Second Level Canal from Dwight Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke’s extensive canal system was developed starting in the mid-19th century, and provided water power for the many factories that were built here. By the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, the city was at its peak of prosperity as a manufacturing center, and the Second Level Canal was lined with industrial development along the right side. These included, on the extreme right side of the photo, the Beebe & Holbrook Paper Company, one of the city’s many paper mills. Just beyond it were two matching factory buildings of the Merrick Thread Company, and further in the distance, on the other side of Appleton Street, was a mix of smaller industrial buildings owned by a variety of companies.

Only a small portion of the Beebe & Holbrook mill is visible in this scene, but it was built in 1871-1872 as the Hampden Paper Company. It subsequently became Beebe & Holbrook in 1878, and in 1899 it was one of the many paper mills that merged to become the American Writing Paper Company. Each mill, including Beebe & Holbrook, continued to operate as a division within American Writing Paper, and at one point this trust combined to produce 75 percent of the country’s fine paper. Poor management and perennial labor troubles ultimately helped bring about the company’s demise in the mid-20th century, and its assets were liquidated in the 1960s. However, many of its former mills, including Beebe & Holbrook, are still standing in Holyoke today.

Further in the distance, the Merrick Thread Company buildings were somewhat newer than the neighboring paper mill. The company came to Holyoke in 1865, and in 1882 it built mill number 2, which is visible in the distance on the right side. Five years later, it was joined by the architecturally-similar mill number 3, closer to the foreground and directly adjacent to the paper mill. The book Holyoke To Day: Penned and Pictured, published in 1887, provides a description of the company around the time that mill number 3 was completed:

Silk cord, soft finish, satin finish spool cottons and fine yarns are made, the value of the yearly product being a million dollars or more. About 4,000,000 dozen spools of cotton are made during the year. Over 1,100 hands are employed, and these receive upwards of $26,000 per month. The furnishing of a thread and bobbin fitted for use in the shuttle of a sewing machine, thus avoiding the necessity of fitting the iron bobbin in the usual way, has grown to be quite an important branch of the business, which this company controls under contract with the patentee.

Like Beebe & Holbrook, the Merrick Thread Company was later absorbed by a trust when it was acquired by the American Thread Company in 1902. Then, at some point in the 20th century, the facility received a direct rail link when a railroad bridge was built diagonally across the canal, as seen in the present-day photo. However, like most of Holyoke’s other industries from the 19th and early 20th centuries, the company has since gone out of business.

The buildings later housed other companies, although mill number 2 was destroyed by arson in 1993, and the site on Appleton Street is now a vacant lot. Mill number 3 is still standing, behind the trees on the right side of the present-day photo, but its windows are boarded up and it appears to be vacant. Overall, the only significant improvement to this scene has been the conversion of the railroad bridge into a pedestrian walkway in 2015, and it is now part of the Holyoke Canal Walk.

Canal Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking southwest on Canal Street, toward the corner of Lyman Street in Holyoke, in 1936. Image taken by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the U. S. National Archives.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken by the prominent photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine, who is best known for his early 20th century work with the National Child Labor Committee. However, later in life he also documented life across the country during the Great Depression, including a visit to Holyoke in 1936. At the time, the city was a leading producer of paper and textiles, and most of his photos focus on Holyoke’s industry. This photo shows the scene along Canal Street, with the Second Level Canal on the right. The Boston and Maine Railroad crosses through the middle of the photo, and in the background is the Whiting Paper Company, which was located in a building that had previously been occupied by the Lyman Mills. Hine’s original caption provides a short description of the photo:

Mt. Holyoke [sic]Massachusetts – Scenes. An old mill of absentee ownership, liquidated and sold at a great bargain to a new owner, who would not sell or rent, uses only a small part; railway transportation; electric power transmission. Lyman Mills (Now Whiting Company), 1936

The Lyman Mills company was incorporated in 1854, in the early years of Holyoke’s industrial development. It was located in the area between the First and Second Level Canals, on the south side of Lyman Street, and over the years its facility grew to include a number of mill buildings. The earliest of these, not visible from this angle, were built in 1849-1850, and were originally used by the Hadley Falls Company before being acquired by Lyman Mills. Other buildings, including the large one in the distance on the right side of the scene, were added later in the 19th century, and the company became a major producer of textiles. It also employed a significant number Holyoke residents, including many of the city’s French Canadian immigrants, and by the turn of the century it had a workforce of over 1,300 people.

However, as Hine’s caption indicates, the Lyman Mills corporation was liquidated in 1927. Although still profitable despite increased competition from southern manufacturers, the shareholders were evidently more interested in selling the company’s assets instead of continuing to operate it as a textile mill. Over a thousand employees were put out of work on the eve of the Great Depression, and the property was sold to the Whiting Paper Company, whose original mill was located directly adjacent to the Lyman Mills complex.

Founded in 1865 by William Whiting, this company went on to become one of the largest paper manufacturers in the country, and Whiting enjoyed a successful political career as mayor of Holyoke and as a U. S. Congressman. After his death in 1911, his son, William F. Whiting, took over the company and oversaw the expansion into the former Lyman Mills buildings in the late 1920s. The younger Whiting was a longtime friend of Calvin Coolidge, and in August 1928 Coolidge appointed him as the U. S. Secretary of Commerce, replacing Herbert Hoover, who would be elected president a few months later. Whiting served in this role for the remainder of Coolidge’s presidency, until Hoover’s inauguration on March 4, 1929.

The conversion of the Lyman Mills into paper production, along with Whiting’s brief tenure as Secretary of Commerce, occurred just a short time before the stock market crash of October 1929. By the time the first photo was taken seven years later, the country was still in the midst of the Great Depression. Like the rest of the country, Holyoke was hit hard by the Depression, but the Whiting Paper Company managed to survive and remain in business for several more decades. However, Holyoke continued to see economic decline throughout the mid-20th century, with most of its major manufacturers closing or relocating, and the Whiting Paper Company finally closed in 1967, just over a century after it had been established.

Today, however, this scene has hardly changed in more than 80 years since Lewis Hine took the first photo. Although no longer used to produce textiles or paper, the Lyman/Whiting complex is still standing in the distance, and has been converted into a mixed-use property known as Open Square. Closer to the foreground, the same railroad bridges still carry the tracks over Canal Street and the Second Level Canal, and even the transmission towers are still standing, although they do not carry any electrical wires anymore.

Flat Street, Brattleboro, Vermont

Looking east on Flat Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

During the second half of the 19th century, Brattleboro became an important manufacturing center, thanks in large part to the water power provided by the fast-moving Whetstone Brook. Much of the town’s industrial development was centered along this brook, including here on Flat Street, which runs along its northern banks. At the time that the first photo was taken, the properties on both sides of the street were owned by George E. Crowell, a prosperous businessman who lived in a large mansion to the northwest of here, at the corner of High and Green Streets. The right side of the street included a cabinet shop, which appears to have been the building on the far right. Further beyond this building, out of view in the first photo, was a carriage shop as well as the Brattleboro Jelly Company, which produced cider jelly and cucumber pickles.

The most visible building in the first photo was the six-story Carpenter Organ Company building. Built around the mid-1860s for the Brattleboro Melodeon Company, this factory was purchased about 20 years later by the Carpenter Organ Company, which still occupied the building when the first photo was taken. At the time, organ manufacturing was a major part of Brattleboro’s economy, and Carpenter was one of several such companies in the town. George Crowell was one of the owners of this company, but he sold his interest in 1914. By then, pump organs were falling out of fashion, and the company only remained in business for a few more years, closing around 1917.

Today, there is nothing remaining in this scene from the first photo, except for Flat Street itself. The old Carpenter Organ building is long gone, as are all of the other industrial buildings on either side of the street. Like most of the other old New England mill towns, there is very little manufacturing left in Brattleboro, and it has been many decades since any organs were produced in the town. The site of the Carpenter factory is now a parking garage, disguised to make its exterior resemble an old brick mill. On the other side of the street, parking lots are now located where the cabinet shop, carriage shop, and jelly company used to be, although at least one of the historic factory buildings on Flat Street – the C. F. Church building – has since been converted into commercial use, and is located just out of view to the right of the 2017 photo.

Carpenter Organ Company, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Carpenter Organ Company on Flat Street in Brattleboro, around 1894. Image from Picturesque Brattleboro (1894).

The scene in 2017:

During the second half of the 19th century, Brattleboro became a prosperous mill town, and one of its leading industries was the manufacturing of organs. Also known as pump organs, reed organs, or melodeons, these instruments enjoyed widespread popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Brattleboro had several companies that produced them. The largest of these was Estey Organ, which was once the largest organ manufacturer in the country, but Estey also had several competitors, including the Carpenter Organ Company, which was located here in this factory on Flat Street.

The Carpenter Organ Company had originally been established in Worcester, Massachusetts by Edwin P. Carpenter, a second-generation organ maker whose father, Edwin B. Carpenter, had been one of the early partners in the Estey company. The elder Carpenter later relocated to Illinois, but his son subsequently returned to New England, producing organs in Worcester until 1884, when he moved the company to Brattleboro. The first photo, taken about a decade later, shows the company’s factory on Flat Street. This six-story building had once been home to Brattleboro Melodeon Company, which had been established in 1867, and the building was likely constructed around the same time.

The first photo comes from the 1894 book Picturesque Brattleboro, which declared that “The Company makes nothing but absolutely high grade goods, and its reputation is such the world over. In England, Germany, Russia, Holland, Denmark, Switzerland, Australia and South Africa its agents are the leading music houses who handle the Carpenter Organ for their best trade, using other makes to supply the demand for cheaper goods.” The article also cited recent recognition given to the company, including awards at the 1890 Edinburgh Exhibition and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The Carpenter Organ Company continued to produce organs here until it closed around 1917. By this point, musical tastes had changed, and demand for portable, in-home organs was not as high as it had been during the Victorian era. Its greatest competitor, Estey Organ, did manage to survive well into the 20th century, before finally closing in 1961. Most of the Estey buildings are still standing, and have been preserved as a museum, but the Carpenter Organ factory here on Flat Street is long gone. The site of the building is now a parking garage, although the garage’s brick facade helps to give it the appearance of a 19th century factory building.

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.