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MHC

Farmland

Home Home on the Range

 
View from Prospect Hill of Byron Smiths farm which later became a part of the campus. Courtesy of MHC Archives.
 
A view of Lower Lake, the botanical gardens, Shattuck Hall and Williston Hall from Prospect Hill which was still being farmed at the time (1850-1900). Courtesy of MHC Archives.
 
 
 

By looking at the Mount Holyoke College campus today it would be hard to guess that it and all of the surrounding land had been farmland less than 200 years prior.  It’s hard to tell whether the change overtime from farmland to rural/suburban would have happened as quickly or in the same way if the college had not decided to build in this location.  The addition of the college made have sped up the progression of moving away from farming by creating a community that needed more shops and entertainment as well as the college needing more land and so continually buying up more and more property.  But the opposite may also have been true.  The college to this day prides itself on its rural setting and natural beauty so South Hadley may have become more like Holyoke had the college not been there to slow down/stop industrial development.  Ecologically this may have prevented the destruction of some habitat but the landscape of the college and the surrounding area is so created that it although it left open space for wildlife to inhabit it caused an ecological shift from a farmland habitat to a lake/wooded habitat. This also caused a shift in the species composition of the area.      

Click here for a map of the old farm properties.

In the begining: The farmland that was bought to build the seminary on was bought from Joel Hayes and Peter Allen in 1835.  This original plot was only about ten acres in total but it was the start of something wonderful as well as foreshadowing the development that was to come as the college expanded.  Due to the Seminary's success early on the college realized the need for expansion as well as wanting to preserve the land.   This brought about the purchase of the farmland around the lakes as well as on Prospect Hill during the 1880’s. (38) The reason for wanting to protect their water sources may have been three-fold.  For one the college relied on the power of a small dam on Stony Brook to pump water throughout the seminary.  To read more about the dams on Stony Brook click here.  Another reason may have been environmental/aesthetic in that the college wanted to keep the lakes clean and beautiful for the pleasure of the students.  Lastly it may have been due to the fact that the college was worried that someone else would buy the land if they didn’t get to it first because the area around South Hadley was beginning to slowly develop around this time period. 

More farmland had been purchased by 1900 which made the total acreage of the campus rise to 250 acres. 

Forestation: By analyzing the maps of the college land through the years I came to the conclusion that the first place to become wooded was around Upper Lake.  This may have been for a number of reasons including the fact that the college may have decided to let things grow and let it become a more wooded area or due to the fact that the lake kept the soil fertile and moist, a perfect place for trees and vegetation to thrive.  This marked one of the first ends to the farmland state of the area even before the college really took over and created a landscape.   Although this was the first wooded place on campus the tree cover around Upper and especially Lower Lake has begun to decrease over the last 50 years most likely due to the increase in development. 

Ecological Implications: From Prospect Hill to the rest of the campus as each farm was bought, trees were planted and the environment landscaped. This caused an ecological shift from the species that thrive in the presence of flat fertile land with litte tree cover to the species that enjoy a more wooded habitat. Although this shift may have casued the extinction of some species for the most part the displaced wildlife would have just migrated to a new location that had a better habitat for them to thrive in. This would have been made possible due to the fact that the South Hadley area changed slowly from farmland to a more developed place so that species had the chance to migrate or adapt. Aslo as the farmland was bought, some of it was left untouch. This land eventually was taken over by trees which adds to the wooded feel of the campus today. Despite this most tree cover today was planned and planted.

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This page was created by Molly Edson in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 - mtedson@mtholyoke.edu