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.

Hadley Company Mills, Holyoke, Mass (2)

The Hadley Company Mills, seen from the Route 116 bridge over the Third Level Canal in Holyoke, in 1936. Image taken by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the U. S. National Archives.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, this mill complex was built starting in the late 1840s, and was originally owned by the Hadley Falls Company, which was responsible for developing Holyoke into a major industrial center. The company built the dam on the Connecticut River, along with the extensive canal system that powered the factories, including the Third Level Canal, which is seen here. In addition, the Hadley Falls Company built a large group of worker tenement houses, directly across the canal from this factory.

The canal system, along with many of the buildings that the Hadley Falls Company constructed, are still standing today. However, despite its profound influence in the history of Holyoke, the company proved to be very short-lived. The Panic of 1857, and the subsequent economic recession, hit the company hard, and in 1859 its assets were sold at auction. The company was literally sold for pennies on the dollar, with shareholders receiving just $1.32 for each $100 share, and its property was acquired by the Holyoke Water Power Company.

By 1863, this mill complex was used by the Hadley Company, a thread manufacturer that produced a variety of threads, yarns, and twine. It is hard to tell when each section of the facility was built, but the part in the left side – with the gabled roof and dormer windows – appears to have been the oldest section. The section on the right side does not appear in an 1853 map of Holyoke, but it was added by 1870. However, the top two floors have a different shade of bricks, suggesting that they may have been added at a later date.

The Hadley Company continued to produce thread here in this facility until 1898, when it was one of many thread manufacturers that were consolidated into the American Thread Company. It continued to be run as a division of American Thread for the next 30 years, but it closed in 1928, with about a thousand workers losing their jobs on the eve of the Great Depression. The first photo was taken only about eight years later, by prominent photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine. He documented life across the country during the Great Depression, including a visit to Holyoke, where he photographed a number of mills and their employees.

By the mid-20th century, the former Hadley Company mills were the home of Graham Manufacturing Company, which was later acquired by Johnson & Johnson. Today, the mill buildings on the property have several different owners, but the main building here on the canal has not seen many changes in more than 80 years since the first photo was taken. Overall, the only significant alterations to the exterior have been the loss of the cupola and the addition of what appears to be an elevator shaft, just to the left of the fire escape on the right side.

Post Office, Holyoke, Mass

The former post office on Main Street, between Dwight and Race Streets in Holyoke, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

For many years, the Holyoke post office was located in the ground floor of the Holyoke House, a hotel at the corner of Main and Dwight Streets. However, in 1905 the post office moved into a space of its own, when this elegant Beaux-Art style building was completed. It was located directly behind the Holyoke House, which had by this point been renamed the Hotel Hamilton, and it sat in the middle of a triangular block bounded by Main, Race, and Dwight Streets. The first photo was taken only a few years after it was completed, and it shows the Main Street facade of the building.

This building served as Holyoke’s post office for the first few decades of the 20th century, but it soon became too small for the volume of mail and packages that passed through here. As a result, construction began on a new post office in 1933. It was located further up the hill from here, on Dwight Street between Chestnut and Elm Streets, and was completed in 1935. The older building here on Main Street closed that same year, and it was subsequently demolished in the 1940s. Today, the site is a parking lot, and the present-day scene is dominated by the former Lyman Mills buildings, which stand in the distance on the other side of the Second Level Canal.

William Skinner Silk Mill, Holyoke, Mass

The William Skinner Silk Mill, as seen from the Dwight Street bridge over the First Level Canal in Holyoke, in 1936. Image taken by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the U. S. National Archives.

The scene in 2017:

William Skinner was an English immigrant who came to the United States as a young man in 1845. While in England, he had received some training in the silk industry, and he put this to use soon after his arrival in America. At the time, the United States manufactured very little silk, with most of the country’s supply coming from overseas, but by the early 1850s Skinner had established his own silk mill. Known as the Unquomonk Silk Company, it was located along the Mill River in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, in a village that came to be known as Skinnerville.

The company prospered under Skinner’s leadership, and by the early 1870s it had become one of the country’s leading producers of silk. However, this came to an abrupt end on May 16, 1874, when a dam broke on the Mill River, upstream of Skinnerville. The 100-acre reservoir quickly emptied, sending 600 million gallons of water rushing down the valley. Several villages and factories were destroyed in the resulting flood, and 139 people were killed. Almost all of Skinnerville was destroyed, including the Unquomonk mill, and only Skinner’s home, known as Wisteriahurst, survived relatively unscathed.

Skinner’s losses amounted to nearly $200,000 – almost $4.5 million today – and none of it was covered by insurance. He faced potential financial ruin, but was determined to rebuild, although not in Skinnerville. After evaluating is options, he chose to move his company to Holyoke, which was in the midst of becoming a major manufacturing center for paper and textiles. Here, the Connecticut River produced far more water power than the Mill River could have ever provided, and he was also enticed by a lucrative offer from the Holyoke Water Power Company. The company provided him with a mill site that was rent-free for five years, and also sold him an entire city block for his home, for the nominal fee of $1.

In relocating to Holyoke, Skinner brought his entire house with him, moving Wistariahurst to his lot at the corner of Cabot and Pine Streets. He built his factory on Appleton Street, on the current site of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, and by the end of 1874 he was once again producing silk. Despite his heavy losses in Williamsburg, Skinner once again became a wealthy man, with his company regaining its prominence within the American silk industry.

Skinner’s sons, William and Joseph, joined the company in 1883, and the name was changed to William Skinner & Sons. The elder William died in 1902, and his sons subsequently took over the management of the company. Around the same time, its facilities were significantly expanded with a new factory on the other side of Appleton Street. By 1911 this building, which is shown in the first photo, extended for an entire city block from Appleton to Dwight Streets. At 1,000 feet in length and 60 feet in width, and with a total floor space of over five acres, it was reportedly the largest silk mill in the world. An article in the May 1912 issue of Silk magazine provides the following description of this building:

This is an absolutely modern mill in every respect, the latest devices for weaving and all processes of textile manufacture having been installed. The great weave rooms are filled with looms six abreast, all of them driven by individual electric motors, so that there is no shafting in sight.

A special feature of the new mill is the lighting. All of the available space in the outside walls has been given over to windows, so that there are in all 1,000 windows. The walls are painted white to increase the refraction of light, and the top floor is made especially light by a saw-tooth roof. This mill is devoted largely to the manufacture of colored linings for the cloak and suit trade, as well as to picking, inspecting and finishing. The department of braid manufacture also occupies a portion of this building. The bright vari-colored warps and wefts on the many aisles of looms, which pulsating shuttles are weaving into fabrics of all hues and colors, make a sight that one will long remember.

The Skinner company would continue to be a leading silk producer throughout the first half of the 20th century. By the time the first photo was taken in 1936, America was in the midst of the Great Depression, but the Skinner mills continued production throughout this time. The photo was taken by Lewis Hine, a prominent photographer and social reformer who, several decades earlier, had traveled around the country to document child labor conditions in factories. Child labor was no longer as great of an issue by the 1930s, thanks in part to his efforts, but he again traveled to industrial centers, where he showed the effects of the Great Depression. His 1936 trip to Holyoke included photographs of workers inside the Skinner mills. It is not clear whether they were taken in this building or one of the other Skinner mills in Holyoke, but some of the photos are shown below, along with Hines’s original captions:

Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts – Silk. William Skinner and Sons. Doubling, 1936
Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts – Silk. William Skinner and Sons. Automatic loom (Skinner Mill), 1936
Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts – Silk. William Skinner and Sons. Putting skein on swift to wind on bobbin (Polish), 1936
Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts – Silk. William Skinner and Sons. Silk Warping, 1936
Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts – Silk. William Skinner and Sons. Quilling rayon (Polish), 1936

William and Joseph Skinner both ran the mills until their deaths in the late 1940s, and their children then inherited the company. However, by this point many of the industries in New England’s once-prosperous manufacturing centers were in decline. The Skinner company faced increased competition in the silk market, along with old facilities and manufacturing processes that were becoming obsolete. It produced its last silk in 1956, a little over a century after William Skinner had established the company in Williamsburg, and the family finally sold the company in 1961.

The new owners, Indian Head Mills, closed the old Skinner mills two years later, in 1963. Then, in 1980, the mill building in the first photo, which had once been touted as the largest silk mill in the world, was destroyed by a fire. Today, there are no traces left from the first photo, except for the canal itself, and the site has been redeveloped as Holyoke Heritage State Park. The park is now home to the Holyoke Children’s Museum and the International Volleyball Hall of Fame, both of which are located in the building on the right side of the present-day photo.

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.