Michael Cleary House, Holyoke, Mass

The house at 1137-1139 Dwight Street, near the corner of Pleasant Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

This two-family, Queen Anne-style house was built in 1891, shortly before the first photo was taken, and was designed by noted Holyoke architect George P. B. Alderman. The house was apparently numbered 287 Dwight Street at the time, before the current numbering system was adopted in the first decade of the 1900s, and was originally the home of carpenter and contractor Michael Cleary and his family. Michael only lived here for a few years, before moving to a house on Northampton Street, but other members of the Cleary family remained at this house for many years.

By the 1900 census, the house was occupied by five siblings: Thomas, Margaret, Dennis, John, and William Cleary. Their ages ranged from 29 to 42, and all were single except for the youngest, William, although his wife was not listed here on the census. All five of them were born in the United States to Irish immigrants, and both Thomas and Dennis were liquor dealers, in the firm of Thomas M. Cleary & Co. The company was located on Maple Street, and according to an advertisement in the 1905 city directory they were:

Wholesale Dealers in Foreign and Domestic Winds and Liquors. Also Agents for P. Ballantine & Sons’ Celebrated Newark Ales and Porter and Union Brewing Co.’s Boston Lager Beer. Agents Western Massachusetts for the well known Van Hook Whiskey. Also Gibson’s XXXX Whiskey. Also general line of fine Whiskey for Medicinal use.

The 1910 census shows Thomas and Margaret still living here. Margaret had married by this point, to dry goods store clerk Thomas Fitzgerald, and they lived here with their two young children, Claire and Thomas. Thomas Cleary was still in the liquor business, along with Michael Cleary, and he continued to operate his firm on Maple Street until his death in 1917. As it turned out, Prohibition went into effect only three years later, and by the early 1920s the company was evidently out of business.

Thomas and Margaret Fitzgerald were still living here in this house by 1920, along with their children and Margaret’s brother, John Cleary. Thomas died at some point in the 1920s, but the rest of the family was still living here during the 1930 census. The property was valued at $25,000 (about $380,000 today) and she rented the right side of the two-family home to Walter Shean, who lived here with his wife Rose and their son Joseph. They paid $100 in monthly rent (about $1,500 today), which was more than double what most of their neighbors were paying at the time.

Margaret and her children, Claire and Thomas, were still living here during the 1940 census, and the house would remain in the family for many more years. Both children lived here for the rest of their lives, until Claire’s death in 1978 and Thomas’s in 1985. The house was subsequently sold out of the Cleary-Fitzgerald family for the first time in nearly a century, but it is still standing today, with a well-preserved exterior that has not changed significantly in 125 years since the first photo was taken. The house further in the distance is gone, having been replaced by a modern apartment complex, but other elements from the first photo are still here, including the retaining wall and steps on the right side of the scene.

William H. Wilson House, Holyoke, Mass

The house at 67 Fairfield Avenue in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The house in 2017:

This house was built in 1891 in the Highlands neighborhood of Holyoke. Located to the northwest of downtown, this area was developed in the late 19th century after streetcar lines made it easy to commute from here. Fairfield Avenue was one of the centerpieces of the neighborhood, with its landscaped median and elegant homes, and it attracted a variety of upper middle class residents. The original owner of this house was William H. Wilson, who worked as a foreman at the Hampden Glazed Paper and Card Company. The house was designed by prominent local architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a Queen Anne-style design that was fashionable for houses of this period.

William Wilson only lived in this house for a few years, and by 1897 he had relocated to a house nearby on Lincoln Street. From around 1897 to 1899, this house on Fairfield Avenue was the home of Charles E. Walden, a publisher whose company produced a variety of trade journals and books relating to the paper industry, including U. S. Paper Maker, New England Stationer and Printer, New England Paper and Pulp Trade, and Walden’s ABC Pocket Guide for Paper Makers, Dealers and Stationers. However, by 1900 Walden had left this house moved to New York City.

The next owner of the house was its architect, George P. B. Alderman. Earlier in the 1890s, he had lived two houses away at 63 Fairfield Avenue – which he had also designed – but by 1900 he had purchased this house at 67 Fairfield. He was 37 years old when the 1900 census was taken, and he lived here with his wife Belle, their four children, and a servant. The couple had two other children who had died young, and they would go on to have one more child, who was born in 1901.

Alderman was originally from Connecticut, but came to Holyoke as a teenager and became a carpenter. However, he soon began working for local architect James A. Clough, and in 1885 he went into business for himself. His architectural career coincided with Holyoke’s height of prosperity, and in the ensuing years he designed a number of churches, schools, commercial blocks, and houses in the city and throughout the region. He designed many of the homes here on Fairfield Avenue, and some of his other important works in Holyoke included the First Congregational Church (1887 and 1893), the First Methodist Episcopal Church (1889), the former Steiger’s building (1899 and 1901), the recently-demolished Mater Dolorosa Church (1901), the William Whiting School (1910), the Strand Theatre (1920), the Masonic Temple (1922), and the Post Office (1933).

The Alderman family lived here in this house until around 1908. By the 1910 census, George and Belle had divorced, and George was was living with his parents in a house nearby on Pearl Street. He later remarried to Hortense Bacon, a young widow who was about 20 years his junior. They had three children together, and by 1924 they were living almost across the street from here, in a house at 52 Fairfield Avenue. It is not clear whether he was the architect of that house, but he and Hortense lived there until his death in 1942, at the age of 80.

In the meantime, his former home here at 67 Fairfield Avenue had several other owners in the subsequent decades. By 1911, it was the home of Dr. Arthur B. Wetherell, a physician who lived here with his wife Erminie until his death in 1927. The next owner was James J. Dowd, who was living here by 1930 along with his wife Clare and their four young children. Dowd was an insurance executive, and he also served as the city’s postmaster from 1933 to 1949, coincidentally working in the new post office building that Alderman had designed.

James Dowd lived here in this house until his death in 1960, and Clare sold the property in 1967. However, the exterior of the house has hardly changed since the first photo was taken more than 125 years ago, and it still retains its Queen Anne-style details. It is one of many well-preserved homes that still stand here on Fairfield Avenue, and today the street comprises the Fairfield Avenue Local Historic District, which was established in 2007 as the city’s first local historic district.

Steiger’s Department Store, Holyoke, Mass

The Steiger’s store at 259-271 High Street in Holyoke, sometime around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The building in 2017:

For nearly a century, the Steiger’s department store was a leading retail chain in Western Massachusetts and throughout much of New England. It was founded by Albert Steiger, who had come to the United States as a young German immigrant in 1868. He and his family settled in Huntington, Massachusetts, but his father died in 1872, when Albert was just 12 years old. Albert was the oldest of three children, and by the time he was 13 he had left school and was working as a peddler. Soon after, though, he began working for a dry goods merchant in Westfield, and would remain there for the next 20 years.

After spending his early career in Westfield, Albert Steiger went into business for himself in 1894, when he opened a store in Port Chester, New York. This proved successful, and two years later he opened a store in Holyoke. At the time, Holyoke was a thriving industrial city, and it had a busy commercial center along High Street. Steiger soon purchased property here on the west side of the street, directly opposite city hall, and had this building constructed on the site. It was designed by prominent local architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a Beaux Arts exterior, with light-colored stone that contrasted sharply with the dark brick and sandstone of the older buildings on High Street. When completed in 1899, the building only consisted of the three window bays on the right side, but in 1901 Steiger acquired the neighboring Preston Block on the left side and expanded his building. The Preston Block was either demolished or incorporated into the Steiger’s building, and Alderman designed the facade of this addition. It matched the rest of the building, but it resulted in an asymmetrical appearance, as seen in these photos.

The Holyoke store was soon followed by one in New Bedford in 1903, and then in 1906 he opened the company’s flagship store in Springfield. The first photo, from the book Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts, shows the Holyoke store sometime during these early years of his business. Outside, a number of women, all wearing white dresses, are standing on the sidewalk, with many apparently looking at the window displays. Although undated, the book was probably published around 1914, and it provides the following description of the Steiger’s company:

The high character earned by eighteen years of honorable business dealings, and the energy, business ability and liberality that characterize all the operations of this house, command for it a conspicuous position among the leading mercantile institutions of the state. The company is conducting similar establishments in Springfield and New Bedford, Massachusetts and Portchester, N. Y. The exceptionally low prices that prevail in this store have been the cause of much comment, but there are reasons for it that are legitimate ones and in no sense secret; in purchasing in the enormous quantities required for stocking four large stores, the management is able to take advantage of substantial discounts, which in the end is made to benefit the consumers in the low prices which they can offer. The local store is under the management of Philip Steiger. It is an attractive building, constructed of Indiana Limestone and brick; its interior has a full complement of modern fixtures and furniture, including the Lamson Carriers. There are thirty-one distinct departments, any one of which presents some attractive bargain at all times. One hundred and fifty clerks are employed.

Steiger’s would eventually open locations in Fall River and in Hartford, but by the 1960s the company had begun to shift toward stores in suburban shopping malls. These included stores in Westfield, Longmeadow, and Hadley, plus two new Springfield stores, with one at Springfield Plaza and one in the Eastfield Mall. Then, in 1979, Steiger’s opened a second Holyoke store in the newly-completed Holyoke Mall, drawing even more customers away from the old store here on High Street. The old store finally closed in 1984, and the building sat vacant for many years afterwards.

In the meantime, the Steiger’s company remained in business for another decade, until it was sold to the May Department Store Company in 1994. Some of the stores were reopened as either Lord & Taylor or Filene’s, but others were closed, including the flagship store in downtown Springfield, which was subsequently demolished. However, the former downtown Holyoke store is still standing here on High Street. Its exterior has seen few changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago, and it survives as a reminder of the grand department stores that once stood in the downtown area of almost every major city in the country. Along with the other surrounding commercial buildings, it is now part of the North High Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.