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LSS240: 2016 Student Guide Reinterpreting the Landscape of the Pioneer Valley

Created by student in LSS240 - Spring 2016

Reinterpreting Joseph Allen Skinner State Park

Joseph Allen Skinner State Park has been a scenic tourist destination since the early 1800s and  is located on the western end of the Mount Holyoke Range. Officially designated as a state park in 1940 when Joseph Allen Skinner donated 375 acres to the town of Hadley and South Hadley this landscape is now managed by the Massachusetts DCR. This state park contains a variety of historic structures, most notably the Summit House. Today the State Park has expanded to 780.77 acres. Although the park is moderate in size is has served as an inspiration for other public and private land protection efforts.  

Cultural Landscape Resources within Joseph Allen Skinner State Park

Topography and Recreation
Ranging from 889 feet above sea level at the Mount Holyoke Summit  to 108 feet above sea level at the east bank of the Connecticut River this park represents a wide variety of dramatic scenes. The park has approximately 9.78 miles of trails within the park to enjoy.


   Sixteen state-listed rare species can be found in this state park. Approximately 676.86 acres (86.69%) of Skinner State Park has been designated as Priority Habitat under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act .

In 2010, MassWildlife and The Nature Conservancy issued BioMap2 which presents a guide to conserving the biodiversity of Massachusetts. This map identifies two types of important conservation landscapes: Core Habitat and Critical Natural Landscape.

  • Core Habitat is critical for the long term occupancy of these rare species and a variety of other species of conservation concern.

         - This State Park consists of 96% or 740.60 acres of Core Habitat.
  • Critical Natural Landscape provides habitat for wide-ranging native wildlife by maintaining connectivity among habitats through supporting intact ecological processes, enhancing ecological resilience and ensuring the long-term integrity of the landscape.

         - This State Park consists of 79.26% or 618.81 acres of Critical Natural Landscape.


Joseph Allen Skinner State Park contains a variety of sites which portray the civilizations who have been a part of the Pioneer Valley for centuries. Archeologists have found that this park contains 17 recorded pre-contact sites that tell the story of the inhabitants that have shaped this area from 12,000 YBP (Year Before Present) to the late 1660s. The number of known sites is predicted to be far less than what actually exists in the State Park.


The architecture preserved to this day is primarily clustered in two location; the Summit Area  and the Halfway Area. The two areas are historically and physically connected to each other. The Summit House  played a significant role in history as a major tourist and recreational destination during the 1800s and its view has been depicted by artists such as Thomas Cole in his painting, “View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm--The Oxbow”.  The Halfway Area still maintains the building and structures that once supported the operation to access the Summit House like the tramway system.

Many of the park’s cultural resources are listed on the National Register of Historic Places that contribute to the Hockanum Rural Historic District including the Skinner State Park Tobacco Barn.  This is a pole style tobacco barn with vertical hinged siding and a metal room  that was constructed post-1938. This building is an example of vernacular architecture in the Pioneer Valley an exemplifies a prominent industry that shaped the landscape you view from the Summit House.


The Hockanum Rural Historic District is designated under the National Register of Historic Places which is administered by the United States Department of Interior’s National Park Service. This designation documents the Nation’s historic places that are worthy of preservation and is a national program that helps to support public and private efforts to identify, protect and preserve important historical and archeological resources.  

Approximately 41,568 people visited Skinner state park in Fiscal Year 2012. The pattern of visitation rates increases during the fall foliage season and the lowest visitation during the summer months. Over the 2012 season the Summit House was being renovated and an increased awareness of the cultural significance of this site has been integrated into the programing and signage in the Summit House. These renovations look to improve and entice visitors to understand the cultural and historical significance contained within Joseph Allen Skinner State Park.