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.

Lyman Street Bridge, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north toward the Lyman Street bridge over the Second Level Canal in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke was developed in the mid-19th century as one of the first planned industrial cities in the country, and was powered by a network of canals that were constructed starting in 1847. The Second Level Canal, seen here, runs parallel to the city’s street grid, and it is crossed by six of the major streets in downtown Holyoke. The northernmost of these is Lyman Street, which crosses the canal here, and the first photo shows a low, two-span bridge that was probably constructed of iron. The railroad bridge just beyond it was also iron, and carried the Connecticut River Railroad through Holyoke, passing diagonally across both the canal and the intersection of Lyman and Canal Streets on the right side of the photo. This lattice truss bridge was built in 1887, and later became part of the Boston and Maine Railroad after the company acquired the rail line in 1893, soon after the first photo was taken.

Today, this scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo, although both of the 19th century bridges are gone. The old railroad bridge was replaced in 1928 by a steel Warren truss bridge, which is still in use today, and the current Lyman Street bridge was built in 2011. Further in the distance, several of the 19th century mill buildings are still standing on Gatehouse Road. The long building on the left side of the photo, once the home of the Whiting Paper Company, is still there. It was heavily altered at some point after the first photo was taken, and the right side of the building collapsed during a severe thunderstorm in 2011. However, the left side is still standing, along with the small, two-story brick building on the far left side of both photos.

Mosher Street from Main Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

The railroad bridge in the foreground is located just south of Holyoke’s historic railroad station, and carries the Connecticut River Railroad over Mosher Street. This railroad line, which was acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad soon after the first photo was taken, is the primary north-south railroad route through western Massachusetts, linking the major cities and towns of the Connecticut River Valley with Vermont to the north and Connecticut to the south.

Several blocks away in the distance of the first photo is the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, which was built in 1887 at the northeast corner of Mosher and West Streets. It was one of many Catholic churches built in Holyoke during this time, and both the church and its parish school served the large numbers of Catholic immigrants who came to Holyoke as mill workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first pastor of the church, Michael J. Howard, died in 1888, only a year after the church building was completed, and he was succeeded by Thomas D. Beaven, who served the parish until 1892, when he became bishop of the Diocese of Springfield.

Today, only the railroad itself still exists from the first photo. The church was demolished in 1976, and the rest of the buildings between the railroad and the church are also gone. A large apartment building now dominates the left side of the 2017 photo, and the surrounding streets now consist primarily of modern duplexes, interspersed by occasional historic buildings. The old railroad station, just out of view to the left, is still standing, although it has been vacant for many years. Passenger rail was recently restored to Holyoke, with Amtrak’s Vermonter now running through the city, although it currently uses a small platform located a block south of here at Dwight Street, instead of the abandoned 19th century station.

Temporary Bridge, Hartford, Connecticut

The bridge across the Connecticut River at Hartford, seen from the East Hartford side on September 9, 1903. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

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The scene in 2016:

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For many years, the only bridge across the Connecticut River at Hartford was here at the site of the Bulkeley Bridge. In 1818, a covered bridge was built here, and it survived until May 17, 1895, when it was destroyed in a fire. With no other crossings available, a makeshift bridge was quickly built upstream of the ruins, opening just three weeks later. Before the end of the year it was washed away, but was replaced with the temporary bridge that is seen in the first photo.

As inconvenient as the loss of the old covered bridge may have been, it allowed Hartford the opportunity to build an elegant new bridge that reflected the city’s prosperity and importance. When the first photo was taken, work had already begun on building the Bulkeley Bridge and reconstructing Morgan Street on the Hartford side of the bridge. The temporary bridge was demolished after the new one was completed in 1908. The bridge has since been joined by two others in Hartford, but it still plays an important role in the city’s transportation, carrying Interstate 84 and US Routes 6 and 44. At over 100 years old, it is possibly the oldest bridge in the Interstate Highway System, predating the actual establishment of the highway system by nearly 50 years.

Maryland Heights from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Looking across the Potomac River toward Maryland from Harpers Ferry, around 1859. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

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Assuming the estimated date is correct, the first photo was probably taken within a few months before or after John Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory.  It shows the view from the Armory looking across the Potomac River toward Maryland Heights, with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge to the right.  The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal also ran through this scene; the buildings across the river were built on either side of Lock 33.

Within a few years, much of this scene would change.  Harpers Ferry changed hands many times during the war, and during one of their retreats the Confederate forces burned the bridge, as seen in the 1861 photo in the previous post, which was taken from the opposite side of the river.  The bridge has since been replaced several times, and the current one can be seen on the far right, a little upstream of the original one.

The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal survived the war, and despite increased competition from railroads it remained in operation until 1924.  Today, the stone remains of Lock 33 are still standing, hidden from this view by the railroad bridge and the trees along the river.  All of the buildings have long since disappeared, though, except for one: the two story stone house right up against the cliff on the left side of the photo.  It was built in the winter of 1840-1841, and survived John Brown’s raid, the Civil War, and a number of floods before being gutted by a fire in the 1960s. The stone walls are still standing, though, and it is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.

One historical curiosity in the second photo is the advertisement painted on the rocks near the center of the photo.  It reads “Mennen’s Borated Talcum Toilet Powder,” and it was painted in 1906 for railroad passengers as they traveled through here.  Although not as distinct as it once was, the controversial advertisement is still there, despite efforts in the 1960s to remove it using paint remover and carbon black.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Looking across the Potomac River towards Harpers Ferry from the Maryland side of the river, around June 14, 1861. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

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The same view in 2015:

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The town of Harpers Ferry had only about 1,300 residents at the start of the Civil War, and its land area was just a half a square mile, but it became among the most contested places of the war.  It was literally located on the border of the Union and the Confederacy, changing hands eight times during the war and ending up in a different state by the time it was over.

As its name implies, this area was first settled as a ferry crossing.  Originally part of Virginia, it is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, and beginning in 1733 colonist Peter Stevens operated a ferry across the Potomac here, enabling settlers from Maryland and Pennsylvania to access the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.  The town isn’t named Stevens Ferry, though, because around 1748 he sold his land and ferry to Robert Harper, who operated it until his death in 1782.

Because of its transportation connections and relatively defensible position, Harpers Ferry was one of two locations, along with Springfield, Massachusetts, selected by George Washington for federal armories.  Further transportation developments came in the 1830s: the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (seen in the lower foreground of both photos) was completed as far as Harpers Ferry in 1833, several stagecoach lines were opened in 1834, and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad reached the Maryland (foreground) side of the river later in 1834.  The first railroad bridge was completed in 1837, allowing a direct connection from the armory to the rapidly growing national rail network.

By 1850, this small town had grown to over 1,700 people thanks to the armory (visible along the waterfront to the right in the first photo), but before the end of the decade it would become the center of one of the major precursors to the Civil War.  In October 1859, abolitionist John Brown led a raiding party of 22 men in an attempt to capture the arsenal and start a slave rebellion.  The raid ultimately failed, and most of the raiders were either killed or were captured and executed, including John Brown, whose December 2 execution was seen as a martyrdom by many northern abolitionists.

The Civil War began just a year and a half after the raid, and Virginia’s state legislators voted to secede on April 17, 1861.  One of the state’s first objectives was to take the Harpers Ferry arsenal, which at the time was guarded by just 65 men.  Led by Lieutenant Roger Jones, they destroyed the arsenal and its 15,000 guns before evacuating the town ahead of the Confederates.  The Confederates didn’t occupy the town for long, though.  They left on June 14, and burned the Baltimore & Ohio bridge as they left.  The remains of the bridge can be seen in the foreground of the first photo, which according to the caption was “photographed immediately after its evacuation by the rebels.”

When the first photo was taken, the town was still relatively intact, but as the war progressed it became somewhat of a no man’s land.  Despite the loss of the armory, it was still a vital transportation corridor for armies on both sides, so between 1861 and 1863 it changed hands several more times.  West Virginia became a state on June 20, 1863, with Harpers Ferry citizens voting 196 to 1 to leave Virginia and join the union.  The town was briefly occupied by the Confederates in early July, but they soon evacuated for the last time and Union solders returned on July 13, finally bringing stability to Harpers Ferry for the rest of the war.

In terms of population, Harpers Ferry never fully recovered from the Civil War.  The armory never reopened, and the population has steadily fallen to less than 300 as of the 2015 census.  However, it has become a major tourist destination, with the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park now comprising much of the historic town.  Although the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal has not operated in nearly a century, there are still several railroad lines that pass through here.

One of the bridges, seen to the right in the 2015 photo, also carries the Appalachian Trail over the Potomac River on a pedestrian walkway on the left side of the bridge.  The bridge pier in the foreground is from an earlier railroad bridge that had been built on the spot of the one that was destroyed in 1861.  This bridge, in turn, was washed away in a 1936 flood, and it was never rebuilt.  Today, the modern railroad bridge, as well as trees along the river, help to hide the view of Harpers Ferry, with only a few buildings visible in the 2015 scene.

(Much of the information for this post came from “To Preserve the Evidences of a Noble Past”: An Administrative History of Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (2004).  For further reading, it and other resources are available online here at the National Park Service website.)