Looking back at 100 years of history along the scenic Mohawk Trail in northwestern Massachusetts.
By Yankee Magazine
Oct 17 2014
Whitcomb SummitPhoto Credit : Courtesy of the North Adams Historical Society, Inc.
A rough pathway connects several American Indian tribes, who use it for trading, hunting, and, occasionally, warring with one another: the Wampanoags, Nipmucs, Mahicans, Mohawks, and others. But the Pocumtucks are the primary residents of what would become the Mohawk Trail, linking theHudson and Connecticut valleys along east-flowing portions of the Hoosic, Cold, and Deerfield rivers.
Following decades of intertribal warfare, the Mohawks launch a decisive attack against the Pocumtucks, decimating their numbers and ultimately giving the trail its name. English settlement in western Massachusetts expands northward.
Metacom, a Wampanoag leader, travels the trail during his rebellion against the English in King Philip’s War. In May 1676, 150 colonists and militia slaughter 300 Native women, children, and elders on the banks of the Connecticut River at Great Falls, ending the centuries-old traditional peace gathering of Northeastern tribes during the spring shad and salmon run.
Colonial soldiers widen the pathway for travel by horse or oxcart.
Charles Wright of North Adams opens a tavern along the trail, making him one of the first of the trail’s entrepreneurs.
Samuel Rice of Charlemont seeks permission from the government to build a new road across the mountain. The trail had become too dangerous, “several creatures having lost their lives thereof.”
Bound for Fort Ticonderoga, New York, Benedict Arnold—not yet a notorious Revolutionary traitor—traverses the trail and enlists recruits to fight the English.
Stagecoach service over the trail begins between Greenfield, Mass., and Troy, New York.
Construction on the Hoosac Tunnel, a railway through the Hoosac Range, begins. Critics christen it “The Great Bore.”
An explosion on October 17 during construction of the tunnel kills 13 workers. The tunnel becomes known as “The Bloody Pit.”
The Hoosac Tunnel is completed, at an estimated cost of $14 million to $21 million and 195 lives.
The name “Mohawk Trail” appears in print for the first time in Arthur Latham Perry’s Origins in Williamstown.
The Mohawk Trail opens to cars as the first official “scenic tourist route” in New England. (The very first auto road over the mountains, however, is the Jacob’s Ladder Trail, a portion of Route 20 in the southern Berkshires, opened in 1910.) Unpaved and a mere 15 feet across, it still makes for rough travel. Within a few months, restaurants, gas stations, and gift shops, begin popping up along the Trail.
Inspired by the beauty of the Mohawk Trail, traveling salesman Arthur Tauck Sr. starts a new business, offering guided scenic tours around New England. The first tour: six people crammed into a rented Studebaker, driving through the Berkshires and Adirondacks at a cost of $69 per person.
The Shelburne Falls Women’s Club plants a garden on an old, broken-down trolley bridge. In time they create a vibrant sea of flowers, vines, and shrubs: the Bridge of Flowers.
The French King Bridge, spanning a breathtaking gorge of the Connecticut River between Gill and Erving, opens to traffic, redirecting Route 2 away from a circuitous passage through area downtowns.
Members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era work-relief agency, deploy to the Mohawk Trail region, where they plant trees, build a campground, and construct several log cabins along the Cold River in Charlemont.
1,500 people sign a petition asking the Massachusetts governor to refurbish the Trail, as it was “in such poor repair that people often broke springs driving from Greenfield to Shelburne Falls.”
The Trail is rebuilt, eventually becoming a “new, smoother, wider route leading to the Berkshires.” Nearby towns plead to be added to the Trail, hoping to attract more visitors.
The Big Indian statue makes its début at a souvenir shop on the Trail outside Shelburne Falls. Standing more than 20 feet tall and sporting a long and colorful feathered Plains headdress, it would become a prime photo op for thousands of camera-toting tourists.
The Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute opens in Williamstown, housing its founders’ significant collection of European and American paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, silver, and porcelain.
The Massachusetts Turnpike opens, letting travelers drive across the state in record time. Though the new highway is 25–30 miles south, traffic along the Trail decreases sharply.
The Hoosac Tunnel is placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Hoosac Tunnel Historical Association dedicates a plaque in North Adams in honor of the 195 workers who died during the construction of the tunnel.
Williams College students and volunteers begin re-establishing 35 miles of the historic Native corridor as the first portion of a planned 100-mile Mahican–Mohawk Recreation Trail for hikers between the Connecticut and Hudson rivers.
MASS MoCA opens in North Adams and quickly becomes one of the largest centers for contemporary visual art in the United States and a perennial destination for art lovers.
The Big Indian Shop changes its name to “Native Views” and begins carrying Native American–made goods and crafts, though the Big Indian statue itself remains.