On the Reservation
Private efforts to preserve Greylock having fallen short, environmental organizations turned to the state for help. After
two hearings, on June 20, 1898 the Legislature passed a law creating the Greylock State Reservation. They appropriated $25,000
for additional land purchases to be added to original 400 acres and formed a three-member Greylock Reservation Commission
to oversee its operation.
Three of the four first Greylock Reservation Commissioners have major parts of the Reservation named after them. Francis W.
Rockwell, the road to Greylock from Lanesborough; William H. Sperry, Sperry Road and the campground around it; and Prof. John
Bascom, the lodge on the summit.
Bascom (1827-1911) is a fascinating character. A 1849 graduate of Williams, he taught rhetoric there from 1855 to 1874.
From 1874 to 1887, he was president of the University of Wisconsin, where he had a great impact. He returned to Williams in
1887 and taught sociology and political economy until he retired in 1903.
He was brilliant, somewhat unpredictable, theologically liberal but morally conservative. He supported prohibition and
opposed fraternities but also supported women’s suffrage and the rights of workers. He urged the admission of women
to Williams almost 100 years before it happened. At Wisconsin he was mentor to Robert M. LaFollette, who became a leading
progressive politician. Bascom wrote books on philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, ethics, aesthetics, the law, and
education. He grappled with the relationship between science and faith and wrote a book called Evolution And Religion (1897).
As a Greylock Reservation commissioner he fought for construction of a lodge on the summit.
For those who have fellowship with nature, Bascom said in 1906, Greylock is “our daily pleasure, our constant symbol,
our ever renewed inspiration...”
He was no doubt thinking of Greylock and its companions when he wrote about mountains in his last book, Things Learned by
Living, an autobiography published in 1913 after his death:
“Mountains owe their first and simplest power to their magnitude — their magnitude upward, which most of all impresses
us. A more important feature is their combination and grouping,” he writes. “A third source of power is the diversity
of life which accompanies them, its uplift and large presentation. The crowning force of the mountains is their fellowship
with the air. Their summits are points of transfiguration. ...There are a liberty of feeling and a spiritual tone begotten
at once of the freedom and of the purity of the place.”
An engraved boulder on the summit of Greylock memorializes these words of Bascom: “Greylock, rising centerwise
in this magnificent group, dominates the County, stands the sentinel of the western portion of the state, and with the New
York mountains, the Connecticut and Vermont mountains before it and on either hand of it for many miles, rules them all with
no rival either in beauty of parts, in breadth of outlook, or in height.”
The state purchased more land for the park as years passed. Major improvements by the Civilian Conservation Corps between
1933 and 1941 turned the Reservation into a popular recreation area. The CCC 107th Company improved the road system, built
hiking and downhill ski trails, lean-to shelters, and completed Bascom Lodge (1933-1937). The lodge can accomodate 34 overnight
guests. The CCCs also dug the pond at the summit as a water supply for Bascom Lodge. The pond is no longer for this purpose,
One of my favorite trail names in the Reservation is the CCC Dynamite Trail. When I hiked this trail I was amazed to find
a large metal box not far in from the trailhead at Rockwell Road. A later discussion with some mountain experts confirmed
my guess that the box was used to store dynamite. One man told me there are other such boxes in the park. The CCCs used dynamite
to blast away rock for road improvements.
Camp buildings occupied by the CCCs at what is now the Sperry Road campground no longer exist, except for a number of visible
foundations. The camp’s dinner bell is preserved at the park Visitors Center. At an event there late this summer, a
CCC veteran active in preserving the Corps’ history told me that all the men who served in the 107th Company on Greylock
The state dedicated the 92-foot War Memorial Tower atop Greylock in 1933. Made of Quincy Granite it is a poignant and unfortunately
still-relevant reminder of the cost of war. It was built to honor servicemen and women killed in World War I, but as a plaque
outside it says, "It stands as a timeless memorial to casualities of all wars."
The tower was originally designed as a lighthouse for Boston’s Charles River estuary. Its beacon was intended "to shine
each night perpetually to honor the memory of fallen heroes and to guide aviators in their long nighttime journeys over the
treacherous mountain range." When it was built the beacon was the most powerful light in Massachusetts and could be seen for
The tower was closed for several years due to water damage. It is surprisingly close inside, with narrow winding metal stairs
leading up to the observation deck.
Near the parking lot on the northeastern side of the summit is the Thunderbolt Ski Shelter, built by the CCCs in 1936-1937.
Like Bascom Lodge, it is made of the Greylock schist stone and oak and spruce timber native to the mountain. The shelter is
is empty inside except for a neat little period stove and seating along the walls. All in all it’s a fine place to hang
out if you’ve got bedding and unexpectedly need to stay on the mountain for a night.
The shelter was built to accompany another CCC project, the once-popular and challenging Thunderbolt Ski Trail on the eastern
side of the mountain. This trail was the site of the Massachusetts Downhill Championships from 1935 to 1948 and the U.S. Eastern
Amateur Ski Association Championships in 1938 and 1940. The Thunderbolt is the steepest trail in the Reservation and is now
used only for hiking. Inching my way carefully down it for the first time this summer, it amazed me that anyone ever skied
down it and lived to talk about it.
Many of the local men who skied on the Thunderbolt later served in the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. A plaque in
the Thunderbolt Shelter dedicates it to one of them, Rudolph “Rudy” Konieczny, killed fighting the Germans in
the mountains of Northern Italy in 1945 at age 27.
Officials celebrated the 100th anniversary of the creation of Greylock Reservation on June 20, 1998. Many landscape, interpretative,
and structural improvements had been made, including restoration of the War Memorial Tower. In addition, the summit was listed
on the National Register of Historic Places as the Mount Greylock Summit Historic District.
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