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.

First Baptist Church, Holyoke, Mass

The First Baptist Church, at the corner of Northampton and South Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The church in 2017:

Holyoke’s First Baptist Church is significantly older than Holyoke itself, and was originally incorporated in 1803, back when Holyoke was still part of West Springfield. At the time, this northern section of West Springfield was known as Ireland Parish, and most of its development was centered along present-day Northampton Street. The First Baptist Church built its first permanent church building here on this site in 1826, at the corner of Northampton and South Streets, and over the next decade the congregation steadily grew, eventually peaking at 179 in 1835.

Holyoke was incorporated as a separate town in 1850, and at the time, it was being transformed into a major industrial center. However, this development was concentrated more than a mile to the east of here, along the banks of the Connecticut River. This drew people away from the old village center on Northampton Street, and First Baptist Church steadily lost members, who moved closer to the new town center. By 1879, church membership had dwindled to just 69, but, despite its small size, the congregation embarked on a building project, demolishing the old wood-frame building in 1879 and replacing it with a new brick, High Victorian Gothic-style building that was completed in 1880, on the same site as the old church.

This proved to be a wise move, because by the late 19th century, the surrounding neighborhood was being developed as a suburban residential area. Originally known as Baptist Village, the neighborhood became Elmwood, and the influx of residents helped to grow the church. By the first decade of the 20th century, membership had tripled from its 1879 numbers, requiring an addition in the right side, which was built in 1906. Since then, the exterior has not changed significantly, and First Baptist Church remains an active congregation that still worships here in this building, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken.

Highlands Methodist Episcopal Church, Holyoke, Mass

The Highlands Methodist Episcopal Church, at the corner of Lincoln and Nonotuck Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke’s First Methodist Church was established in 1853, and met in various locations in the downtown area until 1869, when its first permanent church building was completed on Main Street. However, in the following years, the city steadily grew westward and northward, away from Main Street, and by the 1880s there was a need for a church here in the newly-developed Highlands neighborhood. As a result, this church was built in 1886, at the corner of Lincoln and Nonotuck Streets, and it originally served as a branch of the downtown Methodist church. The pastor of the downtown church, Gilbert C. Osgood, would preach here on Sunday afternoons, and this arrangement continued until 1889, when the Highlands church was organized as a separate congregation.

The Highlands Methodist Episcopal Church remained here in this building until around 1926, when it was sold to a Christian Scientist congregation, which would worship here until at least the mid-20th century. Today, this scene remains much the same as it did 125 years ago, with the church as well as the houses in the distance still standing. The exterior of the church remains particularly well-preserved, although the interior is dramatically different. It has not been used as a church since at least the 1970s or early 1980s, when it was converted into a house, and more than 40 years later it is still a private residence. However, it did recently gain national attention when, in 2016, the church-turned-house was labeled as a Pokémon GO gym, resulting in dozens of people showing up around the house every day.

Casper Ranger House, Holyoke, Mass

The house at 507 Appleton Street, at the corner of Sycamore Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house in 2017:

This elegant Queen Anne-style house was built around 1890, and was the home of Casper Ranger, a prominent local contractor. Born in 1850 in the French city of Mulhouse, Ranger came to the United States with his parents when he was six. He grew up in the Holyoke area, and apprenticed as a carpenter before becoming a workman and, later, a foreman for Holyoke builder Watson Ely. During this time, Ranger was involved in projects such as the construction of City Hall and the Opera House, but in 1877 he left Ely’s company and went into business for himself.

Ranger would later establish both the Casper Ranger Lumber Company and the Casper Ranger Construction Company, and he played an important role in Holyoke’s development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A 1917 biographical sketch estimated that his companies had built 70 percent of all the mill buildings in Holyoke, and he also built mills and commercial buildings in Springfield, many of the buildings on the campus of Mount Holyoke in South Hadley, and several mansions in Holyoke. These included his own house here on Appleton Street, which had a highly ornate, eclectic Queen Anne design and, as the first photo shows, enjoyed a prominent location overlooking the city.

Ranger and his first wife Katherine had nine children, six of whom lived to adulthood. However, Katherine died in 1886 at the age of 39, and the following year he remarried to Ellen E. McDonnell. They moved into this house several years after their marriage, and they had three more children of their own. The 1900 census shows a crowded house, with the Rangers living here with seven children plus a servant, although by the 1910 census there were just three children living here with them, along with two servants. Casper died in 1912, and Ellen remained here for about five more years, before moving to Brookline in 1917.

The house was subsequently sold to the Holy Cross Church, and served as the rectory until around 1940, when it became a parish hall. Today, it is no longer owned by the church, but its exterior has remained well-preserved over the years, with few noticeable changes aside from a shortened chimney. The surroundings have changed somewhat, though, and the Holyoke skyline is hidden by trees. However, probably the most notable change in the foreground is the small park, located in the triangle of land between Suffolk, Appleton, and Sycamore Streets. Once known as Ranger Park, it is now the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza, and includes a granite bust of Kennedy, which is visible on the left side of the photo.

House of Providence Hospital, Holyoke, Mass

The House of Providence Hospital, at the corner of Elm and Dwight Streets in Holyoke, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the present-day Sisters of Providence Health System date back to 1873, when four women from the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in Kingston, Ontario arrived in the Holyoke area, in order to serve the needs of the largely Catholic, immigrant workforce in Holyoke. Originally, they were located across the river in South Hadley, but in 1874 the Sisters of Providence moved to Holyoke, and built a hospital here at the corner of Dwight and Elm Streets. This became the first public hospital in Holyoke, and served the needs of rapidly-growing city over the next few decades.

The Sisters of Providence remained a mission of the Kingston congregation until 1892, when it became an independent congregation, and two years later a new, larger House of Providence Hospital building was completed here on the site. The first photo shows the building about a decade later, with the Father Harkins’ Home for Aged Women just beyond it on the left. At the time, this area had a number of Catholic institutions, including the Immaculate Conception School, the Convent of Notre Dame, the Convent of St. Vincent de Paul, the St. Jerome Institute, and St. Jerome’s Church, all of which where located within a block of here.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, Holyoke has undergone some significant changes, and today there are no recognizable landmarks from the first photo. In 1958, the hospital moved to its current location in Ingleside, in the southern part of the city, and it is now the Providence Behavioral Health Hospital. The old building was subsequently demolished, and today the site is a vacant lot, although the old Immaculate Conception School – later home of Holyoke Catholic High School – is still standing in the distance on the left.

Beech Street from Cabot Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on Beech Street from the corner of Cabot Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke is one of the few New England cities to have a regular street grid, which was a result of its planned development in the mid-19th century. The downtown area consists of rectangular blocks, with some streets running roughly north to south, parallel to the canals along the Connecticut River, and perpendicular streets running east to west, up and down the hills to the west of the river. West of High Street, the north-south streets are all named for trees (Maple, Elm, Walnut, etc.), while the east-west streets alternate between those named for Massachusetts counties (Franklin, Hampshire, Essex, etc.) and those named for early Holyoke industrialists (Jackson, Sargeant, Cabot, etc.).

By the late 19th century, houses in Holyoke were, in general, more desirable the further up the hill that they were located. Beech Street, which is seen here around 1892, is six blocks to the west of High Street, and at the time it largely consisted of upper middle class, single-family homes. At the time, the neighborhood had not yet been fully developed. Most of the houses were new, having been built around the 1880s, and there were still vacant lots on this block, including some in the foreground on the left side.

The 1900 census gives some insight into the people who lived here on this section of Beech Street. On the far right, at the corner of Cabot Street, was the home of Lewis E. Bellows, the treasurer and manager of the Barlow Manufacturing Company, which produced store and window display fixtures. Just beyond his house, at 232 Beech, was the home of William Mauer, a German immigrant who worked as secretary and manager of Germania Mills, which produced woolen and worsted textiles. Further down the street, at 226 Beech, was the home of William Judd, who worked as a traveling salesman for a paper mill.

In the years after the first photo was taken, the vacant lots on either side of the street were developed, and new houses were built around the early 20th century. Since then, there have not been any significant changes, and most of these turn-of-the-century homes are still standing, although many have been altered with enclosed porches, artificial siding, and other changes. Only one house – the one on the right at 232 Beech – appears to have been demolished, but it has since been replaced by a modern house on the same site.