When Dinosaurs Roamed Where Holyoke Stands

by Laurel | December 4th, 2011

Dinosaurs of Holyoke — seemingly factual — though with a slightly tongue-in-cheek attitude. I’d love to know exactly where Murray’s Quarry was located!

04 December 1921

Podokesaurus holyokensis

Podokesaurus holyokensis

Quarrying the Valuable Footprints of Monsters Yields Good Returns

Little did the gigandipus caudatus imagine as it plugged over the shallow mud flats of the Connecticut River Valley, thousands of years ago this month that in the year of our Lord 1921 its footprints would be bringing in cold cash to M. J. Murray, owner of the Murray Quarry south of Cherry street, more money than for building stone. Greatly are the dinosaurs exalted these days with flamboyant signs on the Northampton road calling attention to the tracks near the Northampton-Holyoke highway on the road to Smiths Ferry, and Murray’s quarrymen eagerly drilling the flat layers in the Murray quarry and prying them off in great slabs for the museum of Mount Holyoke College. In point of fact, geologists tell us, the tracks are found as far north as Turners Falls so the number of these huge lizards that one existed can easily be imagined. A reproduction of one of them in the New York Museum of Natural History is 60 feet long; but the longest about here whose tracks are known was about 28 feet. Unfortunately no one seems to have thought to have taken a snap shot of the dinosaurs, but men who have been studying the rocks for years and who can tell by the rock records more than can be possibly be detailed, say there were thick as huckleberries in Pelham all up and down the Valley.

Region All a Lake

All the early dinosaurs about Holyoke were social by nature, more than lively by habit and voted the straight Democratic ticket. Imagine, if you will, that Mt. Tom and Mt. Holyoke and the ridges north and south are wiped out. Across the plain that lies between, stretching from the Wilbraham hills on the east to the Berkshire hills or foothills on the west, was a wide lake. In the hot summer days this lake dried partly up and exposed extensive mud flats ever which these uncouth monsters of eons ago strode along looking for what they might devour. Some of them lived on vegetable food, others on animal food, the latter being the more abundant and more agile. The mud flats afterward solidified into sandstone and then pressure from the east tilted them so that they now lie at an angle or angles in a general way northeast to east or southeast. The slat — the geologists call it dip — is about the same everywhere. There is no patent to the discovery of tracks and anyone who owns land on the western side of the Connecticut river gently sloping to the basin can generally, bu taking off the tip soil and sometimes the first layers of red sandstone, acquire a choice collection of dinosaur tracks, worm marks, ripple marks, mud cracks, leaf imprints, etc. The George E. Pellissier tract where the sign of the Golden dinosaur is displayed is one that has been working for a long time but there is no reason to suppose that there are fewer tracks in the sandstone for a mile in either direction. As a Mt. Holyoke geological professor found in 1910 some valuable bone remains of one of the smallest of these dinosaurs — podokesaurus holyokensis — estimated to be about four feet long, it is not hard to believe that further investigations will load to further discoveries of this sort. We may believe that some day will be found one of the “whoppers.”

Geological Surveys Bulletin

Those interested in the matter can find much profitable reading in Bulletin 597 of the Unites States Geological Survey abridged and brought up to date by the late Prof. B. K. Emerson from his Geology of Old Hampshire County. Prof. Emerson says “The dinosaurs of the Connecticut Valley which are known from the osseous (bony) remains are all carnivores (flesh eaters), two sorts being represented — — the heavy, more powerful anchisaurs and the slender, swift running podokesaurs. The anchisaurs were creatures of fairly robust proportions. Their forelimbs were proportionately larger than those of the carnivores of later geologic times and were still well fitted for grasping their prey. There is no evidence, though their footprints exist by the hundreds, that they ever placed their hands on the ground, even when resting.

Ashton E. Hemphill, who has for years taken great interest in Connecticut Valley geology, has a facsimile of footprints that tell an interesting story. They show that the dinosaur in question was going about its business; got tired and sat down to rest, the tail marks in the sandstone showing that; started on again, became frightened and turned at a sharp angle and hopped off in another direction, all being shown by the footprints on the sandstone. The sandstone does not tell what frightened him. It couldn’t have been one of Candidate McLean’s statistical tables, and may have been a fresh eruption from the volcano off which Little Tom at Mountain Park is the lava plug in the venthole — who knows?

Adapted from The Springfield Republican, image is public domain from Wikipedia.

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Mountain Park -- The Holyoke destination we all loved.

Mount Holyoke College

Mount Holyoke College, Postcard History by Donna Albino. Many Holyoke women have attended Mount Holyoke. Author also maintains an amazing MHC website based upon her personal collection.

Holyoke - Chicopee, A Perspective

Holyoke-Chicopee: A Perspective, by Ella Merkel DiCarlo. DiCarlo, a former Transcript columnist offers a fascinating compilation of her essays. Published in 1982, this out-of-print book is worth looking for in the aftermarket.


Holyoke, by Craig Della Penna. The first Holyoke book in the Arcadia series, published in 1997.

Belle Skinner Collection

Belle Skinner Collection, by Ruth Isabel Skinner. Published in 1933, this book is long out of print but copies are still available in the aftermarket.

Mitch Epstein: Family Business

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