Native Insight: Unrelenting fascination with Pioneer Valley landmark

  • A great view of Pioneer Valley from Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield. RECORDER STAFF

Recorder Staff
Sunday, August 13, 2017

Call it Mount Sugarloaf leftovers, or even my personal Sugarloaf finale … for now. I have often spoken in recent weeks, to a man I will not name, who’s riding a wave of dedicated Sugarloaf research that has borne much fruit over the past 10 or 20 years. His curiosity has led him to studies of ownership and people, roads and houses, wildlife and folklore associated with the Pioneer Valley landmark.

It was due to my many writings about this South Deerfield peak, and its conjoined sister North Sugarloaf, that I first met this man many years ago and still hear from him from time to time. Hopefully, this week will tie up the remaining loose ends and, at least temporarily, conclude this most recent Sugarloaf foray, even though the mountain never wanders far enough from my consciousness to lose total sight of it. The distinctive peak flows in my Connecticut Valley blood.

In an email that arrived last week, after my tale of the Thayer Street Market’s 1948 construction using recycled building materials from the disassembled Sugarloaf dance pavilion hit the street, this invaluable source chimed in with little tidbits worth sharing. Coincidentally, many of these facts were collected from fairly new Greenfield Recorder archives online.

As for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a Depression workforce I cited for building today’s road to Sugarloaf’s summit, my source puts the New Deal workers on site as early as 1937. He identified the men as members of the 116th Company, Camp 6 out of Wendell State Forest. Interestingly enough, that was the same camp where a late great-uncle of mine from Greenfield worked. Raymond Snow, my paternal grandmother’s brother, was dead by the time of the Sugarloaf project; killed after being thrown from the rumble seat during a 1934 Bernardston car crash on then-infamous Hale’s Corner near the Greenfield line.

With this federal workforce available, the Franklin County Commissioners and state could finally see themselves clear to build the desired road to replace the steep old trolley road up the mountain’s steep north face. The CCC agreed to provide the work crew while the county pledged the money for supplies, beginning with the $775.75 needed to purchase explosives from the Trojan Powder Company.

“Downhill, off the road to the summit,” wrote my source, “there are many boulders, large and small, with visible drill marks or holes made during drilling and blasting for the road. In the fall and spring, when the forest is open, you can go down and look at these remnants.”

Our source goes on to say that a 12-man crew commenced work on the first of March, 1937, with axe and saw in hand; felling trees on the steep southwestern slope. Working around a late winter storm that dropped an untimely foot of snow — and bunking inside the dance pavilion that was closed in by removable winter sideboards — the crew made slow but steady uphill progress, piling up 25 cords of wood by April 27.

The County Commissioners recouped some of their expenses by selling the cordwood to John Metelica of Greenfield for $51.25, clearing the way for the arrival of a larger group of CCC enrollees from the 153rd Company out of the Warwick State Forest. You can bet your house that this Mr. John Metelica was related to the late Micheal Metelica — the Leyden man who founded the local commune that started as Brotherhood of the Spirit in the late 1960s and became the Renaissance Community in Gill.

Another brief note worth sharing concerns the long-lost house at the base of Sugarloaf; the last resident of which was the family of ’60s and ’70s South Deerfield dance instructor June Lankowski, which eventually settled on Eastern Avenue. The remains of that building, which burned in the mid ’60s, are still visible above the parking lot at Sugarloaf’s base, behind the youth baseball diamond now known as Sugarloaf Field. According to reader and Sunderland native Chris Hubbard, that field was christened “Whispering Pines” the day his team faced South Deerfield in the first official game ever played there. Though I cannot confirm that fact, being a South Deerfield native who played ball there as a boy and recalls the tall pines behind the outfield fence, it lines up about right chronologically.

Anyway, in talking to a friend whose uncle was once the county’s Mount Sugarloaf caretaker in the days of the old wood-framed summit house that burned, he thought he could remember being told that the old Lankowski house was originally built as a caretaker’s residence. Our source confirms this faded memory through newspaper and county reports.

Our source reports, “I believe that house was built in the 1880s. Sometime after 1910, it became part of Sugarloaf when the boundary was extended. Over the years, seasonal caretakers hired by the Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation Commission could choose to either live there between April and October, or rent it out as supplemental income. … It burnt down in the mid-1960s.”

So there you have it … for now.

Recorder Sports Editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Send your questions, stories about our area to him at: gsanderson@recorder.com.