Industry & Majesty
Before the arrival of English settlers, members of the Mahican Tribe hunted and traveled throughout the Greylock area. This
is the same tribe memorialized in James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. Cooper’s books are famously inaccurate,
however, and members of this tribe are alive and well today.
One source notes that the Native American hunter-gatherer economy “emphasized activities such as hunting-fishing-gathering;
quarrying quartzite, and burning to enhance wildlife habitat, promote berry and other understory vegetation, and to facilitate
travel.” Quartzite could be used for arrowheads, among other things.
English settlers arrived in the early 1700s. In 1739, Ephraim Williams, Sr., father of the founder of Williams College, led
a survey party and laid out two township boundaries over and around Greylock. They were later incorporated as Williamstown
“Beginning about the 1760s the open farmland and pastures of settler farmers crept higher up the rugged slopes of the
mountain. Small industries around the base of the mountain soon followed. Saw and grist mills utilized the abundant water
runoff for power,” according to the DCR.
Land at what is now the northern entrance of the Reservation in North Adams, extending up toward the Greylock summit, was
first farmed in the late 1700s by Jeremiah Wilbur (1753-1813), a settler from Rhode Island. William Bradley bought the land
at what is now the Reservation’s southern entrance in Lanesborough around 1762. He and his son, Ephraim, planted crops,
orchards, tended livestock, and built the stone walls that line the property. The Bradley family farmed the plot until around
1822. A few miles to the north, near what is today called Rounds Rock, farmer Jabez Rounds grew crops and kept livestock on
several hundred acres in the early 1800s. Around the same time, a bit further up the road, farmer Seth Jones farmed the mountain
meadow at what is now picturesquely named Jones Nose.
Speaking of names, speculation abounds on how Mt. Greylock got its present name. Early names included Grand Hoosuck and Saddleback.
On July 26, 1838, author Nathaniel Hawthorne was riding in a stagecoach from Pittsfield to North Adams and talking to the
driver: “I pointed to a hill at some distance before us, and asked what it was. ‘That, Sir,’ said he, ‘is
a very high hill. It is known by the name of Graylock.’ He seemed to feel that this was a more poetical epithet than
Saddleback, which is a more usual name for it. Graylock, or Saddleback, is quite a respectable mountain; and I suppose the
former name has been given it, because it often has a gray cloud, or lock of gray mist, upon his head...”
Over the years, the mountain attracted persistent scientific and recreational interest from nearby Williams College. In fact,
the college’s first president, Ebenezer Fitch, accompanied Timothy Dwight IV, president of Yale University, on a hike
up Greylock in 1799. Vegetation was so thick on the summit that both men climbed a Balsam Fir to get a better view.
Williams students solved the view problem when they erected an observatory on the summit in 1830-1831. It was called Griffin’s
Tower in honor of Edward Dorr Griffin, then Williams president. Hawthorne’s driver told the author that he had been
hired to haul the materials to construct this tower up the mountain by ox-team.
In 1841, the college built a larger observatory. This was the structure author Henry David Thoreau spent a night sleeping
beside during his visit to the mountain in 1844.
Farming in the Berkshires began to decline after the mid-1800s, and industry expanded rapidly. Demand for wood grew. The mountain
forests provided timber for charcoal to power the growing local industries of iron smelting, glassmaking, and textiles.
A glassmaking factory operated in Cheshire, as did another south of Pittsfield in Lenox. Adams and North Adams had several
textile mills, and North Adams for a time had an iron smelting operation. This was before our era of overarching mega-corporations,
so small and mid-sized concerns of these kinds operated throughout the region.
According to the DCR, “By the 1890's, the health and existence of Massachusetts’ forests was threatened. ‘Cut
and run’ logging practices were destroying thousands of acres of land. For example, loggers had stripped the trees off
the east face of Mt. Greylock and had plans to cut the north face. In addition to damaging the appearance of the state's highest
peak, this caused serious erosion and landslides.”
Eventually a group of Berkshire citizens had had enough and set about saving the mountain. Calling themselves the Greylock
Park Association, they bought 400 acres around the summit in 1885.
“Focused on protecting the summit from further encroachment and promoting recreation, the Association built a new road
from the notch in North Adams to the summit,” according to the DCR. “In 1889 a new iron tower replaced the second
wooden scientific observation tower built in 1841 by Williams College. A road toll and admission fee to the tower financed
the Association's efforts, but the costs of maintaining the facility eventually surpassed their means.”
Commercial interests, on the one hand, and aesthetic and environmental interests, on the other, stood in opposition over the
fate of Greylock in the late 19th Century. Aesthetic and environmental interests eventually won. It helped, of course, that
the U.S. economy was moving to a reliance on fossil fuels, greatly reducing the demand for timber.
No one celebrated the aesthetic glories of Greylock more than author Herman Melville. Between 1850 and 1863 he lived at Arrowhead,
a farmhouse on Holmes Road in south Pittsfield with a view of Greylock to the north.
“The view of Mount Greylock from his study window, the one that brought him to Arrowhead, was said to be his inspiration
for the white whale in Moby-Dick,” states the Arrowhead Website. “He dedicated his next novel, Pierre, to Mount
Greylock. His short story The Piazza begins at Arrowhead and takes a magical journey to the mountain.”
In The Piazza, Melville asks regarding the view of Greylock from Arrowhead, “...could it have entered the builder's
mind, that, upon the clearing being made, such a purple prospect would be his? — nothing less than Greylock, with all
his hills about him, like Charlemagne among his peers.”
Melville’s poem dedicating Pierre is offered to “Greylock’s Most Excellent Majesty.”
As the interest — even love — of such great writers attests, a real potential for tourism on and around Greylock
existed throughout the 1800s. “Americans were eager to explore the natural wonders of their young country,” according
to the DCR. “The proximity of Mount Greylock to both Boston and New York made the mountain a popular destination.”
The Pittsfield and Albany Railroad, completed in 1844, aided visits to the Northern Berkshires and Greylock. The Hoosac Tunnel,
running nearly five miles under the Hoosac Mountain range from the town of Florida to North Adams, created a direct railroad
link with Boston when it opened in 1875.
Greylock Reservation Project Home
I. Mountain & Park/About the Project
II. Natural History & Topography
IV. On the Reservation
V. What's Here
VI. My Backyard/Road Work/Sources
VII. Road Work Moves Ahead
VIII. Two Great Hikes