Holyoke man collects souvenirs from long-gone Mount Tom Summit House

  • Souvenirs from the Summit House are displayed at the home of Bobby LeBlanc in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A souvenir plate from the Summit House is part of Bobby LeBlanc’s collection. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bobby LeBlanc holds a ring holder that is part of his collection of Summit House souvenirs at his home in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bobby LeBlanc holds a metal container with a ceramic lid that is part of his collection of Summit House souvenirs, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019 at his home in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A Summit House souvenir plate and a mug hang from an antique mirror at the home of Bobby LeBlanc in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Though most of the Summit House souvenirs in the collection of Bobby LeBlanc are china, these are glass tumblers. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Souvenirs from the Summit House are displayed at the home of Bobby LeBlanc in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Souvenirs form the Summit House are displayed at the home of Bobby LeBlanc in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Souvenirs form the Summit House are displayed at the home of Bobby LeBlanc in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A sugar bowl, cookie jar and creamer are among the Summit House souvenirs in the collection of Bobby LeBlanc of Holyoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Bobby LeBlanc, of Holyoke, holds a souvenir plate from the Summit House at his home in Holyoke. Others rest in cabinets behind him. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 12/16/2019 4:43:39 PM

HOLYOKE — Tea towels, refrigerator magnets, shoulder patches and beach sand are just some of the items we collect to stay connected to our travels.

These are our souvenirs, from the French word meaning “remember” or “bring to mind.” The difference between a souvenir and an artifact is that you can always go back to Disney World for another T-shirt or lapel pin. But another Dead Sea Scroll, life preserver from the Titanic, horse pistol from Custer’s last stand? Not so much. These are artifacts — made by humans, oozing cultural or historical interest, difficult to acquire.

Bobby LeBlanc of Holyoke is a collector of artifacts that started out as souvenirs. For the past 20 years, LeBlanc has been seeking out and collecting glasses, cups, plates, ceramics, china and baubles sold more than a century ago at the Mount Tom Summit House gift shop. He and his wife, Melissa, have spent countless hours combing through antiques stores, scrutinizing eBay, traveling out of state and spending hard-earned money hunting down and purchasing these tiny relics of a bygone era.

“I became a nut,” LeBlanc said. “I wanted to bring as much of this back to Holyoke as I could. Being from Holyoke, that was my passion. Still is.”

LeBlanc, whose Holyoke roots go back three generations, became interested in Mount Tom as a boy, having hiked to the top many a time. He learned about the Summit House, first built in 1897, and the trolley network that brought guests from town to Mountain Park, then all the way up to the top. One of those visitors who made the trip was the 25th president of the United States, William McKinley, who strolled the promenade boardwalk with the first lady in June of 1899.

The collecting started years ago when LeBlanc discovered that a local antiques shop had a selection of Summit House souvenirs. He was smitten. He started acquiring these souvenir pieces. Each memento had been sold either at the original Summit House — which burned down in October of 1900 — or at the more ornate second Summit House, erected in May of 1901. That second iteration burned in 1929 in a fire of legendary proportions.

“They called it the ‘fire in the sky,’” LeBlanc said, visible all the way down in Hartford.

LeBlanc’s living room is lined with display shelves crowded with tiny saucers, cups and glasses, most bearing the image of the Summit House. He has purchased pieces from collectors in Nova Scotia, California and Florida, among other places. He once got into an online bidding battle for a piece of souvenir glass china, bowing out when his competitor boosted his offer to $1,000. LeBlanc’s enthusiasm is not limitless.

“I think I’ve calmed down a little,” he said.

But the search goes on. LeBlanc has put up fliers at Stop & Shop and the Holyoke Senior Center asking if anyone has Summit House pieces. (Got one? He’d like to hear about it: 413-561-5526.)

“I plan on keeping them in my family,” he said. “It’s just a passion.”

Looking at the lighted display case filled with china, glasses and ceramics, he shook his head.

“I’m surprised I’m still married,” he said.




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