A significant body of literature relates to Mt. Holyoke as a favorite destination for travelers, both European and American. Literary visitors included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, among many others. At the height of its popularity in the second half of the nineteenth century, the site hosted notable visitors such as Swedish opera star Jenny Lind (who dubbed the region “the Paradise of America”) and poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Dickinson grew up in nearby Amherst and attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. An annual hike up the mountain was one of the college's very first traditions. Their teachers believed that the mountain scenery would nourish students' souls and improve their characters while the climb strengthened their bodies. Mount Holyoke College continues to observe Mountain Day today.
An 1887 advertising brochure illustrated Mt. Holyoke’s tourist facilities, while emphasizing the special qualities of the view: "Many other peaks have a higher altitude and offer wilder and more unmixed natural scenery – but no other blends in its wide prospect so much that is rich in soil and cultivation, or presents so much agricultural wealth of beauty, mingled with so much that is wildly majestic, grand and inspiring.”
Countless painted, drawn, and printed representations of Mt. Holyoke’s panorama emphasize the contrast between wilderness and cultivated landscape. No composition is more famous than Thomas Cole’s 1836 painting, View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm, also known as "The Oxbow". Cole centered the view on a small neck of land formed by a deep bend in the river – the oxbow. On the left – the wilderness side – he depicted an elevated mass of trees and a rocky outcrop flanked by a blasted tree trunk and storm clouds. The more pastoral right side is filled with sunlit fields and clear skies.
Late nineteenth-century artists chose to emphasize more ephemeral effects of color and tone that evoke quieter, poetic moments in the landscape.
Today, artists number among the tens of thousands of visitors to the summit each year. Their work relates to the long-established tradition of painting, drawing and photographing from the mountain. Many contemporary artists, responding to past imagery and market forces, continue to perpetuate the image of Mt. Holyoke as an idyllic meeting point between wilderness and civilization.
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