First Level Canal from Sargeant Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north along the First Level Canal from Sargeant Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This view shows the scene from near the southern end of the First Level Canal, looking north toward the center of Holyoke. The tower of City Hall can be seen in the distance on the left side of the first photo, and the foreground shows a variety of industrial development along both sides of the canal. Furthest to the right is the George R. Dickinson Paper Company, one of the many 19th century paper mills in Holyoke. The two-story brick mill was built in 1880, and initially housed two machines that produced book papers. The company’s owner, George R. Dickinson, lived in a mansion in Springfield, and he ran the company until his death in 1887.

George’s son Henry then took over the company, and in 1890 he expanded the building to increase production. The first photo was taken several years later, with Picturesque Hampden describing how “it is now the best equipped mill of its kind in Holyoke, and its productive capacity ranks with the five largest in the United States.” At the time, it was operating day and night in order to keep up with demand, and it had a daily output of around 23 tons of paper.

In 1899, the company was acquired by the American Writing Paper Company, with Henry Dickinson becoming its vice president. This mill continued to operate under the new ownership, and was expanded at some point after the first photo was taken, with an addition on the far right side of the photo. Otherwise, the building is still recognizable from the first photo, particularly its distinctive tower. Although no longer a paper mill, it is still in use as a factory, and today it produces plastic clamshell packaging.

Aside from the George R. Dickinson Paper Company, the other buildings on the right side of the canal are also still standing, although they too have been altered over the years. The next building, just to the left of the tower, was owned by the Holyoke Water Power Company, although it later became the city’s municipal electric light plant. The building appears to still be standing, although it has been expanded and now includes a covered walkway across the canal. Further in the distance, barely visible in the two photos, is the former Crocker McElwain paper mill, which is still standing at the corner of Cabot Street, although without its original towers from the first photo.

Lyman Street Bridge, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north toward the Lyman Street bridge over the Second Level Canal in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke was developed in the mid-19th century as one of the first planned industrial cities in the country, and was powered by a network of canals that were constructed starting in 1847. The Second Level Canal, seen here, runs parallel to the city’s street grid, and it is crossed by six of the major streets in downtown Holyoke. The northernmost of these is Lyman Street, which crosses the canal here, and the first photo shows a low, two-span bridge that was probably constructed of iron. The railroad bridge just beyond it was also iron, and carried the Connecticut River Railroad through Holyoke, passing diagonally across both the canal and the intersection of Lyman and Canal Streets on the right side of the photo. This lattice truss bridge was built in 1887, and later became part of the Boston and Maine Railroad after the company acquired the rail line in 1893, soon after the first photo was taken.

Today, this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo, although both of the 19th century bridges are gone. The old railroad bridge was replaced in 1928 by a steel Warren truss bridge, which is still in use today, and the current Lyman Street bridge was built in 2011. Further in the distance, several of the 19th century mill buildings are still standing on Gatehouse Road. The long building on the left side of the photo, once the home of the Whiting Paper Company, is still there. It was heavily altered at some point after the first photo was taken, and the right side of the building collapsed during a severe thunderstorm in 2011. However, the left side is still standing, along with the small, two-story brick building on the far left side of both photos.

Franklin Paper Company, Holyoke, Mass

The Franklin Paper Company on Middle Water Street, seen from across the waste canal in Holyoke, sometime in 1936. Image photographed by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the U.S. National Archives.

The scene in 2017:

Long known as “Paper City,” Holyoke was once among the world’s leading producers of paper, with several dozen paper mills located along the city’s extensive canal system. One of the first of these paper mills was the Franklin Paper Company, which was established in 1866 by prominent industrialist James H. Newton and his father-in-law Calvin Taft. With Taft as president and Newton as treasurer, the company initially specialized in producing collar paper. Disposable paper collars enjoyed a heyday in the 1860s and 1870s, but they were also uncomfortable, easily damaged, and also toxic, since the paper was bleached using arsenic. As a result, cellulose soon replaced paper in detachable collars, and by the late 1870s the Franklin Paper Company switched to producing writing paper, as well as paper for books and envelopes.

The Franklin Paper Company was located here along the third level canal, and was served by a railroad spur that ran along Water Street. In the foreground of this scene is the waste canal, which emptied excess water from the canals into the Connecticut River, and on the left side is a short railroad bridge over the canal. The first photo was taken in 1936, when the Franklin Paper Company was still in operation 70 years after it was established. The photographer was Lewis Wickes Hine, a prominent photographer and social reformer who, several decades earlier, had traveled around the country documenting child labor conditions. By the 1930s he was doing similar work, documenting the effects of the Great Depression, and he took a number of photographs during his 1936 visit to Holyoke. His original caption reads:

Mt. Holyoke [sic], Massachusetts – Scenes. A very old independent paper mill, wood pulp, not rags, continuing site and ownership in relatively straight line, once connected with a wood pulp mill near to Hoosie [sic] Tunnel; the type of near-to-mill transportation; the canal; glimpse of most modern mill type in background. Franklin Paper Company. Farr Alpaca – No. 4, 1936

More than 80 years after Hine’s Depression-era visit to Holyoke, the city has undergone significant changes. Most of the major paper companies have since relocated, as have most of the city’s other industries, and today Holyoke faces high poverty rates and many vacant, deteriorating factory buildings. The Franklin Paper Company is long-gone, but the buildings themselves are still standing on the right side of the photo, although the one-story building in the foreground has partially collapsed. Otherwise, not much has changed in this scene, and the canal is still there, as is the railroad bridge on the left side.

Ames Manufacturing Company, Chicopee, Mass

The Ames Manufacturing Company on Springfield Street in Chicopee, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Ames Manufacturing Company date back to 1822, when industrialist Edmund Dwight purchased property along the Chicopee River at Skenungonuck Falls, at the present-day village of Chicopee Falls. At the time, Chicopee was the sparsely-settled northern half of Springfield, but the Industrial Revolution helped to transform it into a major manufacturing center, thanks to the many waterfalls here on the Chicopee River. In 1823, Dwight incorporated the Boston and Springfield Manufacturing Company, and within a few years he had built a dam, a canal, and a mill at Chicopee Falls, marking the beginning of large-scale industry here in Chicopee.

In 1829, Dwight persuaded brothers Nathan P. and James T. Ames to relocate their cutlery business from Chelmsford to Chicopee Falls. He provided them with a blacksmith shop at his mill complex, rent-free for four years, and the brothers began operations here with a workforce of nine. The business rapidly expanded, though, and by 1833 they had 25 to 30 employees and were producing a wide variety of cutlery and tools, as well as swords for the Army and Navy.

The company was incorporated as the Ames Manufacturing Company in 1834, and the following year moved to this site further down the river. Known at the time as Cabotville, this village would later become the center of Chicopee when it was incorporated as a separate town in 1848. Here, the Chicopee River drops 50 feet in elevation, and both a dam and a canal were constructed in the early 1830s. At this new site, the company continued to grow and diversify, and by the end of the 1830s the Ames brothers were also producing cannons, cannonballs, bells, and a variety of other metal objects.

The first photo, taken in the early 1890s, shows the canal in the center and the Ames complex on the left. These buildings were constructed starting in 1847, with the oldest section visible just to the right of the tower. The facility was steadily expanded in the following decades, and was largely in its present form by the end of the Civil War. This era marked the heyday of Ames Manufacturing, which produced munitions during both the Mexican War and the Civil War. The Civil War in particular brought prosperity, and this facility became one of the war’s leading producers of swords, light artillery, and heavy ordnance.

During this period, the company also began casting bronze statues, beginning in 1853. Under the direction of foundry superintendent Silas Mosman, Jr., the company produced many important statues, including the Benjamin Franklin statue at Boston’s Old City Hall, the equestrian statues of George Washington at the Boston Public Garden and New York’s Union Square, the Minuteman statue at Concord, and the statues at Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield, Illinois. However, perhaps Mosman’s most significant accomplishment was casting the bronze doors for the east wing of the U.S. Capitol, which were installed in 1867. In his later years, Silas Mosman was assisted in his work by his son, Melzar, who went on to have an accomplished career both designing and casting statues. He remained here at Ames until 1884, but subsequently left the firm and established his own foundry here in Chicopee.

Of the two Ames brothers, only James lived to see the company’s prosperity in the mid-19th century. Nathan died in 1847, at the age of 43, but James remained with the company until his retirement in 1872, a year before his death. However, by this point Ames Manufacturing was entering a decline. The Civil War had been a boon for business, but after the war the company struggled to adapt to peacetime demands. The factory produced a wide variety of metal products, from mailboxes to ice skates, and as late as the 1870s the company had major foreign contracts for bayonets, scabbards, and sabers. Starting in the early 1880s, Ames also produced bicycles for the Overman Wheel Company. This contract proved lucrative, as demand for bicycles skyrocketed during this period, but this high demand ultimately ended up hurting Ames when, in 1887, Overman opened its own bicycle factory in Chicopee Falls.

The first photo was taken several years later, by which point the company was in serious decline. Ames remained here for about 15 more years, but in 1908 the factory complex was sold to A. G. Spalding and Brothers. This sporting goods company had been established in Chicago in 1876 by baseball player Albert G. Spalding, and in 1893 the company began manufacturing its products in Chicopee Falls. After purchasing the Ames facility in 1908, Spalding set about expanding it, adding several new buildings, and for the next 40 years the factory produced a wide range of Spalding sporting goods. Among other things, Spalding supplied the baseballs for Major League Baseball for most of the 20th century, and these balls were produced here in Chicopee. Spalding was also an early leader in golf equipment, and at one point had an entire building dedicated to producing golf balls.

Spalding relocated to a new facility in Chicopee in 1948, but the old buildings continued to be used by a variety of industries until the 1980s, when the buildings were converted into a 138-unit apartment complex known as Ames Privilege. Despite the many changes in ownership and use, though, the former Ames facility has survived with few major changes over the years. It is hard to tell in the second photo, but the same buildings from the first photo still line the canal, and the only significant change is a fourth floor, which was added to the buildings sometime after the first photo was taken. Because of its level of preservation and its historical significance, the property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Windsor Grist & Saw Mill, Windsor, Connecticut

The old mill at the corner of Poquonock Avenue and East Street in Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The building in 2017:

According to some historical records, this mill building dates back to 1640, when it was established as perhaps the first grist mill in Connecticut. In reality, the present building was built several centuries later, although this site along the Mill Brook was indeed the location of an early grist mill. It was owned by the town’s first minister, John Warham, and was evidently a sort of employment benefit for him. Like most grist mills of the era, farmers did not directly pay the miller for his services; instead, he was entitled to keep a portion of all the flour that was ground at the mill. Here, Reverend Warham, as the mill owner, was also compensated, receiving one-sixteenth of the ground flour.

The original mill building stood for well over 200 years, and was still used as a grist mill until 1862, when the property was purchased by Earl Simons. He demolished the old building and constructed the current mill, with some accounts suggesting that he may have incorporated some of the old mill’s frame into the new one. Like the old one, it was used as a grist mill, and was powered by a water wheel on the Mill Brook. The subsequent owner, Charles F. Lewis, made some changes after purchasing the property in 1878, rebuilding the mill dam and adding a sawmill to the building. Then, in 1916, his son, Charles T. Lewis, brought 20th century technology to the mill, replacing the old water wheel with a modern electric motor.

The mill remained in the Lewis family for nearly 50 years, until it was finally sold in 1924. Under the new owners, Farmers Grain & Supply Company, the mill became a hardware store in addition to its grain business, and the company still owned the property when the first photo was taken around the late 1930s. The building remained in use as a hardware store through several more ownership changes, and the exterior was significantly modified in the mid-20th century. Shortly after the first photo was taken, the building was expanded with a two-story brick addition on the right side, and by the early 1950s the cupola had been removed and plate glass windows were added to the left side of the first floor.

The hardware store remained in business until very recently, although it had closed by the time the first photo was taken in the spring of 2017. However, the building itself is still standing, and although it is not nearly as old as the nearby historical marker claims, it has become historic in its own right as a surviving example of a mid-19th century grist mill. And, perhaps, some of the timbers from the 1640 mill are still buried within the walls of the building, as relics from the first years of Connecticut’s existence.

For more information on this mill, along with additional photographs, see this article on the Windsor Historical Society website.

Bemis & Call Tool Factory, Springfield, Mass

The factory of Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company at 125 Main Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the Bemis & Call Hardware and Tool Company started in the 1830s, when merchant Stephen C. Bemis began manufacturing hardware here in Springfield. One of his early business moves was to purchase Solyman Merrick’s patent of the monkey wrench, which would become one of the company’s leading products. He subsequently formed a partnership with Amos Call, and in the 1840s Bemis & Call began manufacturing tools and hardware in a factory here on this site along the Mill River. The company initially rented space in a factory building that they shared with several other tenants, but later in the 19th century they would purchase the entire site.

Stephen C. Bemis retired from the company in 1855,   and went on to have a career in politics. He served as a city alderman from 1856 to 1858, as mayor in 1861 and 1862, and in between he was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 1859, although he lost the general election to fellow Springfield politician Eliphalet Trask. In the meantime, his son, William C. Bemis, became treasurer when Stephen retired, and remained with the company for the next half century.

William became president in 1897, and that same year the company built a large addition to the original factory. This three-story brick building, seen in the center of both photos, was joined four years later by the more ornate two-story section on the right, which was used as the conpany’s offices. The original wooden building stood on the left side until around 1920, when it was demolished and replaced with the current four-story brick building. During this time, Bemis & Call continued to specialize in wrenches, but also produced punches, pliers, calipers, and eventually combination locks.

Bemis & Call finally sold their wrench line in 1939, around the same time that the first photo was taken. However, unlike so many other Springfield-based companies, they survived the Great Depression and remained in business until finally closing in 1988. The factory buildings themselves are still standing, though, with hardly any exterior changes since the first photo was taken nearly 80 years ago, and they serve as a reminder of Springfield’s legacy as an important industrial city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.