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.

Taber, Tilley, and Preston Blocks, Holyoke, Mass

A row of commercial buildings on the west side of High Street, between Dwight and Suffolk Streets in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows High Street as it appeared around 1891, when Holyoke was at the peak of its prosperity as an industrial city. These commercial blocks had all been built only a few years earlier in the 1880s, and housed a variety of businesses and professional offices. The three most visible buildings in the center of the photo all featured ornate Romanesque Revival-style architecture, and formed a nearly symmetrical group, with many similarities between the buildings on the right and the left.

On the right side, closest to the camera in the first photo, was the the Preston Block, which was built in 1886. It was owned by Joseph S. Preston, a hatter who had a shop on the ground floor, and the upper floor tenants included the Childs Business College. According to its advertisement in the 1891 city directory, this school “Provides a thorough Business Education for Young Men and Women. Business men promptly supplied with Bookkeepers, Stenographers and Business Assistants. Sessions Day and Evening, from September to July.”

To the left of the Preston Block, in the center of the photo, was the Tilley Block. It was built in 1888 and was owned by John Tilley, who ran a furniture, carpet, and bedding store on the ground floor. Further to the left, on the other side of the Tilley Block, was the Taber Block, which was built around 1884. Its design was similar to the Preston Block, although somewhat shorter and with a brick facade instead of rusticated stone. When the first photo was taken, the storefront on the ground floor was occupied by Frank L. Taber, a jeweler and watchmaker.

Today, very little is left from the 1891 scene, although nearly all of these changes came within just a couple decades after the photo was taken. The first change came only a few years later, in 1899, when the one-story building on the far right was demolished and replaced by the Steiger’s department store. This Beaux Arts-style building was designed by prominent local architect George P. B. Alderman, and featured a light-colored exterior that contrasted with the darker brick of the older buildings in the scene. Two years later, in 1901, Albert Steiger purchased the adjoining Preston Block and expanded the store. It does not seem clear whether the Preston Block was demolished or simply incorporated into the Steiger’s building, but either way the stone facade of the Preston Block was replaced by one that matched the rest of the department store.

The trend toward Beaux Arts architecture continued around 1912, shortly after the Tilley Block was purchased by Thomas S. Childs. The building itself evidently survived, but the facade was rebuilt to match early 20th century architectural tastes, with a design that was also the work of Alderman. Childs was a shoe and hosiery dealer, and his store occupied the ground floor of the building, where Tilley’s furniture business had once been located. Like Steiger’s, the Childs shoe store would remain a fixture here in downtown Holyoke for many years, but it was gone by the early 1980s. Today, the ground floor still has a commercial tenant, but the three upper floors of the building are boarded up.

Of the three buildings in the center of the first photo, only the Taber Block survives relatively unchanged. Its neighbor to the left, the c.1890 Bishop Block, is also still standing from the first photo, although the exterior of the second floor has been rebuilt with new windows. Overall, though, this section of High Street has a remarkable number of historic commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and these buildings are now part of the North High Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Robert B. Johnson Buildings, Holyoke, Mass

The buildings at 195-201 High Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The buildings in 2017:

According to the National Register of Historic Places inventory for the North High Street Historic District, these adjoining three-story brick buildings were built around 1880. However, they may actually date back to about a decade earlier, since they are mentioned in directories from the early 1870s. They were originally owned by Robert B. Johnson, an insurance agent whose offices were located here in the building. He also rented space to other tenants, including the Holyoke Savings Bank on the left side and the Holyoke National Bank on the right, as seen in the first photo. Above the arched entryway in this photo is a sign for “R. B. Johnson &  Son,” and hanging from the second floor is a sign for  “M. O. Hastings Dentist.”

Aside from his insurance business, Johnson was also involved in both of these banks. He served as treasurer of the Holyoke Savings Bank from 1866 until his death in 1899, and he was also the first vice president of the Holyoke National Bank, upon its establishment in 1872. He later became the president of the bank in 1896, and served in that role for the last three years of his life. Following his death, his son Charles W. Johnson succeeded him as treasurer of the savings bank, and he also carried on the insurance business here in the building on the left side.

The Holyoke National Bank was located here until the early 1910s, when it moved to a new location at the end of the block, at the corner of Dwight Street. Then, in 1915 the savings bank purchased both buildings, allowing it to double its available space by expanding into the side that had been vacated by the national bank. However, the savings bank was only here for another decade or so, before moving into a new building that still stands a few blocks away at 143 Chestnut Street, at the corner of Suffolk Street. Later renamed Vanguard Savings Bank, it would remain at the Chestnut Street location until 1992, when it was absorbed by Fleet Bank.

In the meantime, the bank’s former location on High Street is still standing, although both of these buildings have seen some changes over the years. The ground floor has been significantly altered, with three different doors instead of the central arch, and the building on the left side has lost much of the ornamentation above the third floor. However, both buildings are still easily recognizable from the first photo, and they are among the many historic late 19th century commercial blocks that still stand here on this part High Street.

High Street from Dwight Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows the same section of High Street as an earlier post, just from the opposite end of the block, and the first photo above was taken around 15 years earlier than the one in that post. This photo dates back to around 1891, and shows the commercial center of Holyoke during the time when the city was reaching the peak of its prosperity as an industrial center. Just out of view to the left is city hall, and on the right side of High Street was a row of mostly three and four-story brick commercial buildings, each of which had awnings projecting from the ground-floor storefronts. The automobile was still several years away from large-scale production, but the unpaved street was busy with pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages, along with an electric trolley further in the distance.

Most of the buildings in the first photo were relatively new, dating back to around the 1870s and 1880s. The one in the foreground at the corner was perhaps the oldest, featuring Italianate architecture that contrasted with the far more ornate Romanesque Revival-style buildings beyond it. When the first photo was taken, it housed the drugstore of M. J. Griffin on the ground floor, with professional offices on the upper floors. These included a real estate agent whose signs advertised, among other things, “Houses on Large Lots Sold on East Terms of Payment.” Further down the street, other signs advertised for physicians, an attorney, a dentist, a bank, a hardware and cutlery store, and Childs Business College, which was painted on the side of a building in the distance.

Today, nearly all of the buildings in this scene are over a century old, but surprisingly few are still standing from the first photo. The two buildings closest to the foreground are actually still there, although they have been dramatically altered. By the early 20th century, the buildings had become home of the McAuslan and Wakelin department store, and in 1920 they were combined into a single building. They retained their original exteriors for a few more years, but in 1929-1930 the facades were reconstructed with a more modern design, including large windows and minimal ornamentation.

Just beyond the McAuslan and Wakelin building are two older brick buildings. Closer to the foreground is the Russell-Osborne Building, which dates back to around 1885. It once housed the hardware and cutlery shop from the first photo, but later housed a hosiery store and then a shoe store. At some point around the mid-20th century, the original Victorian-era exterior was hidden behind a plain aluminum facade, but this was removed by the 1980s, and today the building looks much as it did when the first photo was taken. To the left of it is the Mayberry Building, which dates back to around 1881. It originally had three stories, but was later expanded to four, and the facade has been heavily altered as well. Beyond it is a newer three-story building, which was constructed in 1912, replacing the earlier one that stood on the site in the first photo.

Probably the most historically significant building in the present-day scene is the Steiger’s building at 259-271 High Street, which is visible in the distance on the right side. It was built in 1899 to house the department store of Albert Steiger, a dry goods merchant who had previously operated a store in Port Chester, New York, before going into business here in Holyoke in 1896. He would later expand his company to include stores across southern New England, including a flagship store that opened in Springfield in 1906. The company would eventually go out of business in the 1990s, and the iconic Springfield store was demolished, but the ornate Classical Revival-style building in Holyoke is still standing here on High Street.

Further in the distance, there are at least two other buildings that still stand from the first photo, including the c.1884 Taber Block at 281-283 High Street and the c.1890 Bishop Block at 284-287 High Street. Overall, though, despite the many changes since the first photo was taken, this scene has remained well-preserved in its early 20th century appearance. The most recent major change to this scene came nearly 90 years ago, when the current facade was added to the building on the corner, and today these buildings are now part of the North High Street Historic District, on the National Register of Historic Places.

High Street from Hampden Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

Much of High Street in Holyoke has been remarkably well-preserved over the years, particularly this block on the west side of the street, between Hampden and Dwight Streets. It consists primarily of brick, three and four-story commercial blocks that were built in the second half of the 19th century, during the early years of Holyoke’s development as a major industrial center. The scene had largely taken on its present-day appearance by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, and today the only significant difference is a noticeable lack of horse-drawn carriages.

According to district’s National Register of Historic Places listing, the one-story building in the foreground was built in the mid-20th century, but it seems possible that it might actually be the same one from the first photo, just with some major alterations. Either way, this is the only noticeable change in the buildings on this block. Just beyond this building are two matching three-story buildings, located at 169-175 High Street. These are perhaps the oldest buildings in the scene, dating back to around 1855, and have a fairly plain exterior design, unlike the more ornate building further down the street.

To the left of these two buildings is the four-story Dougherty’s Block, at 177-179 High Street. This was built sometime around the late 1880s, and was probably the newest building in the first photo. Beyond it is the 1870 Taber Building, with its distinctive ornate pediment above the third floor. However, the most architecturally-significant building in this scene is the Second Empire-style Caledonia Building at 185-193 High Street. It was built in 1874, and was originally owned by Roswell P. Crafts, a businessman who went on to become mayor of Holyoke in 1877 and from 1882 to 1883. The building was later owned by the Caledonian Benefit Society, which provided aid for Scottish immigrants.

Beyond the Caledonia Building, most of the other buildings also date to between 1850 and 1880. These include, just to the left of the Caledonia Building, the Johnson Building at 195 High Street and the R.B. Johnson Block at 197-201 High Street, both of which date back to around the 1870s. Further in the distance is the 1850 Colby-Carter Block at 203-209 High Street, and the c.1870 Ball Building at 211-215 High Street. The only noticeable change in this section is the six-story Ball Block, at the corner of Dwight Street. It was completed in 1898, a few years after the first photo was taken, and is visible on the far left side of the 2017 photo.

More than 125 years after the first photo was taken, this section of High Street survives as a good example of Victorian-era commercial buildings, representing a range of architectural styles from the plain brick buildings of the 1850s, to the more ornate styles of the 1870s and 1880s. Holyoke is no longer the thriving industrial city from the first photo, having experienced many years of economic stagnation since the mid-20th century. However, this has probably contributed to the survival of so many 19th century buildings, since there has been little demand for new construction, and today these historic buildings and streetscapes are among the city’s greatest assets.

School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame, Holyoke, Mass

The former School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame, on Chestnut Street opposite Hampden Park in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke grew into a major industrial center during the second half of the 19th century, and the jobs in the mills attracted large numbers of immigrants, particularly the Irish and French Canadians. Most of these immigrants were Catholic, in a region that had previously been almost entirely Protestant, and they soon set about establishing Catholic churches and other religious institutions. The first of these churches was St. Jerome’s, which was established in 1856. Two years later, the parish constructed a church building that still stands at the corner of Hampden and Chestnut Streets, just out of view to the right of this scene.

In 1869, St. Jerome’s Parish opened its first parochial school, the School of the Immaculate Conception of Notre Dame. It was originally an all-girls school, and was located in a wood-frame building that was moved to this site. That same year, the Convent of Notre Dame was completed just to the right of the school. It housed the nuns who taught at the school, and can be seen in the center-right of both photos, with its central tower and Second-Empire style architecture. Then, in 1872, the St. Jerome’s Institute was established as a school for boys, and was located on the other side of Hampden Street, at the corner of Elm Street.

The original Immaculate Conception building was replaced in 1883 by a much more substantial brick school building, which stands on the left side of both photos. It was designed by architect Donat R. Baribault, with an Italianate-style design that included a symmetrical front facade and a tower above the main entrance. By 1890, around the time that the first photo was taken, it had an enrollment of about 550 girls, and the principal of the school was also the sister superior at the adjacent Convent of Notre Dame.

The Immaculate Conception School later became the St. Jerome High School, and in 1963 it merged with several other parish high schools in the city to form Holyoke Catholic High School. The old 1883 school building became part of the Holyoke Catholic campus, and remained in use until 2002, when the school relocated to Granby. Holyoke Catholic has since merged with Cathedral High School in Springfield, and the consolidated school has been known as Pope Francis High School since 2016.

Today, most of the historic 19th buildings from the St. Jerome’s Parish are still standing, including the former Holyoke Catholic buildings. Although they were boarded up for more than a decade after the school moved to Granby, the buildings have since been converted into the Chestnut Park Apartments. This work was completed in 2015, and now there is hardly any difference between these two photos, which were taken 125 years apart. The buildings are now part of the Hampden Park Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.