William Street of Holyoke MA always had a dream and at the age of 22 he started building it on Mt. Nonotuck, which is now part of the Mt. Tom State Reservation. The year was 1861.
The Eyrie House, (pronounced eh-ree), was a wooden-framed structure that started out with five guest rooms, but over the years transformed into a popular resort. In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s the hotel had grown to incorporate 30 guest rooms, two promenades, a pavilion, a picnic grove, a croquet area, an overhang swing for children, stables, and a new look-out tower that replaced the old observation deck. Business was thriving. Both locals and visitors to the area made Eyrie House their go-to destination. And William Street’s dream had come true. The place he loved and built with his own hands was appreciated by many.
By the 1890’s Eyrie House had started showing signs of wear. And many people stopped coming to the former grand hotel. So, in 1893 William decided to build a new one with an incline railroad that would bring people right to the front door.
In 1901, on 13 April, William Street lost everything to a blazing fire. Earlier that day he had discovered two of his horses had died. Not being able to get them off the mountain easily. he decided to build a pyre and cremate them. Thinking the flames were out, he went to bed. Later that evening he noticed smoke and flames. The fire had reignited and set the top of the mountain in a blaze that many said could be seen for 20 miles around. William didn’t have the money to re-build and he didn’t have adequate insurance. He was devastated.
The state offered William $5000 for his property. He thought it was worth more and wouldn’t sell. So, wanting to create the Mt. Tom State Reservation and wanting to get rid of Mr. Street, the state deposited a check for $5000 in a trust for William and took his property by eminent domain.
William never took the money. And, William never left his beloved Eyrie House.
Today, sitting atop Mt. Nonotuck, near Goat Peak, are what remains of a once grand resort. Mother Nature has reclaimed a lot of the area, but wonderful vistas and the peace of nature still abound. Remembrances of the Eyrie House still remain – and so does William.
There is a trail in Mt. Tom Reservation that leads to the Eyrie House. It’s well marked and it’s all up hill. Old stone foundations abound, some built into the sides of hills. There are outer walls still standing, telling the story of how much work and thought that went into their creation. Many trees and a lot of vegetation thickly invade the area. There’s evidence of wildlife. And, there are plenty of snakes to keep a good distance from. A few of them wedge themselves between the old foundation stones to take in any sunlight they can find.
It’s a peaceful sort of place even when you start getting the feeling that you might not be alone. I think William would still like to show you around. The woods make all kinds of noises as you wander through them amid the old hotel. I’m not sure though, some make rhythmic sounds like someone walking near you. They walk when you walk and they stop when you stop.
Sunlight through the trees can also play tricks on your eyes. But, if you feel a friendly presence and if you perhaps feel a little sad, you might have the pleasure of meeting the thwarted hotel owner welcoming you to his venture. It’s possible to catch a glimpse of his faint, translucent figure walking the property he cared for so much. William Street intended to stay close to his property both during life and now after death.