High Street from Hampden Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

Holyoke was developed into a major industrial center starting in the mid-19th century, and a number of factories were built along the city’s network of canals. Around the same time, two commercial districts were developed to serve the needs of the rapidly-growing population, with one along Main Street at Depot Square and the other one here, a few blocks up the hill on High Street. The commercial blocks here on this section of High Street were primarily built between the 1850s and 1870s, and nearly all are brick, typically with four stories. In the 125 years since the first photo was taken, this street scene has remained remarkably well-preserved, with few significant changes since the first photo was taken.

The most visible building in this scene is the W. L. Martin Block, which was built around 1860 at the corner of High and Hampden Streets. Its design is typical of the earlier commercial buildings in Holyoke, with a relatively plain exterior that contrasts with the more ornate styles of later decades. Just beyond it is the two-story Fuller’s Block, which was built in 1857 by John Fuller, a developer whose property included this building as well as the rest of the lots between here and Oliver Street. Around 1870 he built the one-story buildings near the center of the first photo; these are still standing, although hidden from view by trees in the 2017 photo. Fuller also built the large, gable-roofed building at the corner of Oliver Street. It was completed no later than 1863, and probably as early as the 1850s, making it among the oldest surviving commercial buildings in downtown Holyoke.

Today, nearly all of the buildings in the foreground of this scene are still standing. Everything beyond Lyman Street, which is barely visible two blocks in the distance, was demolished in the 1970s as part of an urban renewal project, but south of Lyman Street very little has changed. The only noticeable loss on the right side of the street in this section is the Hutchins House, which is visible in the distance just to the left of the center of the first photo. Demolished sometime in the late 20th century, this building has not been replaced, and there is now a small parking lot on the site. Otherwise, the rest of the buildings are still standing, and these blocks of High Street are now part of the North High Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Mount Tom Hose Company, Holyoke, Mass

The Mount Tom Hose Company building on Canal Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The Mount Tom Hose Company was established in 1851 as the first volunteer fire department in Holyoke. At the time, Holyoke was just beginning to be developed as a major industrial center, and the new fire department would protect both the rapidly-growing population as well as the many factories that were being built along the city’s canal system. The current Romanesque Revival-style building was completed in 1887 here on Canal Street, in a centrally-located area right next to the railroad station, which can be seen just beyond it to the left in both photos. The Mount Tom Hose Company later became Fire Station Number 4, and, although no longer in use as a fire station today, the building still retains its original exterior appearance from the first photo.

Just to the right of the fire station is an earlier brick, Second Empire-style building. Dating back to the early 1870s, this building housed the offices for the Holyoke Water Power Company, which operated the city’s canals and provided electricity for factories and for municipal use. Originally, the building was only one story, but it was expanded in the late 1870s or early 1880s, with the addition of a second floor and a mansard roof above it. Although not noticeable from this angle, the building has had more additions since the first photo was taken, and it remained in use by the Holyoke Water Power Company until 2001, when the company was acquired by the publicly-owned Holyoke Gas & Electric.

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.

Main Street from Dwight Street, Holyoke, Mass

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

The scene in 2017:

These two photos, taken 125 years apart, show some of the dramatic changes that the city of Holyoke has experienced in the intervening years. When the first photo was taken, Holyoke was among the world’s leading producers of paper, and at its peak the city had more than two dozen paper mills along its extensive canal system. The resulting influx of factory workers led to a dramatic increase in the city’s population, from under 5,000 in 1860 to over 35,000 in 1890, and the first photo shows a busy Main Street, filled with trolleys, horse-drawn carriages, and pedestrians.

The commercial buildings on the right side of Main Street show a mix of late 19th century architectural styles, and are predominantly brick with three or four stories. Probably the oldest building on the right side of the first photo is the Perkins Block, which dates back to about 1870 and was, in later years, known as the Hotel Jess. Its Italianate design was typical of the era, and it includes cast iron ornamentation that has remained well-preserved over the years. Just beyond it is another, somewhat shorter Italianate building, which was built in the mid-1880s. It lacks the cast iron on the exterior, but it has a similar bracketed cornice at the top of the building. The only other building still standing on the right side of the street from the first photo is the narrow, four-story building in the center, which was built around 1883 and has seen few exterior changes since then.

Otherwise, all of the other buildings on this side of the street have either been replaced by newer ones or are now vacant lots. Perhaps the most notable of these lost buildings is the Whiting Street Building at 32 Main Street, the four-story granite building just to the left of the center of the first photo. Completed in 1885, it was owned by Whiting Street, a prominent landowner for whom the Whiting Street Reservoir is named. By the time the first photo was taken, the building was the home of the recently-established American Pad and Paper Company. Now known as Ampad, this company is still a major producer of writing pads and other paper products, although it has long since relocated its headquarters out of Holyoke.

The only building visible on the left side of the first photo is the Holyoke House, which was later known as the Hotel Hamilton. Built in the early 1850s, it was significantly expanded over the years and is still standing, although it has lost its top floor. Like many of the buildings across the street, it is now abandoned, and today the scene of boarded-up storefronts, vacant lots, and a deserted Main Street contrasts sharply with the photo taken at the same site in the 1890s.

Bijou Theater, Holyoke, Mass

The Bijou Theater on Main Street in Holyoke, in October 1941. Image taken by John Collier, Jr., courtesy of the Library of Congress, FSA/OWI collection.

The scene in 2017:

The Bijou Theater was one of several early 20th century theaters in Holyoke, and was built around 1913. Located on Main Street in the Flats neighborhood, it primarily catered to the city’s large population of factory workers, and it had one screen, with a seating capacity of nearly 1,300. The original caption of the first photo was “Theatre in workers’ section at Holyoke, Massachusetts”, and it was taken by John Collier, Jr., a prominent photographer and anthropologist. At the time, he was working with the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal agency that, among other projects, hired photographers to document life in America during the Great Depression.

The first photo shows the entrance to the theater, with a “candy shoppe” in the storefront on the left and a shoe shine business on the right. Both stores display the seemingly-ubiquitous Coca-Cola signs of the 1940s, and the theater marquee advertises for a double feature of The Devil and Miss Jones, starring Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, and Charles Coburn; and Thieves Fall Out, starring Eddie Albert, Joan Leslie, Jane Darwell, and Alan Hale, Sr. These films were both released in the spring of 1941, more than five months before the first photo was taken, suggesting that the Bijou was, at least by this point, a second-run theater. One sign under the marquee promises “Big Shows at Small Prices”, while another sign indicates that the theater offered “Entire New Show Every Sun. Tues. Fri.”

The first half of the 20th century was the heyday of downtown movie theaters, but in later years they were increasingly replaced by large multi-screen theaters in the suburbs, which offered greater options as well as ample parking. Here in Holyoke, the decline was only exacerbated by the loss of the city’s industrial base, which caused a significant drop in population. The Bijou appears to have closed sometime in the 1950s, and was subsequently demolished. Today, none of the surrounding buildings are standing either, and the site is now a gas station. Holyoke’s other historic downtown theaters suffered similar fates, and today only the long-abandoned Victory Theater is still standing.