Times Past: Greenfield’s iconic symbol

  • Poet’s Seat Tower casts a tall shadow on a windy fall day. Recorder File Photo

  • Hundreds gather at Beacon Field to watch Independence Day fireworks launch from Poet’s Seat Tower. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Fireworks launch over Poet’s Seat Tower during Greenfield’s Fourth of July celebration at Beacon Field on Friday. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • KEYES

Published: 8/31/2018 1:35:45 PM

Greenfield’s Poet’s Seat Tower looms impressively over town. Built in 1912 to honor the memory of minor American poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, it radiates an aura of the noble strength of an old English castle tower, combined with an airy openness inviting quiet contemplation in the Rocky Mountain Park.

When I first moved to Greenfield as a child, my classmates were eager to point out the tower, indicating that it was visible from almost every home in Greenfield. This was an exaggeration, caused by the fact that the majority of Greenfield homes at that time were in the area bounded by Main Street at the south, Silver Street at the north, and High Street and Elm Street at the east and west, respectively.

The majority of Greenfield’s land was on the outskirts of town, along such roads as Adams Road, Bernardston Road, Swamp Road (later re-named Country Club Road), Colrain Road, Green River Road, Shelburne Road, Munson Street, and the various roads that threaded around, loosely connecting those roads. These rural roads were somewhat sparsely settled, but even some of those houses were within distant view of the tower.

As I grew up, I learned more about Tuckerman, who was a nature lover and a student of botany. He had spent a great deal of time up on the Rocky Mountain ridge, and the views gave him inspiration.

When we went to the junior high school on Federal Street, the tower was nearby. And when we went on to the high school further up Federal Street (now the Greenfield Middle School), there was Poet’s Seat Tower again, hovering on the eastern skyline. Later on, when I was a student nurse at the Franklin County Public Hospital School of Nursing, I was based for 36 months at the student nurse residence, also within view of Poet’s Seat Tower.

Over the years, Poet’s Seat Tower was the launch place for many Fourth of July fireworks displays, and for the fireworks celebration at the 200th anniversary of our town.

This magical place took on a special meaning for me when my then-boyfriend Allan took me to the top of the tower one cool May evening and proposed marriage. We were married a year later.

We have revisited the tower many times. The view is always inspiring, and the memories sweet. But sometimes the area has been spoiled by all types of trash. People also have vandalized the tower with graffiti and unauthorized garish painted murals. These things tend to break the mood of visitors.

Perhaps the brokenness is made more poignant by its symbolism, as Poet’s Seat Tower has been the location some have selected for suicide, along with a few accidental deaths. Maybe there is some inevitability; Tuckerman’s own poems were largely somber and sad, and his only published book of poems was not a bestseller as a result. In the Civil War era, there was more than enough sadness and discord in our nation, and dark moody poetry was not appreciated.

In spite of shadows of negativity, the tower continues to be a thing of beauty. On a recent visit, we discovered that the tower had been repaired and cleaned up. We saw that there was no trash littering the site, and familiar landmarks still appear in the lovely valley below the tower. As the lovingly planted streetscapes have become overgrown with tall trees, Poet’s Seat Tower is less visible from homes all over town, but this reforestation just makes the view from the tower even more treasured. As autumn approaches, we can hope for glorious fall foliage to brighten the view from above for a few weeks.

Poet’s Seat Tower is perhaps the most widely recognized and iconic symbol of our old town and our young city. How good it is to know that our city is known not for a war monument, but for a tribute to poetry. May it ever be so.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2019 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy