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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, however.

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 have died.

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 70 miles.

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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Bascom Lodge, seen from the War Memorial Tower, July 11, 2006.



Container which once held dynamite used for CCC road projects. It’s located near the head of the CCC Dynamite Trail, June 29 2006.



Thunderbolt Ski Shelter on the summit of Mt. Greylock, July 11, 2006.



Pond near summit of Mt. Greylock dug by the CCC. This was the water supply for Bascomb Lodge. The pond sits next to the Appalachian Trail, just south of Notch Road. July 15, 2006.



A bluebead lily atop Ragged Mountain, July 14, 2006. A species found in the shady spruce-fir Sub-Alpine forests of the Greylock Reservation.



Deer Hill Falls, on the upper reaches of Roaring Brook along the Deer Hill Trail, July 29, 2006.