and earthquake activity tilted the strata,
creating the dramatic cliffs and ridges of Mount Holyoke. Hot, dry
upper slopes, cool, moist ravines, and mineral-rich ledges of basalt
talus produce a combination of microclimate ecosystems on the mountain
that support plant and animal species uncommon in greater
Metacomet Ridge article has more information on
the geology and ecosystem of Mount Holyoke).
The summit automobile road is open from April through November, and
the hiking trails year-round. The
Summit House is open weekends and
Memorial Day through Columbus Day. A number of hiking
trails also cross the mountain, most notably the 110 mile (180k)
Metacomet-Monadnock Trail and the 47-mile (76 km) Robert Frost
Every year in early fall, since 1838, students from nearby Mount
Holyoke College participate in Mountain Day. On that day, at the sound
of ringing bells from Abbey Chapel on a random Autumn morning, all
classes are cancelled and students hike to the summit of Mount
The area around the summit house has many picnic tables. Also, there
are trailheads and memorials. One notable memorial is that to the men
aboard a transport plane that crashed into the flank of the mountain.
On May 27, 1944, a B-24, flying a night training mission out of
Westover Air Force Base
Westover Air Force Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts, crashed into a
cliff on the side of the range, killing all ten crewmen. A memorial
plaque on the summit of
Mount Holyoke eulogizes the disaster. The
crash site itself is a half mile away toward the southwest.
The views from the top of the mountain are some of the best in
Massachusetts. They have inspired artists and poets. The nearby
Connecticut River Oxbow (now a lake), immortalized by the famous
Thomas Cole just four years before natural flooding
and erosion separated it from the Connecticut River, was composed from
sketches the artist made from the summit of
Mount Holyoke in 1836.
To the south are the cities of Holyoke, Springfield, and Hartford. To
the north are the University of
Massachusetts in Amherst and mountains
in Sunderland. To the east is the
Holyoke Range and the town of South
Hadley. To the west are the foothills of the Berkshires, the
Connecticut River, and Northampton.
Mount Holyoke is located within the Skinner State Park. The
Holyoke Range State Park is a sister park occupying the east
side of the Holyoke Range. Its visitor center is located at "the
Notch", where Route 116 crosses the range in Amherst.
Mount Holyoke was included in a study by the National Park
Service for the designation of a new
National Scenic Trail now
tentatively called the New England National Scenic Trail, which would
Metacomet-Monadnock Trail in
Massachusetts and the
Mattabesett Trail and
Metacomet Trail trails in Connecticut.
Robert Frost Trail (Massachusetts)
Mount Tom Range
Mount Holyoke is mentioned in Henry James's 1875 novel Roderick
Hudson, in chapters II and IX.
^ DeLorme Topo 6.0. Mapping software. DeLorme. Yarmouth, Maine.
^ a b Farnsworth, Elizabeth J. "Metacomet-
Mattabesett Trail Natural
Resource Assessment. Archived 2007-08-07 at the Wayback Machine."
2004. PDF wefile cited November 1, 2007.
^ a b The
Metacomet-Monadnock Trail Guide. 9th Edition. The
Appalachian Mountain Club. Amherst, Massachusetts, 1999.
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College Cited Dec. 6, 2007
^ from the personal correspondence of W. Rolfe Brown, August 23, 1931
^ a b *Mt.
Holyoke Range Historical Timeline Cited November 20, 2007.
Raymo, Chet and
Raymo, Maureen E.
Raymo, Maureen E. Written in Stone: A Geologic
History of the Northeastern United States. Globe Pequot, Chester,
^ "J.S.Skinner State Park"
Massachusetts Department of Conservation
and Recreation. Cited Dec. 25, 2007.
Mount Holyoke College
Mount Holyoke College Archived 2006-03-04 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Roque, Oswaldo Rodriguez (1982). "The Oxbow" by Thomas Cole:
Iconography of an American Landscape Painting. Metropolitan Museum
Journal. pp. 63–7.
Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. Cited Nov.
^ Monadnock, Metacoment, Mattabesett
National Scenic Trail Study.
Archived 2007-10-08 at the Wayback Machine. Cited Nov. 4, 2007.
U.S. Congress New England
National Scenic Trail Designation Act.
Geology of the northern
Metacomet Ridge region
State website for Skinner State Park
Guide to the Robert Frost Trail[permanent dead link]
Mountains of Massachusetts
Pine Cobble Mountain
Mount Tom Range
Saddle Ball Mountain
Great Blue Hill
Little Tom Mountain