Willimansett Y, Chicopee Mass

The “Y” intersection of Chicopee Street and Meadow Street in the Chicopee village of Willimansett, around 1917. Image courtesy of the Chicopee Public Library, Russ H. Gilbert Photographic Collection.

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The “Y” in 2015:


In the early 20th century, the city of Chicopee experienced a large population growth, much of which was made up of Polish and French Canadian immigrants.  Each group settled in particular neighborhoods, and Willimansett became home for many French-Canadian immigrants, including my great-great-grandparents, who lived a block away from here in the 1920s.  From here, workers could commute a short distance by trolley to either the Holyoke mills across the river, or the mills along the Chicopee River a few miles to the south.

This intersection of Chicopee and Meadow Streets became known as the “Y”, so-named because of the angle at which the streets merge.  This is the primary commercial center of Willimansett, but in the early 1900s it was still fairly undeveloped.  The commercial blocks on the right weren’t there yet, nor were the houses to the left.  The only prominent building that appears in both photos is the Chapin School, which can be seen in the distance in the middle of the fork.  It opened in 1898, and had several additions put on as Willimansett grew in population.  Today it is vacant, but it is currently planned to be converted into apartments for veterans.

Probably the most interesting thing about the “Y”, however, is something that does not appear in either photo.  In the 1930s, a grocery store opened here, called the Y Cash Market.  They are no longer in Willimansett, but the name lives on – today the company is Big Y, one of the largest grocery store chains in New England.

Center Street, Chicopee

Center Street in Chicopee, probably in 1918. Image courtesy of the Chicopee Public Library, Russ H. Gilbert Photographic Collection.

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Center Street in 2015:



One of the busiest sections of road in Chicopee is completely void of traffic in the 1918 scene, but it wasn’t necessarily because people lacked cars.  At this point, cars were becoming more common among the middle class, but this became a problem during World War I.  Because of the war demand for fuel, the federal government implemented programs to help reduce fuel use.  One of these plans was “gasless Sundays,” when people were encouraged to avoid driving on Sundays, thus saving a substantial amount of gasoline.  I don’t know how effective it was overall, but evidently it worked in Chicopee – the first photo was taken during one of these “gasless Sundays,” and sidewalks are full of people, with nary a car in sight.

The only real change in these two views, other than the presence of automobiles, is the building on the far left.  This building at the corner of Center and Exchange Streets was replaced by the Starzyk Building in 1921.  Otherwise, the other buildings are still there: the Spalding factory in the distance, the 1871 Chicopee City Hall to the right, and the old 1911 Chicopee Public Library building.

Starzyk Building, Chicopee Mass

The Starzyk Building at the corner of Center Street and Exchange Street in Chicopee, around 1921. Image courtesy of the Chicopee Public Library, Russ H. Gilbert Photographic Collection.

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The building in 2015:


The Starzyk Building has been a prominent building in downtown Chicopee for nearly a century, and the first photo was taken right around the time that the original building was completed.  It was owned by Paul Peter Starzyk, a Polish immigrant who came to Chicopee in the early 1890s and worked in the mills of Dwight Manufacturing Company, the same place where social reformer Lewis Wickes Hine would later document child labor conditions in the early 1900s.  Starzyk didn’t work in the mills for too long, though, because he later went into business for himself, selling men’s clothing.  His business was successful enough that he was able to build this building in 1921, and a year later he expanded it on the right-hand side.  The first photo was taken before this wing was added.  Today, the storefront windows have been altered, but otherwise its exterior appearance hasn’t changed much.  It is still used for retail and office space, and is still one of the main commercial buildings in downtown Chicopee.

Solin’s Market, Chicopee Mass

Solin’s Market, at the corner of Center and West Streets in Chicopee around 1919. Image courtesy of the Chicopee Public Library, Russ H. Gilbert Photographic Collection.

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The location in 2015:


This grocery store was owned by Michael Solin, and was established in the early 1900s to serve the growing Polish community in Chicopee.  I can’t read all of the writing on the windows, but it appears that some of the purchases that could be made here included sugar for 7 cents a pound, butter for 35 cents a pound, eggs for 28 cents a dozen, and milk for 11 cents a quart.  “Fresh shoulders” are also apparently available, although no price is given, so perhaps the market price varied from day to day.  These seem like great buys, but of course wages were also much lower back in 1919.  In 2015 dollars, the sugar would cost $0.95, the butter would be $4.75, the eggs $3.80, and the milk $1.49 (for a quart, so a gallon would be $5.96).  All of these are comparable to or higher than prices today, so the deals weren’t as great as they appear at first glance.

But, just as buying milk for 11 cents a quart is a thing of the past, so is the building that once housed Solin’s Market.  I don’t know when it was demolished, but the property was probably needed to widen Center Street and make room for the I-391 on-ramp.  The street to the right, Abbey Street, is now closed off to traffic from this end, and some of the houses on that street are probably the only things left from the 1919 photo.

Hanging Around the Saloon, Chicopee Mass

A group of workers hanging around outside of the Cyran & Gierlasinski Cafe on Grove Street in Chicopee, on June 29, 1916. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

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The scene in 2014:


Social reformer and photographer Lewis Wickes Hine visited Chicopee several times in the 1910s, documenting child labor conditions in some of the city’s factories.  The first photo here shows a group of workers hanging around a saloon at the end of the workday.  It’s probably safe to assume that the cafe was Polish; the names of Cyran & Gierlasinski leave little room for doubt.  By the late 1800s, Chicopee had become an industrial center, and many of the workers were immigrants, either French-Canadian or Polish.  To this day, many Chicopee residents are of French-Canadian and Polish ancestry, some of whom are probably the descendants of the men in the 1916 photo.  Today, the Cyran & Gierlasinski Cafe might be gone, but the Polish influence is still present; the site is now the parking lot for the main offices of the Polish National Credit Union.

Dwight Manufacturing Company, Chicopee Mass (9)

A group of boys at the Dwight Manufacturing Company in Chicopee, Massachusetts, in September 1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, National Child Labor Committee Collection.


The same scene in 2014:


Like the 1911 photos in this post and this post, the first photo here was taken on modern-day Route 116 in Chicopee by Lewis Wickes Hine for the National Child Labor Committee.  His caption reads:

“Stanislaus Matthew, 30 Cabot St., (left hand boy). Warren Butman, Nonotuck St. Has worked in spinning room since Monday. Location: Chicopee, Massachusetts.”