Dwight Street from Race Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking west up Dwight Street from near the corner of Race Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This photo comparison captures some of the effects of the economic decline that Holyoke has experienced in the 125 years since the first photo was taken. The first one shows the city at the height of its prosperity as a major manufacturing center, and several of these factories are seen here, including the Beebe & Holbrook Paper Company just to the left of the middle of the photo, and the Whiting Paper Company across the street on the right side. Both mills were located along the Second Level Canal, which runs parallel to Race Street near the foreground of this scene.

Two of the city’s leading hotels were also located along this section of Dwight Street. In the foreground on the far right side is the corner of the Hotel Hamilton, which was built in the early 1850s as the Holyoke House, but was later expanded over the years. Further in the distance, with its tower visible just beyond the Whiting Paper Company mill on the right side of the street, is the Windsor Hotel. It was built in 1877 at the corner of Front Street, and it was owned by industrialist William Whiting, who also ran the nearby paper mill. Other important buildings in this scene include Parsons Hall on the far left, and Holyoke City Hall in the distance at the top of the hill.

Holyoke would continue to grow and prosper for several more decades after the first photo was taken, with the population peaking at just over 60,000 in 1920. However, this number would steadily decline throughout the 20th century, as factories closed or relocated and residents moved to the surrounding suburbs. Today, Holyoke’s population stands at about 40,000, and most of its industries are gone, along with many of the factory buildings that once lined the city’s canals.

Both Beebe & Holbrook and the Whiting Paper Company have long since gone out of business, and the Whiting mill in the first photo has been demolished. Part of the Beebe & Holbrook building is still standing on the left side, although the five-story section closest to Dwight Street has also been demolished. Closer to the foreground, both Parsons Hall and the Hotel Hamilton are still here, although both have been heavily altered. Each building has lost most of its upper floor, and the Hotel Hamilton is now abandoned.

Further up the hill, the Hotel Windsor was gone soon after the first photo was taken, when it was destroyed in a fire in 1899. It was replaced by a smaller commercial building that has also since been demolished, and today a parking garage stands on the site. Across the street, though, city hall is still there, and its tower is still a prominent landmark in the city skyline. Of all the buildings from the first photo, it is the only one that survives without any significant changes, and it remains in use by the municipal government more than 140 years after it was completed in 1875.

Steiger’s Department Store, Holyoke, Mass

The Steiger’s store at 259-271 High Street in Holyoke, sometime around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The building in 2017:

For nearly a century, the Steiger’s department store was a leading retail chain in Western Massachusetts and throughout much of New England. It was founded by Albert Steiger, who had come to the United States as a young German immigrant in 1868. He and his family settled in Huntington, Massachusetts, but his father died in 1872, when Albert was just 12 years old. Albert was the oldest of three children, and by the time he was 13 he had left school and was working as a peddler. Soon after, though, he began working for a dry goods merchant in Westfield, and would remain there for the next 20 years.

After spending his early career in Westfield, Albert Steiger went into business for himself in 1894, when he opened a store in Port Chester, New York. This proved successful, and two years later he opened a store in Holyoke. At the time, Holyoke was a thriving industrial city, and it had a busy commercial center along High Street. Steiger soon purchased property here on the west side of the street, directly opposite city hall, and had this building constructed on the site. It was designed by prominent local architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a Beaux Arts exterior, with light-colored stone that contrasted sharply with the dark brick and sandstone of the older buildings on High Street. When completed in 1899, the building only consisted of the three window bays on the right side, but in 1901 Steiger acquired the neighboring Preston Block on the left side and expanded his building. The Preston Block was either demolished or incorporated into the Steiger’s building, and Alderman designed the facade of this addition. It matched the rest of the building, but it resulted in an asymmetrical appearance, as seen in these photos.

The Holyoke store was soon followed by one in New Bedford in 1903, and then in 1906 he opened the company’s flagship store in Springfield. The first photo, from the book Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts, shows the Holyoke store sometime during these early years of his business. Outside, a number of women, all wearing white dresses, are standing on the sidewalk, with many apparently looking at the window displays. Although undated, the book was probably published around 1914, and it provides the following description of the Steiger’s company:

The high character earned by eighteen years of honorable business dealings, and the energy, business ability and liberality that characterize all the operations of this house, command for it a conspicuous position among the leading mercantile institutions of the state. The company is conducting similar establishments in Springfield and New Bedford, Massachusetts and Portchester, N. Y. The exceptionally low prices that prevail in this store have been the cause of much comment, but there are reasons for it that are legitimate ones and in no sense secret; in purchasing in the enormous quantities required for stocking four large stores, the management is able to take advantage of substantial discounts, which in the end is made to benefit the consumers in the low prices which they can offer. The local store is under the management of Philip Steiger. It is an attractive building, constructed of Indiana Limestone and brick; its interior has a full complement of modern fixtures and furniture, including the Lamson Carriers. There are thirty-one distinct departments, any one of which presents some attractive bargain at all times. One hundred and fifty clerks are employed.

Steiger’s would eventually open locations in Fall River and in Hartford, but by the 1960s the company had begun to shift toward stores in suburban shopping malls. These included stores in Westfield, Longmeadow, and Hadley, plus two new Springfield stores, with one at Springfield Plaza and one in the Eastfield Mall. Then, in 1979, Steiger’s opened a second Holyoke store in the newly-completed Holyoke Mall, drawing even more customers away from the old store here on High Street. The old store finally closed in 1984, and the building sat vacant for many years afterwards.

In the meantime, the Steiger’s company remained in business for another decade, until it was sold to the May Department Store Company in 1994. Some of the stores were reopened as either Lord & Taylor or Filene’s, but others were closed, including the flagship store in downtown Springfield, which was subsequently demolished. However, the former downtown Holyoke store is still standing here on High Street. Its exterior has seen few changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago, and it survives as a reminder of the grand department stores that once stood in the downtown area of almost every major city in the country. Along with the other surrounding commercial buildings, it is now part of the North High Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Phoenix Building, Holyoke, Mass

The building at the corner of Maple and Dwight Streets in Holyoke, around 1910. Image from Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity (1910).

The building in 2017:

This large, mixed-use commercial and residential building stands at the corner of Maple and Dwight Streets in downtown Holyoke. It is just a block away from City Hall and the central business district of High Street, and it overlooks Hampden Park, which is located directly across Dwight Street from here. Although completed more than a century ago, the building’s appearance seems very modern in many ways. With its boxy design, numerous balconies, and relative lack of ornamentation, it could almost pass for an early 21st century condominium complex that was made to look old, instead of an early 20th century building that actually is old.

The first photo shows the building soon after its completion in 1910, and was published in Holyoke: Past and Present Progress and Prosperity, along with a glowing description of the new building:

There is no doubt about the fact that Holyoke is progressing along the building line as well as in the many other lines, for with the erection of the Phoenix building during 1909 and 1910, Holyoke has gained a great modern and metropolitan structure, comparing favorably with the most modern of the buildings in larger cities. Located in the commercial heart of the city, facing Dwight and Maple streets, it is ideal for both business and residential purposes. The outward structure is of brick. The entire weight of the building is sustained by a heavy steel frame. This steel frame is covered with Portland cement construction. The floors are of Portland cement. All partitions are made of hollow tile blocks. There are six stories, and a basement of one hundred and twenty feet both on Dwight and Maple streets. There are nine stores of handsome and substantial finish and most stylish entrances and show windows.

There are many offices, each provided with hot and cold water, ample light and air; when one considers the central location of these offices and that this building is fireproof throughout together with elevator service, then it is realized that here is a good place to do business. A word should be said about the plumbing. This work is being done by the well known firm of Carmody & Sullivan, and is of the best and latest constriction for this kind of a building.

Besides the offices there are here many first class chambers, arranged to suit the most critical, an ample supply of light, air, hot and cold water, new furniture and fixtures are provided and of course the fireproof qualities and the elevator apply to this part of the building also. These rooms are rented in single or suite with or without private bath. On the two upper floors, where the view and the air are still better and it is quieter, there are a number of apartments ranging from two to five rooms, all fitted up with the latest improvements. Inspection of this modern and fireproof building is invited. The owners are the Phoenix Realty Associates, the trustees of which are E. L. Lyman, E. C. Bliss and J. J. Ramage.

Mr. L. L. Bridge of Springfield was the architect and engineer. Mr. F. H. Dibble took the contract to finish the building when the steel and cement work was finished.

The 1920 census shows a number of residents here in this building, including 14 families who rented apartments. These included one of the building’s owners, Edmund C. Bliss, who worked as the secretary and assistant treasurer of the Springfield Blanket Company. Other tenants included a mechanical engineer, a sales manager, a railroad freight agent, the physical director of the YMCA, a merchant, a tailor, and several foremen who worked in factories. Most of these families consisted of just a husband and wife living in an apartment, but there were also several families that had children.

However, the majority of the building’s residents during the 1920 census were listed as lodgers, presumably living in the single rooms that were described in the excerpt above. There were a total of 80 such lodgers, nearly all of whom were either single or widowed. In a city that was largely comprised of immigrant factory workers during this period, nearly all of these lodgers were born in the United States, although many were the children of immigrants. Like those who rented apartments, the lodgers tended to hold middle-class jobs, including office clerks, machinists, milliners, dressmakers, stenographers, and one resident was even listed as a bank vice president.

By the 1940 census, the building still housed a variety of middle class residents. None were listed as lodgers, although nearly all of them lived alone, and were either single or widowed. Monthly rents ranged from $15 to $75 (about $275 to $1,370 today), but most tenants paid around $20 to $25 (about $365 to $457 today). Of those who worked for a full year, annual salaries ranged from $600 (around $11,000 today) for an attendant at a state school, to $3,280 (around $60,000 today) for a mechanical inspector who worked at an army air base.

Today, more than a hundred years after the first photo was taken, Holyoke is no longer the prosperous industrial center that it had been during the first half of the 20th century. However, the city has many historic buildings that are still standing, including the Phoenix Building. It has lost the balustrade atop the roof, and the ground-floor storefronts have been altered, but overall it has remained well-preserved over the years, and it survives as a good example of an early 20th century mixed-use development here in Holyoke.

Flatiron Building, Holyoke, Mass

The corner of Main and Race Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

Long before the more famous Flatiron Building was built in New York City, Holyoke had one of its own. At only four stories, it was much shorter than the skyscraper in New York, but it was built on a similar triangular-shaped plot of land here at the corner of Main and Race Streets. It was completed sometime in the 1870s, and was originally owned by the Parsons Paper Company. Although formally known as the Parsons Block, it had acquired the nickname of the Flatiron Building by the early 1890s, a decade before the one in New York was completed.

The Parsons Paper Company was the oldest paper mill in the city, and had a factory a few blocks away on Gatehouse Road. The company rented space in the Flatiron Building to a variety of commercial tenants, including several stores on the ground floor. Among these was the C. E. Ball & Co. drugstore, which occupied the prominent storefront at the “point” of the building when the first photo was taken. The business later became the drugstore of Charles E. Bardwell, and was located here in this building during the early 20th century.

Also visible in the first photo, just above the second story windows, is a sign advertising the architectural firm of D. H. & A. B. Tower, which had its offices here in the building. The firm was comprised of brothers David H. and Ashley B. Tower, and they specialized in designing factories, including paper mills. Their works included many of the factory buildings here in Holyoke, but they also designed buildings across the country and internationally, with some as far away as Europe, Brazil, and India. The brothers were in business together from 1878 until 1892, when Ashley purchased his brother’s interest in the firm. He would continue to have his offices here in the building for several more years, but moved the firm to New York City in 1897. A sketch in Picturesque Hampden, published in 1892, provides a description of the offices here in Holyoke:

Mr. Tower’s office itself is one of the best possible for its purposes. It is located in what is known as the “Flatiron Block,” at the junction of Main and Race streets, a few rods from the Connecticut River railroad, and occupies the norther portion of the second story. On the eastern side, with entrance near the head of the stairway, is the suite of apartments occupied by Mr. Tower and his draughtsmen and assistants, beyond which is a private apartment or consultation room. A long-distance telephone is at hand in a convenient closet. The draughtsman’s room is on the west side of the block, into which one steps directly from the general offices, and is one of the finest apartments for the purpose imaginable.

In 1899, the Parsons Paper Company was acquired by the American Writing Paper Company, a trust that included many of the paper mills in Holyoke and elsewhere. The Flatiron Building became the corporate headquarters, and its offices were located here throughout the first half of the 20th century. During this time, American Writing Paper sought to compete with other paper trusts, including International Paper, which had been formed a year earlier in 1898. At one point, American Writing Paper produced about 75 percent of the country’s fine paper, but the company was ultimately plagued by many years of mismanagement and labor problems. Its offices remained here in this building until 1952, and by the 1960s the assets of the once-powerful company were liquidated.

Different sources give conflicting dates for when the Flatiron Building was demolished. This may have occurred in either the 1950s or 1960s, but, according to city records, the present-day building on the site was constructed in 1953, suggesting that the Flatiron Building was demolished soon after American Writing Paper relocated its offices. Today, very little is left from the first photo. The former location of the Flatiron Building is now the site of two nondescript one-story buildings, and most of the buildings on the left side of Main Street are also gone, except for a few in the distance near the corner of Dwight Street. Near the center of the photo is the Hotel Hamilton, which was also once owned by the Parsons Paper Company. The historic building is still standing, but it has been altered over the years, and it is now boarded up and abandoned.

Taber, Tilley, and Preston Blocks, Holyoke, Mass

A row of commercial buildings on the west side of High Street, between Dwight and Suffolk Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows High Street as it appeared around 1891, when Holyoke was at the peak of its prosperity as an industrial city. These commercial blocks had all been built only a few years earlier in the 1880s, and housed a variety of businesses and professional offices. The three most visible buildings in the center of the photo all featured ornate Romanesque Revival-style architecture, and formed a nearly symmetrical group, with many similarities between the buildings on the right and the left.

On the right side, closest to the camera in the first photo, was the the Preston Block, which was built in 1886. It was owned by Joseph S. Preston, a hatter who had a shop on the ground floor, and the upper floor tenants included the Childs Business College. According to its advertisement in the 1891 city directory, this school “Provides a thorough Business Education for Young Men and Women. Business men promptly supplied with Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Business Assistants. Sessions Day and Evening, from September to July.”

To the left of the Preston Block, in the center of the photo, was the Tilley Block. It was built in 1888 and was owned by John Tilley, who ran a furniture, carpet, and bedding store on the ground floor. Further to the left, on the other side of the Tilley Block, was the Taber Block, which was built around 1884. Its design was similar to the Preston Block, although somewhat shorter and with a brick facade instead of rusticated stone. When the first photo was taken, the storefront on the ground floor was occupied by Frank L. Taber, a jeweler and watchmaker.

Today, very little is left from the 1891 scene, although nearly all of these changes came within just a couple decades after the photo was taken. The first change came only a few years later, in 1899, when the one-story building on the far right was demolished and replaced by the Steiger’s department store. This Beaux Arts-style building was designed by prominent local architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a light-colored exterior that contrasted with the darker brick of the older buildings in the scene. Two years later, in 1901, Albert Steiger purchased the adjoining Preston Block and expanded the store. It does not seem clear whether the Preston Block was demolished or simply incorporated into the Steiger’s building, but either way the stone facade of the Preston Block was replaced by one that matched the rest of the department store.

The trend toward Beaux Arts architecture continued around 1912, shortly after the Tilley Block was purchased by Thomas S. Childs. The building itself evidently survived, but the facade was rebuilt to match early 20th century architectural tastes, with a design that was also the work of Alderman. Childs was a shoe and hosiery dealer, and his store occupied the ground floor of the building, where Tilley’s furniture business had once been located. Like Steiger’s, the Childs shoe store would remain a fixture here in downtown Holyoke for many years, but it was gone by the early 1980s. Today, the ground floor still has a commercial tenant, but the three upper floors of the building are boarded up.

Of the three buildings in the center of the first photo, only the Taber Block survives relatively unchanged. Its neighbor to the left, the c.1890 Bishop Block, is also still standing from the first photo, although the exterior of the second floor has been rebuilt with new windows. Overall, though, this section of High Street has a remarkable number of historic commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and these buildings are now part of the North High Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Robert B. Johnson Buildings, Holyoke, Mass

The buildings at 195-201 High Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The buildings in 2017:

According to the National Register of Historic Places inventory for the North High Street Historic District, these adjoining three-story brick buildings were built around 1880. However, they may actually date back to about a decade earlier, since they are mentioned in directories from the early 1870s. They were originally owned by Robert B. Johnson, an insurance agent whose offices were located here in the building. He also rented space to other tenants, including the Holyoke Savings Bank on the left side and the Holyoke National Bank on the right, as seen in the first photo. Above the arched entryway in this photo is a sign for “R. B. Johnson &  Son,” and hanging from the second floor is a sign for  “M. O. Hastings Dentist.”

Aside from his insurance business, Johnson was also involved in both of these banks. He served as treasurer of the Holyoke Savings Bank from 1866 until his death in 1899, and he was also the first vice president of the Holyoke National Bank, upon its establishment in 1872. He later became the president of the bank in 1896, and served in that role for the last three years of his life. Following his death, his son Charles W. Johnson succeeded him as treasurer of the savings bank, and he also carried on the insurance business here in the building on the left side.

The Holyoke National Bank was located here until the early 1910s, when it moved to a new location at the end of the block, at the corner of Dwight Street. Then, in 1915 the savings bank purchased both buildings, allowing it to double its available space by expanding into the side that had been vacated by the national bank. However, the savings bank was only here for another decade or so, before moving into a new building that still stands a few blocks away at 143 Chestnut Street, at the corner of Suffolk Street. Later renamed Vanguard Savings Bank, it would remain at the Chestnut Street location until 1992, when it was absorbed by Fleet Bank.

In the meantime, the bank’s former location on High Street is still standing, although both of these buildings have seen some changes over the years. The ground floor has been significantly altered, with three different doors instead of the central arch, and the building on the left side has lost much of the ornamentation above the third floor. However, both buildings are still easily recognizable from the first photo, and they are among the many historic late 19th century commercial blocks that still stand here on this part High Street.