AN EXCERPT FROM THE CHAPTER
IN EDWARD HITCHCOCK’S 1841
“FINAL REPORT OF THE GEOLOGY OF MASSACHUSETTS”
We come now to the valley of the Connecticut, where is some of the boldest and most beautiful scenery in the State. Mount Holyoke in Hadley claims the first notice; not on account of its superior altitude, for it is only 830 feet above the Connecticut at its base, and about 900 above Boston Harbor: but on account of its peculiar position in respect to interesting objects around. It' is a part of a mountain ridge of greenstone, commencing with West Rock, near New Haven, and proceeding northerly, interrupted only by occasional valleys, across the whole of Connecticut, until it enters Massachusetts between -West Springfield and Southwick, and proceeds along the west line of the first named place, and along the east line of Westfield, Easthampton, and Northampton, to the banks of the Connecticut. Until it reaches Easthampton, its elevation is small But there it suddenly mounts up to the height of nearly a thousand feet, and forms Mount Tom. The ridge crosses the Connecticut, in a northeast direction, and curving still more to the east, passes along the dividing line of Amherst and South Hadley, until it terminates ten miles from the river in the northwest part of Belchertown. All that part of the ridge east of the river, is called Holyoke: though the prospect house is erected near its southwestern extremity, opposite Northampton, and near the Connecticut And that is undoubtedly the most commanding spot on the mountain, though several distinct summits, that have as yet received no uniform name, afford delightful prospects. It is not generally known, indeed, how a slight change of situation upon a mountain, will often put an almost entirely new aspect upon the surrounding scenery: Or how rather,
" Change of place From kindred features diversely combin'd Produces change of beauty ever new."
A knowledge of this fact, might often give a tenfold duration to the pleasure of the observer. The man who means to feast to the full upon mountain scenery, should be accoutred in such a manner that he can turn aside from the beaten track, urge his way through the tangled thicket, and climb the craggy cliff. There is a, peculiar pleasure, which such a man only can experience, in feeling that he has reached a point perhaps never trodden by human foot, and is the first of the rational creation that ever feasted on the landscape before him.
In the view from Holyoke we have the grand and the beautiful united; the latter, however, greatly predominating.- The observer finds himself lifted up nearly a thousand feet from the midst of a plain, which, northerly and southerly, is of great extent; and so comparatively narrow is the naked rock on which he stands, that he wonders why the winds and storms of centuries have not broken ij; down. He soon, however, forgets the mountain beneath him, in the absorbing beauties before him. For it is not a barren unenlivened plain on which his eye rests: but a rich alluvial valley, geometrically diversified in the summer with grass, corn, grain, and whatever else laborious industry has there reared. On the west, and a little elevated above the general level, the eye turns with delight to the populous village of Northampton; exhibiting in its public edifices, and private dwellings an unusual degree of neatness and elegance. A little more to the right, the quiet and substantial villages of Hadley and Hatfield, and still farther east and more distant, Amherst with its College, Gymnasium, and Academy, on a commanding eminence, form pleasant resting places for the eye. But the object that perhaps most of all arrests the attention of a man of taste, is the Connecticut, winding its way majestically, yet most beautifully, through the meadows of Hatfield, Hadley, and Northampton ; and directly in front of Holyoke, as if it loved to linger in so tranquil a spot, it sweeps around in a graceful curve of three miles extent, without advancing in its oceanward course a hundred rods.* Then it passes directly through the deep opening between Holyoke
[“Alas! as if indignant at this personification, the river during the floods of last spring (1840,) has cut across the neck of this peninsula! It still continues, however, to pass around the curve, as well as through the new channel: and for several years we may hope that the beauty of the spot will not be at all impaired.]
and Tom, which its own waters, or more probably, other agencies have excavated in early times. Below this point, the Connecticut is in full view, like a serpentine mirror, for nearly twenty miles. And through a deception, explicable by the laws of perspective, there seems to be a gradual ascent of the river, the whole distance, till at its vanishing place it seems elevated nearly to a level with the eye: just as the parallel sides of a long avenue seem to approach nearer until they meet.
The valley on the south of Holyoke is not as interesting as that on the west and north; chiefly because the land is less fertile. The village of South Hadley, with Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, is indeed a pleasing object. But Springfield, one of the loveliest spots in America, is too far removed for an exhibition of its beauty. Other places south of Springfield are indistinctly visible along the banks of the Connecticut: and even the spires of some of the churches in Hartford, may be seen in good weather, just rising above the trees. Still farther south in that direction, may be seen the abrupt greenstone bluffs midway between Hartford and New Haven; and looking with a telescope between these, other low hills may be indistinctly seen, which may be the trap ridge encircling New Haven.
Facing the southwest, the observer has before him on the opposite side of the river, the ridge called Mount Tom, rising one or two hundred feet higher than Holyoke, and dividing the valley of the Connecticut longitudinally. The western branch of this valley is 'bounded on the west by the eastern slope of the Hoosac range of mountains; which, as seen from Holyoke, rises ridge above ridge for more than twenty miles, chequered with cultivated fields and forests, and not unfrequently enlivened by villages and church spires. In the northwest Graylock may be seen peering above the Hoosac; and still farther north, several of the lofty peaks of the Green Mountains (which are merely a continuation of the Hoosac,) shoot up beyond the region of the clouds, in imposing grandeur. A little to the south of west, the beautiful outline of Mount Everett is often visible. Nearer at hand and in the valley of the Connecticut, the insulated Sugar Loaves and Toby present their fantastic outlines; while far in the northeast, stands in insulated grandeur the cloud-capt Monadnoc.
Probably under favorable circumstanaes [sic], not less than 30 churches, in as many towns are visible from Holyoke. The north and south diameter of the field of vision there, can scarcely be less than 150 miles.
Plate 2 is a southwestern view from the top of Holyoke showing Mt. Tom. copied from a sketch by H. T. Bartlett
Standing "Upon Holyoke and facing the south, one has directly before him, and as it were under his feet, the deep gorge between Holyoke and Tom, through which Connecticut river passes. Following the western side of the mountain, as it rapidly descends to the river, we find it terminating with, a naked rock extending several rods into the river, and nearly perpendicular on the side next to the water, from 20 to 100 feet high. A considerable part of this naked rock exhibits a columnar structure: not in general very perfect yet sufficiently regular to require little aid from the imagination, to be regarded as artificial; though obviously demanding giant strength for its construction. I have said that the columnar structure was not in general very perfect. But if one can work his way along the western face of this precipice at low water, he will find, near where the rock passes under the river, the tops of numerous columns of great regularity; their upper portions having been removed by the force of the stream, which for so many centuries has been battering this cliff with logs and ice. By referring to the next part of my Report, a more definite idea can be obtained of these columns. But from what I have now said, every intelligent man will perceive that they are very similar to those on the coast of Ireland, which form Fingal's Cave and the Giant's Causeway. The nature of the rock too, is essentially the same in all these places. Why then may I not be permitted to denominate this rock. Titan's Pier? At least, may I not hope by this description to attract the attention of visitors to Holyoke, to this spot ? Hitherto it has been passed unnoticed. Fig. 10, is a view of Titan's Pier, with Hoi-yoke in the back ground, as seen from the opposite side of the river.
View of Titan's Pier.
Less than half a mile south of the point where the road that leads to the Prospect House on Holyoke strikes against the steep part of the mountain, and turn northerly, may be found an interesting and unique example of greenstone columns. After climbing up some 50 feet over the loose angular fragments, that have fallen from these columns, by the action of frost and gravity, and which form a talus whose slope is nearly 40,° the observer finds himself standing underneath a projecting mass of columns, whose lower extremities have worn away and fallen: and from the manner in which the fragments have cleaved off, the ends of the columns over head, have assumed the form of a hemisphere, more commonly that of a paraboloid, and sometimes they are even lenticular.* At least three rows of these columns, each of which is not less than two and sometimes three feet in diameter, thus project forward from the cliff, over the observer's head. It seems as if you were standing beneath so many large hexagonal kettles, set closely together. Yet when you think how feebly the columns hold on upon one another, and see around you the evidence that thousands and thousands have fallen, and think how instantly even one of them falling upon a man would annihilate him, you cannot feel perfectly easy, while standing beneath such a Piazza, interesting though it be. Fig. 12 is an attempt to exhibit this spot: though from its situation, a sketch must be necessarily very imperfect. If the spot already described as Titan's Pier, deserve that name, with still more propriety may we denominate this place. Titan's Piazza.
Titan's Piazza: Mt. Holyoke.
A very few years since, in the company with a very intelligent gentleman from Europe. I visited this spot, and the large yellow hornet had fixed his enormous nest among these columns, whose lower extremity very much resembled that of the columns; while its size was nearly a foot. This gentleman, never having seen, one of these nests, seriously inquired whether the hornets had not constructed it in mimicry of the columns!
By passing a few rods northerly from the spot above exhibited, we come to another example of projecting columns, or rather to the other end of the Piazza; and though essentially like the southern, part, yet being much more elevated, and the overhanging extremities more perfect in their form, it makes an agreeable variety for the observer. Fig. 13, is a sketch taken at this spot.
While the summit of Holyoke attracts crowds of visitors, but very few I have reason to believe go to this Piazza: yet I have never known any one visit it who was not highly gratified. Indeed, how can one, who has any taste for Nature in her most curious aspects, remain uninterested as he stands there
" Gazing, and takes into his mind and heart,
With undistracted reverence, the effect
Of those proportions, where the Almighty hand
That made the worlds, tile Sovereign Architect,
Has deigned to work as if by human art."