As part of its ongoing effort to grapple with the region’s often-problematic racial legacy, The Trustees of Reservations has, for the first time in its 130-year history, renamed on of its properties. The organization changed the name of Agassiz Rock in Manchester to The Monoliths, a reference to the two massive granite boulders that are among the property’s most notable feature.
Louis Agassiz, the 19th-century biologist and geologist for whom the property was originally named, theorized that the boulders dotting the New England landscape were deposited by glaciers rather than being left behind by the Biblical flood, as was commonly believed at the time. However, he was also vehement and outspoken in his belief that non-white people were inferior.
The Trustees began considering the name change in 2020, after receiving feedback from community members who questioned why the property should bear the name of a man with such views. After a year of deliberation, reflection, and research, The Trustees decided Agassiz’s history of racism was too egregious to allow the name to stand.
“The mission of The Trustees is to preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts for all people regardless of race or skin color,” said Janelle Woods-McNish, managing director of community impact for the Trustees. “While we cannot and will not overlook Agassiz’s scientific contributions, maintaining the Agassiz name on this property would run counter to our goals of inclusion and acceptance for each and every one of our guests who deserve to feel welcome at our special places.”
The name change has been made on The Trustees’ website, trail maps, and the main sign at the entrance to the property. Plans are underway to install interpretative signage that explains Agassiz’s scientific contributions in the context of his other opinions, explaining the natural history of the property and the reason for the name change.
The Monoliths is a 146-acre property that includes wooded trails, scenic viewpoints, and seasonal vernal pools. The highlights of the area are Big Rock and Little Rock, a pair of towering boulders. Little Rock stands silhouetted against the sky atop Beaverdam Hill, and Big Rock perches at the edge of a swamp, standing a dramatic 30 feet high.
Though this is the first time The Trustees has renamed an entire property, they have in the past year made other language changes to remove racially insensitive names from their properties. At the organization’s Monument Mountain property in the Berkshires, the name “Squaw Peak” was changed to “Peeskawso Peak” (meaning “virtuous woman”) and “Indian Trail” was redubbed “Mohican Monument Trail.”
To visit The Monoliths, take the School St. exit off Route 128 and head north. Roadside parking is available.