March 2019

Elevating perspectives: the view from Poet’s Seat Tower

by Jeff Sawyer, Managing Editor, Garnet Hill

Growing up as I did in the town of Greenfield, Massachusetts in the ‘60s, the place to pause and reflect on life was Poet’s Seat Tower.

When you needed inspiration, or simply to rise above whatever was happening in your world and refresh your perspective, you hiked or drove or rode a bike up to the base of the tower, climbed the stairs inside, and took in the view through the big arched windows. People still do.

Poet Seat’s Tower. Photo credit: Martha Folsom

The sandstone structure was built in 1912 on Rocky Mountain, in the northern Pocumtuck range. That was the year Greenfield poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman died. He’s considered a minor American poet (which, as a kid, I thought meant he was petite. I was not a scholarly child).  

Poet’s Seat Tower honors Tuckerman and other 19th-century poets who found solace and inspiration in the view of the valley below. They wrote for hours up there, absent the digital distractions so tempting today. To my eye, the tower architecture looks a bit medieval, not out of place on a Game of Thrones set.

Tuckerman was a minor poet with major admirers.
(Today they would probably follow him on Twitter.)
View from the tower, vintage postcard
The tower looks today much as it did in this early postcard.
The sledding hill below the tower. Photo credit: Martha Folsom

Greenfield is no longer shaded by the canopies of majestic elms whose branches once met over residential streets. But the name still fits. There are green fields and yards and maples for miles. It’s a nice view of a nice place to live.

When I climb the tower now, the valley unfolds like a panorama of my boyhood. I can see the hospital where I was born, the roofs of public schools I attended, the street where my family lived and I rode the coolest bike in town (dad replaced the handlebars with the steering wheel from a neighbor’s old dump-truck), the field where youth baseball games unfolded in August heat, the sledding hill where my childhood friend Nancy sledded into a tree and broke her leg, the houses on my newspaper and lawn-mowing routes, the smaller home my parents’ downsized to in their later years, the roof of the home where my sister and her husband live.

All that sweet life rolled along below this stately, steadfast presence. You could look up and see the tower from all over, reassurance written in stone.

A Christmas Tree lights the tower in December. Photo credit: Jennifer Torgersen

Should you be in the Greenfield area, consider driving up to Poet’s Seat. It’s about ten minutes off Route 91, maintained by the town, open during the day in warmer months, and free. It’s a favorite vantage point of foliage fans around Columbus Day

The tight spiral staircase from the third floor to the very top level frightens some visitors, including some sisters I won’t name, as you can see air down between the metal treads. But if you’re not prone to vertigo, it’s worth it. The best view is from the very top.

On windy days, the large American flag flying over Poet’s Seat Tower snaps back and forth overhead, furling and unfurling as if unsure of what to do next. Should you find yourself wondering the same thing, this is a good place to go and sort it all out.


8 responses to “Elevating perspectives: the view from Poet’s Seat Tower”

  1. Doug and Amy says:

    Doug was up at Poet’s Seat yesterday with the dog … first climb up the hill this spring, and all was just as you described it, Jeff. As the sister who never even looks at those spiral stairs, I really couldn’t say. Great story!

  2. Marsha Bittner says:

    Jeff, great memories. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of all the fun and memories to be had on Poet Seat.. Paul and I got engaged there many, many, many moons ago. ?
    Marsha B.

  3. James A. Smith says:

    I too grew up in Greenfield. Poet’s Seat Tower is a must see whenever I come back to town. Thanks for the reminder of the memories.

  4. Doug Clarke says:

    Beautiful piece, Jeff! Garrison couldn’t have written it better.
    Doug

  5. Carolyn Jones Church Pitcher says:

    Life long memories of what I used to call, POET SEAT MOUNTAIN. Lived the majority of my life just down the street on Pierce St. My hometown GREENFIELD❤️

  6. Karen Couture Wartel says:

    Jeff, as someone who grew up in Turners Falls and for the last thirty years have lived in Greenfield, I think I take this beautiful spot for granted. I have been there many times but your article has reignited my interest in it. I need to spend time there and realize what we have. A true gem! Thank you.

  7. Phyllis and Archie Nahman says:

    Lovely piece, Jeff. Your thoughts about the tower are very much like our own. “Reassurance written in stone” — well stated for this beloved landmark. Great photos too!

    P+A

  8. Sam Oakes says:

    Jeff- A lovely story of growing up under the Tower. Many crazy stories of Jon walking around the top edge of the tower and I am sure there were many partners in crime in those days.
    It was a great place to walk the dogs and watch the balloons from Green River Festival. I love to be able to see the Tree at Christmas from all over town. A welcoming beacon.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Sam Oakes

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