In the early 1800s Americans were eager to explore the natural wonders of their young country. The proximity of Mount Greylock to both Boston and New York made the mountain a popular destination. Completion of the Pittsfield and Albany Railroad in 1844, and the Hoosac Tunnel in 1876 which created a direct link to Boston, brought great numbers of visitors to the northern Berkshire region. Literary figures Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau were among the many visitors espousing the power and beauty of the majestic mountain.
As these writers were celebrating American identity in terms of its presence in wilderness, Greylock began to attract those with scientific interests. The high elevation and unique climate made the summit an excellent location for meteorological study. In 1830-31 students from nearby Williams College constructed the first of two observatory towers on the summit. Continuing throughout the later part of the 19th century the mountain was a college classroom for biological and geological research.
Greylock also inspired the setting for Albert Hopkins’ Alpine Club, one of the first organized hiking and nature study clubs in the nation. These kinds of increased interest in the natural world raised awareness to the destructive impacts of human activity on the land, especially deforestation. This awareness fueled the advocation for a conservationist approach to the management of forested lands.
As farming began to decline after the mid-1800s, industry was expanding rapidly. The forested mountain slopes were a source for timber and charcoal to power the growing local industries of iron smelting, glassmaking and textiles. Denuded slopes were often subject to landslides and forest fires, resulting in public outcry at the desecration of the mountain, prompting its first major protection effort.
Determined to save Mt. Greylock, a group of concerned Berkshire County citizens formed the Greylock Park Association in 1885 and purchased 400 acres around the summit. With 42 shareholders and an 11-member Board of Directors, the Association was one of the first private land conservation organizations in Massachusetts.
Focused on protecting the summit from further encroachment while promoting awareness through recreation, the Association built a new toll road from the notch in North Adams to the summit, joined in 1889 by a new iron observation tower. The admission fees were intended to finance the Association's efforts, but the costs of maintaining the facility eventually surpassed their means. Without adequate funding, the Association turned to the Commonwealth for assistance.
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