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THE GREYLOCK RESERVATION PROJECT: DISCOVERING MY OWN BACKYARD

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 and Adams.

“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



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A stone wall built by a farmer long ago now runs alongside a section of the Gould Trail in Greylock Glen, July 8, 2006.

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The view one late afternoon on Rounds Rock looking southwest toward Pittsfield, June 15, 2006.

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Jones Nose, with restored meadow in the foreground, June 17, 2006.

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The summit of Greylock, enveloped in a “white lock” — or perhaps a white cap. I took this photo from Raven Rocks on Ragged Mountain. The south summit of this mountain is at right. November 20, 2006

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Fireplace on the Old Summit Road trail is what’s left of a cabin built in the 1930s by the Williams College Outing Club. This trail follows part of the route of the original road to the summit. May 28, 2006.

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Old Growth tree along the Deer Hill Trail, July 29, 2006.

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This dramatic view unfolds before you as you approach Robinson’s Point, folded back along the ridge in the Hopper between the northern slope of Greylock and Mt. Fitch. The southern slope of Mt. Prospect is visible beyond the trees. June 5, 2006.