Campus Ice Skating Once Offered Winter Respite

The John D. Rockefeller skating rink

In the area of campus where Porter Hall now stands, overlooking Lower Lake, there once stood a covered skating rink.

The rink, donated to the College by John D. Rockefeller, measured 120 feet by 50 feet and was one of the first buildings built after the Great Fire of 1896 destroyed the original Mount Holyoke seminary building. The project was enthusiastically celebrated by the campus community. In the opening pages of the February 1896 issue of The Mount Holyoke, the editors wrote of the importance of students and other community members having a place on campus to go during the winter months where they could continue their physical education and nourish their mind, body, and spirit. “When winter closes down upon us it is different, and anything which tempts us out for the needed exercise is a gift to be held in great esteem. The new skating floor does just this,” they wrote.

At the request of Rockefeller, construction of the rink was completed by January, and students returned from winter break to celebrate its grand opening with a celebratory carnival. Bunting and streamers in class colors hung from the rafters as student skaters wore outfits honoring their own class years. During intermission, participants sang the college alma mater and Skating Song, an original song written specifically for the event by Margaret Geddes Lundy, class of 1898.

Skating Song
click to expand

O’er the glistening ice
Gliding smoothly by,
Around and round in circling bound
The merry skaters fly.
Let laughter light and gay
Ring through the frosty air,
Let the god of mirth hold sway,
We’ll banish thoughts of care.
Holyoke fair! Holyoke fair!
Here’s to thy color true,
And now and ever may we all
Be loyal to the blue.

Gleaming o’er the ice
Fly the rods of shining steel,
Back and forth and to and fro
They twist and turn and wheel.
Work we have laid aside,
And pleasure’s at the helm;
Let not a thought of care be held
Within this glistening realm.
Holyoke fair! Holyoke fair!
Here’s to thy color true,
And now and ever may we all
Be loyal to the blue.

In addition, a twelve-piece band was on hand to perform music throughout the day. According to The Mount Holyoke, the chants “H-o-l-y-o-k-e, Holyoke, Holyoke are we—Rah! rah! rah! Rockefeller,” closed out the ceremony.

Just one year later, the rink was moved closer to Lower Lake to allow for the construction of Porter Hall. And in the years that followed it was often used as a service building, until it was eventually torn down in 1934.

—By Jess Ayer

—Photos courtesy of MHC Archives & Special Collections

This article appeared as “A Celebrated Winter Respite” in the winter 2018 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly.

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4 responses to “Campus Ice Skating Once Offered Winter Respite”

  1. Barbara Howick Fant says:

    Me, too. An outdoor ice skating rink would have been in my years—class of ‘66—and could now be a wonderful way to get physical exercise and chase the winter blues, with a place for hockey and figure skating, even p.e. classes.
    I have just returned from Madison, WI, where my 8-year-old grandson got hockey skates for his birthday and we skated on the pond in Tenney Park, a popular place with a warming hut and skate rental concession. On Saturday, there was a large crowd even during snowfall—pretty though wet! Perhaps the town of South Hadley would share its cost.

  2. Jarin Chu says:

    John D Rockefeller donated a rink to MHC?! Even though Porter was my first res hall, I can’t help but feel a bit of a disappointment that this fabled rink no longer exists, and had such a obscure ending with its use as a service building. With the completion of the new student center, I wonder where we can take the skating to when we return to campus…

  3. Dana Feldshuh Whyte 1960 says:

    Didn’t you flood the field behind Creighton Dorm on the way to the Mandelles for ice skating in
    the late 50’s-early 60’s? It was shallow and frozen and I have a recollection of skating there
    legally. The dorm, of course, was not there nor was security but safety was not a big issue.
    Am I fantasizing this through the veil of memory?

  4. ANNA MCGRATH says:

    I remember some of us trying to skate on a solidly-frozen lower lake and being chased away by security, only to return anyway. Ice skating seems a natural for Mt Holyoke’s campus, and could easily be enjoyed by so many. What a shame the rink no longer exists! I would have loved to have a place to skate.

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