Hadley Falls Dam, Holyoke, Mass

The Hadley Falls Dam on the Connecticut River, on the border of Holyoke and South Hadley, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, Holyoke is the site of the largest waterfall on the Connecticut River, with a drop of 58 feet. This made the location ideal for large-scale industrial development, and during the mid-19th century Holyoke was transformed into a prosperous manufacturing center. The first dam was built here in 1848, but it was poorly constructed, and it failed just hours after the gates were closed. However, a new dam was constructed the following year. It was built of wood, extending 1,017 feet across the river, and was 30 feet tall, with timbers that were firmly anchored four feet deep into the bedrock beneath the river.

This second dam proved far more durable than its short-lived predecessor, and it remained in use for the rest of the 19th century. However, by the early 1890s there was a need for a new dam, this time built of stone. Construction began in 1892, with the new dam being located 150 feet downstream of the old one. It took three years just to excavate the bottom of the river, and the work involved the removal of some 13,000 cubic yards of bedrock. Construction of the dam itself began around 1896, and it was comprised of a combination of rubble stone taken from the riverbed downstream of the dam, along with quarried granite blocks from Vinalhaven, Maine. The work was done in several different stages, as described in a 1900 article in the Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies:

The dam was constructed in four sections, the south end and a center section just north of the drain channel being built up for a considerable height first. Then a coffer dam was built on the first level of the north channel, thus turning the water through the center channel, while a section of dam 5 feet high was constructed behind it. The coffer was then transferred to the center channel, and a section 10 feet high built in that opening. In this way the alternate sections were built in until the structure was complete. The cost of the entire work is said to have been between $600,000 and $700,000.

Upon completion in 1900, the dam measured 1,020 feet across the river, and is said to have been the longest dam in the world at the time. The first photo was taken sometime soon after its completion, and shows water pouring over the top of the dam. On the far right is part of the Carew Manufacturing Company, a paper mill that was located on the South Hadley side of the dam, and in the distance on the right side is Mount Tom, with the Summit House prominently visible atop the 1,202-foot traprock mountain.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, both the Carew factory and the Summit House are gone. However, the dam itself is still here, after having survived a number of major floods during the 20th century. Holyoke is no longer the major industrial city that it once was, but the dam and the canal system are still used to generate power. Both are now operated by the city-owned Holyoke Gas & Electric, with the hydroelectric generators here at the dam provide a significant portion of Holyoke’s electricity.

Carew Manufacturing Company, South Hadley, Mass

The Hadley Falls Dam and the Carew Manufacturing Company, as seen from the Route 116 bridge over the Connecticut River on the border of Holyoke and South Hadley, in 1936. Image taken by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the U. S. National Archives.

The scene in 2017:

At over 400 miles in length, the Connecticut River is, by far, the longest river in New England, and flows north to south through the region, from the border of Canada all the way to Long Island Sound. It passes over a number of rapids and waterfalls during its course, the largest of which is here on the border of Holyoke and South Hadley, Massachusetts, with a drop of 58 feet. This is also the last major waterfall on the river, and throughout the colonial era it was a major obstacle to river navigation, requiring a costly 2.5-mile portage around the falls.

This problem was partially solved in 1795, when a canal opened on the South Hadley side of the river. It was located on the other side of where the mill buildings stood in the first photo, and it was the first navigable canal in the country, predating longer and more famous ones like the Erie Canal by several decades. However, by the middle of the 19th century, railroads had replaced canals as the most important form of inland transportation, and the South Hadley Canal ultimately closed in 1862.

With the decline of river transportation, along with the rise of industry, this waterfall began to be seen as a major asset, rather than as an obstacle. Industrial development began in the early 19th century, with mills on the South Hadley side, but the most dramatic change to this area came in the the middle of the century. The west side of the river, once a part of West Springfield, was incorporated as Holyoke in 1850, and was developed into a major industrial center. This included the construction of a dam across the river, an extensive power canal system through Holyoke, and a number of large factory complexes.

As a result, Holyoke’s industrial development quickly outpaced that of its older neighbor on the other side of the river. However, South Hadley continued to operate several factories of its own, including two paper mills on the right side of the dam. The one closest to the dam was the Carew Manufacturing Company, and was established in 1848. Its original factory burned in 1873, but it was subsequently replaced by the brick building in the first photo, and produced writing paper for many years. Just to the right of the Carew factory was the Hampshire Paper Company, which was built in the early 1860s and produced the well-known Old Hampshire Bond writing paper.

The first photo was taken in 1936, by prominent photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine. It was in the midst of the Great Depression at the time, and Hine was traveling around the country documenting its effects. He made a visit to Holyoke, where he photographed many of the mills, and he wrote the following caption about this scene:

Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts – Scenes. The dam: The Connecticut River: the old and famous Hampshire bond manufacturing plant, recently bought by its neighbor, Carew Manufacturing. Also an old and independent mill; founder paternalistic enough to build a church which still stands, enough local feeling to employ from South Hadley because on the Hadley side of the River – Carew Manufacturing Company, 1936

As Hine mentioned in his description, the Hampshire Paper Company closed in 1935, and the property was acquired by the Carew Manufacturing Company. However, the old Hampshire mill was later owned by Stevens Paper Mills, Inc., and it stood here until it was demolished around 1970. In the meantime, the Carew mill was purchased by Texon in 1948, and it produced a variety of goods until it closed in 1986. The property was later sold to Holyoke Gas & Electric, but the historic mill stood vacant for many years before finally being demolished around 2012.

Today, all of the mills from the first photo are gone, but otherwise the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo. The dam, which was completed in 1900, is still there, and it still provides hydroelectric power for the city of Holyoke. Further in the distance, Mount Tom still forms the backdrop of this scene, although it now features a number of broadcast transmitters atop the 1,202-foot summit. These are hardly visible in the 2017 photo, though, and the only other addition to this scene is the Joseph E. Muller Bridge, which carries U. S. Route 202 across the river just upstream of the dam.

Gaylord Library, South Hadley Mass

The Gaylord Library on College Street in South Hadley, around 1904-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The library in 2015:

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The epitaph on William Shakespeare’s grave warns that, “cursed be he that moves my bones,” so I suppose it is a good thing that he was never buried here in South Hadley, where the old town cemetery was moved back in 1902 to build a library. Perhaps Shakespeare would’ve approved in the name of literature, but either way the first photograph shows the site of the former cemetery, soon after it was redeveloped as the Gaylord Memorial Library.

This site was originally home to the First Congregational Church of South Hadley as well as the adjoining cemetery, but in 1894 the church burned, along with a small library that was housed inside the church.  Local philanthropist William H. Gaylord offered to donate money to build a library if the graves were moved, and the plan was approved.  The library opened in 1904, and later in the year both William Gaylord and his wife Betsey died, on the same day.  They left an endowment to maintain the library, which operated independently until 1968, when it became a branch of the South Hadley Public Library.  Because of costs, however, it reverted to an independent library in 1995, and is open to the public on a limited schedule, Thursdays through Saturdays.

Pearsons Hall, South Hadley, Mass

Pearsons Hall on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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Pearsons Hall in 2015:

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Mount Holyoke College was established in 1837 as the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, and for most of the 19th century a single building, known as the Seminary Building, housed most of the classrooms and dorm rooms, as well as the library and gymnasium. However, it burned in 1896, and the following year the school built four new dormitories, one of which was Pearsons Hall.  It is named for Dr. D.K. Pearsons, who donated money to the school to help rebuild following the fire.  Today, the building is still there, and it continues to be used as a dormitory for the college.

Civil War Monument, South Hadley, Mass

The Civil War monument on the town common in South Hadley, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The monument in 2015:

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There are several things that almost every New England town center has: some sort of a town common, and a Civil War monument on that common. South Hadley is no exception, with its granite statue honoring “the loyalty and patriotism of our citizen soldiers who fought for liberty and the Union in the great rebellion of 1861-1865,” as the inscription on the front reads.  South Hadley had 224 of its citizens fighting in the war, many of whom were probably still living here when the monument was dedicated in 1896.