Conflict and Settlement | The Romantic Period | Massachusetts' First State Park

In the winter of 1897-98, a petition was brought before the Massachusetts Legislature for the purchase of Greylock as a State Reservation. Environmental organizations that lobbied for passage of the legislation included the Massachusetts Forestry Association (now the Environmental League of Massachusetts), the Trustees of Reservations and the Appalachian Mountain Club. Their principal reasons for creating the reservation were to protect the watersheds of the Hoosic and Housatonic Rivers, and reserve it for public rather than private use.

After two hearings, on June 20, 1898 the Legislature passed a law (Chapter 543 of the Acts of 1898) creating the Greylock State Reservation, appropriating $25,000 for additional land purchases to be added to original 400 acres and forming a Greylock Reservation Commission to oversee operation.

Berkshire County, through the Greylock Reservation Commission, a governor-appointed three-person board, was required to manage and operate the State Reservation. Prof. John Bascom, Francis W. Rockwell and Alfred B. Mole were the first commissioners; William H. Sperry eventually replaced Alfred B. Mole. The commissioners charged with “with full power and authority to care for, protect and maintain the same (Mt. Greylock) on behalf of the Commonwealth,” from 1900-10 set about to provide better public access, building new foot trails, scenic vistas, a summit house (1902) and the Rockwell Road (1906-07) to accommodate newfangled automobiles.

However, at the same time the commissioners envisioned a more noble conservation ethic for protecting the mountain, and designated the reservation a “refuge” (Acts of 1909, Chapter 362): “We are to bear in mind that the utility of the reservation is primarily spiritual, not physical; but the highest purpose is always best attained with some wise reference to lower objects. There will always remain in the reservation large areas in which the freedom and boldness of nature will constitute the primary impression, and render the chief service.”

Perhaps the most significant imprint period man had on the mountain was the 1930s beginning when the highest point in the state was chosen as the site for the Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower. Built 1931-32 this 93-foot tall Quincy granite tower, crowned with a beacon light, “Erected by Massachusetts in grateful recognition of the loyalty and sacrifice of her sons and daughters in war”. It was ceremoniously dedicated on June 30, 1933 not exclusively a memorial to the First World War, but “…intended a tribute to courage, endurance, loyalty and self-sacrifice wherever these qualities have been shown by Massachusetts men and women in the uniform of the state or nation.”

Additional land purchases by the state and later access improvements under the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) 107th Company from 1933-41 transformed the reservation into a successful and very popular recreational facility. Among the many projects, the CCC improved the road system, built hiking trails, lean-to shelters and completed construction on rustic Bascom Lodge and other stone structures at the summit. As popularity of skiing in the US increased during this period the CCC was enlisted to build downhill ski trails such as the challenging Thunderbolt Ski Trail in 1934, host to the Massachusetts Downhill Championships 1935-48, and the U.S. Eastern Amateur Ski Association Championships in 1938 and 1940.

Efforts in the 1950s-60s to develop the mountain for more intensive and expansive recreation resort were ultimately challenged publicly and resulted in the 1966 abolishment of the Greylock Reservation Commission, transferring management and operation of the reservation to the state’s Division of Forests and Parks, today the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

In more recent years, 1996 the parkway became a state-designated scenic byway and 1998 the summit was designated to the National Register of Historic Places, representative of its unique collection of rustic CCC-built structures such as Bascom Lodge, as well as the 93-foot tall granite Massachusetts Veterans War Memorial Tower. More recently, the Mount Greylock Historic Parkway Restoration Project rehabilitated the park’s road network 2006-2008. The immense popularity of Mount Greylock as a destination for recreation creates a need for a balance between the experience of the visitor and protection of the resource for future generations to benefit from.

For more about the story of Mount Greylock visit Natural History of the Berkshires and select Most Excellent Majesty: A History of Mount Greylock (76.4MB).