View of entrance gates and Normal Hall, Laurel Park, Northampton. Historic postcard, undated, collection of Laurel Park.
This web-based local history project analyzes the buildings and landscapes at Laurel Park. Students from Smith College (see bottom of page for authors), taking a class on historic preservation and cultural landscapes, visited the park and were immediately charmed. They chose different aspects of Laurel Park to investigate through a cultural landscape and preservationist lens. Click the tabs above to see their findings.
Laurel Park is located in Northampton, MA, near Interstate Highway 91 and the Connecticut River. The community includes 41 acres of land and roughly 100 cottages. They share four communal buildings: Normal Hall, the Tabernacle, the Dining Hall, and the Post Office. The site is heavily wooded.
Laurel Park began as a seasonal camp meeting site associated with the Methodist Church and then the Chataqua movement in 1872. The community no longer has any formal religious affiliation. Laurel Park will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2022.
Normal Hall is the oldest extant building at Laurel Park, significant in its visual prominence in the landscape (see postcard) and in its pattern of continuous use by camp-goers and residents for over 145 years.
Field work with Tom Carter
On April 4th, we made our first visit to Laurel Park to conduct field work with University of Utah emeritus professor Tom Carter, who visited Smith College to deliver a lecture on field methods in the study of vernacular architecture and the built environment. He taught us the basics of documenting buildings and investigating building materials. We chose to focus on Normal Hall.
Some findings include:
Recording exterior dimensions.
Photo by Sarina Vega, April 4, 2017
Professor Carter on the hunt for clues.
Photo by Steve Moga, April 4, 2017
Detail, Map of Laurel Park, Plate 1, 1895, D.E. Miller and Co, Collection of Historic Northampton. Note semi-circular arrangement of buildings around larger center structure. Also note proximity of rail station (labeled STA).
"The camp at Laurel Park was founded in 1872 as a Methodist summer camp and used as a site for religious camp meetings and other spiritual services. At the same time, it became a site for the popular traveling Chautauqua Festivals of the era. The grounds were developed with the ideals of the Chautauqua movement in mind: as a place to gather and create an open air “university of ideas” focused on lifelong learning through nature, music, oration and the arts. This goal was the impetus for building Normal Hall and the Tabernacle, structures whose original purpose was to provide space for teaching and performing.
Throughout the late 1800’s and early 1900’s Laurel Park was known as a gathering place where Pioneer Valley residents could come to be entertained, educated and inspired. Thousands of people came to traveling Chautauqua events on the grounds to hear the best-known speakers and entertainers of the day."
Sandra Matthews, a resident for over 30 years and director of Laurel Park Arts, spent three afternoons with us at Laurel Park. She tirelessly communicated her knowledge, answered our innumerable questions, showed us the buildings, and led us through the woods. Thank you to our lovely guide!
Sandra! Photo by Steve Moga, April 25, 2017
Photo by Steve Moga, April 23, 2017
From left to right:
Zoe Zandbergen is an Engineering Arts major, Studio Art minor who researched factors affecting renovation of cottages at Laurel Park.
Clelie Fielding is an Architecture major, who researched the history and significance of mountain laurel at Laurel Park.
Sarina Vega is an environmental science & policy/studio art double major who explored the spatial layout of Laurel Park with historical contexts in mind, and also explored the Chautauqua frontier revival movement in the late 19th century, as well.
Melissa Rosa is majoring in Engineering Arts and minoring in Architecture. She focused on the tradition of house naming as a cultural heritage and how members of Laurel Park continue to practice this unique tradition.
Jackie Byun is a Computer Science major who focused on the trees in Laurel Park and the continuation of the past through nature's elements.
We would like give a special thanks to Professor Steve Moga, who provided our class with the opportunity to explore fascinating cultural landscapes in nearby Northampton, MA, as well as Brooklyn, NY. We are grateful for the wonderful pictures he captured and the wisdom he shared with us throughout the semester.