Holyoke’s history rich in so many ways

Published on Wednesday, June 22, 2005 in the Holyoke Plus section of The Republican. Go to www.masslive.com for more interesting stories.

“As the water receded, it left a double legacy”

Holyoke was built on the bottom portion of a 157-mile long body of water known as Lake Hitchcock. As the water receded, it left a double legacy, such as rich alluvial soil that allowed farmers to support an agriculture and lumber trade. The Connecticut River supplied ample fish at certain times of the year and was used to transport animal pelts. The river also provided waterpower for gristmills.

In 1658, early settler John Pynchon took full advantage of his surroundings. According to John J. Zwisler’s book, “Ireland Parish,” Pynchon became “judge, recorder, honest dealer, able manager with the Indians and the Godly teacher in a pulpit that sometimes had no minister.” A respected member of early pioneer society-particularly after remaining behind when his father, William Pynchon, returned to England- he became known to the setters as a “protector and a leader.”

Referred to in later records as, “Major” Pynchon or “the worshipful Colonel,” John Pynchon understood the American Indians because he had grown up alongside tribal boys on Long Hill and on the Agawam Meadows side. An avid trader, he utilized the Connecticut River to peddle furs and merchandise, bringing back such things as “bushels of white or blue shells that the Indians had gathered along the seashore and shaped.”

The planters began to appreciate and utilize their new found riches and finally, to govern themselves, distributing land for homestead, collecting taxes and registering titles. Clearly, the people were ecstatic that they could achieve some form of self-government.

Problems, however, did continue to plague the new settlements-one of the most endemic being the Indian problem. In the early 1600s, Massachusetts had thousands of tribal members living in 20 villages. By 1617 that number had been drastically reduced by warfare and pestilence.

Indians came down from the higher hills on both sides of the valley to fish in the Connecticut River, which they called the Quinni-tudq-up or “long river.” It served as a dividing line for the Algonquians to the east and the Iroquois or Mohawks to the west. The tribes had their designated territories and respected each others’ lands. The only time they would cross the river is when there were disagreements or outright wars.

Speaking of Indians, have you ever wondered how the name Massachusetts came about? Indian names ending in –it,-et,-sit, or –set, simply meant “at the place of.” “Massa” means “big, huge” and “manna” means “small.” So “Manna-hattan” meant “small hills.” “Chu” means mountains and Massachu-setts means “at the place of the big mountains,” specifically referring to Mount Greylock, which is 3,491 feet high and Maine’s Mount. Katahdin, measuring 5,258 feet (considered part of Massachusetts at the time.)