New England Legends and Folklore

Field Guide to New England Barns and Farm Buildings

The Story of Early Holyoke

Counterfeiter's Hut

The Counterfeiter’s Hut —
Money-Hole Hill

Nearly all the Connecticut valley towns have a history reaching back to the days of the Indians, when the ancestors of the present inhabitants carried their guns as they went to the fields to work, and barred their doors when night came on--not against thieves and robbers, but against bloodthirsty savages. In most towns it usually came about that certain unlucky ones lost their lives and their scalps before those early troublous times were past. But Holyoke lacks this sort of history almost entirely, for the reason that the settlers of the old colonial days, who came westward from Massachusetts bay, did not find here the fertile lowlands they were in quest of, and planted the river towns elsewhere along the stream. The following is the most noteworthy, if not the only Indian story in which Holyoke is directly concerned, calling for record:
        About 150 years ago, Lucas Morgan lived in the old Fairfield homestead, which still stands on Northampton street, though it has undergone various changes since that ancient day. Morgan was one of the first settlers here, and had but recently built his home. He returned late one evening, after being away all day. He was about to put his horse in the stable, when the animal started uneasily and refused to enter. It was winter, a cloudy, threatening night, very dark. Mr. Morgan himself stepped into the stable, and, feeling about, his hand came in contact with a man, lying half covered with hay in the manger. "Indians!" was the thought which flashed through his mind, and he wasted no time getting out of the stable and into the house, leaving the horse to his fate. Doors were bolted and the old door got down little sleep came to the family that night. Outside they could hear the dog growling savagely, and Mr. Morgan, creeping out to the living-room, heard one of the Indians slap his thigh as if to pacify that animal; and he caught snatches of general conversation. Then, suddenly, the dog gave a frightened yelp of pain, and all was still. But presently there came a sharp rattling of blows from the Indian’s tomahawks on the heavy kitchen door. Time had come for decided action. Mr. Morgan raised a window softly, and poking his gun over the sash, took careful aim as near as he could guess at the position of the invaders, and fired. Silence followed, and through the rest of the long night no further sounds of assault were heard about the place. Morning came. There, by the door, lay the dog, with an ugly cut from a tomahawk in his shoulder. He was taken in and given the best of care, but it was six weeks before he could take a step. A pool of blood close by showed the gun had done effective work. From the barn to the house door three tracks were traced in the snow. Only two led away. There were marks about the place that showed the Indians had tried to set the house on fire in several places, but the storm made their efforts unsuccessful. The savages were followed and traced to a distant swamp, where the trail was entirely lost. It was learned later that the Indians plotted to burn every house in the village.
        In the main there is little of public interest to chronicle until a time within the memory of those still living. Less than half a century ago, the place where the busy city now stands was a farming hamlet, thinly settled and little known. Where a score of families then dwelt in rural quiet, forty thousand people are now pursuing all the varied arts and avocations which make up a prosperous manufacturing center.
        It is certain that the "Great Rapids" of the river was a famous fishing resort of the Indians, who from
time immemorial gathered here in great numbers; but no traditions have lingered to make their gathering place famous, and only the frequent relics unearthed by modern changes, recall to mind the dusky tribes who resorted hither. The "Quonektcut," which in every-day English means "long river," was the dividing line between the Algonquins or coast Indians of new England and the Iroquois or Mowhawks, so there was probably no permanent settlements here, for it was too open to attack. It was, however, their highway from the seashore to Canada, and the Mohawks came annually down the Deerfield branch and the main stream to collect tribute from the tribes hereabouts.
       Although there were no permanent villages, the savages came long distance to fish at the great falls, and until quite recent years the "Indian fireplaces" dotted the banks from the head of the rapids, at "Sans Souci," to the quieter current which is reached again at Willimansett, a distance of three miles below. For a camp the Indians always selected a dry, sandy knoll, near fresh water. In the center of each wigwam they made a circle of stone, upon which to build their fires. These circles were usually of small, rounded boulders, and no doubt a search among the sandy knolls, which abound up and down the valley in this vicinity, would still reveal some of these fireplaces, and if the ground has not been ploughed too much, we may find arrow or spear-heads and flint or quartz chips of Indian manufacture.

Elder Rand

Elder Rand

       Up to 1850, Holyoke was a part of West Springfield. It was there the inhabitants went to town meeting and to vote, and until about the beginning of the century, to church as well. The place went by the name of "Ireland Parish" until, when separated from the mother town, its citizens voted it should take the name of Hoyoke. Prior to 1745, an Irish family named Riley had located in the south part of town, and a brook in that vicinity still bears their name. Other Irish families came soon after, and it was from this little colony the region took its early title. In those days the place was very thinly populated, as is shown by the following extract from a letter of that time: "There were but six families in this parish, and they ‘forted’ together nights for fear of the Indians."

Old Second Congregational Church

The Old Second Congregational Church

       Another story of the early days is that a gang of counterfeiters from Chicopee, who began the manufacture of bogus silver coin in "Money-hole Hill." This place, which is just west of the Connecticut River Lumber Company’s sawmill, had then a deep, high-banking ravine running through it. This has since been filled in. It was a heavily wooded, lonesome sort of place, and in its gloomy depths the counterfeiters had a little hut. But they were finally detected, and the ringleader was condemned to have his ears cropped as a punishment.

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