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The Ecological changes of the Mount Holyoke College Campus

From Beauty to Ruin and Back Again

The Abbey Chapel Garden, Mount Holyoke College. Courtesy of MHC Archives.

Mount Holyoke students who were staying on campus during the summer to take care of the campus standing on a Black Walnut tree that was blown down during a big storm on July 20, 1917. Courtesy of MHC Archives.


" There were no trees, no fence, and not a blade of grass but a deep bed of sand lay around the house."

- opening day of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, November 8, 1837(1)

The creation of the Mount Holyoke female seminary changed the ecology of the South Hadley landscape forever. Some say it has been made better, or more beautiful through the intense landscaping that has taken place. On the contrary, some others, who prefer the more “natural” or wild landscape, say that the Mount Holyoke College campus has become a creation of man, which has been ecologically devastating. For good or bad, the ecology of the Mount Holyoke Campus has changed considerable over time. You be the Judge.

Farmland: Before the seminary was built South Hadley was covered predominatly by farmland. There were many different families who owed the land that is now Mount Holyoke College. Over the years as the seminary grew into a college and the college continued to grow the farmland was coverted to the created landscape of the college.

Creation --Take One: On day one nothing had been planted…yet. Since the beginning years of the seminary to the college today an enormous amount of time and money has been put into the upkeep of the grounds and gardens. Ecologically this has vastly changed the area from being predominantly covered by farms to the leafy cover now experienced by Mount Holyoke students today.

Creation --Take Two: After the fire the college had to completely rebuild. Along with the construction of new buildings and the expanding the college, the landscape was also reevaluated and redone to a large extent. All of these chages greatly affected the ecology of the Mount Holyoke campus.

Lakes and Streams: What was once a free flowing small stream has become the two lakes and brook we know today. The lakes have experienced much ecological change throughout their history. They were created by the mill owners who needed a more steady supply of water to use as power. This was the first time the river was damed but certainly not the last. The area around Upper lake and the dam were purchased on December 23, 1884 for the purpose of gaining control over the water way (6). The lakes were dredged in and 1985 and 86, due to the build up of sediment that was impeding the recreational value of them. The lakes also suffered an ecological domination by the annoying Water Chestnut. The Water Chestnut blight also created a hazardous situation for the Mount Holyoke students who wished to use the lake for recreation.

Click here for a beautiful poem written about the water ways of the Mount Holyoke Campus.

Hurricanes: On two separate occasions hurricanes decimated the trees and vegetation of the college. The broken trees had to be replaced as well as the debris being removed. Hurricanes can cause great changes to the ecological make-up of a place, which was certainly true for the Mount Holyoke Campus.

Button Field: Between Jewett Lane and Ashefield Lane there lies a place of mystery, a field full of buttons: Button Field. One mans unique attempt at fertilizing his crops became a legend that not only changed the ecology of the Mount Holyoke College campus but was passed down from student to student.

Prospect Hill: When the Mount Holyoke female seminary was first built Prospect Hill wasn't even owned by the seminary and was completly treeless. Over the course of Mount Holyokes history Prospect Hill has become completly wooded. As the hill has become a forest it has created a huge ecological shift, as it became a completly different habitat.

Chose Your Ecological Journey:

1. The Creation of the Mount Holyoke College Landscape

2. The Ever-Changing Lakes

3. Disasters and Other Odd Occurances and Changes


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This page was created by Molly Edson 2007 in History 283, Spring Semester 2006 -