Please note that this text-only version, provided for ease of printing and reading, includes 23 pages and may take up to 10 minutes to print. Printing this page will print the introduction, the three essays, the list of sites, and all of the descriptions for the sites featured in the itinerary. If you would like to print a specific section, click on one of the links below, and mark the section you would like to print.
19th Century Trends in American Conservation
American Conservation in the 20th Century
Conservation and Landscape Planning in Massachusetts
List of Sites and Descriptions
Map (print separately)
Learn More (print separately)
Credits (print separately)
The National Park Service's Heritage Education Services, in partnership with the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, proudly invites you to learn about and visit the places that illustrate the history of conservation and landscape planning in Massachusetts. This Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary features 24 places listed in the National Register of Historic Places that bring the benefits and history of conservation and landscape preservation to life. The itinerary was proposed by Ann E. Chapman and is based on her Master Project entitled Proposal for a Conservation and Landscape Planning Heritage Trail submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Regional Planning.
The Massachusetts Conservation travel itinerary offers several ways to discover the featured historic places:
• Descriptions of each featured historic place on the List of Sites highlighting their significance, with color images and information on how to visit.
• Essays with background on important themes in Massachusetts conservation history and landscape planning and preservation offer context for understanding historic places featured in the itinerary.
• Maps to help visitors plan what to see and do.
• A Learn More section with links to relevant websites such as tourism websites with information on cultural events and activities, other things to see and do, and dining and lodging possibilities. This section also provides a bibliography.
View the itinerary online or print it as a guide if you plan to visit in person. The Massachusetts Conservation itinerary, the 57th in this ongoing series, is part of the Department of the Interior, National Park Service's strategy to promote public awareness of history and the special places that reflect the nation's heritage and add to the quality of life, and to encourage visits to historic places throughout the nation. The itineraries are created by a partnership of the National Park Service; the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; and Federal, State, and local governments and private organizations in communities, regions, and heritage areas throughout the United States. The itineraries help people everywhere learn about and plan trips to visit the amazing diversity of this country's historic places that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The National Park Service and its partners hope you enjoy this itinerary and others in the series. If you have any comments or questions, please click on the e-mail address at "comments or questions" on the bottom of each page.
Nineteenth Century Trends in American Conservation
Conservation thinking has evolved over centuries, often as a response to the profound land use changes that shaped the American landscape after the arrival of European colonists in the 1600s. Since that time, deforestation, urbanization, and industrialization all produced profound environmental changes that spurred conservation ideas and practices. At the national level, environmental historians have identified three major historic strands of conservation thinking and action that provided historic foundations for the contemporary environmental movement. These are utilitarian conservation (natural resource management), preservationist conservation (preserving scenic nature), and wildlife habitat protection. Utilitarian and preservationist conservation ideas, which developed by the first half of the 19th century, provided major, and different, arguments for a variety of large open space conservation initiatives in the second half of the 19th century, culminating in the creation of the first national and state forests. Many of the protected open spaces that we have today—and to a large extent, the arguments that we still use to conserve and protect natural places for their scenic, recreational, or habitat values—have been inherited from one or more of these three traditions.
American Conservation Ideas Prior to 1870:
Early Utilitarian Conservation Ideas and Practices
The roots of utilitarian conservation arose from colonial agrarian traditions that viewed nature as a source of natural resources for housing, food, clothing, and income to be bartered or sold. Management of natural resources in a way that we now call “sustainable” required regulation to prevent overuse or misuse of resources. In New England, the first, very limited, examples of natural resource management involved community or Commonwealth regulations to prevent overuse or misuse of shared resources such as meadows, pastures, swamps and woodlots. At their best, these colonial conservation ideas included a belief in democratic access to land, coupled with shared responsibility.
Although colonial ordinances attempted some protection of natural resources, they were quite limited in nature. Over time, population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and a shift to a market-driven economy put increasing pressure on remaining natural resources. By the middle of the 19th century, many Eastern forests had been depleted. Fish and wildlife populations had also dropped dramatically as the results of habitat loss, over-fishing, and hunting. The settlement of the American West also set off a massive transformation of landscapes there with a rapid depletion of forests, soil erosion, and loss of wildlife that alarmed many people. While State Horticultural Associations promoted experimentation with new crops and better crop management in the first half of the century, few understood that environmental damage, such as erosion, might have permanent consequences.
Early 19th Century Conservation and the Romantic Movement: Promoting New Attitudes toward Nature
The idea that nature is only a commodity to be used (albeit wisely) was challenged in the first half of the 19th century by American Romantic and Transcendental writers like William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau. These famous writers all had Massachusetts roots and celebrated American nature and the restorative effects of “wildness” on the human spirit. The work of European Romantic writers and Transcendental philosophers such as Coleridge and Kant heavily influenced the American Romantic movement. The American Romantic movement promoted the scenic and aesthetic aspects of nature as important to people’s physical and spiritual health and communing with nature as communing with God.
European writers and artists in the 18th and early 19th centuries developed Romantic ideas to celebrate the aesthetics of nature. They recognized distinct categories of scenic nature. Terms like “beautiful,” “picturesque,” and “sublime” were used to describe landscape types, all of which were expected to elicit uplifting—though differing—emotional responses in people. “Beautiful” landscapes were typically scenes of pastoral nature, including elements such as gentle rolling hills, cultivated farm fields, meadows, and tended gardens—landscapes largely shaped through the presence of humans. Pastoral nature was expected to have a soothing effect on people. “Picturesque” landscapes included more wild natural elements—the scenery was irregular in pattern, with exaggerated vertical and horizontal elements. Mountains, valleys, and forests were typical aspects in picturesque landscapes, which might also include signs of human presence (cities could also be considered to contain picturesque elements). Picturesque landscapes were stimulating and provided a sharp contrast to urban living. “Sublime” landscapes, on the other hand, were exaggerated in scale—monumental peaks, vast caverns, thundering cataracts, even violent weather effects like thunderstorms characterized sublime landscapes believed to be shaped only by the hand of God. Sublime landscapes were expected to elicit emotions such as awe and even terror.
Both European and American scenery provided ample examples of beautiful and picturesque scenery—but the American wilderness was something that Europe, with all of its refinement and culture, lacked. American wilderness, celebrated in 19th century writing, art, and photography, soon became an icon of American identity. In the northeastern United States, these romantic depictions of nature were popularized in the mid to late nineteenth century by the works of the Hudson River School landscape painters, including Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Frederick Edwin Church, John Frederick Kensett, and Sanford Robinson Gifford. Eastern American wilderness areas like Niagara Falls, and later western landscapes like Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone, first inspired writers and artists and eventually tourists to visit these scenes as stops on the American Grand Tour. The over-commercialization of sites like Niagara Falls in response to 19th century tourism became a major concern and spurred efforts to preserve scenic wilderness areas. During roughly the same period, urban preservationist initiatives led to the creation of pastoral country parks in or near many American cities. Both of these preservationist initiatives were outgrowths of Romantic ideas of nature that led to an increasing interest on the part of the public to visit scenic natural areas.
Early Ecological Conservation Ideas and the Watershed
The area of land where the water that is under it or drains off of it and goes into the same place is a watershed. There are approximately two thousand watersheds in the continental United States. A watershed can be large or small, but it ties communities together with the common goal of protecting water supplies. In 1864, Vermont native George Perkins Marsh published Man and Nature; or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, which provided a sobering analysis of the consequences of deforestation. In his book, Marsh discusses the secondary consequences of clear-cutting forests and over-grazing, which includes soil erosion and watershed changes such as spring floods and summer drought, as water that was previously absorbed by forests escapes without the trees. Furthermore, he argued that there was also an adverse effect on wildlife. Fish died in response to the increased silt in the water and the temperature changes resulting from deforestation and erosion. A key idea that came out of Marsh’s work--that forests were important for watershed protection--provided a strong rationale for forest conservation initiatives in the latter half of the 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries. These ideas are an example of early ecological thinking, since Marsh recognized that species existed in an interconnected web, and that changes to one part of a system (such as cutting timber) would affect living things in another part (streams dry up or become filled with silt, and fish die). His ideas are the foundation for many of our 20th century ecological initiatives to preserve natural habitats. Marsh’s thinking resonated with Frederick Billings (1823–1890), who purchased Marsh’s boyhood home in Woodstock, Vermont and applied his philosophy to the adjoining forest and farm beginning in the 1870s. Following Billing’s death, Laurance Rockefeller (1910–2004) purchased the property and advanced Marsh’s vision and his own family’s legacy of large-scale landscape conservation. Today, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park includes one of the oldest managed forests in the United States.
The Conservation Movement Matures:
Conservation and Preservation Initiatives in the Second Half of the 19th Century
Preservation of Scenic Wilderness Areas
The Romantic ideas spurred an appreciation of American wilderness as national icon. A rise in nature tourism, beginning in the 1820s and 1830s, helped create public support for the protection of the first scenic American wilderness areas as national and state parks in the 1860s and 1870s. John Muir, who arrived in the Sierras in 1868, was awestruck by the wild landscape. He soon became the nation’s most influential advocate for the preservation of wilderness as national parks. A fan of both Emerson’s and Thoreau’s writings, Muir was a compelling writer and was able to translate abstract Transcendentalist principles about nature as a spiritual resource into moving appeals for pragmatic programs designed to permanently protect scenic wilderness areas as national parks. Muir also created a powerful political advocacy group. He founded the Sierra Club in 1892 with a mission of preserving Yosemite and other wilderness areas in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Creating National Parks
Efforts to preserve spectacular western landscapes gained momentum in the last quarter of the 19th century, well before the creation of the National Park Service. In 1864, the Federal government took a step toward preserving public lands as parks for the benefit and enjoyment of the public when it gave Yosemite Valley to the State of California to use as a state park. The magnificent Yellowstone country in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho became the first federally designated national park in 1892. Yellowstone National Park provided a model for the entire world. The Federal government designated other national parks -- Sequoia, Yosemite, Mount Rainier, Crater Lake, and Glacier in the 1890's and early 1900's.
Preserving Nature Nearby: Urban Conservation and the 19th Century Parks Movement
Closer to most peoples’ homes, initiatives to preserve open space in or near urban areas led to the establishment of large designed country parks. By the second half of the 19th century, increasingly industrialized eastern cities were growing at a dramatic pace. The rural open spaces that once existed near cities like Boston were rapidly transforming into cities themselves in order to accommodate dramatic population increases. Desires to protect public water supplies and more open space near cities led to the 19th century urban parks movement and the creation of large “country” parks in or near many urban areas during the second half of the 19th century. Based on Romantic principles, these parks took their inspiration from similar designs produced by English landscape gardeners in the 18th century. They were often several hundred acres in size bringing rural scenery to the city and featuring pastoral elements in park design to elicit soothing emotions as a needed contrast to the stresses of urban living. Design elements typically included broad meadows and natural picturesque features such as rocky outcroppings and woodlands—carefully used to screen out city buildings from view. Paths or roads provided places for strolling or horseback riding.
The prototype for the country parks was the rural or garden cemetery. The first of these cemeteries to be built in the United States was Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Watertown and Cambridge, Massachusetts, which dates from 1831. Rural cemeteries became such popular destinations for recreational excursions that landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing, William Cullen Bryant, and others lobbied for the creation of a large rural park in New York City. A group of New York’s leading citizens picked up the idea in the 1850s acquiring a tract of over 700 acresin the northern part of the city. After winning a design competition, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his colleague, architect Calvert Vaux, were hired to design the large park. The park design included pastoral elements such as open meadows, lawns, and thick border vegetation. New York City’s Central Park inspired the creation of many other parks and park systems in American cities after the Civil War such as the connected park systems in Chicago, Buffalo, and Minneapolis. Boston’s version was the Emerald Necklace Park System, which Frederick Law Olmsted designed beginning in the 1870s and completed before the turn of the 20th century.
Wildlife Protection in the Late 19th Century: The First State Audubon Societies
The late 19th century also produced the beginnings of a third major rationale for open space preservation: wildlife habitat protection. As the 19th century progressed, wildlife habitat was dramatically reduced by loss of habitat from deforestation and wetland filling, combined with over-hunting. New markets for wildlife made killing wildlife a financially profitable venture for hunters, who took advantage of improved transportation methods like railroads to gain access to previously inaccessible areas. The lack of legal protection for wildlife led to the slaughter of many species, some of which were hunted to extinction or near extinction. Wildlife like passenger pigeons and buffalo, which had been extremely abundant, were hunted to extinction (or nearly so). Migratory birds were especially impacted, since there was a huge market for the feathers of birds such as egrets, used to create women’s fashionable hats. In the 1880s, the millinery industry used wings, quills and feathers of birds such as woodpeckers, terns, grebes, cedar waxwings, robins and blue jays showed up on hats. A decade later, the most popular plumes were egret, heron, birds of paradise, pigeons and sea birds. Hundreds of thousands of birds were being killed each year for their feathers, which were worn in their hats (Kastner, 1994; Vileisis, 1997).
In response to the decline in bird populations, a number of new conservation-oriented organizations formed. During the winter of 1874-75, almost 100 sportsmen’s organizations were founded, and by 1878, 308 organizations had declared a commitment to conservation practices. Forest and Stream magazine a sportsmen’s magazine, was a major contributor to a conservation ethic among sportsmen. George Bird Grinnell, who worked for the magazine, wrote an editorial in 1886, which established the first national Audubon society. He invited concerned people to sign pledges that they wouldn’t harm any birds. In the first year, almost 39,000 men, women and children enlisted. The new club was called the Audubon Society, but it grew so quickly that the magazine couldn’t handle the extra work, and was disbanded within two years, a victim of its popularity (Vileisis, 1997).
Ten years later, the first state Audubon Society in the country was founded by two Massachusetts women—Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and her cousin Minna Hall, part of Boston’s wealthy society. In January 1896, Mrs. Hemenway heard of the decimation of a Florida heron rookery raided by hunters for the plumes, and was galvanized into action. The first strategy involved bringing together many of Boston’s leading scientists and social leaders together to brainstorm. The participants at the meeting decided that the most effective course of action would be to create a new organization, and they voted that day to establish the Massachusetts Audubon Society. The purpose of the new organization would be “to discourage buying and wearing for ornamental purposes the feathers of any wild bird”. The Massachusetts model caught on, and within two years, Audubon Societies had been established in 15 states. By 1901, 35 states had established Audubon groups. In 1905, National Audubon Society was formed as an umbrella organization to help coordinate state efforts. Over time, Audubon groups shifted to ecological habitat preservation. Massachusetts Audubon Society formally incorporated in 1915, and was enabled to receive and manage property. Land for the first Massachusetts Audubon Society bird sanctuary was donated by George Field in Sharon. There are currently 42 Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuaries statewide.
Conservationists Join Forces to Save America’s Forests
One of the consequences of industrialization, urbanization, and westward settlement was a dramatic reduction in America’s forests. Alarmed by the rapid clearing of forested land, and persuaded by Marsh’s work, which depicted the undesirable consequences of poor forestry practices, American scientists and naturalists decided to do something about it. They first lobbied for a survey of the fast-diminishing American forests. The Massachusetts Board of Agriculture hired botanist and horticulturalist Charles Sprague Sargent, director of the newly established Arnold Arboretum in Boston, to prepare a survey on the status of remaining Massachusetts forests, published in an 1876 report. Soon afterwards, the Interior Department commissioned Sargent to survey the status of remaining forests in the United States. Results of the survey, Report on the Forests of North America, appear in a report in 1880 as part of the U.S. Census. The report surveyed over 400 varieties of trees, noting their taxonomy, distribution, and current use. The report concluded with warnings about the rate of depletion of the nation’s forests.
In the last decades of the 19th century, federal and state governments initiated a variety of programs to preserve forests and educate the public about the need for improved forest management practices. Congress passed legislation for the first national forests in March 1891, the Forest Reserve Act. This act allowed the president to create forest reserves by withdrawing forested lands from the public domain. New York led the country in state-level initiatives, where a coalition of scientists, sportsmen, nature lovers and businessmen in 1885 supported legislation that created the first state forest preserve in the United States, 715,000 acres of forested land in northern New York that became the Adirondacks State Park. Initiatives to create state forests in western states and New England followed within a few years, which was a trend that continued through the first several decades of the 20th century.
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American Conservation in the Twentieth Century
At the national level, environmental historians have identified three major historic strands of conservation thinking and action that have provided historic foundations for the contemporary environmental movement. These are utilitarian conservation (natural resource management), preservationist conservation (preserving scenic nature), and wildlife habitat protection. While utilitarian and preservationist arguments dominated the 19th century open space conservation initiatives, wildlife habitat protection has increasingly become a motivation for protection of open space in the 20th century.
Practices in the 19th century and increasingly sophisticated ecological studies in the 20th century resulted in initiatives to preserve ecological habitat throughout the 20th century. Early federal, state, and private initiatives to preserve forests begun during the 19th century continued into the 20th century. Many of the protected open spaces that we have today—and to a large extent, the arguments that we still use to conserve and protect natural places for their scenic, recreational, or habitat values—have been inherited from one or more of these three traditions.
Another trend has been and continues to be the growing appreciation of the need to recognize and protect historic landscapes as part of the nation's heritage, as evidenced by the heightened interest in listing them in the National Register of Historic Places. Many are included in the National Register already.
Federal Role in Progressive Era Forest Conservation Initiatives
Gifford Pinchot, chief forester during Theodore Roosevelt’s administration, promoted use of the term “Conservation” and lobbied for support for sustained-yield management principles and the creation of a national forest system managed by those principles. He and Roosevelt also lobbied against exploitation of the nation’s soils and minerals, arguing that unregulated private exploitation threatened the nation’s long-term security. Reflecting his utilitarian conservation principles, Pinchot lobbied for the transfer of the federal forest reserves from oversight of the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture, accomplished in 1905, using the rationale that forests should be managed as a crop, with the goal of continued sustained yield (cut no more timber than you replace). The Forest Service’s doctrine of timber management established a foundation for 20th century resource management principles of the U.S. Forest Service. Resources were managed for multiple uses, including timber, wildlife, recreation, range and water. Some US Forest Service sustained yield policies such as issuance of grazing permits on forested land; cutting of old growth forests; and failure to establish adequate habitat protection for some endangered species have been controversial with conservationists concerned with habitat protection (Merchant, 2002; Penick, 2001).
Progressive Era Conservationists and Preservationists Split:
Conflict over the Hetch Hetchy Dam
In the 19th century, supporters of utilitarian conservation and preservationist initiatives often worked together on initiatives like National Forest conservation and watershed protection. Over time, however, differences in philosophy created tensions between preservationists like John Muir, who favored the preservation of scenic wilderness areas, and conservationists like Gifford Pinchot, who believed that natural resources were meant to be used. The tensions came to a head in 1909 with a proposal to dam the Tuolumne River in Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park, in order to create a water supply for the city of San Francisco. Gifford Pinchot favored damming the Valley, and John Muir and other preservationists were fiercely opposed. Ultimately, the dam was approved, and Hetch Hetchy became a reservoir in 1913.
Creation of the National Park Service
Support for a new federal agency to protect national parks led in 1916 to the establishment of the National Park Service. The Service was established to manage the existing national parks, monuments, and reservations that had by that time been set aside for natural, scenic, and historic values and to provide for their enjoyment so as to leave them unimpaired for future generations. The number of national parks grew to more than 350 by the end of the 20th century. Debates over preservation of wilderness areas versus development of natural resources for timber or water--and the split between utilitarian and preservationist points of view—have continued in some form throughout the 20th century, and, at the federal level, are reflected in very different management objectives of the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. These differing values also influenced state and local initiatives to save forests (as timber or parkland) in a number of states in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The Federal Role in 20th Century Habitat Protection
While many states passed legislation designed to protect migratory birds in the last years of the 19th century, there was growing awareness that, because of the vast distances birds traveled during migration, effective protection of migratory birds would require national and international protection. Increasingly, Audubon societies, sportsmen’s organizations, and other supporters for bird protection lobbied for a strong role for the Federal Government in habitat protection. In 1900, the Lacey Act became the first federal legislation outlawing interstate shipment of birds killed in violation of state laws. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt established the first Federal wildlife refuge for the protection of waterfowl, Pelican Island in Florida. By the end of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, over 50 additional refuges had been established. In 1913, the signing of the Migratory Bird Treaty gave the Federal government primary jurisdiction over migratory birds, superseding state laws. With this law, the Federal Government became the primary protector of waterfowl. The 1920s saw important scientific studies by Frederick Lincoln, a U.S. Biological Service scientist, who used bird banding to identify the major migratory bird flyways in North and South America. He identified four major flyways passing across portions of the United States. This knowledge would become extremely important in later efforts to protect key migratory bird habitat in the U.S.
Despite protective efforts, waterfowl population continued to decline in the 1930s driving some species toward extinction. By 1934, there were only 150 egrets left, and 14 whooping cranes. In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt created a commission to study wildlife restoration. Conservationist and cartoonist “Ding” Darling and Aldo Leopold were two of the members. Darling later received an appointment to head the Bureau of Biological Survey. Industrialization and urbanization, with loss of wetlands habitat, were seen as major contributors to the loss of bird habitat. In some cases, federal projects for other agencies contributed to the loss of wetlands. The Civilian Conservation Corps, for example, which worked on many conservation-related projects in the Depression era, was involved in flood control and wetlands drainage programs in order to create new agricultural lands. The conflict in federal policies led to the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1934.
The establishment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1940, merged the Bureau of Fisheries (Department of Commerce) and the Bureau of Biological Survey (Department of Agriculture). The new Fish and Wildlife Service became a unit of the Department of the Interior with a mandate to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and their habitats. The Service oversees national wildlife refuges and fish hatcheries, and develops recovery plans for endangered species.
The National Wildlife Refuge System has grown dramatically since 1903, since the establishment of the first National Wildlife Refuge on Pelican Island, Florida. There are now more than 530 refuges in the National Wildlife Refuge System, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, providing 93 million acres of lands and waters managed for the protection of wildlife and habitat. The U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System is the most comprehensive wildlife management system in the world.
Additional Conservation and Planning Issues in the 20th Century
Issues of increasing concern in the 20th century included suburbanization and fragmentation of wild areas through road building, patterns of development that we now call “sprawl.” New tools for city and regional planning were developed in the first half of the century, including zoning. Benton MacKaye’s 1921 article proposing an Appalachian Trail was an initiative that envisioned not only a recreational trail, but also an intact belt of wilderness along the Appalachian Ridge that could contain eastern urban populations. The ambitious idea of trails, to be built and maintained by volunteers, was one example of 20th century initiatives, which were increasingly regional in scope, and often involved complex collaborative efforts. Open space initiatives such as state forest preservation initiatives in many states were popular with the public, but could result in disagreements over the extent of appropriate development—how easy should access to wilderness areas be? Should lodges, ski trails, and other amenities be added or did they interfere with scenic amenities or habitat?
In 1935, Aldo Leopold, Benton MacKaye, Robert Mitchell and others with concerns about the growing network of highways leading to previously inaccessible locations, founded the Wilderness Society. The Wilderness Society lobbied for passage of the Federal Wilderness Act (1964), which established the National Wilderness Preservation System. This system now has more than 95 million acres of protected land. The Nature Conservancy, founded in 1951, was organized with the goal of protecting habitat and acquired more than 1500 preserves and over 9 million acres in North America.
Legacies of 1960s and 1970s Environmental Movement
In the second half of the 20th century, public concerns increased over a wide range of environmental issues, many related to quality of life. In urban areas, the toxic effects of polluted air and water were growing concerns. In suburban areas, a host of issues arose, including the loss of scenic and rural character, habitat fragmentation, and the spread of harmful pesticides and other chemical pollutants. Existing conservation organizations cultivated larger memberships and new groups formed, too. Grassroots organizations often began with local issues and later broadened in their concerns. They helped to educate the public and lobbied for legislation that would address a wide range of environmental issues. Local grassroots advocacy groups formed in both urban and suburban areas throughout the country, working on a variety of environmental concerns in their own area. Grassroots efforts coalesced in into a social movement in 1970, with the holding of the first Earth Day. Communities all over the country engaged in environmental activities.
Two influential books in environmental thinking in the mid-20th century were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, published in 1962, and Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, published in 1948. The compellingly written Silent Spring drew public attention to the alarming toxic effects of DDT and some other common pesticides on both wildlife and on people. In Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold demonstrated through work on his own property the restoration of badly eroded land created healthy wildlife habitat. The science of ecology provided new understandings of requirements for wildlife habitat, and the dangers of habitat fragmentation. A third book, Thoreau’s Walden, became an instant classic with many environmentalists, who used it to illustrate a healthier ideal for people living in harmony with nature.
Growth of the science of ecology led to an increased understanding of the requirements for wildlife habitat and the dangers of habitat fragmentation. Ecological arguments were persuasively in support of both local open space preservation initiatives and for wilderness preservation of large tracts of land. Growing public support for environmental protection in the 1960s and 1970s, led to the passage of much new federal legislation, including the Clean Air Act (1963); the Wilderness Act (1964); the Water Quality Control Act (1965); the Wild and Scenic River Act (1968); the National Trails System Act (1968); the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 1969); and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970). The loss of historic and cultural resources in communities throughout the nation, sparked the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act (1966).
Grassroots environmental and open space initiatives dramatically expanded in the second half of the 20th century. Watershed associations, local and regional land trusts, and local conservation commissions continue to work to protect scenic, recreational or ecological resources, often in partnership with other organizations and with state and federal agencies. Increasingly, protected open space has become an important component in community and regional planning initiatives with a wide array of benefits. While 19th and early 20th century initiatives to preserve open space generally focused on a specific argument (utilitarian conservation, scenic preservation, or habitat protection), contemporary initiatives increasingly recognize that open space serves multiple uses. The contemporary greenway movement is one example. Greenways create linear linkages between open spaces, and provide a combination of recreational, ecological, and/or cultural amenities.
The listing of an increasing number of historic American landscapes and properties associated with conservation in communities throughout the nation in the National Register of Historic Places reflects the growing appreciation of their importance to history, health, and quality of life in the United States. The destinations featured in this travel itinerary that are included in the National Register because of their significance to the nation's heritage are evidence of this trend.
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Conservation and Landscape Planning in Massachusetts
The story of the National Conservation Movement intersects with the Massachusetts conservation story at several places. Much of the national story focused on preservation of large wilderness tracts of land at distant locations—usually unincorporated land in the public domain. The conservation story in Massachusetts, on the other hand, is about people interacting with nature in their own communities and the evolving conservation stewardship ideas.
As popular ideas about nature have changed over time, so have the forms of conservation. Whether initially created for utilitarian or preservationist purposes, urban parks, state forests, or trail systems are playing important ecological roles in habitat protection for many types of wildlife. It is a story worth knowing. From colonial times onward, the stories of how Massachusetts citizens worked to protect their state’s open spaces provide some great examples of how people shared a sense of responsibility for nature in their own communities and regions: not just to have space for their own enjoyment, but to preserve the land for future generations as well.
Some Massachusetts people played nationally significant roles in conservation thinking and practice making important contributions to open-space planning initiatives. One such person is Charles Eliot, whose ideas contributed to the creation of the world’s first land trust and the first regional open space system in the country. Benton MacKaye, in his multiple roles as father of the Appalachian Trail, regional planner, and wilderness advocate, is another eminent Massachusetts conservationist. Robert McCullough has written that it is possible to trace the evolving environmental land ethic through community woodlands. This is also true for many other preserved lands. Examples of a few of Massachusetts’ key categories of protected open space include town commons, urban parks and park systems; state and town forests; wildlife habitat; and regional trail systems, and the stories of the major contributors to their creation are worthy of note.
Massachusetts Innovators in Conservation and Landscape Planning
Historians identify several Massachusetts people as innovators who have made important contributions to national conservation ideas and practices. Historic places featured in this itinerary illustrate the lives and work of several of the people who made important contributions to national conservation ideas and practices such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Charles Sprague Sargent, Harriet Hemenway, and Benton MacKaye. Emerson and Thoreau spearheaded the Transcendental movement, and their work helped catalyze a new respect for nature as a spiritual resource. Emerson’s essays, including “Nature,” were enormously influential in his own era. Thoreau’s experiment in living at Walden Pond, and his observations and intuitive insights into the natural history and spiritual aspects of nature in his home town, Concord, made important contributions to the philosophy of conservation that impacted subsequent generations. Charles Sprague Sargent played a key role in shaping national forest conservation policy, serving as the director of Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. He also provided important leadership in the creation of the Adirondacks State Forest System in New York, the first of its kind, and the Massachusetts State Forest and Reservation system. Benton MacKaye’s contributions to forest conservation included his vision for the Appalachian Trail and his work as a co-founder of the Wilderness Society.
Three Massachusetts conservation organizations are important for their originality and their role as models for other organizations throughout the nation. Founded in 1896 by Boston residents Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, the Massachusetts Audubon Society was the first state Audubon Society in the country, The Appalachian Mountain Club founded in 1876 in Boston was the first permanent organization of hikers and mountaineers in the United States. The Trustees of Reservations in Massachusetts was the first land trust in the world.
This itinerary also highlights landscapes designed by two outstanding landscape architects from Massachusetts, Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Eliot. Olmsted was a founder of the profession of landscape architecture. His collaborative effort with architect Calvert Vaux on the design of Central Park in New York inspired the nation, leading urban areas around the country to incorporate large “country” parks into city planning. Olmsted was also one of the first U.S. designers to link parks into a park system. New England’s best example of his work is Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system.
The work of Charles Eliot is probably the least well known outside of the field of landscape architecture, but he made major contributions to regional open space planning. Eliot worked in collaboration with journalist Sylvester Baxter to promote the idea of a regional metropolitan park system, the first of its kind in the United States. The concept required the creation of a new kind of an organization—a land trust. The project also demonstrated Eliot’s abilities to advocate and organize. He worked with the Appalachian Mountain Club and community leaders from the region to develop political support for the project, create the needed legislation, and identify key properties in each community to add to the park system. Reflecting on his son’s writings in Garden and Forest about the need to preserve Maine’s coastal scenery, Charles W. Eliot (1834–1926) founded the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations with George Dorr (1853–1944) in 1903. Over the flowing years, The Trustees acquired over 35,000 acres of Mount Desert Island to hold for free public use. Beginning in 1916, The Trustees donated their holdings to the National Park Service. Today, this land comprises much of Acadia National Park, which became the first national park to the east of the Mississippi River.
Colonial Commons as the first Protected Open Space
The roots of utilitarian conservation arose from colonial agrarian traditions which viewed nature as a source of natural resources to be used for housing, food, and clothing, and as a source of income to be bartered or sold. Early New England colonial settlements were established with the expectation that most community members would meet their needs for food and shelter by establishing farms. Settlements included both private ownership of land, as well as common use of some lands (“Commons” such as meadows, swamps, or woods) not yet assigned to individuals. Each landowner in the community had the use of a proportional share of uplands, meadows, swamps, and marshes. Meadows and other arable land provided land for growing crops or were used as cow commons or ox pastures. Woodlands were used for harvest of timber; swamps were a good source of cedar, used for shingles, and muck was used as fertilizer. A “Great Pond” ordinance, established in 1641, granted all citizens access to public or private ponds over 10 acres in size, as well as to navigable rivers, for the purpose of fishing or hunting. Some communities specified town rights of way to coastal lands for the purpose of fishing or gathering salt, hay, muck, or seaweed. Although land was used in common, it was recognized by the communities that overuse of shared natural resources would cause harm to the “Commonwealth”. In many communities, town ordinances regulated the use of the Common. For example, regulations might limit the number of livestock that each owner could graze on public meadows, or the number of cedar trees that could be taken by individuals from swamps. Concerned by the consequences of a common practice in some towns of large-scale burning of woodlands to clear land for farming, a 1743 Massachusetts Bay General Law was established to regulate the burning of woodlands. As Richard Judd has noted, early colonial conservation ideas such as these illustrated a belief in democratic access to land, coupled with shared responsibility for resources (Judd, 1997; McCullough, 1995; Russell, 1976).
Preserving Nature Nearby in the 19th Century Urban Parks Movement:
Boston’s Emerald Necklace
Boston, like many other urban areas, was impressed by New York’s Central Park, but lacked a large central unoccupied area which could become a park. As a first effort, Boston converted the small Public Garden into a formal, landscaped park in the late 1850s. Several landscape architects, including HWS Cleveland, Robert Morris Copeland and Uriel Crocker, proposed linked park systems for Boston and published their own visions of what such a park might look like. The commission was eventually given for creating a linked park system to Frederick Law Olmsted, who had already been working on two interesting park projects in the Boston area, which eventually became part of Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” Park System. In the first project, Olmsted worked to transform the Back Bay Fens from transformed polluted tidal flats into a wetland park planted with salt tolerant marsh grasses (the first example of wetlands restoration). The second project was a collaborative effort between Olmsted and Charles Sprague Sargent, the director of the Arnold Arboretum. They collaborated on the landscape design of Boston’s first Arboretum. After Olmsted was awarded the contract to create a linked system of parks in greater Boston, he connected existing parks like Boston Common and the Public Garden via the Commonwealth Mall to the Back Bay Fens. The park system then follows the Muddy River to Jamaica Pond, the Arnold Arboretum, and eventually to Franklin Park (Newton, 1971).
Creating the First U.S. Regional Open Space System:
The Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston
By the final decades of the 19th century, the urban Parks Movement was well underway. Many cities throughout the country had created large country parks or park systems. Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system was nearing completion by the end of the century. Outside of Boston, however, the loss of open space was troubling. Landscape architect Charles Eliot and journalist Sylvester Baxter proposed a bold new idea for a regional park system. The scale of the project was extremely ambitious. They hoped to generate public support to acquire several thousand acres of parkland in over two dozen communities within a ten mile radius of Boston.
Eliot proposed the idea in a letter to the Editor published in Garden and Forest magazine in February 1890, entitled “The Waverly Oaks: A Plan for their Preservation for the People.” In the article, Eliot explained that creation of the park system would require that a new type of organization would need to be created—one that was incorporated to hold lands in trust for the public, “just as the Public Library holds books and the Art Museum pictures—for the use and enjoyment of the public.” (quoted in Eliot, 1902, p. 318)
The Waverly Oaks were 26 giant oak trees located near the Beaver Brook in Belmont and Waltham. The site was beautiful, and Eliot used it as an example of the kind of scenic place that would soon be lost to development without some kind of preservation initiative. Eliot and Baxter each lobbied for political support for the proposal. Baxter wrote a series of articles in the Boston Herald, and Eliot, a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club, solicited AMC help in crafting enabling legislation that would be need to be approved by the state in order for the new organization to exist. The legislation was passed in 1891, and The Trustees of Public Reservations (now called The Trustees of Reservations) was organized and chartered. It was the first organization of it’s kind in the world. It soon became a model for land trusts both in the United States and in Europe (Eliot, 1902; Newton, 1971)
Next, Eliot called for a meeting inviting officials from Massachusetts communities to suggest properties that might be added to the new park system. In 1893, Eliot and Baxter issued a report making final recommendations. The properties recommended for acquisition fit into four different landscape categories: ocean frontage; the shores and islands of Boston’s inner bay; tidal estuaries; and forest uplands. In 1893, legislation known as the Park Act established a Metropolitan Park Commission with powers of eminent domain and funding for land acquisition in 36 Boston area communities which were to be included in the Metropolitan Park System. Soon after passage of the legislation, the Beaver Brook Reservation, home of the Waverly Oaks, became the first Reservation added to the new system. By the end of 1895, 7000 acres of forest reservations, coastal beaches, and river banks had been acquired in communities within a 10 mile radius of Boston. Today, Boston’s Metropolitan Park System includes nearly 20,000 acres of park lands in thirty seven Boston area communities, including seven forested reservations, three river reservations, and ten ocean reservations, connected through 162 miles of parkways (Newton, 1971; Adams, et al., 2002).
Massachusetts Creates a State Forest and Reservation System
Another New York initiative, the outstanding model provided by the preservation of the Adirondacks in the 1880s, provided an incentive for other states in the west and in New England to pursue their own forest preservation initiatives. The effort was a timely one for the New England states. Deforestation in the mid 19th century was followed by farm abandonment in many small rural communities after 1850. Over the next several decades, the abandoned fields and pastures grew a crop of white pines. By 1900, the highly marketable trees were ready for harvest. Land speculators purchased the abandoned lands for very little money, then clear-cut the trees using portable sawmills. By 1907, timber production reached a peak of three billion board feet. The massive deforestation prompted public outcry by the scientific community, sportsmen, hiking clubs, members of the growing tourist industry and farmers led to political support for state and local initiatives to protect open space and to create state forest reservations (Rivers, 1998).
Inspired by the Adirondacks example, New England states began to create state forest initiatives by the mid 1890s. The Massachusetts Forestry Association (MFA) was established in 1898, with the goal of promoting public interest in reforestation projects. The MFA lobbied the state legislature for creation of the Office of the State Forester, established in 1904. Early projects by the first State Forester, Alfred Akerman, included public education. In 1905, the State Forester began teaching an annual class in woodlot management at Massachusetts Agricultural College, targeted to private landowners. He also advocated that the state establish a forest reserve system. In 1908, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Reforestation Act, aimed at reforestation of one million “wild, unproductive acres” in the state (Rivers, 1998).
The first forest reservations in Massachusetts were created prior to the Reforestation Act, however. In Massachusetts, concerns over logging on Mt. Greylock led to a citizens’ initiative to preserve the area. Four hundred acres of land at the summit of Mt. Greylock were donated by a group of businessmen, the Greylock Park Association. The state legislature provided $25,000 for additional land acquisition, and in 1898, Mt. Greylock Reservation was created as Massachusetts’ first forest reservation. Another early state acquisition was Mt. Wachusett, created in 1899. Most of Massachusetts’ extensive state forest system was created by land purchases in the years after 1914. In that year, the state legislature approved $90,000 for purchase of forest lands (mostly logged over) for reclamation. A State Forestry Commission was empowered to acquire by purchase or otherwise, large tracts of land suitable for timber cultivation. Land for forests was to be distributed throughout the state, so they would be accessible to a large number of people. The objective was to purchase large tracts of land—ideally 1000 acres in size or larger. Lands already logged over could be acquired cheaply, and a price limit was set a maximum of $5 per acre. In addition to land purchased by the state for the creation of new state forests, some properties were also donated by individuals or groups. Two Massachusetts state forests were donated by women’s groups, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, examples of the contributions women were making to a wide range of national, state and local forest conservation initiatives from the time of the Progressive era (Rivers, 1998; Merchant, 1995).
While most of the state forests were managed primarily for timber for timber production, it was soon found that timber production and recreation could coexist. Fishing and hunting were allowed in most of the state forests. Auto touring and camping were increasingly popular recreational activities by the 1920s. The first public campground was developed at Myles Standish State Forest in 1921. In the same year, an “auto camp” was developed at the Mohawk Trail State Forest. It was immediately popular, not only with Massachusetts, but people around the country. In 1924, the campground was used “by 1,050 auto parties, containing about 3,500 people, representing twenty-eight states and four Canadian provinces…”) (Rivers, 1998).
During the Depression era, the federal government established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to help young men out of work by giving them jobs to perform a variety of conservation-related projects throughout the country. In Massachusetts, the CCC operated between 1933 and 1942. At its peak, the program established 51 camps and employed over 100,000 men and boys. The state forest system today has been shaped in major ways by their work, which included a variety of reforestation, insect and disease control initiatives. They also constructed roads, ski trails, bridges, campgrounds, and scenic overlooks. Following the 1938 hurricane, which uprooted over half a billion feet of timber, CCC efforts salvaged 150 million feet of timber in Massachusetts. There is a bronze memorial at the Mohawk Trail State Forest headquarters in Charlemont dedicated the CCC (Foster, Charles H.W., 1998).
Hiking Clubs Create Trail Systems and Lobby for Protected Open Space
Two of the earliest hiking clubs were organized in Massachusetts. The earliest hiking club was Cyrus Tracy’s Exploring Circle was established in Lynn, Massachusetts around 1850. The group held outings in local Lynn Woods, and built several hiking trails in the area. In Williamstown, Massachusetts, the Alpine Club was organized in 1863 by Williams College professor Albert Hopkins. The Alpine Club held outings between 1863 and 1866. Other early Northeastern hiking clubs included New York’s Torrey Botanical Club, established in the 1860s, and the White Mountain Club of Portland, Maine, established in 1873. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), which has become the largest and most influential hiking club in New England, was established in Boston in 1876 by an MIT physics professor Edward Pickering. A major organizational goal was the exploration of unascended peaks in New England. In addition to providing organized hikes, the club also produced scientific data and maps of areas they explored, and built trails and huts. AMC membership included both men and women, and the organization grew rapidly, to over 1000 members by 1898 (McCullough, 1995; Waterman and Waterman, 1989).
Several trail building projects in the Northeast that were completed in the first half of the 19th century. Between 1809 and1830, hiking trails were built by hiking clubs in the White Mountains and Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire; the Catskills, in New York; Mt. Ascutney in Vermont; and Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. As regional consciousness grew among Northeastern hiking groups, new initiatives were created to link the many short, fragmented local trails into regional trail networks or long distance through-trails. The AMC initiated a number of trail building projects and trail networks in the White Mountains by the 1880s. Trail systems were also created at Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire; Mount Desert in Maine; and Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. These included carriage paths and roads in addition to hiking paths. (Waterman and Waterman, 1989).
The vision for the first long “through trail” was proposed in the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1910 by James P. Taylor, the headmaster of the Vermont Academy for Boys at Saxtons River. His vision was to create a long trail through the Vermont Green Mountains extending from the Massachusetts border north to Canada. In order to accomplish this bold vision, he proposed the creation of an umbrella organization, and helped establish the Green Mountain Club (GMC). The GMC had many of the same organizational goals as the AMC. The organization built and maintained trails and shelters, and produced maps and guidebooks of the area. The Long Trail eventually extended 262 miles, and it took volunteers 20 years of effort to complete the Trail (Waterman and Waterman, 1989).
The Long Trail became a prototype that inspired many other long distance trail proposals in the Northeast. The most ambitious regional trail proposal was the 1921 proposal by regional planning visionary Benton MacKaye for an Appalachian Trail extending from Maine to Georgia. MacKaye’s proposal built on the idea of connecting existing trail segments and creating new ones. Using the model established by the Vermont Long Trail, MacKaye proposed creation of an umbrella organization, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which could coordinate efforts of local and regional volunteers who would be responsible for building and maintaining trail segments. MacKaye’s proposal, like the Vermont Long Trail, took the efforts of many volunteers, working over a long period of time, to make the trail vision a reality. The Appalachian Trail eventually extended 2,100 miles, and involved the efforts of many individuals and organizations. The AT became the first National Scenic Trail in 1968, and is currently managed by a partnership with the National Park Service and local and regional organizations. The Berkshire chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club built the Massachusetts section of the AT, and currently maintains the trail, working in partnership with the National Park Service and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. While the recreational trail component of the Appalachian Trail became a reality, MacKaye’s original proposal envisioned the Trail as part of a regional open space planning strategy that would use forests to contain metropolitan sprawl. Feeder routes such as trails, rail lines or highways would make the AT accessible to people from major urban areas. MacKaye also envisioned that some people who hiked the trail for fun might ultimately want to live nearby. Camps established along the AT route could potentially provide economic opportunity for permanent residents, who could grow food and provide meals and shelter for hikers (MacKaye, 1921; Anderson, 2002; Waterman and Waterman, 1989).
In the 1940s and 1950s, volunteers created a number of additional long north-south trails in Massachusetts, including the 35-mile Warner Trail, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, and the Taconic Crest, Taconic Skyline, and South Taconic Trails. In the 1980s, the Mid-State Trail was extended south from Worcester to the Connecticut border, where it connected with another north-south trans state trail (Waterman and Waterman, 1989).
The Appalachian Mountain Club and other hiking organizations have provided significant political support to coalitions, which supported open space acquisition of parkland and wilderness areas. Hiking clubs were part of a coalition that supported a New York State initiative to create forest preserves in the Adirondacks and the Catskills. In the 1880s spearheaded by landscape architect and AMC member Charles Eliot, for the creation of The Trustees of Public Reservations in 1891; and for creation of Boston’s Metropolitan Park Commission in 1892, creating the first regional park system in America. In 1894, the AMC obtained the right to hold tax-free mountain and forest properties, a concept that spread to a number of other public and private entities in northeastern states. Hiking clubs were also a part of a political coalition that supported passage of the Weeks Act in 1911. The legislation authorized the creation of the White Mountains National Forest, the first National Forest in the Northeast. (Fox, 1998; Waterman and Waterman, 1989).
Massachusetts has played an important role in shaping American ideas and actions through a wide range of conservation initiatives, which span several centuries. Key Massachusetts contributions to conservation and open space planning from colonial times to the mid 20th century include the following:
The first New England Common (Boston Common in 1634)
17th and 18th century examples of utilitarian conservation: natural resource management on the Commons
The first U.S. public botanical garden (Boston Public Garden, 1839)
19th century Romantic and Transcendental writers bring a new appreciation of nature
Some of the earliest U.S. hiking trails and clubs (ca.1850)
An exemplary urban metropolitan park system (Emerald Necklace—Olmsted designed sections 1870s and 1880s)
Advocacy for national forest conservation (Charles Sprague Sargent, 1870s and 1880s)
The first land trust in the world (Trustees for Public Reservations, 1891)
The first regional open space plan in the country (Metropolitan Park System, 1893)
The first state Audubon Society in the country (Massachusetts Audubon Society, 1896)
The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), founded in 1910 by William Sumner Appleton, Jr. to preserve quintessentially New England buildings, landscapes, and objects, is the oldest regional preservation organization in the United States.
The first transcontinental hiking trail proposal (Appalachian Trail, 1921)
Regional planning philosophy using protected open space to help control sprawl (1920s and 1930s)
In addition to the above list of “firsts”, Massachusetts has participated in a wide variety of other conservation initiatives. Massachusetts towns and cities contain protected public lands that provide a microcosm of the American conservation movement, and landmark initiatives in local and regional open space planning. Several Massachusetts people made key contributions to American conservation thinking and action. In addition, the wide range of conservation initiatives in local communities throughout the state provides many exemplary examples of conservation activism that can serve as standards for contemporary initiatives.
Massachusetts has made key contributions to conservation and landscape planning and boasts numerous examples of historic sites throughout the Commonwealth that address specific aspects of a larger story. There is still much that can be done to create a context that ties the stories (and the sites) together. The Massachusetts Conservation itinerary is a tool that is intended to help people learn to read the American conservation story through the protected landscapes that are featured in the itinerary. It may also encourage citizens to seek historic designations for other significant properties. Some sites, although currently protected, suffer from very limited budgets for site management and staffing. Other important sites are not protected. An increased recognition of the significance of the conservation landscapes may lead to new designations or other proposals that expand sources of funding for both site management and interpretation. The itinerary is also intended to attract tourists, and heritage tourism can provide needed economic revenue for towns and regions. Finally, reading the Massachusetts conservation landscape is just fun—a great way to spend an afternoon or a week exploring landscapes, many of them scenic, that were created as a result of centuries of creative initiatives and caring.
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List of Sites (Click on the name of any site in the list to go directly to a specific text-only version found below)
Boston and Greater Boston Area
• Arnold Arboretum
• Boston Common
• Boston Public Garden
• Charles River Reservation in the Charles River Basin Historic District
• Forest Hills Cemetery
• Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
• Lynn Woods Historic District
• Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston
• Middlesex Fells Reservation
• Mount Auburn Cemetery
• Olmsted Park System
• Revere Beach Reservation Historic District
• Concord's Monument Square
• Ralph Waldo Emerson House
• Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
• The Old Manse
• Walden Pond
• Dana Common
• Fruitlands Museums Historic District
• Laurel Hill Park in Main Street Historic District
• Mohawk Trail
• Mount Greylock Summit Historic District
• Mount Holyoke in the Hockanum Rural Historic District
• Shirley Center Historic District
• William Cullen Bryant Homestead
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Harvard University’s historic and preeminent Arnold Arboretum, part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, is a scientific research station, a public park, and a tree museum. The innovative design of the 281-acre site is the result of collaboration between landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and Charles Sprague Sargent, director of the Arboretum and a leading proponent for national forest conservation. A reflection of the vision of its co-designers, the Arboretum became a destination on the Emerald Necklace after its founding.
Harvard College established the Arboretum in 1872 through a bequest of money from whaling merchant James Arnold, hiring Sargent as director the following year. He hoped to build an international collection of woody species of North America and eastern Asia and arrange it according to the best scientific classification system of the day. Sargent also wanted the Arboretum grounds to have an aesthetically pleasing, park-like appearance. He contacted Frederick Law Olmsted in 1874 and invited him to collaborate on the project.
Olmsted was initially concerned that it might not be possible to combine designs for an arboretum and a park successfully. Eventually, he became enthusiastic about the project and developed a preliminary plan for the Arboretum in 1878. The ambitious project was an expensive undertaking that took four more years before the vision became a reality. A creative lease agreement between Harvard College and the City of Boston in 1882 made the Arboretum a part of Boston’s new park system. Boston gained title to the land with Harvard retaining a 1,000 year lease, renting for $1 per year. As agreed, the Arboretum staff maintains the plant collection and opens the grounds to the public, free of charge, and the city maintains the road system and provides police surveillance.
Arnold Arboretum is home to over 7,000 plants representing 4,544 different types, which are organized by species and family. Inspired by the university’s desire to collect plants, Sargent, during his tenure at the Arboretum, traveled to Asia and throughout the United States looking for plants that would grow in the New England climate. He brought many of his finds back to Boston. Though the Arboretum is his best-known accomplishment, Sargent was a prolific writer. His research led to a 14-volume work, Silva of North America, in which he described and illustrated all known species of trees of Canada and the continental United States.
All land but two areas—the Walnut Street and South Street tracts, which are owned directly by the university—are open to the public, and free guided and self-guided walking tours take visitors along the Arboretum’s paths. The Hunnewell Building Visitor Center provides exhibits, a gift shop, children’s activities, a horticultural library, maps, and staff assistance. An onsite facility conducts scientific research and offers a wide variety of public education programs. The Secretary of the Interior designated the Arboretum a National Historic Landmark in 1966.
The Arnold Arboretum's Visitor Center is located in the Hunnewell Building at 125 Arborway, Boston, MA. The Arboretum is designated as a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos.
The City of Boston Department of Parks and Recreation owns the largest portion of the Arnold Arboretum. Harvard University administers it under a 1,000-year lease. Harvard owns two areas: the Walter Street Tract and the South Street Tract. With the exception of those two areas, the Arboretum grounds are open to the public from dawn to dusk. The visitor center is open from 11:00am - 6:00pm from April through October, closed Wednesdays. November through March the visitor center is open from 12:00pm - 4:00 pm, closed Wednesdays. For more information, visit the City of Boston’s Parks website or Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum website.
The Arnold Arboretum is the subject of an online lesson plan, Boston's Arnold Arboretum: A Place for Study and Recreation. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places homepage.
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Considered the world's first urban public park, Boston Common played an important role in the history of conservation, landscape architecture, military and political history, and recreation in Massachusetts. The Common and the adjoining Public Garden are among the greatest amenities and most visited outdoor public spaces in Boston. The history of the Common’s use by the city illuminates the conservation movement in Massachusetts and mirrors similar models carried out by American conservationists throughout the nation.
In 1634, the townspeople of Boston voted to tax each household six schillings for the purchase of William Blackstone’s farm to be used as a community common. The newly established Common served a combination of public, military, agricultural, and recreational purposes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, companies from Boston and surrounding communities performed military training on the Common. During the winter of 1775 and 1776, British soldiers installed artillery entrenchments on the Common, and a garrison of 1,700 soldiers remained encamped there. Other early public uses of the Common included public hangings and whippings. The Common also served agricultural purposes. The Common was a pasture for cattle from the time of its creation through the early decades of the 19th century. As an early example of “utilitarian” conservation, regulations protected the land from overgrazing by restricting the number of cattle each family could graze on the Common.
There were also indications the Common was a place for recreation as early as the 1660s. John Josselyn wrote about men and women of Boston enjoying evening strolls on the Common: "On the South there is a small, but pleasant Common where the Gallants a little before Sun-set walk with their Marmalet-Madams…till the nine a clock Bell rings them home to their respective habitations, when presently the Constables walk their rounds to see good orders kept, and to take up loose people."
Children enjoyed the Common, too, wading in the Frog Pond in summer, and skating and sledding in the winter. Gradually recreational activities began to dominate the Common. The changes in land use mirrored changes in landscape design. The first wide, tree-lined mall added along Tremont Street in 1722 is one reflection of these changes. As the city grew, livestock grazing was further and further restricted, with cows forbidden altogether in 1830 and pasture fences removed in 1836.
In the 19th century as the Urban Parks Movement gained momentum, the Common began to acquire monuments, fountains, and artwork. Erected in 1897, the most famous of these memorials honors Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a celebrated regiment of free African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Distinguished sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens was the designer and McKim, Mead, and White were the architects of the memorial. The 50-acre Common today is remarkably intact, due to the continued vigilance of local citizens. In the 1890s, a proposal to build a trolley line across the Common caused great public opposition that forced the examination of other transportation options, and in 1895, Boston installed the first subway in the United States. The first subway station, the Tremont Street Subway, still exists today bordering the Common along Tremont Street.
Since its inception, activities held on the Common stretched beyond relaxation and recreation to include public assembly. George Washington, John Adams, and General Lafayette celebrated our nation’s independence in this space. In the 19th century, abolitionists strove to abolish slavery and the United States Army recruited soldiers to fight in the Civil War. In the 20th century, Charles Lindbergh spoke to crowds on the Common about the future of commercial aviation. Anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights rallies, including one led by Martin Luther King Jr., took place on the Common. Today, Bostonians still gather on the Common to protest grievances and promote new ideas.
Used, enjoyed, and largely protected by generations, the Boston Common exemplifies the spirit of public conservation in Massachusetts and the trend in American cities to preserve nature within growing urban areas. Today visitors can enjoy ball fields, a tot lot, and the Frog Pond where the public skates in winter and children frolic in the summer. Other additions to the Common over time include a large underground parking garage and tennis courts. Despite these changes, the Common still retains its original function for the people of Boston: a relaxing open space in a congested city. Boston Common is one of the nine parks that are part of the Emerald Necklace, a 1,100-acre chain of parks linked by parkways.
Boston Common is located in Boston, MA, roughly bounded by Tremont, Beacon, Charles, Park and Boylston Sts. Boston Common is a National Historic Landmark and is part of the Park Street Historic District. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. The Common is located at the Park Street T Station, accessible using the Red or Green Line. It is open to the public all day, seven days a week. Tours of the Common are self guided or as part of the Freedom Trail. For more information, call 617-357-8300, visit the Visitor Information Center located at 148 Tremont St., open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, or visit the City of Boston Parks & Recreation website.
Boston Common is the subject of an online lesson plan, The Emerald Necklace: Boston’s Green Connection. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places homepage.
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Boston Public Garden
Dating back to 1839, the Boston Public Garden is the first public botanical garden in the United States. While it is adjacent to Boston Common, the style of the Boston Public Garden is much more decorative. The garden, surrounded by a Victorian cast-iron fence, features meandering paths decorated by statues, fountains, various trees and plants, and a six-acre pond with swan boats for visitors to ride. The Boston Public Garden has changed little since the mid-19th century and offers visitors a retreat from the urban environment of the city today.
Tidal marshes originally surrounded Boston, including the area west of Boston Common. In the early 19th century, Boston began a series of ambitious land filling efforts, converting marshland into valuable real estate. In 1824, after the building of Charles Street, the city purchased the newly created land west of Boston Common, reserving it for future public use. In 1839, a group of amateur horticulturalists, headed by Horace Gray, obtained permission to create a public Botanic Garden on the site. The new Botanic Garden became Boston’s second public park in 200 years, the first being Boston Common, and the first public botanical garden in the United States. Within a few years, a greenhouse and ornamental trees and plants were added to the site. However, the project came to a halt in 1847 when Gray lost his fortune. By the time Boston once again gained clear legal title to the site in 1856, the country’s imagination was being stirred by the new proposal for a Central Park in New York. Boston did not want to be left behind in the creation of parks. An act of the legislature ensured the permanent protection of that the former horticultural garden site as a public garden.
The city appointed a special committee in 1859 to study potential park uses for the property. The completed report discussed Boston’s dilemma and suggested preserving small parcels as parkland:
"While other cities are expending fabulous amounts in the improvements of parks, squares, gardens, and promenades, what should we do? To be behind in these matters would not only be discreditable to our city, but positively injurious to our commercial prosperity, and in direct opposition to the wishes of a vast majority of our citizens…The area of our city is too small to allow the laying out of large tracts of land for Public Parks, and it behooves us to improve the small portions that are left to us for such purposes" (City of Boston Report 1859).
That same year, the city held a design competition for the site. George Meacham won the competition with his proposal for a formal garden with a pond, a curved path system, and formal flowerbeds. By 1880, the 24-acre Public Garden featured a cast-iron surrounding fence, a suspension bridge spanning the pond, and plantings that included 1,500 trees and 90,000 bedding plants. The famous John Quincy Adams Ward designed the Ether Monument, the first sculpture placed in the Public Garden in 1867. The Swan Boats, designed by Robert Paget, began operation in 1877. Over time, the Boston Public Garden closely followed the landscape design that George Meacham laid out in 1859.
Ultimately, the small park would not satisfy the needs of a growing urban city. By the late 1860s, several individuals had made proposals for an extended park system in Boston. The ideas gained popular support for what became Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system. The Boston Public Garden is one of the nine parks that are part of the 1,100 acre chain of parks linked by parkways that Frederick Law Olmsted designed to connect the parks in the system.
The Boston Public Garden is located in downtown Boston, MA adjacent to the Boston Common, bounded by Bacon, Charles, Boylston, and Arlington Streets. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. It is open to the public, and accessible by car or by subway. Contact Boston Common Visitor Information Center, located on the Common at 147 Tremont St. Call 888-733-2678 for details. For more information, visit the City of Boston Parks & Recreation website.
Boston Public Garden is the subject of an online lesson plan, The Emerald Necklace: Boston’s Green Connection. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places homepage.
The Boston Public Garden Suspension Bridge has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Engineering Record.
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Charles River Reservation in the Charles River Basin Historic District
The creation of the Charles River Dam and the subsequent formation of the Charles River Reservation transformed the shoreline of Boston and Cambridge from muddy flats and wet marshes to acres of beautiful river scenery filled with recreational opportunities. The construction of the Charles River Dam near Boston Harbor converted the Charles River from a tidal estuary to a freshwater basin. The alteration of Boston’s landscape at the turn of the 20th century represented the desire of Massachusetts conservationists and landscape planners to preserve and create natural environments in increasingly urban areas.
Charles Eliot, a member of the Olmsted, Olmsted, and Eliot firm, gets the credit for establishing the Basin as the focal point of the Boston Metropolitan Park System. Charles Eliot’s ideas for landscape along the lower river basin included promenades and plazas, shade trees, concert grounds, gymnasia, and gardens. His desire was to “create a system of public reservation for the benefit of the metropolitan district as a whole.” The completion of the Charles River Dam made Eliot’s vision a reality by altering the public perception of the Charles River as highly polluted and a public nuisance. The Metropolitan Park Commission contributed to the new vision by creating parks and roadways along the river’s embankments for the public’s enjoyment.
Today the Charles River Reservation remains a linear park encompassing 20 miles through Boston, Newton, Watertown, and Weston. The lower, middle, and upper basins span an eight-and-a-half mile stretch of land and are part of the Charles River Basin Historic District. Based on landscape and architectural designs each section within the historic district maintains a distinct character.
The lower basin is highly structured as a result of its man-made design. The basin features the Harvard Bridge connecting Cambridge and Boston along with views of the State House on top of Beacon Hill.
The location of this area in the heart of downtown makes it one of the most heavily trafficked open spaces in Boston and the most urban of the Metropolitan Park Commission reservations. The middle and upper sections are more natural, with a meandering river. On the upper section there are wooded banks. Each section offers a variety of activities including boating, biking, rowing, sailing, and picnicking. The grounds feature playing fields and ice skating in the winter. Concerts, including performances by the Boston Pops, movies, and special events are regularly offered at the Hatch Memorial Shell along Storrow Drive.
In 2000, the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation sponsored a Master Plan for the Charles River Basin. The Master Plan included reshaping the riverbanks and moving industry away from the shoreline. More recreational opportunities including the addition of bike paths and walkways were planned to increase access to the “Central Park” of the Metropolitan Park system. The restoration efforts will realize Eliot’s original vision for the Charles River Reservation.
The Charles River Reservation comprises a 20 mile stretch of the Charles River from downtown Boston to Riverdale Park in West Roxbury. The Reservation is a Massachusetts State Park and is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. A portion of the Park between the Charles River Dam and the Eliot Bridge has been designated the Charles River Basin Historic District. All of the parkways, bridges, and canals bounding the park have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places as the Charles River Reservation Parkways. For more information about the Charles River Reservation including directions, recreational opportunities, and special events visit the Department of Conservation and Recreation website.
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Concord's Monument Square
“When, hereabouts, a single forest tree or a forest springs up naturally where none of its kin grew before, I do not hesitate to say…that it came from a seed…It remains then only to show how the seed is transported from where it grows to where it is planted. This is done chiefly by the agency of the wind water and animals.” —Henry David Thoreau, An Address on the Succession of Forest Trees (1860)
“Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature (1836)
Concord’s Monument Square, in the Concord Monument Square-Lexington Road Historic District, is a good vantage point for touring several sites significant to the life of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau is often mistakenly portrayed as the “Hermit of Walden.” In reality, he had deep ties to the town and spent a good amount of time interacting with the Concord community. Although he could be frustrated with his fellow townsmen, and was sometimes caustic in his descriptions of them, he nevertheless participated in Concord life in a variety of ways. His experiences in and around Monument Square and the town common show his involvement in town life and interaction with his fellow Concordians.
At times, his family both lived and worked on the common. After graduating from Harvard College in 1837, Thoreau taught children at the schoolhouse on the northwest end of the common. He abandoned his teaching post there because of the school’s policy on corporal punishment. In 1845, he spent a night in the jail on the west side of the common, arrested for non-payment of taxes. A marker notes his arrest and his famous subsequent essay, Civil Disobedience.
Like Emerson, Thoreau first practiced his written essays as speeches before local audiences at the Concord Lyceum in a free lecture series sponsored by the town. Many of these lectures took place in public buildings on the common, including the Masonic Hall and the Town House. Thoreau gave a total of 19 talks at the Concord Lyceum between 1838 to 1860, covering a wide range of topics. Several bore a relationship with his observations of nature in Concord, including Concord River (1845); White Beans and Walden Pond (1849); The Wild, or: Walking (1851); Autumn Tints (1859); and Wild Apples (1860). He presented his speech on forest succession (excerpted above) to the Middlesex Agricultural Society on September 20, 1860, in the Town House.
The Concord Monument Square-Lexington Road Historic District is also rich with colonial history. Established in 1635, it was one of the first English settlements founded away from the coast. The oldest remaining building in town was constructed around that same time and is thought to have belonged to a town founder, Reverend John Jones. During the years leading up to the American Revolution, Concord was a hotspot for colonial unrest. The First Massachusetts Provincial Congress took place in 1774 on a site that the First Parish Church Meeting House occupies today; the John Hancock-led Second Congress was also held there in 1775. Shortly after the Second Congress, the British marched into Concord intent on destroying a gun powder cache, arresting Hancock and Samuel Adams in the process. Soldiers marched through Concord, down what is today Monument Street, occupying the town. The Bullet Hole House on Monument Street north of the square is named for the damage done to it during the first day of Revolutionary conflict at North Bridge on April 19, 1775. According to legend, this is where the famous “shot heard 'round the world” (as described by Emerson in his 1836 poem Concord Hymn) was fired.
The 19th century saw the arrival of many of the historic buildings that define the historic district today. The town sponsored the construction of the Concord Town House for government use in 1851. Bronson Alcott famously voted for Abraham Lincoln at the Town House, though he did not believe in government, and Emerson used a room in the Town House as a study after his own home was damaged in a fire. The homes of the Emersons, Alcotts, and Hawthornes are located nearby. In the early 20th century, the Concord Art Association was formed and moved into the John Ball House. Concord Monument Square was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
Concord’s Monument Square in the Concord Monument Square-Lexington Road Historic District is a town square located in downtown Concord, Massachusetts. Several roads run around it, including Lexington Rd., Bedford St., Massachusetts Route 62, and Lowell Rd. In the square are several religious buildings, inns, and a town hall. Monument Square is a block north of the Concord Visitor Center, which is at 58 Main Street. The Visitor Center is open daily March 31 through October 28 and November 23-25 from 10:00am to 4:00pm. The center offers public restrooms and guided tours, which are available seasonally. Call ahead for group tours. For more information, visit the Concord Chamber of Conference website.
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Forest Hills Cemetery
The historic Forest Hills Cemetery in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston is a fine example of a 19th century rural, or “garden” cemetery. Like Mount Auburn Cemetery, Forest Hills integrates romantic and picturesque landscape design ideals with memorial architecture and monuments. Established in 1848, Forest Hills Cemetery was initially a municipal cemetery for the community of Roxbury, Massachusetts. The cemetery is adjacent to Franklin Park, part of the Olmsted Emerald Necklace park system.
Henry A.S. Dearborn (1783-1851) spearheaded the project to develop Forest Hills Cemetery as a rural cemetery. While he was president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Dearborn designed the Mount Auburn Cemetery landscape. By 1847, he was mayor of Roxbury, an office he held until his death in 1851. As Roxbury experienced urban pressures in the years leading up to the cemetery’s creation, Dearborn persuaded local leaders to provide political support for a new rural cemetery. Unlike Mount Auburn and many other rural cemeteries, Forest Hills was a municipal initiative. The cemetery was open to members of every religion, social class, or ethnic group. Lots were set aside for paupers as well as those who could afford to pay.
The site chosen for the new cemetery was a plot of farmland with natural attributes: a varied terrain, several ponds, and a mixture of open fields and dense woodland that made it ideal for development as a rural cemetery. The hills provided scenic views of Boston to the north, and The Blue Hills to the south. Dearborn worked with Superintendent Daniel Brims in laying out the cemetery. The resulting curved roads and naturalistic plantings were characteristic of rural cemetery design. By 1860, they established a nursery on site that allowed for the cultivation of both native and exotic plant species for the cemetery. A highlight of the completed cemetery was the four-acre Lake Hibiscus near the center of the cemetery, completed in 1861. Another interesting feature at Forest Hills was the use of local puddingstone in many of the dry laid stone retaining walls located in the older sections of the cemetery. A municipal cemetery for seven years, Forest Hills became a private nonprofit institution when the City of Boston annexed Roxbury in 1868.
Today, Forest Hills Cemetery encompasses 250 acres. The cemetery is known for its unusual collection of large specimen trees, some of which the Arnold Arboretum introduced to the United States. In addition to its horticultural collections, Forest Hills has an outstanding collection of art and architecture. In 1991, the Forest Hills Educational Trust was created. The Trust sponsors art exhibits, lectures, concerts, interpretive tours and other events, including a popular annual lantern festival. Forest Hills today includes a wide variety of vegetation types, ranging from natural woodland to formal Victorian flowerbeds. Of the many original small ponds on the property, only Lake Hibiscus remains.
Many famous people lie buried at Forest Hills, including statesmen, soldiers, industrialists, social reformers, artists, and poets. The unusually democratic approach to interment ensured that people from all parts of society would lie in rest there together. Some of the interred who had ties with conservation and landscape architecture include Henry A.S. Dearborn; the Olmsted Brothers; and Alexander Agassiz, a zoologist at Harvard University.
Forest Hills Cemetery islisted in the National Register of Historic Places and is located at 95 Forest Hills Ave., in Boston, MA. The cemetery grounds are open to the public every day from 7:00am to dusk. The Forest Hills Educational Trust Office and the Main Cemetery Office are open Monday-Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm. The Main Cemetery Office is also open Saturdays from 8:30am to 1:00pm. The Forest Hills Crematory and Columbarium are open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm and Saturdays from 8:30 am to 1:00pm. For additional information about the Cemetery, visit the Forest Hills Cemetery website or the Forest Hills Educational Trust website. The Trust was founded to preserve and interpret Forest Hills Cemetery and its website includes a calendar of events, a description of the site, information on exhibitions and sculpture, contact information, directions, and a calendar of events.
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Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site
Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture, created pastoral and picturesque scenery believed to cure stress caused by urban living. Before entering the profession of landscape architecture at the age of 35, Olmsted worked as a farmer, author, editor, and publisher. His successful design of Central Park created job opportunities in the Boston area including designs for the Back Bay Fens, the Arnold Arboretum, and a commission for the Emerald Necklace, Boston’s connected park system. Olmsted moved his family to Brookline, Massachusetts where he established both his home and professional landscape architecture firm in an old farmhouse on two acres of property he restored and renamed “Fairsted,” which is today administered by the National Park Service as the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site.
Olmsted headed his firm until his retirement in 1895, working on projects throughout the country. He incorporated his philosophy into designs for parks, college campuses, private estates, arboretums, and residential communities located throughout the nation. His most famous designs include Central Park and Prospect Park in New York and Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system. Olmsted passionately advocated for the preservation of America’s wild and cultural resources, including National Parks. His professional landscape architecture firm contributed designs to some of the nation’s most scenic parks including Yosemite National Park and the Niagara Reservation New York State Park.
In addition to being a gifted landscape architect, Olmsted taught a new generation of planners to continue his commitment to the restorative value of the natural environment. Many well-known landscape architects of the era apprenticed with his firm including Charles Eliot, Olmsted’s stepson John C. Olmsted, and his son Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. Charles Eliot and John Olmsted became partners in the firm, while many other important designers worked with the firm as well, including Percival Gallagher, James Frederick Dawson, Henry Vincent Hubbard, and Edward Clark Whiting. After Olmsted Sr. retired, his stepson and his son took over the firm. The firm continued a wide range of landscape design and planning projects and its portfolio includes 6,000 projects -- more than 700 public parks, 2,000 private estates, 350 subdivisions, 250 college campuses, and 100 residential institutions, to name a few.
The site includes the house with its century-old office and archives with its nearly one million records of Olmsted firm designs. Fairsted also functioned as a family retreat intended for quiet pastimes and as a school specializing in environmental design for aspiring landscape architects. Built in the early 19th century, the house reveals the growing demand for Olmsted designs. The north side of the home had a number of expansions throughout the 20th century to accommodate the increasing size of the firm.
Renovated to their appearance in 1920, the Fairsted grounds illustrate many of Olmsted’s design principles. The landscape has four distinct areas: the Carriage turn, the Hollow, the rock garden, and the south lawn. The carriage turn plantings include a giant hemlock and other plants that partially shelter the house from view. The Hollow, a sunken grotto, provides a place for quiet contemplation. A short trail through the rock garden has the feel of traveling through a miniature wilderness. At its end, the trail opens into the expansive vista of the south lawn, with a magnificent elm as a focal point.
It is important to note that Olmsted Sr.'s work is so remarkable in the context of landscape conservation because he addressed both environmental and social issues with his designs -- this integrated approach remains very relevant today. A tour of the grounds and the home brings to life the landscape principles of Fredrick Law Olmsted. Witnessing those principles at Fairsted will enable visitors to identify and understand the characteristics that distinguish his designs.
The Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation is an outgrowth of the park and has made significant contributions to the field of landscape preservation in the past twenty years as well.
The Frederick Law Olmsted House, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 99 Warren St. in Brookline, MA. The house and grounds have been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The Olmsted grounds are open year-round for self-guided tours from dawn to dusk and the Olmsted Archives are available on a limited basis for use by researchers. Ranger-led guided tours of the Olmsted Historic Design Office and Landscape are available by reservation. For more information, visit the National Park Service Fredrick Law Olmsted National Historic Site website or call 617-566-1689.
Two Frederick Law Olmsted-designed landscapes are the subject of online lesson plans: Boston's Arnold Arboretum: A Place for Study and Recreation and The Emerald Necklace: Boston's Green Connection. The lesson plans have been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places homepage.
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Assembled by early preservationist Clara Endicott Sears beginning in 1843, Fruitlands Museum Historic District is a landscape and four museums in Harvard, Massachusetts, 45 miles west of Boston. The Fruitlands Museum Historic District represents the intersection of historic preservation and natural conservation. Many individuals, not just writers and philosophers, dedicated their lives to the conservation of natural landscapes and the principles described by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others throughout the state. The district is a testament to the variety of people who participated in the Massachusetts conservation movement.
The first property Sears purchased was Fruitlands, the site of Bronson Alcott’s “New Eden,” an experimental utopian community modeled on the ideas of the Transcendentalist movement. The community sought to create a new Eden by cultivating an ascetic way of life: purchasing nothing from the outside world and living solely off the land. The proximity of the community to Concord and its adherence to Transcendentalist ideas brought important visitors including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was especially impressed by the community. He wrote, “The sun and evening sky do not look calmer than Alcott and his family at Fruitlands. They seem to have arrived at the fact, to have got rid of the show and be serene.” Though the community ultimately failed, its creation highlights the popularity of conservation ideals among ordinary citizens in small communities throughout Massachusetts. Fruitlands has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
The Shaker Office, Native American Gallery, and Fine Art Gallery comprise the remaining buildings at Fruitlands. The Shaker Office Building came from the Shaker community in Harvard, Massachusetts. Sears moved the building to the Fruitlands when asked by the village to preserve their first office. She restored it and opened it to the public. The discovery of evidence of Native American activities in her fields led to the creation and eventual expansion of a new museum dedicated to Native American artifacts. Sears’ final addition to her museum was the Picture Gallery for her collection of "primitive" and itinerant painters.
The ideals of living in harmony with nature can be found in all four of Sears' museums and their exhibits. Native American artifacts attest to the natural lifestyle advocated by the Massachusetts Conservation Movement. Bronson Alcott’s utopian community and the Shakers both reflect ideas of agrarian communal living in harmony with the land. The Picture Gallery, with its fine collection of Hudson River School paintings, provides direct connection to the American conservation movement. Paintings by several noted artists, including Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Edwin Church, Jasper Cropsey, Asher Brown Durand, Sanford Robinson Gifford, John Frederick Kensett, and others, convey the beauty in American wilderness that helped inspire efforts by the American public to preserve it.
The Fruitlands landscape itself attests to conservation as evolving ideas of living gently on the land. Arrowheads found on the property demonstrate a time when Native Americans lived by hunting and gathering here. Preservation of the landscape as an outdoor museum combines both historic preservation and conservation. Today visitors can explore the Fruitlands landscape by following several trails through the property. Stone walls and other artifacts indicate the former uses of the property. As a large tract of preserved land, the Fruitlands landscape also provides ecological habitat for several species.
The Fruitlands Museum Historic District is located about 45 minutes west of Boston at 102 Prospect Hill Rd., just off Route 2, exit 38, in Harvard, MA. Fruitlands itself has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. There is a fee for admission. For information on days and hours the grounds and buildings are open, which vary seasonally, visit the Fruitlands Museum website or call 978-456-3924.
The Fruitlands Museum Historic District is also featured in the National Park Service Places Where Women Made History Travel Itinerary.
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Lynn Woods Historic District
Lynn Woods represents a second type of colonial common. This 2,200 acre forested park, owned by the industrial city of Lynn, Massachusetts, encompasses almost twenty percent of Lynn’s land area. The cultural history of the area spans thousands of years. Native American sites and trails have been documented in the area, and the area retains considerable historic integrity dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Lynn settler William Wood documented Lynn’s various kinds of trees and their uses in New England’s Prospect (1634):
Trees both in the hills and plaines, in plenty be,
The long liv’d Oake and mournful Cypris tree,
Skie-towering Pines, and Chestnut’s coated rough,
The lasting Cedar, with the Walnut Tough;
The rosin-dropping Firr, for mast in use;
The boatmen seeke for oares, light, neat-grown sprewse…
The land was used as a common community woodlot throughout the 17th century. A 1693 town meeting regulation limited acceptable uses, and established a fine of 20 schillings for cutting young trees. In 1706, the Town of Lynn finally voted to divide the common land, but stipulated that community members had rights to cross the land, as long as they did not cut trees on the property. Even after division, the heavily wooded tract remained largely undeveloped through the first part of the 19th century. Some of the place names, such as Ox Pasture, Meeting House Swamp, and Great Woods Road indicate former land uses of the site. Dungeon Rock and Dungeon Pasture reportedly received their name after pirate Thomas Veal, hiding out in a cave, was buried by an earthquake in 1658, along with his treasure. Some of the features that date from the 17th and 18th centuries include stone walls, roads, woods, and pastures. Dungeon Pasture and Ox Pasture have matching sets of narrow stone-lined holes called Wolf Pits, probably designed to trap predators.
In the 19th century, utilitarian uses of the woods were gradually replaced by recreational uses, eventually building support for the creation of a permanently protected municipal forest park. Formed in 1850 by Cyrus M. Tracey, the Lynn Exploring Circle was the first hiking club in New England. The group established nature trails and camps in the Lynn Woods, some of which still survive. In 1878, the Lynn Water Department created a municipal water supply in the woods by damming an existing millpond. In 1881, a group of Lynn recreationists who wanted to protect Lynn Woods as a public park formed the Trustees of the Free Public Forest. The Trustees purchased several large tracts of land under the authorization of the Massachusetts Park Act of 1882. In 1889, Frederick Law Olmsted was hired as a design consultant. Olmsted recommended that Lynn Woods be kept in its natural state as “rugged and wild forest.” He recommended design elements including a circuit system of carriage roads and walking trails. Olmsted also recommended that street railway routes be extended from the city to Great Woods Gate, providing easy public access for Lynn’s urban residents.
By 1890, Lynn was one of only a handful of communities with protected municipal parkland. As the metropolitan area continued to grow, more and more of metropolitan Boston’s scenic natural areas were being lost to development. Concerned about the problem, landscape architect Charles Eliot and others mobilized to create a regional park system, the first in the United States. Eliot praised the City of Lynn both for creating its large municipal park and for its unique protected water supply. In his report to the Boston Metropolitan Park Commission in 1893, Eliot wrote:
…To-day the Lynn Woods embrace some two thousand acres, and constitute the largest and most interesting, because the wildest, public domain in all New England… if we exclude the expenditures of the water board, the woods have cost the public treasury of Lynn only thirty-five thousand dollars. About one hundred public-spirited private citizens have contributed in gifts of land and money the equivalent of another thirty-five thousand dollars. Thus for the small sum of seventy thousand dollars the “city of shoes” has obtained a permanent and increasingly beautiful possession which is already bringing to her a new and precious renown.
In the 1920s and 1930s, several new recreational uses shaped the appearance of the park. During the Depression, WPA projects included the creation of a municipal golf course, a rustic clubhouse, a picnic grove, a bandstand, and two observation towers. After World War II, the park suffered from neglect. A growing awareness of the significance of the cultural resources of Lynn Woods led to the inclusion of Lynn Woods in the 1983 Olmsted Historic Landscape Preservation Program, spearheaded by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management. In 1989, the Friends of Lynn Woods formed as a private non-profit group providing volunteer support for ongoing maintenance. In 1996, the Lynn Woods Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Lynn Woods Historic District is located in the northern section of Lynn, MA, roughly bounded by the town of Lynnfield and Saugus, and Lynnfield St., Great Woods Rd., and Parkland Avenue in Lynn. Lynn Woods Historic District is open daily from sunrise to sunset. It offers a wide variety of opportunities for outdoor recreational activities. For directions or for information on natural and cultural history tours of the sites and trails, contact the Lynn Woods Park Ranger at 781-477-7123. For more information, visit the City of Lynn website or call 781-598-4000, or visit the Friends of Lynn Woods website or call 781-593-7773.
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Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston
The Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston, in Massachusetts, is especially noteworthy because it is the first regional park system in the United States. Considered a work of visionary regional planning, the park system comprises parks, reservations, parkways, and roads. Established by the Metropolitan Park Commission in 1893, Boston’s park system contributed significantly to the American park movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, the Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston includes nearly 20,000 acres of parklands in 37 Boston area communities, encompassing seven forested reservations, three river reservations, and 10 ocean reservations, connected through 162 miles of parkways. The comprehensive planning and swift execution of the Boston metropolitan parks were acclaimed in this country and in Europe, both in the publications of the newly emerging professions of landscape architecture and planning, and through exhibits at a number of international expositions.
The Massachusetts Conservation travel itinerary highlights several important early acquisitions of the Metropolitan Park System in the early 1890s that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Charles River Reservation, the first River Reservation; Middlesex Fells Reservation, one of the two largest woodland parks in the system; and Revere Beach Reservation Historic District each are described separately in this itinerary with information on how to plan a visit.
A number of parkways in Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk Counties that are part of the Metropolitan Park System also are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Internal and border roads were an integral part of the Metropolitan Park Commission plans for natural and scenic, river, and ocean reservations from the beginning. These roads connect the various park sites together into an expansive network, providing convenient, publicly accessible passage from one site to another along historic and scenic routes, and all within 10 miles of the Massachusetts State House. As the system evolved in the late 19th and 20th centuries, parkways were in almost all of the metropolitan parks and became an integral part of Boston’s regional transportation system during the early years of the streetcar and automobile, and beyond.
Many of the National Register listed parkways, including the Blue Hills Parkway, Lynn Fells Parkway, and Charles River Reservation Parkways, were designed and landscaped by famous landscape architects such as Arthur A. Shurcliff, landscaper for Colonial Williamsburg (1928-41), and the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot. The Old Harbor Reservation Parkway, which was originally known as the Strandway, was in fact the final component of Olmsted’s “Emerald Necklace” in Boston.
The parkways can be divided up into five subtypes. Border Roads, like those in the Middlesex Fells Reservation Parkways, define the edges of the Metropolitan Park System, and were originally conceived by Olmsted landscape architect Charles Eliot as a way to clearly delineate the boundaries to the parks and reservations and make those boundaries visible to the public. Internal Roads, like those in the Stony Brook Reservation Parkways, generally follow the natural contours of the landscape, taking advantage of natural scenic elements in the parks. They serve as the circulation system within the parks and reservations. Connecting Parkways link discrete units of the parks, reservations, and parkways system. The Neponset Valley Parkway connects the Stony Brook Reservation in Boston and Dedham to the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton and Quincy. Many also have rotaries that were typically landscaped as mini parks with memorials or monuments in the center, for example the Horace James Memorial Circle in the Hammond Pond Parkway. River Parkways follow the contours of the existing rivers, like the Alewife Brook Parkway, which, naturally, follows along the Alewife Brook in Cambridge and Somerville. Similarly, Ocean Parkways follow the contours of the shoreline and are usually quite close to the edge of the shore. Winthrop Shore Drive is one of the eight ocean parkways in the system. Like all of the ocean parkways, its primary reason for existence is its connection to the adjacent beach and the ocean views.
All of the parkways, no matter what their subtype, share the design characteristics of the system—the natural and scenic views and historic landscapes—but each has its own specific characteristics derived from its function and from the existing topography of the environments. In addition to their natural and scenic views, many historic roadside structures can also be seen along some of the parkways. The 1933 Metropolitan District Commission bathhouse was built along the VFW Parkway at Havey Beach. The Mystic Valley Parkway has adjacent elements that were added to the National Register of Historic Places through the Water Supply System of Metropolitan Boston Thematic Resource Area, including the Medford Pipe Bridge (1897-8), Mystic Dam (1864), Mystic Pumping Station (1862-4), and Mystic Gatehouse (1862-8). The Furnace Brook Parkway features a view of the Quincy Armory (1924), as well as a partial view of the 17th-18th century Quincy Homestead, which is a National Historic Landmark 1.8-acre site that was added to the National Register in 1971 and has been owned and interpreted by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1904. The Quincy Shore Drive Parkway features views of the historic Squantum and Wollaston Yacht Clubs, both of which extend out on piers to the water. Both of these two-story wood frame buildings date to 1903 and were part of the original design for the Quincy Shore Reservation.
By the final decades of the 19th century, the urban parks movement had already begun with many cities throughout the country creating large country parks or park systems. While Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system neared completion, the loss of open space outside of Boston troubled many. Landscape architect Charles Eliot and journalist Sylvester Baxter proposed an extremely ambitious new idea for a regional park system. They hoped to generate public support to acquire several thousand acres of parkland in over two dozen communities within a 10-mile radius of Boston.
Eliot proposed the idea in an article entitled “The Waverly Oaks: A Plan for their Preservation for the People,” published in Forest and Garden magazine in February 1890. In the article, Eliot explained that the creation of a park system required a new type of organization that held lands in trust for the public, “just as the Public Library holds books and the Art Museum pictures—for the use and enjoyment of the public.” The 26 giant oak trees that comprised Waverly Oaks were planted near the Beaver Brook in Belmont and Waltham. Eliot used the beautiful site as an example of the kind of scenic place that development would quickly destroy without some kind of preservation initiative. Eliot and Baxter each lobbied for political support for the proposal. Baxter wrote a series of articles in the Boston Herald, and Eliot, a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club, solicited the club’s help in craft legislation that would need approval by the State in order for the new organization to exist. The desired legislation passed in 1891, enabling the organization and charter for The Trustees of Public Reservations (now called The Trustees of Reservations).The Trustees of Public Reservations became the first organization of its kind in the world and a model for land trusts both in the United States and in Europe.
Next, Charles Eliot called for a meeting inviting officials from Massachusetts communities to suggest properties to be added to the new park system. His eloquent appeal for a Boston Metropolitan Park System on December 16, 1891 reached an enthusiastic audience:
"Here is a rapidly growing metropolis planted by the sea, and yet possessed of no portion of the sea front except what Boston has provided at City Point. Here [Boston] is a city interwoven with tidal marshes and controlling none of them … Here is a district possessed of a charming river already much resorted to for pleasure, the banks of which are continually in danger of spoliation at the hands of their private owners. Here is a community which must have pure drinking water, which yet up to this time has failed to secure even one water basin from danger of pollution… Here is a community, said to be the richest and most enlightened in America, which yet allows its finest scenes of natural beauty to be destroyed one by one, regardless of the fact that the great city of the future which is to fill this land would certainly prize every such scene exceedingly, and would gladly help to pay cost of preserving them today. Compare the two maps—one showing the opportunity, the other the miserable present result. Do not the facts speak for themselves? Is it not evident that present methods are too slow and inefficient? Can this community afford to go so slowly? Is not some form of joint or concerted action advisable at once?"
In 1893, Eliot and Baxter issued a report making final recommendations. The properties recommended for acquisition fit into four different landscape categories: ocean frontage, the shores and islands of Boston’s inner bay, tidal estuaries, and forest uplands. In 1893, legislation known as the Park Act established a Metropolitan Park Commission with powers of eminent domain and funding for acquisition of land in 36 Boston area communities, to be included in the Metropolitan Park System. Soon after passage of the legislation, the Beaver Brook Reservation, home of the Waverly Oaks, became the first Reservation added to the new system. By the end of 1895, 7,000 acres of forest reservations, coastal beaches, and river banks had been acquired in communities within a 10 mile radius of Boston.
The Metropolitan Park System of Greater Boston is a system of parks, reservations, parkways, and roads located in and around Boston, MA. The areas of the Metropolitan Park System provide a wide variety of both natural and recreational uses for its visitors. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation or its Division of State Parks website or call 617-626-1250.
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Middlesex Fells Reservation
"Something like five miles northerly from Boston lies a great tract of
country, all stony hills and table-lands, almost uninhabited, and of
wonderful picturesqueness, and wild rugged beauty.”
(Boston Herald Supplement, December 6, 1879)
Located in portions of Malden, Medford, Winchester, Stoneham, and Melrose, the 2,575-acre Middlesex Fells Reservation is one of the first reservations created by the Metropolitan Parks Commission. Designed by the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted, and Eliot, the preserve conserves an area containing woods, wetlands and watersheds for public use. Connected by a series of border roads, or parkways, Middlesex Fells provides an urban oasis with connections leading to nearby Boston. Today, the Middlesex Fells Reservation contains several thousand acres of woodland and watershed protected from development and open to the public. The reservation surrounds Spot Pond, and its wild and rocky landscape offer visitors a variety of recreational activities.
Prior to the reservation’s creation, the forests were common land for timber and pasture before the first land division in 1658. Farms were established north and west of Spot Pond and in the Sheepfold section of the Fells. Ice cut from Spot, Doleful, and Wright’s Ponds as part of New England’s ice industry in the second half of the 19th century.
Mill towns capitalized on the water power of Spot Pond for shoe and rubber mills. Throughout the late 19th century, Spot Pond and the surrounding area were popular as a destination for wealthy businessmen seeking respite from crowded urban living. The businessmen divided much of the waterfront into separate lots to build holiday retreats. The John Bottume House is the only surviving building on the property today, while the Bottume Stable survives only a short distance away.
Elizur Wright first proposed the idea of a public park for metropolitan Boston surrounding Spot Pond. While Wright stirred interest among the community, Charles Eliot proposed the creation of a nonprofit corporation to hold land for the public to enjoy. Charles Eliot used the example of Middlesex Fells, with its location in five communities, to illustrate the need for a regional open space plan—no individual community could protect all of the needed land. Eliot oversaw the creation of The Trustees of Reservations who sought “to preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts.” The first gift to The Trustees was the Virginia Woods, which the Tudor family donated in 1894, marking the first public piece of land within the Fells. Eliot’s lobbying efforts in the State legislature led to the creation of the Metropolitan Park Commission. In 1894, Middlesex Fells was one of the first properties it acquired.
Over the next century, Middlesex Fells Reservation grew to include the Middlesex Fells Reservoirs and a series of structures and reservoirs the Olmsted Firm designed. The Spot Pond Reservoir and Middlesex Fells Reservoir are still used today and are known for their natural design blending with the landscape. In addition, a series of roadways that Eliot advocated adds to the landscape and connects people to open space and allows them to enjoy the park at their leisure. Those roads are still travelled by visitors to the site today and are part of the Middlesex Fells Connector Parkways. Also included within the boundary of the Middlesex Fells Reservation is the Spot Pond Archaeological District, the location of Haywardville, an abandon mill town.
Middlesex Fells Reservation is located in Malden, Medford, Stoneham, Melrose, and Winchester, all a short distance away from Boston, MA. The Fells’ visitor center is located in the historic John Bottume House at 4 Woodland Rd. in Stoneham, MA. The entire area surrounding Spot Pond along with the roads and parkways bordering the park are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The historic John Bottume House, the location of the visitor center, is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Fells contains the Spot Pond Archaeological District, the site of Haywardville mill town, also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Roadways connecting the reservation to other elements of the Metropolitan Park System including Lynn Woods are also listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Middlesex Fells Reservation is accessible year-round from dawn until dusk and offers its visitors a wide variety of natural and recreational activities including boating, canoeing, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and picnicking. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation website or call 617-626-1250 and visit the Friends of the Fells website about upcoming programs.
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Mount Auburn Cemetery
Mount Auburn Cemetery is the first landscaped rural or “garden” cemetery in the United States. Established in 1831 in Watertown and Cambridge, Massachusetts, the cemetery was not only designed as a resting place for the deceased, but also as an attraction and pleasure ground, with picturesque landscapes, winding paths, a variety of horticulture, and sculptural art. Its success inspired other cemeteries’ designs and in turn articulated the need for public parks and gardens launching the American parks movement.
In the early 19th century, Dr. Jacob Bigelow’s concern that crowded cemeteries in congested urban areas might promote the spread of contagious diseases spawned his idea for Mount Auburn Cemetery. In 1825, Bigelow, a Boston physician and Harvard professor, invited a group of civic leaders to his house and proposed that they establish a new kind of cemetery. Located on the outskirts of the city, the new cemetery would place family burial lots in a landscaped setting filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers. In 1831, Bigelow’s idea became a reality when the newly formed Massachusetts Horticultural Society agreed to take a lead role in developing a rural cemetery. They located a 72-acre farm in Watertown and Cambridge that was an ideal location for the cemetery and for an associated experimental horticultural garden. The key feature was a 125-foot central hill that provided spectacular views of Boston and Cambridge.
Henry A.S. Dearborn, President of the Massachusetts Horticultural Association, was largely responsible for the cemetery’s design. Influenced by European naturalistic landscape design ideas, Dearborn incorporated ideas from English landscaped parks and the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris into his design for Mount Auburn Cemetery. Working with civil engineer Alexander Wardworth, Dearborn laid out the cemetery with winding roads that followed the natural contours of the land, naturalistic landscaping elements including wooded areas and reflective ponds, and panoramic views from the central hill’s summit. Dearborn also established a separate experimental garden at Mount Auburn, planted with many domestic and exotic varieties of fruits, flowers, and vegetables. As news of the garden cemetery spread, horticulturalists from around the world sent gifts of seeds, including magnolia trees from Ohio and vegetable seeds from the London Horticultural Society. These gift plantings became part of both the horticultural garden and cemetery. By the end of the 1830s, Mount Auburn had several hundred trees planted.
The popularity of the new cemetery grew, and new cemetery lots sold quickly. In 1835, the cemetery became a private nonprofit corporation severing its relationship with Dearborn, and the experiential garden ended. The cemetery has continued to embrace horticultural experimentation and high standards of horticultural maintenance and practices as part of its mission.
Mount Auburn Cemetery has played an important role in conservation thinking by creating a designed landscape open to the public. The popularity of the design led to political support for local and regional parks and park systems. Mount Auburn has continued to incorporate conservation ideas over time. By 1870, with the growing interest in Mount Auburn as a destination for birdwatching, the Mount Auburn Trustees established a Committee on Birds that recommended plantings of trees and fruit-bearing shrubs that would attract birds. In the 20th century, Mount Auburn President Oakes Ingalls Ames further developed the cemetery’s landscape as an arboretum and a bird sanctuary with his “hands-on” approach to managing the cemetery.
Mount Auburn Cemetery currently has a collection of over 5,500 trees, shrubs and other plants from around the world that cover the 175-acre cemetery. More than half of the trees on the grounds display labels, which give the botanic and common names, the date planted, and the native range of the species. Mount Auburn is also designated as a Massachusetts Important Bird Area. Some current conservation initiatives include planting native New England plants in the Consecration Dell area, managing the four ponds to provide good habitat for wildlife, and practicing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for control of insects.
Many famous Bostonians lie buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery. Some have important conservation connections, including Jacob Bigelow (founder of Mount Auburn Cemetery), landscape architect Charles Eliot, activist Harriet Lawrence Hemenway (founder of Massachusetts Audubon Society), Horace Gray (who established a horticultural garden in the Boston Public Garden in 1838), Asa Gray (American botanist), and ornithologists William Brewster and Ludlow Griscom. Other distinguished people include Henry Cabot Lodge and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (U.S. senators), Dorothea Dix (activist), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (educator and poet), Oliver Wendell Holmes (author and poet), Julia Ward Howe (author and reformer), and Charles Sumner (abolitionist and U.S. senator). The Secretary of the Interior designated the cemetery a National Historic Landmark in 2003.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is located at 580 Mount Auburn St. in Watertown and Cambridge, MA. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The cemetery is open to the public daily year-round. The hours of operation are dependent on the amount of daylight. For more information, visit the Mount Auburn Cemetery website or call 617-547-7105.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is the subject of an online lesson plan, Mount Auburn Cemetery: A New American Landscape. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places homepage. Three areas of the Mount Auburn Cemetery have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey: the Main Gate, the Sphinx, and Bigelow Chapel.
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The Old Manse
“Mr. Thorow dined with us yesterday…He is a keen and delicate observer of nature—a genuine observer—which, I suspect, is almost as rare a character as even an original poet; and nature, in return for his love, seems to adopt him as her especial child, and shows him secrets which few others are allowed to witness.”—Hawthorne, American Notebook, September 1, 1842
Nature writing in Concord, Massachusetts began at The Old Manse with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s first draft of Nature, published in 1836. Emerson wrote the first draft of his famous essay in the upstairs study, with its windows overlooking his grandfather’s fields, the Concord River, and the site of the famous North Bridge conflict. Another famous resident, Nathaniel Hawthorne, rented the house from 1842-1845, and lived there with his bride Sophia Peabody Hawthorne.
Ralph Waldo Emerson penned the first draft of his groundbreaking short book, Nature, from the second floor study of The Old Manse; this is the birthplace of the American Transcendentalism movement. The essay, which laid the foundation of the movement, challenged a new generation to demand their own works, laws, and worship. The small book pinpointed nature as a source of spiritual truth, beauty, and symbol as well as a professional discipline. In the woods free from the stresses of urbanization, Emerson believed individuals restored their faith and reason.
The publication of Nature and several subsequent essays attracted a small group of highly talented men and women to Concord including Henry David Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and others who formed the leadership of American Transcendentalism. The authors found solace in the natural aesthetic of Concord, exploring local woods and rivers, ideas on nature, social justices, and connections between physical and spiritual realism. They expressed their philosophy in principled actions by writing, giving speeches, and following their own prescriptions.
The American literary movement continued to flourish at The Old Manse with the arrival of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who rented the house with his bride Sophia Peabody Hawthorne. They arrived at The Old Manse on their wedding day, July 9, 1842. Thoreau’s wedding gift to the Hawthornes was a vegetable garden, which Hawthorne described in the preface to Mosses to an Old Manse. Thoreau also described floating past The Old Manse in his first book A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers. Hawthorne made his own contributions to American nature writing in his preface to Mosses from an Old Manse, which lovingly details the pastoral beauty of The Old Manse landscape.
The Old Manse had other connections with the Massachusetts conservation movement. Ornithologist William Brewster, the first president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, owned a boathouse on the site for two years. Brewster recounted his affiliation with the boathouse in his personal journal where he described the feat of floating the boathouse downstream to a new location in 1892.
Emerson’s grandfather Reverend William Emerson built The Old Manse in 1769, and it remains relatively unchanged. During the Revolutionary War, Reverend Emerson and his family witnessed the battle of Lexington from the second floor windows. The two and one-half story home follows a center hall floor plan. On the north side of the hall are the formal parlor and dining room, while a smaller parlor and kitchen are on the south side of the home. The window panes in the dining room bear inscriptions cut by Hawthorne and his wife with her diamond ring. The second floor contains bedrooms and at the northwest corner is the study used by both Emerson and Hawthorne.
In 1939, The Trustees of Reservations purchased The Old Manse along with most of its original furnishings. The Old Manse was designated a National Historic Landmark in the 1960s.
The Old Manse is located at 269 Monument St. Concord, MA. The Old Manse has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here to view the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. The Old Manse offers guided tours, walk-in tours, and pre-booked tours year round. Dates and times for these tours change seasonally. There is an admission fee to tour the house. The grounds are open seven days a week, year round from sunrise to sunset. For more information, visit The Trustees of Reservations The Old Manse website or call 978-369-3909.
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Olmsted Park System
As one of the first park systems created in the United States, Boston’s Olmsted Park System served as a model for metropolitan open space planning initiatives elsewhere. The nine distinct parks, later coined the “Emerald Necklace,” span seven miles from the historic center of Boston through various neighborhoods, connecting the city with nature and offering a wide range of experiences from sports areas to a zoo to garden walks. Not only does the Olmsted Park System provide various recreational outlets, but it also stands as a physical example of 19th century ideals on nature and conservation. Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, and Arnold Arboretum, all parks within the Olmsted Park System, are also included in this travel itinerary for their own contribution to Massachusetts conservation.
After the Civil War, communities inspired by the creation of Central Park spearheaded initiatives to create their own large, country parks for city dwellers. In Boston, the 50-acre Boston Common and the 24-acre Public Garden provided some parkland for the city, but these small areas of open space were clearly inadequate for the growing metropolitan area. Boston already had grown so much that a single large park in the center of the city proved impossible. Rural communities surrounding Boston encountered rapid development as well, making it increasingly difficult for urban residents to reach pastoral, wooded countryside outside the city.
By the late 1870s, several Boston area landscape designers had proposed versions of a Boston metropolitan park system, but ultimately Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.’s design was chosen. Instead of a single large park, Olmsted envisioned a series of smaller parks connected by parkways extending from Boston through its suburbs. The proposed park system created municipal open space by linking existing parks like Boston Common and Public Garden via Commonwealth Avenue with a variety of large and medium parks in the suburbs. Olmsted’s plan for the park system accomplished three purposes: it created a much needed and desired municipal open space in spite of land limitations; it connected newly annexed neighborhoods with Boston’s historic center; and it provided a variety of park types, each serving different recreational needs.
The first portions of the park system planned, Back Bay Fens and the Fenway, proved the most troublesome for the Boston Park Commission. Once a tidal swamp, the Fens served as a repository for sewage and was often violently flooded. Asked to solve the problems, Olmsted created informal parkland using swamp-like vegetation that could withstand the flooding. His solution to the Back Bay Fens stands as a great achievement in engineering and landscape design.
Anticipating the expansion of south Boston into more rural areas, Olmsted designed Franklin Park as a retreat for working class city dwellers who needed open park space. One of Olmsted’s masterpieces, Franklin Park is also the largest park and considered the “crowning jewel” of the park system. Even though work did not begin on Franklin Park until 1885, the space had held a place in park system designs ever since Benjamin Franklin generously bequeathed the funds to the city of Boston.
The final Olmsted designed parks in the system include Back Bay Fens (1879); Muddy River (1881); Olmsted Park (1881); Jamaica Park (1892); Franklin Park (1885); and the Arnold Arboretum (1872) for which Charles Sprague Sargent collaborated in the design. These parks, along with the others in the Olmsted Park System, stand as an outstanding example of multi-use open space and one of Olmsted’s finest projects. Users of the nine parks of the Olmsted Park System can play sports, visit a zoo, ice skate, hike, and just enjoy nature and admire the views. The parks offer a wide variety of natural and recreational activities year-round. Today, visitors can still enjoy the park system as Olmsted intended when he set out his designs over 100 years ago.
The Olmsted Park System is located in Boston and Brookline, MA extending from the mouth of the Muddy River south to Franklin Park. The parks are accessible by foot, car, or public transportation. For more information, visit the City of Boston’s Parks & Recreation Department website or call 617-635-4505, the Town of Brookline’s Parks and Open Space Division website or call 617-730-2088, and also visit the Emerald Necklace Conservancy website or call 617-522-2700.
The Olmsted Park System is the subject of an online lesson plan, The Emerald Necklace: Boston’s Green Connection. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places homepage. Parts of the Olmsted Park System have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
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Ralph Waldo Emerson House
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendental philosopher, poet, and lecturer, moved into this house with his wife Lidian shortly after their marriage in 1835. It was his first permanent home in the largely rural community of Concord and the place where he raised his family. In this dwelling, Emerson composed his most important written works, including the final draft of his groundbreaking essay Nature in 1836 and Self Reliance in 1841. Emerson’s new residence helped make Concord the center of American Transcendentalism, home of the Concord authors, and the place that sparked a new literary renaissance.
Emerson’s most notable works explained his philosophy and ideals, including his belief that nature served as a source of spiritual inspiration. Emerson’s speeches and writings attracted kindred spirits to Concord, many of whom visited Emerson at his home. One of his greatest strengths was to inspire others to develop their own talents. Many of his guests became important figures in the Transcendental movement in their own right, including Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, and Elizabeth Peabody. Emerson lived in the house until his death in 1882.
Emerson purchased the property called “Bush” in 1835, which included the house, a barn, and two acres of land. He renovated the house, added two rooms, and expanded his property to encompass a total of nine acres. The interior of the house follows a center hall plan with two large, square rooms at either side. To the right of the main entrance is Emerson’s study, where he did the majority of his reading and writing. Across the hall is a room that Emerson called the “Pilgrim’s Chamber,” or the guest room. The house was conveniently located on the stagecoach run that brought guests directly to the door.
On July 24, 1872, a fire destroyed the roof and much of the second floor. Townspeople saved the books and manuscripts, and Emerson’s friends helped pay to restore the house, expanding the second floor. During the restoration of the home, Emerson and his family stayed at The Old Manse in Concord.
The property maintains a rear garden sloping down the meadow to Mill Brook. Emerson’s journal entries make note of his efforts to tend a vegetable garden and orchard. A trail through the back of the property and across Mill Brook led to Walden Woods, one of Emerson’s favorite places for walks.
The house stayed in the Emerson family until 1930, when Emerson’s son Edward died. The Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial Association was established to maintain and manage the Emerson house and property. All of the rooms remain as they were after the 1872-1873 restoration, with the exception of the study. The original contents of that room were removed to the Concord Museum, and replaced by duplicate pieces around 1930.
The Ralph Waldo Emerson House is located one mile east of Concord Center at 28 Cambridge Turnpike in Concord, MA. The house has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. The Ralph Waldo Emerson House is open from mid April-October, Thursday-Sunday 10:00am to 4:30pm; Sunday 1:00pm to 4:30pm. For fee and scheduling information, call the House Director at 978-369-2236 or visit the Ralph Waldo Emerson House website. The house is not handicap accessible.
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Revere Beach Reservation Historic District
Revere Beach Reservation, a National Historic Landmark, was the first ocean beach in the United States acquired for the purpose of public recreation and one of the first properties added to Boston’s Metropolitan Park System. In 1895, the time of its acquisition, Revere Beach was a seaside resort and overdeveloped. Once the Park System acquired the beach, however, the boundary between ocean and human development was widened, providing a scenic view and open spaces for tourists to enjoy the beach’s natural features.
Prior to the conservation of Revere Beach in the late 19th century, commercial and transportation development flourished. From 1839 onward, private and public buildings stood along the landward side of the dune including commercial buildings and privately owned bathhouses right on the beach itself, some extending to the high tide line. Constructed in 1875, a railroad line ran along the crest of the beach. This development obscured the natural curve of the beach and limited public access to the ocean.
Landscape architect Charles Eliot, who led the project to redesign the beach, called the overdeveloped condition of Revere Beach a disgrace. In an 1896 letter to the Metropolitan Park Commission, Eliot wrote:
What was it that the metropolitan district sought to secure when it purchased this costly sea-coast reservation? It was the grand and refreshing sight of the natural sea beach, with its long, simple curve, and its open view of the ocean. Nothing in the world presents a more striking contrast to the jumbled, noisy scenery of a great town; and this being the case, it seems to us that to place buildings on the beach is consciously to sacrifice the most refreshing characteristic of a sea-beach, and the most valuable element to the people is property therein.
Eliot’s design for the property called for restoration of the natural contours of the beach. This required the removal of the railroad and all buildings between the railroad and the sea. The design included the addition of a new boulevard along with several new structures for bathing, a promenade, a bandstand, and several pavilions architect William D. Austin (1856-1944) designed to Eliot’s general specifications. Revere Beach was open to the public with temporary improvements in July 1895.
Revere Beach Reservation is an outstanding example of Eliot’s philosophy of landscape preservation and one of the few Metropolitan Park System projects that Eliot designed personally before he passed away in 1897 at age 38.
During the early 20th century, Revere Beach was a popular site along the New England coast. With popularity came economic growth and the tourism industry, which led to the construction of grand hotels and the Wonderland Amusement Park close to the beach. After World War II, visitation dropped as locals moved to the suburbs and the infrastructure aged. The original Bath House from Eliot’s plan was demolished in 1962 and replaced with a modern structure. That bath house was then demolished in the early 1990s. Following restoration efforts in the 1980s and 1990s, Revere Beach Reservation today retains a high degree of integrity, keeping to Eliot’s landscape design for the configuration of the beach, roadway, promenade and architecture. The historic district is composed of the beach site itself, the historic police station and beach superintendent’s house, a bandstand, and eight beach pavilions.
Revere Beach Reservation is located on Revere Beach Blvd. in Revere, MA, just four miles north of downtown Boston. The Revere Beach Reservation Historic District has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places and the National Historic Landmark registration files: text and photos. Revere Beach Reservation is open every day from dawn to dusk. Lifeguards are on duty from late June to early September. The beach can be reached by car or by public transportation. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Revere Beach Reservation website or call 781-289-3020.
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Shirley Center Historic District
“The community par excellence was [and is] the colonial New England village. Take my own hill hamlet—Shirley Center, Massachusetts, as I knew it as a boy, with its seventy-one souls in the 1880’s. A meeting house, a red brick schoolhouse, a store, farmhouses, wheelwright shop and town hall—seats respectively of religion, education, commerce, agriculture, industry, and government—the basic elements of civilization…Except for the motor car and plumbing, this description holds in large measure for Shirley Center today as I sit in my white clapboard house on one of its shaded streets and write these words”—Benton MacKaye
The area that once provided inspiration to regional planning visionary Benton MacKaye, now is part of the Shirley Center Historic District. Best known as the father of the Appalachian Trail (1921), MacKaye also co-founded the Wilderness Society (1935) and the Regional Planning Association of America (1923). Shirley Center Historic District is a fine example of an 18th- and 19th-century rural New England town center with its civic meetinghouse core surrounded by residential buildings. Originally coming to Shirley Center as a summer retreat with his family, MacKaye ended up living until his death in 1975 in the Betsey Kelsey House, one of the buildings that contribute to the district’s historic significance.
Benton MacKaye was born in Stamford, Connecticut, one of six children of actor and playwright Steele MacKaye. Benton’s early years involved frequent moves, as the family followed Steele MacKaye’s career. The Shirley connection began for the MacKaye family in 1882, when they first visited cousins who owned a summer home in Shirley. In 1888, when Benton was nine years old, the family purchased their first permanent home: a cottage located a short distance from the Shirley Center Common. Lewis Mumford, a friend and colleague of MacKaye, wrote of the influence that MacKaye’s new home in Shirley Center had on him from an early age: “As soon as he reached Shirley, he knew he was home; and from that time on this village has been the center of his life, despite many prolonged absences.”
In later years, MacKaye described his boyhood years in Shirley as among the happiest years of his life. His boyhood explorations of Shirley, at the age of 14, also laid a foundation for his later work as a regional planner:
“Expeditions” I called them. Why this imposing title? Well, I had at one time [at the age of fourteen] been in Washington, frequenting the Smithsonian Institution. There I met collectors from distant lands and saw the product of their expeditions, including Peary, starting on his first voyage to the Arctic...Then and there I caught the bug. Why shouldn’t I, my own self, be an explorer?--up there in my own homeland...? And so the scheme. I would explore the country within walking distance of my home in Shirley Center (radius four miles). I would in particular map the forest, “deciduous and evergreen”… And in general I’d scan the region’s habitability… I would number my expeditions: “No.1, No. 2,”...etc. and off I went. By No. 9 I had reached the top of the divide (between Mulpus and Squannacook)—Hunting Hill (MacKaye, 1969)
From the top of Hunting Hill, MacKaye could see key elements of the whole region: Shirley’s church steeple, steam from the locomotive from Boston, and the wooded hills beyond. The search for a healthy regional balance, which included all of these elements, provided the philosophical underpinnings for his later work.
MacKaye returned to Shirley Center throughout his adult life. He lived there for several long periods during lulls in government employment in the 1920s and worked on several of his creative writing projects while residing in Shirley. After his retirement from government service in 1945, MacKaye participated in many Shirley community activities, leading local and regional walks, spearheading a trail-building effort, and, in 1953, writing a pageant of Shirley’s history, “The Story of Shirley”, which townspeople performed during Shirley’s bicentennial celebration. MacKaye died in his Shirley Center home on December 11, 1975. The Shirley Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
Shirley Center Historic District is located in Shirley, MA, bounded by Brown, Center, Horsepond, Parker, and Whitney Rds. Shirley Center Historic District is accessible daily although some buildings are closed to the public. For more information, visit the Town of Shirley website or call 978-425-2600.
Shirley Center Historic District’s Town Pound and First Parish Meetinghouse have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
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Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts is a prime example of a 19th century rural New England cemetery. Horace Cleveland, who, along with Frederick Law Olmsted, is credited with the professionalization of landscape architecture, designed the 17-acre core of the cemetery. As with other rural or “garden” cemeteries, Sleepy Hollow’s design elements include gently curving roads adapted to the site’s natural contours and naturalistic plantings. Before its designation as a cemetery, local citizens called the area, a hilly part of the Deacon Reuben Brown farm, “Sleepy Hollow.” Townspeople, including local Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and author Nathaniel Hawthorne and his wife Sophia, used Sleepy Hollow as a favorite spot for evening walks. While planning for Sleepy Hollow’s transformation into a cemetery, designers sought to maintain the natural beauty of Concord’s first large, designed landscape set aside for public use.
Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a principal address at the 1855 dedication ceremony for Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. In his speech, Emerson described the establishment of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery as part of a national campaign, noting:
A simultaneous movement has, in a hundred cities and towns in this country, selected some convenient piece of undulating ground with pleasant wood and waters; every family chooses its own clump of trees; and we lay the corpse in these leafy colonnades.
Emerson’s speech refers to the idea that cemeteries like Sleepy Hollow and nearby Mount Auburn might serve multiple purposes for the community, their park-like settings serving as natural oases and sanctuaries where the living may contemplatively pay respect to the deceased and nature alike.
While Cleveland’s plans formed the nexus of Sleepy Hollow’s design, actual implementation of that design fell to prolific Concord local John S. Keyes. Keyes “drove the stakes for the lots and saved as many trees as possible from cutting,” an enterprise honored by his simple epithet on the giant boulder marking his grave: “The Founder of the Cemetery.” On April 19, 1855 (the anniversary of the 1775 Revolutionary “shot heard round the world”), during the community organized “Tree Bee,” volunteers planted over 100 trees.
Sleepy Hollow inspired the writings of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, and even became memorialized in William Ellery Channing’s poem “Sleepy Hollow.” The cemetery also became the final resting place of these authors. Their graves, alongside those of other notable New England authors, including Louisa May Alcott, are located in the area known as Author’s Ridge, a popular destination for tourists wishing to pay homage. As a community cemetery, Sleepy Hollow is also the burial site of several community members with important conservation connections. One of them, Samuel Hoar, donated the first parcel of land for what would become Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
In his 1855 dedication speech, Emerson thoughtfully reflected on the future of Sleepy Hollow, positing:
…when these acorns that are falling at our feet, are oaks overshadowing our children in a remote century, this mute green bank will be full of history: the good, the wise, and the great will have left their names and virtues on the trees; heroes, poets, beauties, sanctities, benefactors, will have made the air tuneable and articulate.
Today, Emerson’s words ring prophetic through this nearly 100-acre property, 32 acres of which are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is located at 24 Court Lane and Bedford St., one block east of Monument Square in Concord, MA. The cemetery is accessible daily during daylight hours. For more information, visit the Concord’s Public Works Cemetery Division website or call 978-318-3233, or visit the Friends of Sleepy Hollow website.
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“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” —Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)
Best known through Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Walden Pond and the surrounding Walden Woods was a favorite destination for walks by local Concord Transcendentalists Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau’s writings inspired respect for nature and even, some consider, the birth of the conservation movement. Today, Walden Pond comprises the heart of the Walden Pond State Reservation and is designated a National Historic Landmark, ensuring that visitors can enjoy the area as Thoreau once did.
Sometimes described as a “philosopher-naturalist,” Thoreau had both broad and deep interests in nature and his readings spanned wide-ranging subjects, including Eastern philosophy, Greek mythology, poetry, agriculture, and science. He recorded his observations about nature—both descriptive and philosophical—in journal entries that later became a source of material for lectures, essays, and books. Like his mentor Emerson, Thoreau looked to nature for a meaningful connection between the physical, symbolic, and spiritual worlds. In order to fully realize this connection, Thoreau decided to engage in an experiment. He would attempt to live closer to nature by moving into the woods owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson—a natural setting that he loved and home of Walden Pond. There, Thoreau built a cabin near Walden Pond and moved in on July 4, 1845. He described his reflections and observations of his time at the pond in vivid detail in Walden (excerpted above), a work now considered an American classic for its profound insights into living more simply and in deeper communication with nature.
Thoreau’s descriptions of living by the shores of Walden Pond include many inspirational passages on his contact with nature. He also manifested the same curiosity about former human inhabitants of the area, including Native Americans, freed slaves, and Irish railroad workers. Despite his wish to live in nature, Thoreau’s sojourn at Walden was not exactly a wilderness experience. He resided a mile and a half from town center, often walking there along the Fitchburg railroad line that followed the edge of the pond. He also farmed land at Walden, creating the famous bean field, a surprisingly large 2-1/2 acre plot of land. He framed his experiment at Walden as a grand hero’s adventure. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner wrote that Thoreau wanted to make a myth for his own time—and succeeded. He saw nature as the “tonic of wildness,” an antidote to the stresses of society and advancing urbanization and industrialization.
After his two years living in Walden Woods, Thoreau spent another seven years refining his ideas in several drafts of the manuscript that would become Walden. While Walden was not highly popular in Thoreau’s own lifetime, it slowly and steadily gained a following afterwards, informing the work of conservationists like John Muir and Rachel Carson. The popularity of Walden ensured the enduring status and renown of Walden Pond, a body of water that Thoreau described as a “lower heaven.” In 1922, the Emerson family, who still owned the land surrounding the pond, granted the area to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with the stipulation of "preserving the Walden of Emerson and Thoreau, its shores and nearby woodlands for the public who wish to enjoy the pond, the woods, and nature, including bathing, boating, fishing and picnicking." Since then, Walden Pond State Reservation has expanded to 250 acres of land open for visitors to explore and enjoy daily.
Walden Pond in Walden Pond State Reservation is located on Massachusetts Route 126 (Walden St. and Concord Rd.) in Concord and Lincoln, MA. The Visitors Center is located at 915 Walden St. in Concord,MA. Walden Pond has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration file: text and photos. Visitors can swim, picnic, hike, canoe, rowboat, cross-country ski, or snowshoe at Walden Pond State Reservation. It is open from 5:00am to a half-hour after sunset year-round. There is a year-round parking fee of $5.00 and a maximum capacity of 1,000 people for the reservation. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Walden Pond State Reservation website or call the Visitors Center at 978-369-3254, visit The Walden Woods Project website or call 781-259-4700, or visit the Friends of Walden Pond, an activity of the Thoreau Society website.
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Dana Common is a preserved archaeological landscape reflecting the 19th century organization and land uses of a Swift River Valley town before the development of the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s. Although no buildings remain at Dana Common, extant foundations and cellar holes, granite steps, fragments of paving, stone fenceposts, walls, and a metal safe too big and heavy to relocate survive, all reflecting a world that is now gone.
Dana Common was formerly the institutional center of the once-vibrant town of Dana. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts acquired the town of Dana along with three adjacent central Massachusetts towns—Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott—to create the Quabbin Reservoir, which, by the mid 20th century, would become the major source of drinking water for about two million people in and around Boston. Dana was among the four towns disincorporated, leveled, and flooded by the damming of the Swift River in 1939. The Dana Common area, on the East Branch of the Swift River, was above the reservoir flow line in the watershed and so was never inundated. Today the Quabbin Reservoir is the largest inland body of water in the Commonwealth, and said to be one of the world’s largest domestic water supplies. Dana Common is the best-preserved and most easily accessible of the former villages that made up the pre-Quabbin, Swift River Valley towns.
When first settled in the mid 18th century, largely agrarian Dana was part of the towns of Hardwick and Petersham. Dana became a separate town in 1801, and at first, Dana town meetings alternated between sites in three small village settlements: Doubleday, North Dana, and, in the very south of the town, the future Dana Center. In 1842, a fourth village was annexed to the new town, Storrsville to the southeast, which suddenly made Dana Center less an outlier village and thus encouraged institution building. Dana Center now was truly near the town’s geographic core, and its period of growth began. Dana Common also marked the intersection of five roads, which led to Barre and Petersham to the east, North Dana to the north, Greenwich to the southwest, and Hardwick to the south.
Most of Dana’s earliest buildings were constructed around the small, triangular Common in the decade and a half between 1840 and 1855. The town store and post office, the former Baptist meetinghouse purchased and relocated from Petersham to become Dana’s town hall and first school room, and the hotel and tavern all brought commercial activity to the village. There were also the Congregational Church, two cemeteries, several smaller stores and workshops, and about two dozen modest and high-style residences and barns. This growth was mirrored in the town’s population, which increased 18% between 1830 and 1860, reaching its all-time high of 876 people. Beginning in the second half of the19th century, Dana was also a popular destination for summer visitors and retirees from more urban areas who were drawn to the picturesque rural village. But development at the center was brief, slowing with the arrival of the railroad at North Dana in 1873. Although a school was built next to the town hall in 1892, very little new construction occurred in the vicinity of the Common after 1870. The village that was present when preparations for the creation of the Quabbin began was physically little changed from that which had developed in the middle decades of the 19th century.
While the work of forming the Quabbin Reservoir began in the 1920s, the taking of the Swift River to supply Metropolitan Boston’s vast water needs had been discussed as early as 1896 by the Massachusetts legislature. Water became more urgent after several particularly dry years during World War I. The first serious investigation of the potential of central Massachusetts’ rivers was ordered in 1918, and by 1919, it was apparent that the towns of the Swift River Valley faced a real possibility of at least partial inundation. After a decade of arguments and counterarguments, surveys and resurveys, the Massachusetts legislature adopted a plan that would take water from the rivers to fuel the needs of metropolitan Boston, and created the Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission to oversee the project. Some residents left town at the beginning of the discussions, quickly selling their homes and moving elsewhere. Others stayed as long as possible.
As part of the Quabbin’s creation, all buildings were to be removed. The cemeteries were recorded and then emptied, with remains reinterred in the new Quabbin Cemetery in the nearby town of Ware. An important aspect of the preparations was the documentation that took place between 1927 and 1930. As part of the project, all buildings and structures were mapped, photographed, and catalogued before their removal, with the result being a remarkable record of an area that would soon be obliterated.
Dana’s last town meeting was held in March 1938 and the school closed that June after a final graduation ceremony. By the end of the year, the last resident had moved away. The Swift River, diverted during the construction of the great Winsor Dam, a key component of the Quabbin, between 1935 and 1939, began to fill the reservoir in August 1939. Quabbin reached its full capacity in 1946.
The Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission was abolished in 1947 and its functions transferred to the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), which would guide the management of the Quabbin for another half century. Management included planting and clearing of forest lands to control erosion and water runoff. The MDC itself would be abolished in 2003 and its functions transferred to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR).
The Dana Common Historic and Archaeological District was listed in the National Register in 2013. The district designation recognizes an area whose buildings are gone, but whose landscape, with its foundations, cellar holes, stone walls, fenceposts, and open spaces, continues to reflect the town’s history.
The area today is characterized by woods, fields, brooks, stone walls, and a network of dirt and paved roads, and includes the sites of approximately thirty former buildings. The area around Dana Common is the best-preserved village site in the four towns and the most easily accessed. The cemetery site and common, as well as the sites of the former buildings, are kept open to interpret and memorialize Dana Center and the towns taken by the state. DCR manages the Quabbin Reservoir lands, which are open to the public for hiking, cycling, and fishing, and other recreational and educational activities. Dana Common remains a place whose landscape provides an evocative and moving record of its past history.
Dana Common is located 1.7 miles down the road from Gate 40, off Route 32A in Petersham. Access is by foot or bicycle. No pets allowed. The Quabbin Visitor Center is located at 485 Ware Road (Route 9) Belchertown, MA 01007 and is open daily 9:00am until 4:30pm except for major holidays. Call for information about exhibits and programs 413-323-7221.
For more information on Dana Common and on the history of the water supply system in Massachusetts, visit Department of Conservation and Recreation website.
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Laurel Hill Park in Main Street Historic District
Located in the Main Street Historic District of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Laurel Hill provided inspiration for the first village improvement society: the Laurel Hill Association. Laurel Hill Park, a rugged and romantic forested landscape with rock outcroppings, is a significant feature of the Main Street Historic District in Stockbridge. Throughout Stockbridge’s long history, Laurel Hill has traditionally served as a town gathering place and the meeting place for the Laurel Hill Association. Laurel Hill is still a meeting ground and also a place for recreation providing its visitors with a multitude of trails and a panoramic view of Stockbridge from its summit.
Local resident Mary Hopkins established the Laurel Hill Association in 1853. She reportedly launched her campaign after hearing a disparaging remark by a visitor about Stockbridge’s poor sanitation and lack of adornment. Traveling by horseback to contact residents of all ages, Mary gained the necessary support for her cause, and the first meeting of the Laurel Hill Association took place in 1853.
The Laurel Hill Association also engaged in a number of other civic beautification projects including grooming walkways, grading streets, and renovating a local cemetery. The organization even started a tree planting campaign where supporters, both children and adults, earned membership in the Association when they agreed to plant a tree in the town and tend to it. This campaign was responsible for the planting of more than 400 trees in one year in Stockbridge.
The Laurel Hill Association soon became a model for other communities all over the country. By the end of the 19th century, hundreds of similar organizations established themselves in villages, towns, and cities. Active civic involvement was a key component in all of these civic initiatives. By the late 19th century, the idea of civic beautification had merged with the movement to create parks and park systems. The civic improvement initiatives of the 19th century set the stage for more comprehensive planning initiatives in the Progressive Era.
One of the first projects of the Laurel Hill Association permanently protected Laurel Hill as a public park. Laurel Hill is a wooded knoll studded with rocky outcroppings, located between the Stockbridge center and the Housatonic River. The heavily forested area includes native hemlock, white pine, and oak trees. Laurel Hill gained its name from mountain laurel, which once covered much of the hill. Laurel Hill has been a favorite community-gathering place since the early 19th century. In 1834, townspeople met on the hill to honor after his death the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who served as a general in the American Revolutionary War. That same year, the Sedgwick family purchased the land to preserve it for public use to avoid the threat of development. After the Laurel Hill Association’s organization in 1853, the Sedgwicks sold the six-acre parcel to the Laurel Hill Association for a dollar. The Association later donated the land to the town in 1878 as a public park, with the stipulation that it stay in its natural state.
Today, a narrow, winding trail passes through the heavily forested park. At the base of a huge rock outcropping is a grassy area with a rustic stone rostrum and lectern, added in 1905 to commemorate Henry D. Sedgwick, a long-time president of the Association. Each summer, the Laurel Hill Association holds its annual meeting here, a tradition that has continued since the 19th century. Added to the summit of Laurel Hill in 1928 is the Prescott Butler Memorial, a semi-circular granite bench. Today the summit is heavily wooded, but at one time the cutting of trees on the summit provided a view to Monument Mountain. Laurel Hill is now a symbol of Stockbridge’s civic beautification ideals, listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of Stockbridge's Main Street Historic District.
Laurel Hill Park and Main Street Historic District are located on Main, Pine, and Sergeant Sts. in Stockbridge, MA. The Laurel Hill Park trails are open daily. Visitors can enter Laurel Hill Park from behind Plain School (now the town offices), located on Main St. or at the Goodrich Memorial footbridge, located at the end of Park St. For more information, visit the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce website or call 413-298-5200 and visit the Town of Stockbridge website or call 413-298-4170.
Other sites within the Main Street Historic District have been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey.
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Originally a Native American path, the Mohawk Trail leads from the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys in New York to the Deerfield and Connecticut River Valleys in Massachusetts. Native American peoples of the Northeast used the Mohawk Trail as a trade and travel route to the east and west. Now a designated scenic tourist route, the Mohawk Trail accommodates the changing world while still serving its visitors as a scenic path and highway across the Northeast. The Mohawk Trail State Forest surrounds the trail, providing camping, hiking, and other recreational activities for visitors.
Prior to European settlement, the Mohawk and other Native American tribes utilized the trail to fish during the annual spring salmon runs up the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers and to hunt the lush valleys surrounding the rivers. They also used the trail to make raids on their enemies. Toward the end of King Philip’s War in 1676, Metacom, also known as King Philip, the leader of the Wampanoag Confederacy, traveled the trail and failed to recruit the Mohawks in his war against the settlers. The trail also became a principal route of the French and their Native American allies during the French and Indian War from 1754 to 1763. During the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold, still an American patriot at the time, traveled the trail recruiting additional troops while on the way to Fort Ticonderoga, New York, with his letter of command.
After farming in the valleys declined in the late 19th century, the Mohawk Trail became a road linking western Massachusetts communities. The state improved the road and in 1914 named it “The Mohawk Trail,” designating it as a scenic tourist route. The marketing strategy worked and the road became a popular destination almost immediately. In one day in 1915 alone, 700 cars traveled along the scenic route. During this same time, the Massachusetts state legislature approved money to create state forest lands throughout Massachusetts. The heavy tourist traffic along the Mohawk Trail made acquisition of a state forest along the Trail highly desirable. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts purchased over 5,000 acres to designate as the Mohawk Trail State Forest in 1921. A rather primitive auto camp emerged in the new state forest and became a popular destination for auto tourists from all over the country. In 1924, 1,050 auto parties from 28 different states across the country and from several Canadian provinces visited Mohawk Trail State Forest.
During the Great Depression in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) provided work for young, unemployed men on a variety of conservation-related projects, often to create public recreational facilities. Many of the CCC camps performed work in the Massachusetts state forest system. A CCC camp in the Mohawk Trail State Forest planted white pine trees, improved roads, built a campground, and constructed a series of log cabins for overnight stays. The popularity of the Mohawk Trail also attracted new businesses such as tourist cabins, souvenir shops, lookout towers, roadside restaurants, and filling stations. While commercial revenue attracted these businesses, some people grew concerned that overbuilding would spoil the scenic values that attracted people to the area in the first place. Conservationist Benton MacKaye wrote an article in the 1920s recommending zoning the sides of the Mohawk Trail to keep it attractive and limiting commercial development to specific sites tucked out of view.
Mohawk Trail State Forest today has many sites of historic interest. The CCC built structures including cabins and campgrounds that are still there. One and a half miles of the old Indian Trail is now marked and included as part of the Mahican-Mohawk Trail, a greenway extending 100 miles from Deerfield, Massachusetts to the Hudson River Valley in New York.
Mohawk Trail State Forest also has some of the tallest trees in Massachusetts, with 15 species reaching record heights, including 35 white pine trees over 140 feet in height. The Cold River Virgin Forest area, which includes 700 acres of old growth forest, is designated a National Natural Landmark. It contains what may be the only virgin hemlock-northern hardwood forest in New England with some hemlocks and sugar maples over 400 years old. The Mohawk Trail is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can still drive and hike along the road of the Mohawk Trail, visit the many shops, inns, and villages along the way, and camp, hike, fish, and picnic in the Mohawk Trail State Forest.
The Mohawk Trail is located in Charlemont, Florida, and Savoy in Franklin and Berkshire Counties in Massachusetts. The Mohawk Trail road follows Route 2 from Charlemont to North Adams and the address of the Mohawk Trail State Forest is 175 Mohawk Trail/Route 2. The Mohawk Trail scenic road is open for visitors year-round to explore the towns, villages, shops, and inns along its path. The Mohawk Trail State Forest is open sunrise to sunset year-round for hiking, fishing, picnicking, and camping. Camping is available from mid-April through mid-October and cabins are available year-round. There is also a $5 parking fee for visitors from May to mid-October. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation website or call 413-339-5504 and also visit the Mohawk Trail Region website or call 866-743-8127.
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Mount Greylock Summit Historic District
The Mount Greylock Summit Historic District, in northwest Massachusetts, is located on the highest mountain in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at 3,492 feet. The spectacular views from the summit have been an attraction for visitors since the 19th century. Mount Greylock became Massachusetts’ first state reservation in 1898, with the donation of 400 acres of land. Today the reservation includes over 12,500 acres, including an 11.5-mile segment of the Appalachian Trail.
The isolated Mount Greylock has remained sparsely populated in recorded history. The Mahican tribe hunted in the area prior to European settlement, but there is no evidence that they ascended the summit. Once the Europeans arrived, they were slow to move to this remote section of Massachusetts. The colonials performed the first surveys of the land in 1739 and 1740. After that, in the late 18th century the region’s early settlers' primary occupation was farming, supported by small industries such as sawmills, grist mills, and cider mills. Jeremiah Wilbur owned a farm in the area northeast of Greylock known as the Notch in the late 1700s. The 1600-acre farm extended up the slopes of Greylock, and included an orchard, woodlots, and pasture. Wilbur built the first trail up the mountain, connecting his farmhouse in the valley with the farms' upper slopes. In the 19th century, farmers, railroad companies, and a growing number of industries logged Greylock’s slopes for timber and fuel.
The spectacular view from the summit made the mountain an attractive tourist destination early in the 19th century. In 1800, guided by Wilbur, Timothy Dwight visited the mountain summit and described the view in his book Travels in New England and New York. Mount Greylock’s popularity as a destination for tourists increased beginning around the 1830s and 1840s. Williams College faculty and students hiked on the mountain and built two observation towers on its summit in 1830 and 1841. In 1863, several Williams College and Williamstown hikers formed the Alpine Club, one of the first hiking clubs in the country.
During the Romantic and Transcendental eras, several literary figures made pilgrimages to Mount Greylock and described it in their writings. William Cullen Bryant, who attended Williams College, wrote several poems about the area. Nathaniel Hawthorne visited Mount Greylock in 1838, and described the mountain in his American Notebook, and in his story “Ethan Brand.” Henry David Thoreau came in 1844. In A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers, he described a cold night he spent on the summit of Mount Greylock (which he called “Saddle-back”), sandwiched between boards pulled from the wreckage of the former Williams College observatory. The next morning, he found the landscape transformed by fog that filled the valley.
Of all the authors who visited Mount Greylock, Herman Melville was perhaps the mountain’s biggest fan. Melville, who lived in nearby Pittsfield, loved the view of the mountain from his window so much that he dedicated his novel Pierre to Mount Greylock, which he described as “Most Excellent Purple Majesty”:
IN OLD TIMES authors were proud of the privilege of dedicating their works to majesty. A right noble custom which we of Berkshire must revive. For whether we will or no, majesty is all around us here in Berkshire, sitting as in a grand Congress of Vienna of majestical hill-tops, and eternally challenging our homage. But since the majestic mountain, Greylock—my own more immediate sovereign lord and king—hath now, for innumerable ages, been the one grand dedicatee of the earliest rays of all the Berkshire mornings, I know not how his Imperial Purple Majesty …will receive the dedication of my own poor solitary ray. Nevertheless, forasmuch as I, dwelling with my loyal neighbors, the Maples and the Beeches, in the amphitheater over which his central majesty presides, have received his most bounteous and unstinted fertilizations, it is but meet, that I here devoutly kneel, and render up my gratitude, whether, thereto, The Most Excellent Purple Majesty of Greylock benignantly incline his hoary crown or no.
—Herman Melville’s dedication to his novel Pierre (1852)
Tourism increased through the second half of the 19th century, as new railroad routes provided a direct link between North Adams and Boston. A modest summit house built on Mount Greylock by 1875 provided simple meals and lodging for summer visitors. Although tourism increased, utilitarian uses of the mountain’s timber resources were accelerating as well. By the mid 1800s, the heavy logging of Mount Greylock’s slopes and summit led to problems of soil erosion, fires, and landslides.
Alarmed by the problem, a group of local businessmen formed the Greylock Park Association and purchased 400 acres of the summit to prevent future damage. They hoped to create an attractive tourist destination at the summit, and constructed a new, 40-foot-tall observatory and a toll road to reach it. When the business venture failed, the Greylock Park Association offered to donate the land to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a public reservation, with the stipulation that the state would buy additional several thousand acres of land around the summit. In 1898, Mount Greylock became Massachusetts’ first state reservation.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts built a War Memorial on the summit in 1930, and between 1933 and 1936, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed a number of additional structures on the summit, including the rustic Bascom Lodge, built of native stone and timber. They also built roads, trails, and a campground on the Greylock reservation.
Tourism was a popular draw, but also had its drawbacks. After World War II, a proposal for a large tramway to the top of the mountain led to formation of the Mount Greylock Protective Association. The organization opposed logging activities and a large ski resort planned for the site. Management of the Mount Greylock reservation transferred to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Department of Natural Resources in 1966 in response to conservationist protests over management. Debates over the size, scale, and appropriateness of developments on the mountain continued throughout much of the 20th century. Preservation arguments increasingly focused on ecological as well as scenic values of the property.
Today, the reservation provides habitat for numerous species, including 40 species of rare plants. A 1600-acre tract of old growth red spruce trees was designated in 1987 as a National Natural Landmark.
Mount Greylock Summit Historic District is located in the northern Berkshires of western Massachusetts, approximately three hours west of Boston and north of New York City. Mount Greylock State Reservation is in North Adams, Adams, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Williamstown, and New Ashford, MA. The Visitor Center is at 30 Rockwell Rd, Lanesborough, MA. The park is open year-round from sunrise until dusk for day-use recreation. Weather permitting, roads to the summit are open late May-November 1. The Veterans War Memorial Tower is open seasonally. The Bascom Lodge, a historic Arts & Crafts building, is open 7 days a week, June through mid October, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and lodging. The Mount Greylock Campground is accessible by hiking only. The Mount Greylock Scenic Byway is accessible by automobile from mid-May through October 31 as long as safe driving conditions permit. Access is free, though a $2 fee applies at the summit parking lot only. For more information about Mount Greylock State Reservation, visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation Mount Greylock State Reservation website for directions and information or call the Visitor Center at 413-499-4262. For more information about the National Byway, visit the National Scenic Byway Program Mount Greylock Scenic Byway website.
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Mount Holyoke in the Hokanum Rural Historic District
“From Mount Holyoke…is seen the richest prospect in New England, and not improbably in the United States.” — Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York (1823)
Perhaps the best way to ensure conservation comes from seeing what you have to lose. The view from Mount Holyoke has inspired conservationists, recreational tourists, and nature lovers of all stripes for over 200 years. Standing atop the summit provides a glorious panorama overlooking mountains, hills, and the Connecticut River Valley with its small towns and rural landscape. Now part of the over 400-acre J.A. Skinner State Park, the sublime vista of Mount Holyoke still captivates thousands of visitors annually.
Because of its unparalleled scenic view, Mount Holyoke became one of the most popular destinations for tourists in the 19th century. Numerous writers and artists visited and described it, including Timothy Dwight, who praised the view in his book Travels in New England and New York (1821-22), and Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole, who celebrated the view in his painting “View from Mt. Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm (The Oxbow)” (1836).
Increases in the tourist trade led to construction of a one-room house on the summit in 1821, the first mountaintop structure in New England. By the 1830s, the climb up Mount Holyoke became a fashionable destination for tourists, who could purchase ginger-beer, lemonade, and other refreshments on the summit. In 1849, John and Fanny French purchased the property. They added a large hotel, the Summit House, and a tramway to carry thethousands of tourists from the base of the mountain to the peak.
Today, visitors can reach the Mount Holyoke summit seasonally by automobile or year-round by hiking trails. In addition, a long distance trail, the Metacomet-Monadnock Trail, passes over Mount Holyoke. Tourists can still visit Summit House, which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts restored in the 1980s, now open as a museum. Visitors can view wonderful vistas from balconies of the former hotel, while the park provides habitat for a wide variety of plants and wildlife, including some rare and endangered species. There are also trails and picnic sites. The Mount Holyoke Summit is part of the Hockanum Rural Historic District, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Mount Holyoke Summit, a part of the Hockanum Rural Historic District, is located in J.A. Skinner State Park, 10 Skinner State Park Rd., in Hadley, MA. The 400 acres of forest on Mount Holyoke are accessible by hiking trails year-round and by road from early/mid May to Labor Day and remain open daily from 9:00am to 8:00pm. From the Sunday of Labor Day weekend through the first week in October the road is open from 9:00am to 6:00pm. From October 8 through the last Sunday in October the road is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Road closings are dependent upon weather conditions and/or staffing availability.
Picnic sites are available. The Summit House, a popular hotel from the 19th century, is open for tours and programs on the weekends and holidays from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. For more information, visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation J.A. Skinner State Park website or call 413-586-0350.
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William Cullen Bryant Homestead
The William Cullen Bryant Homestead was home to William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), a leading American poet and journalist in the 19th century. Bryant made important contributions to American conservation through his nature poetry, as a journalist, an advocate for the creation of Central Park, as friend to Hudson River School poets, and as editor of Picturesque America, an illustrated tour guide that introduced the American public to many of the natural and cultural highlights of the American scenery of his day. The property is located in the Berkshires and has a sweeping view of the Hampshire Hills to the east.
Bryant’s maternal grandfather built the homestead in Cummington, Massachusetts in 1783, and Bryant moved to the farm with his family in 1799. Bryant spent his boyhood and adolescence in the Dutch Colonial farmhouse where he wrote several poems about the rural beauty of the area. He attended a local school, spent one year at Williams College, then studied and practiced law in Plainfield and Barrington, Massachusetts. He married Frances Fairchild Bryant in 1821. In 1825, he moved to New York, where he began a long successful career in journalism and publishing, working as co-editor of the New York Review and the Athenaeum Magazine from 1825-1829, and an editor at the New York Evening Post from 1829 until his death. During that time, Bryant published his views on abolition and conservation, supporting the presidential campaign of Abraham Lincoln and the landscape work of Frederick Law Olmsted.
In 1865, Bryant purchased the Homestead, which his family had sold in 1835. He renovated the house to use as a summer home completing most of the additions and alterations that made the house what it is today. He also planted over 1,500 fruit trees on the property. Remnants of a 1,300-tree apple orchard remain today on the southern end of the farm, paralleling Route 112. His wife, whose health was failing by the time of the purchase, did not live to see the renovations completed. He and the rest of his family continued visiting the Homestead until Bryant’s death in 1878.
Today, the house is restored to its appearance in 1870. Of the 478 acres originally associated with the Homestead, 188.57 acres are preserved. The property is a National Historic Landmark owned by The Trustees of Reservations. A brochure for a self-guided tour of the property provides visitors with descriptions of many of the places Bryant loved, some of which he described in his poetry. Highlights include a long allee of large maple trees lining the entrance to the property, planted in the early 19th century. The Rivulet Trail parallels the rivulet that Bryant wrote about in his poem “The Rivulet” (1823), which describes “this little rill, that from the springs Of yonder grove its current brings, Plays on the slope awhile, and then Goes prattling into groves again.”
The trail has several interesting sections, passing through a forest that was once farmed as well as an old growth hardwood forest with sugar maples, yellow birch and white ash trees, some 300 to 400 years old. Bryant himself blazed many of the hiking trails on the property. A section of pines 120-170 years old is one of the 10 tallest pine stands in the eastern United States. Trails running through the property allow visitors to explore the woodlands, meadows, and remnants of the orchard that inspired Bryant’s early nature poems. The property encompasses the Homestead, barn, ice house, and landscape elements including pasture, orchard, maple sugar bush, and woodland.
The William Cullen Bryant Homestead is located at 207 Bryant Rd., Cummington, MA. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark registration files: text and photos. The Homestead grounds are free to visit and open daily year-round from dawn to dusk. For additional information about the Homestead, visit The Trustees of Reservations William Cullen Bryant Homestead website or call 413-634-2244.
The William Cullen Bryant Homestead has been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey.
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