Hampden Street from High Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking northwest on Hampden Street from the corner of High Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows downtown Holyoke during the height of the city’s prosperity. At the time, Holyoke included a number of factories along its extensive canal system, and it was a leading producer of paper and textiles. Further up the hill was High Street, which was the main commercial center of the city. It was part of the city’s street grid – a rarity among New England’s otherwise largely unplanned cities and towns – and was intersected by cross-town streets that led further up the hill to the residential neighborhoods. The names of these streets alternated between those of prominent early industrialists (Lyman, Dwight, Appleton, etc.) and those of Massachusetts counties (Suffolk, Essex, Hampshire, etc.).

Hampden Street, shown here in these two photos, was named for Holyoke’s own county, and, perhaps not coincidentally, is the longest of all these county streets, extending all the way up the hill to Easthampton Road. Here in the center of Holyoke, probably the most notable landmark along the street is St. Jerome’s Church, which stands at the corner of Chestnut Street, near the center of both photos. It was built in 1858, in the early years of Holyoke’s development, and it was the first of many Roman Catholic churches that would be built in the city, in order to serve the predominantly Catholic immigrants who worked in the factories. By the time the first photo was taken, the area around the church included a number of other parish buildings, including the Second Empire-style rectory, which is visible in front of the church.

Today, around 125 years after the first photo was taken, Holyoke has undergone some significant changes, most notably the loss of most of its industrial base in the mid-20th century. Much of the downtown area has remained remarkably well-preserved, but this particular scene along Hampden Street is the exception. The brick commercial block on the far right is gone, as are all of the other buildings in the foreground on the right side. On the other side of the street, the one-story building on the far left could plausibly be the same one from the first photo, but if so it has been altered beyond recognition. Otherwise, nothing is still standing from the left side, and the only surviving buildings from the first photo are the church and rectory in the distance.

Windsor Hotel, Holyoke, Mass

The Windsor Hotel, at the corner of Dwight and Front Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The Windsor Hotel was built in 1877, and was located just across the street and down the hill from city hall, which had been built a few years earlier. Both buildings had Gothic Revival-style architecture, and featured prominent towers that rose above the other buildings in downtown Holyoke. The owner of the Windsor Hotel, paper manufacturer William Whiting, also had a connection to city hall, serving as city treasurer from 1876 to 1877, and as mayor from 1878 to 1879. He would later go on to serve in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1883 to 1889, while also enjoying a successful business career as president of the Whiting Paper Company.

The first photo shows the hotel as it appeared around 1891. A year later, the book Picturesque Hampden provided a short description of the hotel, remarking that it “will compare more than favorably with many houses in the large cities,” and that “[t]he house has all the conveniences of the times, sample rooms, etc., and patrons will find a free carriage at the depot.” Aside from the hotel itself, this building also housed Besse, Mills & Co., a men’s clothing store that occupied the corner storefront, as seen in the first photo. Directly adjacent to the hotel building, and partially visible on the far right side of the scene, was the Holyoke Opera House, which had also been built in 1877 by William Whiting.

The Windsor Hotel remained a prominent landmark in downtown Holyoke until 1899, when it was destroyed in a fire on the night of February 28. The conflagration completely destroyed the building, leaving only the charred remains of the exterior walls, and it caused around $325,000 in damages, or about $10 million today. Fire chief John T. Lynch, who had been the hero of the deadly Precious Blood Church fire nearly 25 years earlier, was on scene for this fire as well. According to one account, he “was badly hurt by a fall downstairs; but, after he had been taken home, he rallied and returned to the fire.” It was described as the largest fire in the city’s history up to that point, but the fire did not spread to the neighboring buildings, preventing what could have been a far worse disaster.

This site at the corner of Dwight and Front Streets was redeveloped after the fire. but the neighboring Holyoke Opera House survived and stood here for many years. It gradually declined over the years, devolving from opera to vaudeville and burlesque, to movies, and then to second-run films, before finally closing in 1955. It was ultimately destroyed in another fire in 1967, and today there are hardly any remnants from the first photo. Today, only a single brick commercial block survives from the 1891 scene, near the top of the hill on the left side of the present-day photo. Otherwise, the site of the other buildings, including both the Windsor Hotel and the Holyoke Opera House, is now a parking garage. This garage is a far cry from an elegant 19th century hotel, but it does feature a small tower at the corner, which seems to echo the much larger hotel tower that once stood on the same spot.

Hadley Company Mills, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north toward the Hadley Company mills, from the corner of Canal and Center Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The caption of the first photo reads “Twelve o’clock at the Hadley Mills,” and it shows a group of workers leaving the Hadley Company thread mill in Holyoke, evidently on their lunch break. The factory is among the oldest in Holyoke, and was built around the late 1840s by the Hadley Falls Company. This company played a major role in turning Holyoke into a prosperous industrial center, including building the dam and canal system, but it was hit hard by the Panic of 1857 and the subsequent recession. The company’s assets were liquidated in 1859, and were subsequently acquired by the newly-established Holyoke Water Power Company.

In 1863, these mills here on Canal Street became the Hadley Company, a thread manufacturer that had no direct connection to its similarly-named predecessor. It was part of Holyoke’s booming textile industry, producing a variety of threads, yarns, and twine, and by 1879 it had an annual output of 727,315 pounds of yarn. Like most of Holyoke’s industries during this time, the company relied heavily on immigrant labor, and many workers lived in the nearby tenement rowhouses on the other side of Canal Street.

The Hadley Company was acquired by the American Thread Company in 1898, at a time when many industries were consolidating into large corporations. This mill was operated as a division of American Thread for the next few decades, but it was closed in 1928, leaving about a thousand workers unemployed on the eve of the Great Depression. At the time, the New England textile industry was in decline, and the nearby Lyman Mills here in Holyoke had closed just a year earlier, leaving a similar number of unemployed workers. However, it would only get worse for Holyoke, which would continue to lose its industrial base throughout the mid- to late-20th century.

By the 1940s, this mill complex had become the home of the Graham Manufacturing Company, which was later acquired by Johnson & Johnson. Today, the former Hadley Company property has a variety of different owners, but many of the historic mill buildings are still standing, including the three in this scene. The building in the center has lost its cupola, and the fence in the foreground is long gone, but otherwise the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo 125 years ago.

Hadley Falls Company Worker Housing, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke was once the sparsely-settled northern section of West Springfield, but in the mid-19th century it developed into a major industrial center, thanks to its location at a major waterfall on the Connecticut River. The Hadley Falls Company played a key role in this transition, including constructing a dam and an extensive canal system to provide water power for the factories that were soon to be built. These projects were completed in the late 1840s, around the same time that the Hadley Falls Company built a mill, which can be seen in the distance in the center of these photos.

The mill was accompanied by a group of tenement rowhouses for workers, as shown in this scene. These were constructed starting around 1848, and a total of six buildings would eventually be completed. However, an 1853 map shows only four, with one on each side of the block bounded by Center, Canal, Grover, and Lyman Streets. This included the one on the left side of Center Street, but the one on the right did not appear on the map. However, it was evidently completed a year or two later, because it appears on the 1855 map of Hampden County. Both buildings had similar Greek Revival-style architecture, although the ones on the right were evidently not built with dormer windows, as the first photo indicates.

The Report of the History and Present Condition of the Hadley Falls Company, published in 1853, provides the following description of these tenements:

Convenient boarding-houses are erected for the use of the operatives. These are owned by the company, and rented, at comparatively low rates, to respectable keepers. They are built of brick, in the most substantial style, and are supplied with all the usual conveniences of modern dwelling-houses.

The report goes on to describe the regulations that residents were required to follow:

The tenants of the boarding-houses are no to board, or permit any part of their houses to be occupied by any person not in the employ of the manufacturing department of the Hadley Falls Company, without special permission; and when required, give an account of the number, names, and employment of their boarders, and report the names of such as are guilty of improper conduct.

They will be considered answerable for any improper conduct in the house, and not permit their boarders to have company at unseasonable hours.

The doors to be closed at ten o’clock in the evening. They are also requested not to allow their boarders or other persons to collect on the front steps, or side-walk in front of the tenement.

The buildings, yards, and front walk of each tenement must be kept clean and in good order; and if injured, otherwise than from ordinary use, all necessary repairs will be made and charged to the occupant.

The rents must be paid monthly, and within three days after the operatives have been paid in the factory.

The Holyoke Water Power Company later took over operation of the dam and the canals from the Hadley Falls Company, following the economic recession caused by the Panic of 1857. By the 1860s, the mills and tenements were acquired by the similarly-named Hadley Company. It was part of Holyoke’s lucrative textile industry, and produced a variety of threads, yarns, and twine at the mill in the distance. The first photo was taken several decades later, and shows a group of young children, presumably the children of the mill workers, walking along Center Street.

The 1900 census shows ten families living in the tenements on the right side, and 14 on the left. The vast majority of these families were immigrants, with most coming from Ireland or Quebec. For example, the rowhouse at 20 Center Street, closest to the camera on the right side of the photo, was rented by Bridget Barrett, a 65-year-old widow who had arrived in the United States in 1865. She was widowed by 1900, and only two of her five children were still alive. These two daughters, Mary and Bridget, had been born in England, and were only a few years old when they immigrated to the United States. Mary was 38 and unmarried during the census, and the younger Bridget was, like her mother, a widow with two surviving children. At the time, Mary worked as an inspector in the thread mills, the younger Bridget was a nurse, and her 17-year-old son James was a spinner at the thread mills.

On the other side of the street, the rowhouse on the far left at 15 Center Street was occupied by two families. One unit was the home of John and Susan Platt, and their son Edward. All three were born in England and came to the United States in 1890, and by 1900 John was working as a machinist and Edward as a paper cutter. The other unit at 15 Center Street was evidently more crowded. It was the home of Pierre and Christian Chartier, French-Canadian immigrants who arrived in 1896. They had a total of 11 children, nine of whom were still alive by 1900. Of these, seven were living here during the census, with ages that ranged from 12 to 26. The youngest child was still in school, but the rest were working at nearby mills, with jobs that included cotton spoolers, a tailor, a paper sorter, and a cotton spinner. In addition, the family also lived here with a 24-year-old French-Canadian boarder, who also worked in the mills as a spooler.

In the meantime, the Hadley Company had been acquired by the American Thread Company in 1898. The mill remained in operation as the Hadley Division of the company, but it closed in 1928, leaving about a thousand employees out of work on the eve of the Great Depression. Over the years, Holyoke’s industrial base would continue to decline, along with its population. The 1920 census recorded just over 60,000 residents, but this number would steadily drop throughout the rest of the 20th century, eventually dropping below 40,000 in the 2000 census.

During this time, many mills and other historic buildings were abandoned, and a number of them have since been demolished. However, the Hadley Company mills and the adjacent worker tenements have, for the most part, survived relatively well-preserved. One of the tenements, which had been located along Canal Street between Center and Grover Streets, is now gone, but the other five have survived. The ones here on Center Street were restored in the 1970s, and today the scene does not look substantially different from its appearance 125 years ago, aside from the addition of the dormer windows on the right side. These buildings, along with the other three tenement buildings, now comprise the Hadley Falls Company Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Connecticut River Railroad Station, Holyoke, Mass

The Connecticut River Railroad station, seen from the corner of Bowers and Mosher Streets in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Railroads came to Holyoke in 1845, when the Connecticut River Railroad opened from Springfield to Northampton. This coincided with the area’s development into a major industrial center, and within a few years the canal system was completed and the first few mills were operational. The first passenger station was a small wood-frame building at the corner of Main and Dwight Streets, near where the modern Amtrak station is located, and it remained in use for about 40 years. However, Holyoke’s population grew exponentially during this time, from around 3,200 in the 1850 census, to over 21,000 by 1880, and the original station had become inadequate for the needs of the city.

In 1885, the Connecticut River Railroad opened a new passenger station here on the east side of the tracks, bounded by Mosher, Bowers, and Lyman Streets. It was designed by Henry H. Richardson, who was one of the most important American architects of the 19th century, and it was one of the many railroad stations that he designed across the state during the early 1880s. Richardson was a pioneer of Romanesque Revival style architecture, and his station incorporated many common elements, including the rough-faced granite exterior, the brownstone trim, a complex roofline, and arched windows.

On the interior, the central part of the station included the main waiting room, which occupied about half of the ground floor. There was also a separate ladies’ waiting room, and a room that, on the original floor plans, was labeled “Emigrant’s Room.” The latter was evidently used to screen and administer smallpox vaccinations to incoming immigrants, who comprised a large portion of Holyoke’s population during this time. Other facilities inside the building included a baggage room, a ticket office, and a telegraph office, along with several restrooms.

The first photo was taken around 1892, only a few years after the station was completed, and it shows the view from the southeast, from the corner of Bowers and Mosher Streets. About a year later, in 1893, the Connecticut River Railroad was acquired by the Boston and Maine Railroad, and the station became part of an extensive rail network that spread across northern New England. During this time, the station continued to play an important role as the point of arrival for many immigrants to Holyoke, including large numbers of French-Canadians who traveled south along the railroad from Quebec, in search of jobs in the factories here.

The station remained in use throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, Holyoke’s economy began to decline by the middle of the century, with many of the factories closing or relocating. Passenger rail travel suffered as well, both here in Holyoke and in the country as a whole. Cars and airplanes began replacing trains, and ridership continued to decline. The station closed in 1965, and passenger service on the line ended just a year later.

Following its closure, the former station was converted into an auto parts store, and at some point the platforms were enclosed on the southern side of the building. Passenger service would not return to Holyoke until 2015, after Amtrak’s Vermonter was rerouted through the city, but the plans did not involve restoration of the old station. Instead, a new one, consisting of just a single covered platform, opened a little to the south of here, near where the original 1845 station had stood. In the meantime, the old station has been vacant since at least the early 2000s. It is currently owned by Holyoke Gas and Electric, and has been the subject of various redevelopment proposals, although none of these have begun yet.

Hotel Hamilton, Holyoke, Mass

The Hotel Hamilton, formerly known as the Holyoke House, at the corner of Dwight and Main Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The building in 2017:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this hotel was built in 1850 as the Holyoke House, and was part of Holyoke’s early development into a major manufacturing center. It originally consisted of just the Dwight Street side of the building, and was only five window bays deep along the Main Street side to the right. However, it underwent a major expansion in 1889-1890, with a Queen Anne-style addition to the rear of the building, on the far right side of the 1891 photo. This section was the work of noted local architect James A. Clough, and it featured a design that contrasted with the less ornate style of the original building.

The renovations also involved a name change, and the Holyoke House became the Hotel Hamilton. The first photo was taken only about a year later, and shows the building as it appeared during the height of Holyoke’s prosperity as an industrial city. By this point, the hotel had become an important part of downtown Holyoke. Its ground floor storefronts housed a number of tenants, including the post office, and the upper floors had rooms for up to 150 hotel guests. The dining room could seat twice that number, and was used for a variety of functions in its heyday. Written a few years after the first photo was taken, the book Holyoke Past and Present 1745-1895 provides the following description:

The Hamilton has come to be quite a popular place for people giving dinner parties, receptions, etc., for care and attention are always insured, and the details of a social affair are carried out with exactness. The Connecticut Board of Water Works, Connecticut Valley Dental Society, Congregational Club of Connecticut, and many other organizations of like character, hold the Hamilton in high estimation as a meeting place. The number of so-called “swell” receptions held here increases each year, as the capabilities of the house and proprietor become better known. The Arlington Club, the leading and only representative organization of Holyoke’s four hundred, holds the assemblies and balls here. The house, for the time being, is given over to the bright array of society people who always come out to honor the Arlington management.

The hotel would remain in business for more than 50 years after the first photo was taken, but it finally closed in 1943. By then, some of Holyoke’s industries had already begun to close or relocate, and many more would follow in the subsequent decades. A few years later, the building was heavily altered with the removal of most of the fourth floor, except for the section in the distance along Race Street. The large pediment above the main entrance is also gone, most of the windows have been replaced with glass blocks, and most of the storefronts have been rebuilt. The former hotel was most recently used as the Massachusetts Career Development Institute, and was known as the Silvio O. Conte Center. However, it closed in 2003, and the building has apparently remained vacant ever since, with very little resemblance to its appearance in the first photo.