First Congregational Church, Holyoke, Mass

The First Congregational Church, at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant Streets in Holyoke, around 1910. Image from Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity (1910).

The church in 2017:

Holyoke’s First Congregational Church was established in 1799, as the Third Congregational Church of West Springfield. At the time, West Springfield encompassed the present-day towns of Agawam and Holyoke. The latter was variously known as the Third Parish or Ireland Parish, and was only sparsely settled, with most of its population was located along Northampton Street. The church had only 11 members when it was established, and shared space with the First Baptist Church. Not until 1834 did the Congregational church move into a building of its own, upon the completion of a modest Greek Revival-style church near the corner of Northampton and Dwight Streets.

Holyoke was incorporated as a separate municipality in 1850, and the church became the First Congregational Church of Holyoke. Around the same time, the new town was undergoing a rapid transformation from a small farming community into a major industrial center. However, most of this new development was along the banks of the Connecticut River, far removed from the church on Northampton Street. Despite a significant growth in Holyoke’s population, the church actually declined in membership during this time, with many parishioners leaving to join the newly-established Second Congregational Church, with its more convenient location at the corner of High and Dwight Streets.

Faced with this decline, along with a revolving door of pastors throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the church finally decided to relocate closer to downtown Holyoke. In 1886, the church purchased this lot at the corner of Hampden and Pleasant Streets, and by the end of the following year it had completed a chapel on the site, which is visible on the far right side of both photos. Although still located some distance from downtown Holyoke, the new church was situated in the midst of a new upscale residential development, and within just a few years its membership had more than doubled, from 64 at the time of the 1887 move, to around 160 by 1890.

Church services were held in this chapel until 1894, when the church building itself was completed. The new church was the work of prominent Holyoke architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a Romanesque-style design that was common for churches of this period. The exterior was primarily brick, with brownstone trim, and included common Romanesque elements such as rounded arches, asymmetrical facades, and a mix of towers and turrets of varying heights. The overall design bore some resemblance to the new Second Congregational Church, which had been completed almost a decade earlier on Maple Street, although that church had been constructed entirely of brownstone instead of brick.

Throughout the 20th century, the First Congregational Church underwent a series of mergers and name changes. In 1961, it became First United Congregational Church after a merger with the German Reformed Church, and then in 1973 it became Grace United Church after merging with Grace Church. The members of Grace United continued to worship here until 1995, when the church merged with the Second Congregational Church, becoming the United Congregational Church of Holyoke. Following this merger, most religious services were held at the former Second Congregational building on Maple Street, but the church retained ownership of the former First Congregational building here on Pleasant Street, which was repurposed as the E. B. Robinson Ecumenical Mission Center. The church still owns the property today, and the historic building is still standing with few exterior changes since the first photo was taken, although it appears to vacant as of the 2017 photo.

Second Congregational Church, Holyoke, Mass

The Second Congregational Church, seen from Maple Street near the corner of Appleton Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The church in 2017:

The Second Congregational Church was established in 1849, at a time when Holyoke was just beginning its transformation into a major industrial center. Prior to this time, the area’s population was centered further up the hill from here, along Northampton Street. The First Congregational Church was located there, but this site proved inconvenient for those who were moving into the newly-developed area along the river. This led to the formation of the Second Congregational Church, which built its first meeting house at the corner of High and Dwight Streets in 1853.

At the time, the church had just 36 members, in a building that could seat 800. However, as Holyoke grew so did the congregation, and by the 1880s it had outgrown the old building. Its location, right at the intersection of two major streets, had also become undesirable because of the levels of noise outside, so in 1885 the church moved into this new building a few blocks away, at the corner of Maple and Appleton Streets. Like many churches of the era, it was built of brownstone and featured Romanesque-style architecture, including an asymmetrical main facade with a tall tower at one corner and a shorter one at the other. The book Story of the Holyoke Churches, published a few years later in 1890, provides the following description:

The church edifice is a most imposing structure. It is built of East Longmeadow stone, with a tower at the northwest corner, 112 feet high. The chapel is at the rear of the church auditorium, with an entrance from Appleton street, its rear elevation being upon High street. Its style is Romanesque. It is undoubtedly as fine a church edifice as there is in the State outside the city of Boston. It will comfortably seat 1,100 persons. All its internal appointments are exceedingly attractive and convenient. It is the pride, not only of the congregation worshiping regularly within its walls, but also of our citizens generally.

In 1912, the Skinner Memorial Chapel was added next to the church, as seen on the far right of the 2017 photo. It was named for the late silk manufacturer William Skinner and his wife Sarah, and was built with funds provided by their children. However, just seven years later, in 1919, the church was almost completely destroyed in a fire. The chapel survived, as did the large tower on the left side, but otherwise only a few fragments from the original building survived. The Boston architectural firm of Allen & Collens, which had designed the chapel, was hired to provide plans for the reconstruction of the rest of the church. The result was a Gothic-style design that matched the chapel, while also incorporating the original Romanesque-style tower.

In 1995, Second Congregational Church merged with Grace United Church, which had itself been formed by a merger of several churches, including First Congregational. Following this merger, it was renamed the United Congregational Church of Holyoke, and its members continue to worship here today. The building itself stands as one of the many historic church buildings in Holyoke, although these two photos illustrate the difference between the original 1885 design and the 1921 reconstruction.

Main Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near the corner of Dwight Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows a row of late 19th century buildings along the east side of Main Street, looking north from near Dwight Street, toward Mosher Street. The buildings represent a mix of architectural styles, but the one that stands out the most is the large, highly ornate Romanesque-style Whiting Street Building in the center of the photo. It was built in 1885 at 32 Main Street, and was owned by the estate of Whiting Street, a prominent Northampton philanthropist who had died a few years earlier in 1878. Around the same time, he also became the namesake of the Whiting Street Reservoir, which opened at the base of Mount Tom in 1888, on land that Street had once owned.

One of the early tenants of the Whiting Street Building was the American Pad and Paper Company, which had been established here in Holyoke in 1888 by Thomas W. Holley. The company, which later came to be known as Ampad, built its business around purchasing scraps from the city’s many paper mills, which were then bound into notebooks and sold at competitive prices. In the process, Holley is said to have invented the first legal pad, a development that, if true, likely would have occurred here in this building.

Early on, American Pad and Paper occupied three rooms here at 32 Main Street, and eventually expanded to eight rooms. The company was here when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, but around 1895 it moved into a building of its own, at the corner of Appleton and Winter Streets. Over the years, Ampad would go on to become a major producer of pads and other office supplies, and it ultimately outlived nearly all of Holyoke’s other paper mills. The company is still in business today, although not in Holyoke. It is now headquartered in Texas, and it closed its last Holyoke facility in 2005.

In the meantime, this building here on Main Street was subsequently occupied by another writing pad company, the Whiting Street Ruling and Stationery Company. Around 1901, it was renamed the Affleck Ruling and Stationery Company, and was described in a 1905 advertisement in the city directory as “Manufacturers Paper, Pads and Tablets, Paper Rulers and Printers. Mourning Cards and Fine Cards for Engravers.” The company remained here until around 1907, but by the following year it had moved to a new location at 18 North Bridge Street.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, none of the buildings from that scene are still standing. The one on the far right was likely the first to go, and was replaced by the present-day building at some point during the early or mid-20th century. Most of the other buildings survived until at least the 1970s, although the Whiting Street Building was destroyed in a fire in 1977. The ones further in the distance were still standing a year later, when they were inventoried as part of the state’s MACRIS database of historic resources, but they have since been demolished, leaving only vacant lots where they once stood.

Connecticut River Railroad Station, Holyoke, Mass

The Connecticut River Railroad station, seen from the corner of Bowers and Mosher Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Railroads came to Holyoke in 1845, when the Connecticut River Railroad opened from Springfield to Northampton. This coincided with the area’s development into a major industrial center, and within a few years the canal system was completed and the first few mills were operational. The first passenger station was a small wood-frame building at the corner of Main and Dwight Streets, near where the modern Amtrak station is located, and it remained in use for about 40 years. However, Holyoke’s population grew exponentially during this time, from around 3,200 in the 1850 census, to over 21,000 by 1880, and the original station had become inadequate for the needs of the city.

In 1885, the Connecticut River Railroad opened a new passenger station here on the east side of the tracks, bounded by Mosher, Bowers, and Lyman Streets. It was designed by Henry H. Richardson, who was one of the most important American architects of the 19th century, and it was one of the many railroad stations that he designed across the state during the early 1880s. Richardson was a pioneer of Romanesque Revival style architecture, and his station incorporated many common elements, including the rough-faced granite exterior, the brownstone trim, a complex roofline, and arched windows.

On the interior, the central part of the station included the main waiting room, which occupied about half of the ground floor. There was also a separate ladies’ waiting room, and a room that, on the original floor plans, was labeled “Emigrant’s Room.” The latter was evidently used to screen and administer smallpox vaccinations to incoming immigrants, who comprised a large portion of Holyoke’s population during this time. Other facilities inside the building included a baggage room, a ticket office, and a telegraph office, along with several restrooms.

The first photo was taken around 1892, only a few years after the station was completed, and it shows the view from the southeast, from the corner of Bowers and Mosher Streets. About a year later, in 1893, the Connecticut River Railroad was acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad, and the station became part of an extensive rail network that spread across northern New England. During this time, the station continued to play an important role as the point of arrival for many immigrants to Holyoke, including large numbers of French-Canadians who traveled south along the railroad from Quebec, in search of jobs in the factories here.

The station remained in use throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, Holyoke’s economy began to decline by the middle of the century, with many of the factories closing or relocating. Passenger rail travel suffered as well, both here in Holyoke and in the country as a whole. Cars and airplanes began replacing trains, and ridership continued to decline. The station closed in 1965, and passenger service on the line ended just a year later.

Following its closure, the former station was converted into an auto parts store, and at some point the platforms were enclosed on the southern side of the building. Passenger service would not return to Holyoke until 2015, after Amtrak’s Vermonter was rerouted through the city, but the plans did not involve restoration of the old station. Instead, a new one, consisting of just a single covered platform, opened a little to the south of here, near where the original 1845 station had stood. In the meantime, the old station has been vacant since at least the early 2000s. It is currently owned by Holyoke Gas and Electric, and has been the subject of various redevelopment proposals, although none of these have begun yet.

Front Steps, First Presbyterian Church, Holyoke, Mass

A group of children sitting on the front steps of the First Presbyterian Church, at 237 Chestnut Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in the previous post, the First Presbyterian Church of Holyoke was established in 1886, and moved into this newly-completed Romanesque Revival-style building two years later. It was built of contrasting granite and brownstone blocks, and had two front entrances on the Chestnut Street side. This particular scene shows the northwestern entrance, which is on the right side of the building when facing it from the street, and it provides good detail of the rough-faced blocks that make up the exterior of the building.

The first photo was taken only a few years after the church was completed, and shows a group of five young children sitting on the front steps. Although the children are unidentified, their parents likely worked in some of the many factories in Holyoke, and they themselves probably ended up working in the factories too. Some may have even attended this church for the rest of their lives, since the building was owned by the First Presbyterian Church for more than a century after the photo was taken.

Today, around 125 years later, not much has changed in this scene. The church is still standing, and this entrance has seen only minor changes, such as a new door and the addition of railings on the steps. The building is a good example of Romanesque Revival architecture, and it is one of many historic 19th century churches in Holyoke. Although the original congregation sold it in 2002, is still in use as a church, and is now the home of the Centro de Restauracion Emanuel.

First Presbyterian Church, Holyoke, Mass

The First Presbyterian Church, at 237 Chestnut Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

The First Presbyterian Church of Holyoke was established in 1886, with an initial membership of 77 people. James M. Craig was ordained as the first pastor, and the congregation worshipped in several different locations over the next two years. However, the church soon outgrew its temporary quarters, and in 1887 it acquired this property, at the corner of Chestnut and Cabot Streets. Construction of the church building began in September, and the first services were held here less than a year later, in August 1888. It was formally dedicated on March 5, 1889, in a ceremony that included a sermon by the Reverend John Hall, the prominent pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Contemporary descriptions of the church do not mention an architect, but it features a Romanesque Revival-style design, which was popular for churches of this period. The exterior was built primarily of granite, but it also included contrasting brownstone trim that gave it a polychromatic appearance. The Chestnut Street facade, which is seen here in this view, was almost symmetrical, except for the different-sized turrets on the corners. Like most other Romanesque churches, it also incorporates rounded arches, stained glass, and tall, narrow windows into its design.

The congregation continued to grow over the next few decades, and by the early 20th century it had over 700 members. They would worship here throughout the rest of the century, although during this time the exterior of building was altered, including the removal of the upper part of the roof, and the shortening of the turret on the right side. Overall, though, the building survives as a good example of Romanesque Revival-style architecture, and it is one of many historic late 19th century church buildings that still stand in Holyoke. However, it no longer houses its original Presbyterian congregation. The property was sold in 2002, and it is now occupied by the Centro de Restauracion Emanuel.