Skinner State Park embraces
the slopes and summit of Mount Holyoke, the westernmost peak
on the Mount Holyoke Range. At just under 1,000 feet, the
summit gives a panoramic view of the valley below
and highlands beyond, including New Hampshire's
Mount Monadnock to the north, Mount Greylock to the west, and
Connecticut's East Rock to the south. Visitors can see
the cities of Northampton, Holyoke, and Springfield, Massachusetts. Hartford,
Connecticut, is visible on clear days.
Native Americans traditionally used the Connecticut River
as a corridor for transportation and commerce. This pattern
was reproduced with European settlement. Cities like Hartford
and Springfield grew from small settlements
into large centers of population and commerce. The Valley forests
with their rich soils, as well as rockier upland locations,
were cleared for agriculture, pasture, and the harvesting
of wood products.
From the early 1800s, Mt. Holyoke played
a significant role in the cultural identity of the United States. The
view from the summit – cultivated farm fields, framed by
rugged mountain and impenetrable forest – told the story of a young nation
transforming itself from wilderness into a civilized landscape. It
was this vista that made Mount Holyoke an important tourist destination in
those days, second only to Niagara Falls.
mountain’s appeal, a group of businessmen from neighboring
Northampton built the summit’s
first structure, a small cabin, in 1821. There, visitors
could take shelter from the elements and enjoyed “refreshments
of every kind…for individuals and parties of pleasure.” Some
3,000 visitors annually made their way to the mountain in
the three decades that followed. Today an interpretive
sign and stone foundation at the summit mark the place where
the cabin stood.
Everything changed in 1849 when a
young newlywed couple, John and Fanny French, bought the cabin
and ten acres of land. They replaced the
cabin with a small hotel and named it the Prospect House (later
renamed the Summit House). Fitted
out in "the most modern style," the hotel provided
the trappings of civilization from which to enjoy the view.
It held a dining room, a handful of chambers for overnight
guests, and an observatory equipped with a 60-power telescope.
Many mountaintop hotels like the Summit House dotted the
New England and Hudson Valley landscapes in the second half
of the 1800s. Most are gone, consumed by fire
or demolished as derelict buildings. An interpretive tour
of the building today reveals how changing technology and the
changing expectations for amenities and leisure pastimes is
reflected in many of the hotel’s features. It gives a
glimpse into the early days of family vacations for this country’s
The Summit House in 1894: visit a timeline of Mt. Holyoke from 1800 to the present.
The renovated Summit House is the showpiece of Skinner
State Park today. more…
From the 1860s, tourists could choose to ride a covered tram
up to the hotel. more …