Main Street from Dwight Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

These two photos, taken 125 years apart, show some of the dramatic changes that the city of Holyoke has experienced in the intervening years. When the first photo was taken, Holyoke was among the world’s leading producers of paper, and at its peak the city had more than two dozen paper mills along its extensive canal system. The resulting influx of factory workers led to a dramatic increase in the city’s population, from under 5,000 in 1860 to over 35,000 in 1890, and the first photo shows a busy Main Street, filled with trolleys, horse-drawn carriages, and pedestrians.

The commercial buildings on the right side of Main Street show a mix of late 19th century architectural styles, and are predominantly brick with three or four stories. Probably the oldest building on the right side of the first photo is the Perkins Block, which dates back to about 1870 and was, in later years, known as the Hotel Jess. Its Italianate design was typical of the era, and it includes cast iron ornamentation that has remained well-preserved over the years. Just beyond it is another, somewhat shorter Italianate building, which was built in the mid-1880s. It lacks the cast iron on the exterior, but it has a similar bracketed cornice at the top of the building. The only other building still standing on the right side of the street from the first photo is the narrow, four-story building in the center, which was built around 1883 and has seen few exterior changes since then.

Otherwise, all of the other buildings on this side of the street have either been replaced by newer ones or are now vacant lots. Perhaps the most notable of these lost buildings is the Whiting Street Building at 32 Main Street, the four-story granite building just to the left of the center of the first photo. Completed in 1885, it was owned by Whiting Street, a prominent landowner for whom the Whiting Street Reservoir is named. By the time the first photo was taken, the building was the home of the recently-established American Pad and Paper Company. Now known as Ampad, this company is still a major producer of writing pads and other paper products, although it has long since relocated its headquarters out of Holyoke.

The only building visible on the left side of the first photo is the Holyoke House, which was later known as the Hotel Hamilton. Built in 1878, it was significantly expanded over the years and is still standing, although it has lost its top floor. Like many of the buildings across the street, it is now abandoned, and today the scene of boarded-up storefronts, vacant lots, and a deserted Main Street contrasts sharply with the photo taken at the same site in the 1890s.

Bijou Theater, Holyoke, Mass

The Bijou Theater on Main Street in Holyoke, in October 1941. Image taken by John Collier, Jr., courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI collection.

The scene in 2017:

The Bijou Theater was one of several early 20th century theaters in Holyoke, and was built around 1913. Located on Main Street in the Flats neighborhood, it primarily catered to the city’s large population of factory workers, and it had one screen, with a seating capacity of nearly 1,300. The original caption of the first photo was “Theatre in workers’ section at Holyoke, Massachusetts”, and it was taken by John Collier, Jr., a prominent photographer and anthropologist. At the time, he was working with the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal agency that, among other projects, hired photographers to document life in America during the Great Depression.

The first photo shows the entrance to the theater, with a “candy shoppe” in the storefront on the left and a shoe shine business on the right. Both stores display the seemingly-ubiquitous Coca-Cola signs of the 1940s, and the theater marquee advertises for a double feature of The Devil and Miss Jones, starring Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, and Charles Coburn; and Thieves Fall Out, starring Eddie Albert, Joan Leslie, Jane Darwell, and Alan Hale, Sr. These films were both released in the spring of 1941, more than five months before the first photo was taken, suggesting that the Bijou was, at least by this point, a second-run theater. One sign under the marquee promises “Big Shows at Small Prices”, while another sign indicates that the theater offered “Entire New Show Every Sun. Tues. Fri.”

The first half of the 20th century was the heyday of downtown movie theaters, but in later years they were increasingly replaced by large multi-screen theaters in the suburbs, which offered greater options as well as ample parking. Here in Holyoke, the decline was only exacerbated by the loss of the city’s industrial base, which caused a significant drop in population. The Bijou appears to have closed sometime in the 1950s, and was subsequently demolished. Today, none of the surrounding buildings are standing either, and the site is now a gas station. Holyoke’s other historic downtown theaters suffered similar fates, and today only the long-abandoned Victory Theater is still standing.

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.

Edmund K. Baker House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 192 Maple Street, at the corner of Central Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

This Tudor-style house was built around 1901, and was originally the home of Edmund K. Baker, the secretary and treasurer of the Hampden Paint and Chemical Company. He and his wife Marie were in their mid-40s at the time, and they lived here with their four children: Madeline, Rhea, Donald, and Lawrence. Edmund later became the president of the company, and he continued to live here in this house for the rest of his life. Marie died in 1927, and by the 1930 census Edmund was living here alone except for two servants. He died five years later, and the house remained vacant until the early 1940s.

The house was still vacant when the first photo was taken, but it was later sold and was again occupied by he mid-1940s. However, at some point the top floor of the house was removed, and it was converted into a commercial property. The front porch is also gone, but otherwise the remaining two floors still retain the building’s original Tudor-style architectural elements. Despite its altered condition, though, the house still stands as one of the many historic mansions along this section of Maple Street, and it is now part of the Ames Hill/Crescent Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Safford-Carter House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 238 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

According to the state MACRIS database, this house was built in 1914 and was originally owned by the Carter family. However, part of the house appears to be older, dating back to around the 1890s, when the property was owned by James D. Safford, the president of the City National Bank. As seen in these two photographs, the house is highly asymmetrical, with a large wing on the left side that does not entirely match the right side of the house. The 1899 city atlas shows a house standing here, with a footprint that roughly matches the right side of the house, which suggests that the right side was built sometime around the 1890s, followed by the large addition on the left side around 1914.

Either way, by 1914 the house was owned by Edwin A. Carter, the vice president of the Chapman Valve Manufacturing Company in Indian Orchard. He and his wife Nina had previously lived on Pearl Street, before purchasing this property in the mid-1910s and evidently building a sizable addition to the house. The couple had two children who died young, and by the time they moved into this house they only had one surviving child, Charles, who was about ten years old at the time. The 1920 census shows the three of them living here along with two servants, and Charles continued to live here with his parents until the late 1920s, when he married his wife Louise.

Edwin Carter remained with the Chapman Valve Company for many years, eventually becoming chairman of the board by the early 1930s. He and Nina were still living here when the first photo was taken, and the 1940 census shows them here with a live-in cook and two maids. Edwin died a few years later in 1943, and Nina continued to live here in this house until her death in 1947. Since then, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved, without any noticeable changes from the first photo. However, the it is no longer a single-family home, and the interior is now divided into 12 apartments.

Nathan Bill House, Springfield, Mass

The house at 284 Maple Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The house around 1938-1939. Image courtesy of the Springfield Preservation Trust.

The house in 2017:

The late 19th century was a time of great prosperity for Springfield, and the city experienced rapid growth in population, industries, and commerce. Many elegant homes were constructed during this time, giving Springfield its nickname as “The City of Homes,” but some of the finest were built here on Maple Street, where wealthy residents enjoyed panoramic views from a bluff above the city.

This site here on Maple Street, near the top of the hill, was originally developed in the early 1870s by Jotham G. Chase, a lumber dealer whose business was particularly lucrative in the initial post-Civil War construction boom in the city. With his wealth he purchased this property and began construction of a brick, High Victorian Gothic-style house that was designed by the prominent New York architectural firm of Vaux & Withers. One of the partners Calvert Vaux, had previously worked with Frederick Law Olmsted to design Central Park, and Chase would also hire Olmsted to design the grounds for his house.

The 1873-74 city directory estimated the cost of the house at $50,000, but unfortunately for Chase he never actually moved into the house. The exterior was finished, but he was unable to finish the interior because of financially difficulties, probably caused by the Panic of 1873. This economic downturn resulted in a steep drop in new house construction, which would have, in turn, hurt Chase’s lumber business. The shell of the house stood here for the next decade, and was still in its half-finished condition when Chase died in 1884.

The property was subsequently purchased by Andrew L. Fennessy, a banker who was also the treasurer of the Springfield Bicycle Club. By Thisbe point, the High Victorian Gothic style of the 1879s has fallen out of fashion, which may have been one of the reasons why Fennessy wanted to build a new house on the site. He moved the unfinished house to nearby Maple Court, where it became a multi-family home, and he built a new Shingle-style house, which was completed in 1888.

As it turned out, Fennessy only lived in this house for a few years, because he moved to Boston around 1891. By the time the first photo was taken a year later, the house was owned by Nathan D. Bill, a wealthy businessman who was involved in a number of paper manufacturing companies. He was a Springfield native, the son of Gurdon and Emily Bill, and as a teenager he worked a series of different jobs before becoming an apprentice at a wholesale paper and stationery business, at the age of 18. Two years later, he went into business for himself, as owner of the Union Envelope and Paper Company. This company subsequently became part of the National Papeterie Company, with Bill as one of its partners.

Nathan Bill made a considerable fortune in the paper industry in just a short time, and retired from active business in the late 1880s, when he was just 33 years old. He was one of the wealthiest men in Springfield at this point, enabling him to purchase Fennessy’s mansion here on Maple Street, and he lived here with his wife Ruth and their only child, Beatrice, who was about five years old when they moved into the house.

Although retired from active business, Nathan Bill remained involved in various paper manufacturing companies, but he also took on an active role in the community as a civic leader and philanthropist. He was a library trustee for 60 years, including many years as the library president, and a park commissioner for 28 years, during which time he was a strong advocate for creating new parks and playgrounds.

During this time, the city also benefitted from his philanthropy, including five parks that he donated, all of which still bear the names of members of his family: Emerson Wight Playground, Gurdon Bill Park, Emily Bill Playground, Ruth Elizabeth Playground, and Nathan Bill Playground. He also donated some of the land for the city-owned Franconia Golf Course, which helped prevent part of Forest Park from being converted into a golf course.

The 1900 census shows Nathan and Ruth living here with 14-year-old Beatrice and four servants, whose occupations were listed as “servant,” “seamstress,” “domestic,” and “coachman.” Of these, the coachman, George LaBroad, would go on to have a remarkably long career with the Bill family. He was listed here in city directories as early as 1894, and he would continue to work for the family, first as a coachman and then as a chauffeur, until his death in 1941, several years after the second photo was taken.

The second photo shows few changes in the nearly 50 years since the first photo was taken. Both Nathan and Ruth Bill were still living in the house, and the only significant change was an addition on the left side, where the one-story porch stood in the first photo. However, another interesting difference is the contrast between the horse-drawn carriage in the driveway of the first photo, and the automobile parked in the same spot in the second photo, reflecting the dramatic changes in transportation in the intervening years.

Nathan Bill died in 1947, at the age of 91, and Ruth died three years later. The house was subsequently converted into a nursing home, but by the 1960s it was vacant. The owner had plans to convert both the house and its carriage house into professional offices, but the carriage house was destroyed by a suspicious fire in 1967. A year later, the house itself was destroyed in another fire, and the site was never rebuilt. Today, the property is vacant except for the concrete driveway, which marks the site of the old house. However, the neighboring Frederick Harris House, visible on the right side of all three photos, is  still standing as one of the many historic mansions on this section of Maple Street.

For a view of this house from a different angle, see this earlier post.