History

A History Of Noble View

The Appalachian Mountain Club’s Noble View is located on 358.5 acres on the southeast buttress of the Russell-Blandford massif, just six miles from Westfield, Massachusetts. Elevated around 1,100 feet above the Connecticut Valley, it overlooks seven hundred square miles of town and country, providing spectacular easterly views of the cities of Westfield and Springfield, with the Wilbraham hills in the far distance.

The land on which Noble View stands was designated as common land under a 1661 grant known as the “New Addition,” made to George Colton, Robert Ashley, and Major John Pynchon (who helped establish a number of communities in the Connecticut Valley, including Northampton, Hadley, Deerfield, Suffield, and nearby Westfield).

In 1757 the unsettled common land was divided among Westfield citizens, including Dr. Israel Ashley and Captain John Moseley. The large tracts of land acquired by Ashley and Moseley lay west of a post road that had been cut down Glasgow Mountain (now known as Russell Mountain) three years earlier. Now the preferred route to Noble View, the road is named for General Henry Knox, who traveled it in 1776 on his mission to transport captured British cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston. A marker at the corner of General Knox and South Quarter Roads commemorates Knox’s expedition.

Title to 100 acres of the Moseley estate was acquired in 1801 by Alexander Gowdy, who built a homestead there. In 1825, the southern half of Gowdy’s holdings was bought by a prosperous young farmer named Albert Noble. Noble replaced the homestead in 1831, setting the hearthstone and raising the timbers of a substantial farm house that still stands today. By 1844, Noble had expanded his original 50-acre holding to 245 acres, purchasing the remainder of Gowdy’s property as well as two parcels from the Ashley estate. The farm was called Albert Noble’s View, for its sweeping ridgetop view of the Pioneer Valley.

On the death of Noble’s children, the farm passed out of the Noble family. Over the next few decades, it changed hands several times, and acquired additional acreage. In 1904, it was purchased by Frederick R. Knott as a vacation retreat. Knott added to the accommodations provided by the Farmhouse by building three cottages on the ridge--the North Cottage (currently under renovation) and two structures that were later joined by a covered breezeway into the Double Cottage (re-dedicated in 2006 after complete renovation and modernization).

Knott deeded Noble View to his daughter, Edith K. Prince, in 1914. The Prince family continued to summer there, employing a succession of tenant farmers to manage the farm. But the logistical and financial burdens of managing the large property eventually became too much for Mrs. Prince, and she began to look for a buyer.

Edwin W. Gantt, a friend of the Prince family and a member of the newly-formed Berkshire Chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club, had spent much time at Noble View. He proposed to the Chapter that it purchase the farm on behalf of the AMC as a recreational center. Chapter members agreed, and Ganntt and Mrs. Prince negotiated a purchase price of $3,880. A committee consisting of Joseph E. Partenheimer, Edward K. Allen, and Horace E. Allen raised money for a downpayment of $1,080, with a mortgage of $2,800 taken out for the rest. On January 23, 1931, Noble View’s title passed to the AMC. The mortgage was discharged on March 15, 1946, and a mortgage-burning ceremony held the weekend of June 15 of that year. The ceremony is commemorated with the annual Laurel Day Celebration.

A memorial fireplace built of native granite and serpentine was dedicated on November 3, 1940, to commemorate Edwin Gantt’s contributions to Noble View and to the Berkshire Chapter. Its inscription reads, “To Edwin W. Gantt, who taught others to love these hills as he did.”

Since its purchase, Noble View has been used by the Berkshire Chapter and others as a recreational property, offering the same range of outdoor activities as it does today. It has also served other purposes. From October 1943 through June 1944, Noble View was a military reservation, occupied by a detachment from an Air Force fighter control squadron, which camped under framed canvas in a field (and reportedly did quite a bit of damage, moving stone walls and pirating antique timbers for tent flooring). And until the mid-1950’s, Noble View remained an active farm. Among the tenant farmers who worked the land was George P. Forish, grandfather of past Berkshire Chapter Chair, past Noble View Chair, and current Noble View Committee member Gary Forish, who in 1903 was granted a license to farm a limited section of the property, and to live in the farm house, for an annual rent of $5.00.

Land purchases in the second half of the twentieth century expanded Noble View to its present 358.5 acres. One of these purchases, a 30-acre tract of forest bought in 1959, was made in memory of former Noble View Chair Malcolm B. Ross, whose dream was to protect Noble View’s unspoiled landscape by expanding its boundaries. The Malcolm B. Ross Memorial Forest was dedicated on June 21, 1959, and is marked by a cairn and a plaque.

Today’s Noble View, with its modern accomodations and 17 miles of well-maintained trails, is very different from the uncharted land granted to Major John Pynchon in 1661, from the prosperous farm of the 1800’s, and from the private vacation preserve of the early 1900’s. But its pristine beauty and rural peace remain the same. As it was in 1931, the AMC and its Berkshire Chapter, and the Noble View Committee, are committed to preserving this unique resource, both for the present and for generations to come.

Compiled from original documents, Berkshire Chapter reports, back issues of the Berkshire Exchange, and articles from AMC’s Appalachia, especially “Our Noble View” by Warner B. Sturtevant (Appalachia, June 1945).

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Tracing The Past At Noble View: Archaeology

Noble View’s pristine forest landscape seems now like unspoiled wilderness, but in fact the property was once a prosperous farm, part of a thriving agricultural community. In many places along the trails, hikers can find evidence of Noble View’s past: a plow, a dish, a piece of glass, a cellar hole, a stone wall.

A county road once extended from South Quarter Road (below the current Noble View gate) up to Noble View, then down Laurel Lane to County Road Trail, ending on General Knox Road. Along this road in the early 1800’s were a number of farms and homesteads.

The Gowdy cellar hole (No. 1 on the map) can be found near the bottom of the meadow that descends to the east from the Double Cottage, near where the Spring Trail enters the woods. The spring is about 60 yards south of the foundation and to the north of the Spring Trail. There has been much conjecture as to the whereabouts of the entrance road to this property, but there seems to be evidence that it may have crossed the Spring Trail and continued to the south and east, perhaps along a portion of what is now known as the Circuit Trail. The barn was at the top of the hill, just north of the Link Trail trailhead. (When Albert Noble purchased the southern half of the Gowdy property in 1825, these buildings were still standing.)

A second cellar hole (No. 2 on the map) can be found to the west of Laurel Lane, between the intersections of the Border Trail and County Road Trail with Laurel Lane. This is a large and ancient foundation. The barn foundations stand across the County Road Trail. The names of these buildings’ owners are unknown, although as this land belonged to the Ashley family before it was bought by Albert Noble, it is likely that the cellar hole was an Ashley homestead.

Farther south on Laurel Lane, and close to the Charcoal Kiln Trail intersection, there is another cellar hole to the north of Laurel Lane (No. 3 on the map). The Beers Hampden County Atlas of 1870 shows it as the Cotee property; later names associated with it are Pendleton and Snow. There are two wells to search for, one at the northeast corner of the house site, the other across the trail, where the barns once stood.

Returning to the County Road Trail, follow it east until you reach a brook crossing. Just before the brook, look to the north for the traces of a laneway that runs off into the woods for a couple of hundred feet to the foundations of another house (No. 4 on the map). This old cellar hole does not appear on any of the county maps published since the middle of the nineteenth century, so the owners’ names are unknown.

The last known cellar hole on County Road Trail is situated near the Sodom Brook crossing down in the valley (No. 5 on the map). It appears on Richard’s Standard Atlas of Hampden County, published in 1912, with house and barn on opposite sides of the road just before the brook crossing. Tradition calls it the Reuben Noble cellar hole, but no name is given on the Atlas.

Cellar holes are not the only points of historical interest to be found along Noble View’s trails. Along Laurel Lane Trail, watch for the remains of stone walls that once marked out the borders of fields and yards.

On Charcoal Kiln Trail are the remains of a brick beehive charcoal kiln, made with bricks manufactured by Walkley Brick Co. of Westfield, Mass (taken over in 1915 by Westfield Clay Products Co.). The Dam Brook Trail leads directly down to the kiln.

The 1912 Atlas indicated another kiln (possibly a lime kiln) in the vicinity of the Pendleton-Snow cellar hole (No. 3 on the map). Some strange circular formations exist in the hollow to the east of the barn foundations at this cellar hole, but since there are no signs of charcoal or lime burning, it is impossible to guess what they might be.

A gravestone with eroded markings is located on the east side of Noble View’s barn. This is the grave of William Blakeslee, one of Albert Noble’s grandsons.

Adapted from an account written by Laura Saunders, published in 1997 in the Berkshire Exchange.

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Tracing The Past At Noble View: Images

Coming Soon!

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History Of The Town Of Russell, Massachusetts

The town of Russell is nestled at the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in Hampden County, bordered by the towns of Westfield to the east, Granville to the south, Blandford to the west, Montgomery to the north, and Huntington to the northwest. Covering approximately 17.9 square miles, Russell’s bucolic landscape of rolling hills is mostly forested, with some open fields used for agriculture. Though only 20 miles from Springfield and 8 miles from Westfield, two of western Massachusetts’ major commercial centers, Russell has maintained its quiet, rural character. Russell’s current population is below 2,000.

The Town of Russell was incorporated in 1792 in response to a petition by residents of “New Addition”, a piece of land belonging to Westfield and valued because of its marble quarry and excellent building stone. The earliest settlers were located on Glasgow Mountain, now known as Russell Mountain--farmers and loggers who utilized the heavy growth of timber on Glasgow Mountain to supply building operations in fast-growing neighborhoods.

The railroad came to Russell in the late 1830’s, and the center of town moved to the river valley at the foot of the mountains (Russell’s downtown has recently been designated a National Historic District). Streams flowing into the Westfield River, and the Westfield itself, were harnessed to power sawmills and grist mills. The Town continued to grow, with brick and tile works, a tannery, charcoal kilns, stores, and taverns.

A major paper industry also developed along the Westfield River, beginning with Chapin and Gould in 1858, followed by Salmon Falls and Fairfield in 1872, and the Westfield River Paper Company in 1902. Russell became a bustling hub of paper manufacturing, known as “The Paper Town”. The three distinct villages within Russell developed around the three paper mills, which were built on the sites of former gristmills, charcoal kilns, and brick and tile companies. Traditionally, most citizens of the town were employed by the mills, and the paper companies constructed the villages of Woronoco, Crescent Mills, and The Grove in Russell as housing for their workers. Today, the only remaining paper manufacturer in Russell is USM Texon Materials, Inc., on the former Chapin and Gould site in Crescent Mills.

Although Russell was originally a self-sufficient entity, state requirements have led to collaboration in several areas. In 1965, Russell voted to join the Gateway Regional School District, which comprises seven Hilltowns. Russell also partners with other towns in sharing and supporting the Huntington Ambulance, as well as regional finance and select board sub-committees. In the area of recreation, the Town of Blandford shares the recreation facilities of Russell Pond, and all sports teams are now under the auspices of the Gateway Youth Athletic Association.

Although some parts of Russell might be considered “bedroom” communities, with workers commuting to larger commercial centers such as Springfield, the majority of residents work either in town or in neighboring Westfield. New business has been brought to the area, notably by the Mennonites, who have opened a large furniture factory and a bakery. There is also the possibility that a large biomass-generating plant may be built on the former Westfield River Paper Company site.

Adapted from a history written by Ann Lucy Strickland Merritt

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Geology Of The Area

The bedrock of Russell is part of the eroded core of an ancient chain of mountains that is approximately 400-500 million years old, and extends from Long Island Sound through western Massachusetts and Vermont into Quebec. There are three known geologic formations in Russell: the Russell Formation, with light gray to dark gray schists and phyllites (lustrous slatey rocks); the Wiats River Formation, with dark gray schists and occasional thin beds of black marble and feldspar; and the Williamsburg Granodiorite, with crystalline granite-like intrusives containing coarse crystalline veins of quartz.

Like almost all of New England, Russell was covered by great ice sheets thousands of feet thick in the recent geologic past. The ice sheets melted about 12,000 years ago, leaving extensive surface deposits that cover most of the land and dominate the New England landscape.

The two basic types of deposit in Russell are lodgment till and stratified drift. Lodgment till, which formed when glaciers overrode and compressed the earth, is an unsorted mixture of sand, clay, pebbles and boulders, no more than three feet thick. Stratified drift refers to deposits of sand and gravel that formed during the final days of the Ice Age. The melting ice sheets gave rise to torrential streams that carried large loads of sand and gravel formerly trapped in ice. When the velocity of the stream diminished upon entering a lake or flat area, its load settled and formed deposits of sand and gravel.

The soils in Russell are dominated by three major types: Lyman soils, which are loamy and shallow, and Marlow and Peru soils, which are loamy and slowly permeable. All soil types existing in Russell present limitations, many severe, to septic systems and building construction. There are 208 acres of Prime or Significant Agricultural Soils in Russell scattered in small pockets in valleys around town.

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© Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved. The Appalachian Mountain Club • Noble View Outdoor Center • 635 South Quarter Road, Russell, Massachusetts 01071 :: Updated 6.10.16