Second Congregational Church, Holyoke, Mass

The Second Congregational Church, seen from Maple Street near the corner of Appleton Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The church in 2017:

The Second Congregational Church was established in 1849, at a time when Holyoke was just beginning its transformation into a major industrial center. Prior to this time, the area’s population was centered further up the hill from here, along Northampton Street. The First Congregational Church was located there, but this site proved inconvenient for those who were moving into the newly-developed area along the river. This led to the formation of the Second Congregational Church, which built its first meeting house at the corner of High and Dwight Streets in 1853.

At the time, the church had just 36 members, in a building that could seat 800. However, as Holyoke grew so did the congregation, and by the 1880s it had outgrown the old building. Its location, right at the intersection of two major streets, had also become undesirable because of the levels of noise outside, so in 1885 the church moved into this new building a few blocks away, at the corner of Maple and Appleton Streets. Like many churches of the era, it was built of brownstone and featured Romanesque-style architecture, including an asymmetrical main facade with a tall tower at one corner and a shorter one at the other. The book Story of the Holyoke Churches, published a few years later in 1890, provides the following description:

The church edifice is a most imposing structure. It is built of East Longmeadow stone, with a tower at the northwest corner, 112 feet high. The chapel is at the rear of the church auditorium, with an entrance from Appleton street, its rear elevation being upon High street. Its style is Romanesque. It is undoubtedly as fine a church edifice as there is in the State outside the city of Boston. It will comfortably seat 1,100 persons. All its internal appointments are exceedingly attractive and convenient. It is the pride, not only of the congregation worshiping regularly within its walls, but also of our citizens generally.

In 1912, the Skinner Memorial Chapel was added next to the church, as seen on the far right of the 2017 photo. It was named for the late silk manufacturer William Skinner and his wife Sarah, and was built with funds provided by their children. However, just seven years later, in 1919, the church was almost completely destroyed in a fire. The chapel survived, as did the large tower on the left side, but otherwise only a few fragments from the original building survived. The Boston architectural firm of Allen & Collens, which had designed the chapel, was hired to provide plans for the reconstruction of the rest of the church. The result was a Gothic-style design that matched the chapel, while also incorporating the original Romanesque-style tower.

In 1995, Second Congregational Church merged with Grace United Church, which had itself been formed by a merger of several churches, including First Congregational. Following this merger, it was renamed the United Congregational Church of Holyoke, and its members continue to worship here today. The building itself stands as one of the many historic church buildings in Holyoke, although these two photos illustrate the difference between the original 1885 design and the 1921 reconstruction.

High Street from Appleton Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on High Street from the corner of Appleton Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

These photos were taken just a block south of the ones in the previous post, and show many of the same buildings in the distance. Closer to the foreground, the first photo shows a row of four-story commercial buildings extending north along High Street, from the corner of Appleton Street. These housed a variety of businesses in the first floor storefronts, with the awnings advertising for goods such as groceries, boots and shoes, and mantles and tiles.

Today, three of the buildings on the right side of the scene are still standing. Furthest to the right, at the corner of Appleton Street, is the P. Curran Block, which was built in 1886. It still retains many of its original details, although the ground floor storefront has been altered, along with the second floor windows on the High Street side of the building. Most significantly, though, it was badly damaged by a fire in 2016, and the two upper floors were still boarded up a year later when the first photo was taken.

Just beyond the P. Curran Block are two other brick buildings that also date back to the 1880s. The older of the two is the one in the middle, at 366-368 High Street. Its ornate brick facade features contrasting limestone trim, and is topped by a metal cornice, both of which are relatively unusual among Holyoke’s 19th century business blocks. The next building, at 358-364 High Street, was built in 1886. It is wider than its neighbors to the right, but has similar architecture, and like the other buildings it remains fairly well-preserved, especially on the exterior of the upper floors.

Paper Mills, Holyoke, Mass

The view looking east from the Bridge Street bridge over the Second Level Canal in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken during the height of Holyoke’s prosperity as a manufacturing center, and it shows a group of paper mills that lined the Second Level Canal on the eastern side of the city. Holyoke, which came to be known as “Paper City,” was one of the world’s leading producers of paper during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with around 25 companies producing a variety of paper products by the 1890s. This industry, along with the equally-important textile mills in the city, helped make Holyoke a major destination for immigrants seeking work, and resulted in a dramatic increase in population during the second half of the 19th century.

Probably the oldest building in this scene is the one on the far left. The earliest part of the mill was built around 1864, but it was subsequently expanded in 1877. For many years it was operated by the Valley Paper Company, and produced fine writing paper and envelope paper. In the distance, in the center of both photos, was the Albion Paper Company. This mill complex was built in the late 1870s and early 1880s, and produced book paper. Further to the right was the Syms & Dudley Paper Company, whose mill was built around the same time as the Albion mill.

In 1899, less than a decade after the first photo was taken, Holyoke’s Paper industry underwent some major changes. By then, many American industries had begun consolidating into trusts, in order to control large segments of their respective markets. Among the most notorious were monopolies such as Standard Oil and U. S. Steel, but paper manufacturers also established a trust of their own, with the formation of the American Writing Paper Company in 1899. The new company was headquartered nearby, at the corner of Main and Race Streets here in Holyoke, and at one point it controlled around 75 percent of the country’s fine writing paper.

Many of Holyoke’s paper companies were consolidated into the American Writing Paper Company, including the Albion Paper Company. The Mt. Tom Paper Company, which had acquired the former Syms & Dudley mill on the right side of the photo, was also involved in the merger. Both of these mills, along with the other ones acquired by the trust, retained their names, but were operated as divisions of American Writing Paper. However, not all of Holyoke’s paper mills joined the trust, including Valley Paper on the left side of the scene, which retained its independence and continued operating for many decades.

Holyoke’s paper industry thrived well into the 20th century. However, by mid-century manufacturing was in decline across the northeast, as companies struggled with aging factory buildings and increased competition from overseas and elsewhere in the United States. The paper industry was no exception, and Holyoke’s various companies steadily closed or relocated. American Writing Paper, which had been plagued by years of mismanagement and labor troubles, was finally liquidated in the 1960s, and Valley Paper Company also closed during the second half of the 20th century.

Despite these changes, though, many of Holyoke’s former paper mills are still standing, although some have been vacant for a number of years. The former Valley Paper mill was partially demolished in the 1980s, but the surviving sections were restored and redeveloped. Further in the distance, both the former Albion and Mt. Tom mills were recently sold to a developer, and have been in the process of being deconstructed, in order to salvage the building materials. However, the Mt. Tom mill caught fire in 2012 while being dismantled, and the ruins were subsequently demolished. Some of the Albion mill complex has also been dismantled, although the front part of the building was still standing when the first photo was taken in 2017.

Valley Paper Company, Holyoke, Mass

The Valley Paper Company, seen from across the Second Level Canal in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The Valley Paper Company was one of the many paper manufacturers that were located in Holyoke during the late 19th century. It was founded in the 1860s by David M. Butterfield, who had previously worked for the Parsons Paper Company, and in 1864 the company’s first mill building was completed here on this site. However, the facility was subsequently expanded in 1877, increasing its capacity to two and a half tons of fine writing and envelope paper per day. The two sides of the building have slightly different shades of brick, and it appears that the section to the left of the tower was built in 1864, while the tower and the right side were apparently built in 1877.

The first photo shows the paper mill about 15 years later, around 1892. In the foreground is the canal, which provided the water power for the mill, and directly in front of the building is a row of boxcars, which were presumably used to haul away the various finished paper products. Later in the 1890s, many of Holyoke’s paper companies were merged to form the American Writing Paper Company, which was headquartered nearby at the corner of Main and Race Streets. However, the Valley Paper Company retained its independence, and remained in business here in Holyoke for many years.

Holyoke’s paper industry remained prosperous into the 20th century, but by the second half of the century it was, like most other industries in the northeast, in serious decline. The Valley Paper Company eventually closed, and in 1981 the property was acquired by the city. Much of the mill complex was then demolished to provide parking, but the section facing the canal was preserved and redeveloped. Today, not much of the exterior has changed, aside from the loss of the top of the tower. The building even bears the name of its original owner, which is still painted on the right side of the building and written in slate tiles on the roof of the left side.

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, Mass

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company headquarters on Main Street in Springfield, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company was established in Springfield in 1851, and originally had its offices in the Foot Block, at the southwest corner of Main and State Street. Its first president was Caleb Rice, a lawyer and politician who also served as the first mayor of Springfield, from 1852 to 1853. He went on to serve as president for the next 22 years, until his death in 1873, and during this time the company saw substantial growth.

The offices were located in the Foot Block until 1868, when the company relocated to its own office building here on Main Street, just north of the corner of Court Street. However, this new building was heavily damaged by a fire just five years later. King’s Handbook of Springfield, published in 1884, provides the following description of the fire and its effects on the company:

[O]n the evening of Feb. 5, 1873, a fire broke out in the lower part of the building (which was rented for mercantile purposes), and raged all night, destroying all the rear and much of the front of the structure. The company’s safes, and most of its books and papers, were preserved; and business was transacted, with but little interruption, in temporary quarters in the Hampden House Block on Court Street.

The Main Street facade of the building survived the fire, though, and the rest of the building was reconstructed around it. King’s Handbook continues with the following description of the new building:

By December of the same year [1873] the company’s own building had been rebuilt, re-arranged, and improved, under the supervision of George Hathorne, the New-York architect, and its own offices were re-occupied. The lofty brown-stone front and iron mansard roof form a handsome and conspicuous feature of the street; while the Masonic lodges and other organizations that occupy the floors over the company’s offices, and the stores that are on the ground floor, make the inside of the building familiar to a great number of people.

Massachusetts Mutual continued to have its offices here in this building for several more decades, and for many years the company shared it with the Freemasons, who occupied the two upper floors. This arrangement was still going on when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, as it shows the words “Masonic Hall” above the fourth floor windows, along with “Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.” above the second floor. However, the Freemasons moved out of this building soon after the first photo was taken, upon the completion of their own building at the southeast corner of Main and State Streets in 1893.

About 15 years later, Massachusetts Mutual followed the Freemasons to the same street corner. The old Foot Block, where the company had begun in a single room, was demolished and was replaced by an eight-story, Classical Revival-style building that still stands at 1200 Main Street. This new building was only used for a fairly short period, though, before the company relocated to its current headquarters on State Street in the Pine Point neighborhood.

In the meantime, the old 1868/1873 building stood here on Main Street for many years after Massachusetts Mutual moved out. It can be seen in the late 1930s photo in the previous post, and it was still recognizable despite alterations to the two lower floors. At the time, the building housed the Weeks Leather Store in the storefront on the left, and the Ann Lewis women’s apparel store on the right. However, it was ultimately demolished sometime before the late 1950s, when the current Modernist-style building, with its distinctive curved front facade, was built on the site.

Hampden Street near High Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking northwest up Hampden Street, toward High Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

These two photos show Hampden Street, just down the hill from where the photos in the previous post were taken. However, while the other post shows the view looking straight down the street, this view provides a better look at the buildings on the north side of Hampden Street. On the far right side of the first photo is one of the many tenement houses that were built in this area for the workers of the Lyman Mills. Just to the left of it, the building at the corner of High Street was built around the early 1860s by W. L. Martin, a coal, wood, and flour dealer who had his store here in the building. On the other side of High Street is a similar four-story brick commercial block, probably dating to the 1860s or early 1870s, and further in the distance is the tower of St. Jerome’s Church, located at the corner of Chestnut Street. The first photo also shows some of the traffic on the streets, with several horse-drawn carriages near the top of the hill and a stray dog in the foreground on the right.

Today, about 125 years later, this scene is still recognizable from the first photo, although several of the buildings are gone. The building on the right, along with the rest of the Lyman Mills tenements, was demolished in the late 1930s as part of an early urban renewal project. The bricks were saved, though, and were incorporated into the apartments that now occupy the site. The building on the other side of High Street is also gone, and the site is now a surface parking lot. However, the W. L. Martin Block is still standing, without many exterior changes from this angle. In the background, St. Jerome’s Church is also still there, although most of the interior had to be reconstructed after a major fire in 1934. Both the church and the Martin Block are now contributing properties in two different historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places, with the church in the Hampden Park Historic District, and the Martin Block in the North High Street Historic District.