Natural Bridge State Park (Massachusetts)
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|Natural Bridge State Park|
|Massachusetts State Park|
File:Massachusetts Locator Map.PNG
Location of Natural Bridge State Park in Massachusetts
|Location||North Adams, Massachusetts, USA|
|Area||48 acres (19 ha)|
|Managed by||Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation|
|Nearest city||North Adams, Massachusetts|
Natural Bridge, North Adams
|Website : Natural Bridge State Park website|
Natural Bridge State Park is a Massachusetts state park located in North Adams, Massachusetts, in the northwestern part of the state. It contains the only natural white marble arch/bridge in North America. Its natural bridge, which spans Hudson Brook, was formed by glacial melt by 11,000 BC, from 550 million year old bedrock.
Formerly the site of a marble quarry (1810-1947) and privately-owned tourist attraction (1950-1983), the site became a state park in 1985. The arch and associated quarry have long attracted attention from hikers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1838, who wrote of it (among other local features) in his An American Notebook.
Natural Bridge State Park contains the only natural white marble bridge in North America. Formed by glacial melt by 11,000 BC, the arch was carved out over the course of 500 million years by a continuous flow of water (1). The Mohawk Indians that lived, hunted, and fished in the area possibly saw no gain in naming the small brook, but when an explorer for the Massachusetts fort stumbled upon the many caves and rock formations he took it upon himself to aptly name Hudson Brook; forever paying homage to himself (2-pg 399). Lieutenant Seth Hudson was stationed at Fort Massachusetts in 1759 and discovered what is today known as Hudson Brook around 1760 when he relocated out to the Western Massachusetts/ Vermont border. Hudson was later named as one of the founders of the southern Vermont town of Pownal (3).
Hudson Brook is responsible for many of the marble formations that can be seen at the Natural Bridge. The brook cascades down a marble maze and eventually makes its way through a cave known as Hudson Cave. This natural wonder was one of several locations in the Berkshires noted in the journal of Nathaniel Hawthorn; eventually published under the title an American Notebook.
2. History of the town of Marlborough, Middlesex Co, MA. Charles Hudson, 1862 T.R. Marver and Sons. Boston, MA p
Nathaniel Hawthorne visited and stayed in North Adams from Thursday, July 26, 1838 – Tuesday, September 11, 1838 (Hawthorne, American Notebook)
He left Salem, Massachusetts on Monday, July 23, 1838. His fiancée Sophia wrote to her sister Elizabeth on July 23 that Hawthorne “said he was not going to tell anyone where he was going to be the next three months—that he thought he should change his name so that if he died no one would be able to find his grave stone. He should not even tell his Mother where he could be found—that he neither intended to write to anyone nor be written to.” (Hawthorne, Centenary Letters 274-5)
On Thursday, July 26, 1838, Hawthorne wrote a letter from North Adams to his friend David Roberts in Salem. It begins:
“I did not intend to write to any of my friends during my absence; but as it is possible that there may be some very important intelligence awaiting me, I am induced to break my resolution.”
He then gives his friend instructions on handling any letters that may arrive for him in his absence. He ends the letter:
“I am very pleasantly situated here, and think that I can content myself for two or three weeks—after which I intend to make a move into New-York, which lies close at hand. Do not tell anybody that you have heard from me, or that you know anything of my whereabout. You will see me again (God willing) in the course of six months.” (Hawthorne, Centenary Letters 274)
While in North Adams, Hawthorne stayed at what was then called the North Adams House, a hotel on Main Street. (Connerton)
While staying in North Adams, Hawthorne made several visits to the Natural Bridge. The location was known as Hudson’s Falls or Hudson’s Cave.
-His first visit to the Natural Bridge was on Tuesday, July 31, 1838.
Hawthorne described the formation as:
“a fissure in a huge ledge of marble, through which a stream has been for ages forcing its way, and has left marks of its gradually wearing power on the tall crags, having made curious hollows from the summit down to the level which it has reached at the present day.”
“The marble crags are overspread with a concretion, which makes them look as gray as granite, except where the continual flow of water keeps them of a snowy whiteness. If they were so white all over, it would be a splendid show. There is a marble-quarry close in the rear, above the cave, and in process of time the whole of the crags will be quarried into tombstones, doorsteps, fronts of edifices, fireplaces, etc. That will be a pity.”
Hawthorne waded through the stream and under the bridge, and continued his description:
“After passing through this romantic and most picturesque spot, the stream goes onward to turn factories. Here its voice resounds within the hollow crags; there it goes onward, talking to itself, with babbling din, of its own wild thoughts and fantasies,--the voice of solitude and the wilderness,--loud and continual, but which yet does not seem to disturb the thoughtful wanderer, so that he forgets there is a noise. It talks along its storm-strewn path; it talks beneath tall precipices and high banks,--a voice that has been the same for innumerable ages; and yet, if you listen, you will perceive a continual change and variety in its babble, and sometimes it seems to swell louder upon the ear than at others,--in the same spot, I mean. By and by man makes a dam for it, and it pours over it, still making its voice heard, while it labors.”
“The marble is coarse-grained, but of a very brilliant whiteness. It is rather a pity that the cave is not formed of some worthless stone.”
-His second visit was on Saturday, August 11, 1838
“Hudson's Cave is formed by Hudson's Brook. There is a natural arch of marble still in one part of it. The cliffs are partly made verdant with green moss, chiefly gray with oxidation; on some parts the white of the marble is seen; in interstices grow brake and other shrubs, so that there is naked sublimity seen through a good deal of clustering beauty. Above, the birch, poplars, and pines grow on the utmost verge of the cliffs, which jut far over, so that they are suspended in air; and whenever the sunshine finds its way into the depths of the chasm, the branches wave across it. There is a lightness, however, about their foliage, which greatly relieves what would otherwise be a gloomy scene. After the passage of the stream through the cliffs of marble, the cliffs separate on either side, and leave it to flow onward; intercepting its passage, however, by fragments of marble, some of them huge ones, which the cliffs have flung down, thundering into the bed of the stream through numberless ages. Doubtless some of these immense fragments had trees growing on them, which have now mouldered away. Decaying trunks are heaped in various parts of the gorge. The pieces of marble that are washed by the water are of a snow-white, and partially covered with a bright green water-moss, making a beautiful contrast.
Among the cliffs, strips of earth-beach extend downward, and trees and large shrubs root themselves in that earth, thus further contrasting the nakedness of the stone with their green foliage. But the immediate part where the stream forces its winding passage through the rock is stern, dark, and mysterious.”
-Third visit with clergyman was on Tuesday, August 14, 1838
“In the morning it was cloudy, but did not rain, and I went with the little clergyman to Hudson's Cave. The stream which they call North Branch, and into which Hudson's Brook empties, was much swollen, and tumbled and dashed and whitened over the rocks, and formed real cascades over the dams, and rushed fast along the side of the cliffs, which had their feet in it. Its color was deep brown, owing to the washing of the banks which the rain had poured into it. Looking back, we could see a cloud on Graylock; but on other parts of Saddle Mountain there were spots of sunshine, some of most glorious brightness, contrasting with the general gloom of the sky, and the deep shadow which lay on the earth.
We looked at the spot where the stream makes its entrance into the marble cliff, and it was (this morning, at least) the most striking view of the cave. The water dashed down in a misty cascade, through what looked like the portal of some infernal subterranean structure; and far within the portal we could see the mist and the falling water; and it looked as if, but for these obstructions of view, we might have had a deeper insight into a gloomy region.”
-Fourth cave visit was on Friday, September 7, 1838
“Visited the cave. A large portion of it, where water trickles and falls, is perfectly white. The walls present a specimen of how Nature packs the stone, crowding huge masses, as it were, into chinks and fissures, and here we see it in the perpendicular or horizontal layers, as Nature laid it.”
While in the area he attended the Commencement at Williams College on Wednesday, August 15, 1838.
All the info on Hawthorne’s Natural Bridge visits comes from The American Notebooks:(Hawthorne, American Notebooks)
Thursday, September 6, 1838 - Hawthorne takes a moonlight walk up the mountain road and sees a lime-kiln burning. It is from this experience that Hawthorne developed the idea for his short story “Ethan Brand” (Hawthorne, Heart 43-4)
In regards to Ethan Brand:“Two things, however, are certain: for the setting of the story, its author drew exclusively upon notes taken in North Adams; and the moral problem involved in it was Hawthorne’s own problem, as a man and an artist, in the summer of 1838.” (Perry, 134)
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Heart of Hawthorne's Journals. Ed. Newton Arvin. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The American Notebooks. Ed. Claude M. Simpson. Centenary ed. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State UP, 1972.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Centenary Edition of the Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Letters, 1813-1843. Ed. Thomas Woodson, L. Neal Smith, and Norman Holmes Pearson. Vol. 15. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State UP, 1984.
Connerton, Dan. "Nathaniel Hawthorne: The North Adams years." The Berkshire Sampler. 14 Sept. 1980: 7.
Burke, Michael E. "Visit by Hawthorne, an overlooked moment in city's history." The North Adams Transcript. 19 Nov. 1981: 5.
Perry, Bliss. "Hawthorne at North Adams." The Amateur Spirit. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1904. 119-39.
The Natural Bridge site is rich in a multitude of minerals, including Calcite, muscovite, feldspar, pyrite, and quartz---but it is mostly known for its rich deposits of marble rock. This quarry brought great wealth to the community. North Adams saw a boom in economy and culture for well over one hundred years because of the millwork in town, but a quick look around town will reveal that marble cutting brought a wealth of aesthetic greatness.
Stone cutting in North Adams started at first in an inexperienced, coarse manner. Amateur workers cut marble for gravestones, stone facings, underpinnings, and mantle pieces for the wealthier class in town. The earliest stone cutting was unorganized and generally unregulated until around 1810.
In 1810, Solomon Sherman who was a man of “high reputation” commenced his business at the natural bridge site. His operation was based on home trade. Operations were continued and taken over by his heir, Manson Sherman. It was in 1830 that Elijah Pike decided to start his own operation, opening up a shop on Eagle Street.
In 1830, Elijah Pike opened up his shop on the main strip of town. As the quality and quantity of the marble became known, a wider market opened up and Pike saw a chance to commence his operation with capital from one Dr. E.S. Hawkes. The men pooled their resources in improving the grounds, laying out a road, and putting up the mills. All of this was at a cost of 1,800 dollars. In 1837, Mr. Blackinton, a local man, bought in with Mr. Pike and the operation continued until it was sold to W.M. MaCauley for 7,000 dollars in 1838. From this point on, it was owned by a joint stock company and the annual product (marble, lime, etc) was estimated at 56,000, which was quite a nice amount of cash.
Preservation efforts started early when in 1835 two gentleman known as Messrs. Dwight and Denny bought the marble ledge for 150 dollars for the purposes of preserving the area. Five acres of surrounding land was purchased by one John Page for 217 dollars, whom entered into a perpetual lease from the town, who then owned thirty acres of land.
History of North Adams. Morris. Pp. 29–30,66-67, Originally found in North Adams Transcript. Copied from Original in April 1945.
History of North Adams, Ma. 1749-1885 W.F. Spear. Hoosac Valley News Printing House, 1895.
 (information on Marble Quality in Berkshires)