When you talk about fall in New England, you can’t forget the stunning foliage that adorns our region during the fall months. Some of the best views can be taken in from October Mountain in the Berkshires, the largest state forest in Massachusetts.  

In a digital exclusive, join folklorist Joe Durwin and MassDCR Park Supervisor Alexander Gillman as they  explore the colorful history of the private estate turned nature reserve. 

This story originally aired on October 30, 2013. 

Read the full transcript:

Alexander Gillman, Mass DCR Park Supervisor: The name October Mountain supposedly came from Herman Melville. In about 1853, he had written a short story called Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!, and in that he mentions the name October Mountain, from its bannered aspect in that month.

Joe Durwin, Folklorist: October Mountain has a very interesting history. One of the first mentions of it was in the Revolutionary War, when one of the more prominent men of Stockbridge, who was accused of harboring a British prisoner of war, took refuge in a cave called Tory’s Cave, or Tory’s Glen on the mountain.

Alexander Gillman: He soon came down after the Revolution and continued to live peacefully among his townsfolk afterwards. Cave is long gone since, it’s been eroded away by Roaring Brook.

Joe Durwin: Over the years, a variety of other inhabitants have lived here.

Alexander Gillman: About the mid 1800s, farming began to decline, and especially here in the rocky soils of Berkshire County. As people moved away, fewer and fewer settlers remain here on October Mountain.

Joe Durwin: Around the 1890s, William C. Whitney, who was the former secretary of the Navy under Grover Cleveland, began buying up lots across the — what is now October Mountain Forest.

Alexander Gillman: He had built a large lodge called The Antlers. There were horse barns, there was a water tower. There were other cottages on the property. It totaled about ten thousand acres.

Joe Durwin: There were herds of elk and bison. Moose and pheasant and quail were brought in and the lakes were stocked with bass.

Alexander Gillman: It didn’t last forever.

Joe Durwin: But thrived for about a decade before finally falling into disrepair after the death of Whitney’s wife

Alexander Gillman: When William C. Whitney died in 1904, the estate went to his son, Harry Payne Whitney in a trust. And there was also a movement in Berkshire County to make this a public reservation. There were certain concerns, like Kelton B. Miller, who was the owner of the Berkshire Eagle, who rallied others to venture into purchasing the property.

Joe Durwin: In 1915, much of the former Whitney Preserve was bought up by a private residence and then transferred to the state of Massachusetts.

Alexander Gillman: So, in 1922, this became one of the largest state forests in Massachusetts. Just over eleven thousand acres. Today, October Mountain State Forest is sixteen thousand acres.

People can come fishing here. People can come hunting here. In the winter. There’s snowmobiling. There’s lots of hiking, mountain bike trails, even horseback riding.

When I go into the woods, I feel energized. I feel as if there’s another power, energy, that I can sort of latch onto and I feel invigorated by.