Cunningham Building, Holyoke, Mass

The building at the corner of High and Suffolk Streets in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

This four-story commercial block was built sometime in the late 19th century, probably after 1884, since it does not appear on the city atlas for that year. However, by the early 20th century it was owned by Margaret Cunningham, whose husband Charles was a liquor dealer. Charles was an immigrant from Canada who came to the United States as a teenager, and he operated Cunningham & Co. Liquors out of the storefront on the right side of the building. The first photo was taken sometime around 1910-1915, and was featured in Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts, which includes a glowing description of Cunningham’s business:

To those who are acquainted with the standing of the principal mercantile establishments of Holyoke, the leading position of this house in its line is a matter of common knowledge. To others who are not so well informed a visit to the place of business and an inspection of the fine stock of goods handled here will convey a good idea of its importance. Cunningham and Company are extensive importers of wines, gins and brandies, and are also wholesale and retail dealers in whiskeys, ales and liquors of the best brands. They have been engaged successfully in this business ever since the date of its establishment, twenty years ago. A specialty of supplying fine goods to clubs, restaurants, hotels, and other first-class consumers, in which branch of the business they are known to excel. They also have a handsomely appointed bar, where they supply an active trade at retail. Competent assistants are employed and courtesy and consideration is extended to all.

The first photo also shows The Toggery Shop, which was located in the corner storefront on the left side of the building. This men’s clothing store was similarly lauded in  Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts, which notes that:

This company is one of the hustlers in the haberdashery and gents’ furnishing goods line in the city of Holyoke. Its flourishing business has been in operation here for the past ten years and in that time it has made a host of friends who by their staunch and loyal patronage have contributed largely to its success. These ten years of strenuous and lively competition with stores of its class have made this one wide-awake and very much alive to up-to-date lines of goods and progressive methods. Eternal vigilance is exercised by Mr. Murray in the selection of his stock and discrimination buyers may feel assured that any goods purchased at this store will be up-to-date in styles and patterns and the prices are right. The leading makes of hats, neckwear, hosiery, gloves, underwear, etc. are well represented here in a choice and varied assortment. The store is in a good location for business and presents a neat and attractive appearance at all times, with its complete equipment of modern fixtures and furniture.

Today, many of Holyoke’s historic commercial blocks are still standing along High Street, but the Cunningham Building is not one of them. Its exact fate seems unclear, but it was evidently gone by the mid-1970s. The current building was completed around this time, and features a Brutalist-style brick and concrete exterior that contrasts sharply with the ornate Italianate-style design of its predecessor. Both the haberdashery and the liquor wholesaler are also long gone from this location, and the current building is now occupied by Peoples Bank.

High Street from near Dwight Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on High Street, from just south of the corner of Dwight Street in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows the commercial center of Holyoke during the early 20th century, when the city was at the height of its prosperity. Both sides of High Street were lined with commercial buildings, most of which had been built in the second half of the 19th century. They represented a range of architectural styles, and two of the most significant buildings stood in the foreground at the corner of Dwight Street. On the left is the six-story Ball Block, which was built in 1898, and on the right side of the first photo is Delaney’s Marble Block, which was built in 1885 and was designed by noted local architect James A. Clough.

Today, more than a hundred years after the first photo was taken, Holyoke has undergone some significant changes. Much of its manufacturing base was gone by the mid-20th century, and the city has since experienced rising poverty rates and declining population. However, this economic stagnation may have also helped to preserve many of the historic commercial blocks on High Street, since there has been little demand for new developments. Almost all of the buildings are still standing from the first photo, and the only noticeable loss is Delaney’s Marble Block, which was demolished around 1950 to build the present-day two-story building. The buildings in this scene are now part of the North High Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

252-256 Maple Street, Holyoke, Mass

The townhouses at 252-256 Maple Street, near the corner of Suffolk Street in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

These three brick townhouses were built sometime in the late 19th century, and were among the many similar homes that once lined this section of Maple Street. By the early 20th century, all three were owned by Charles and Alice Alger, who lived in the house furthest to the right at 256 Maple Street. The other two houses were rented to tenants, with the 1910 census showing two different families living in each one. These included his son Floyd, who lived at 254 Maple Street with his wife Annie and their young daughter Alberta.

Charles R. Alger was an undertaker, and had his office here at his house. Floyd also worked for him, and would eventually take over the business after Charles’s death in 1927. The first photo was taken sometime in the early 1910s, and was published in Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts, which provides the following description:

There are many institutions of which the citizens of Holyoke are justly proud. There is none, however, that has attracted more attention from the profession and about which there has been more favorable comment than the one mentioned above. It has been established here for the past fifteen years and at present caters to an active and influential patronage. The proprietor, Mr. Alger is an accomplished embalmer, having had an active experience in this work of thirty-one years, and he has two competent assistants. He has a chapel which is perfectly appointed in every way and spacious enough to accommodate a large assemblage, and many funerals are held here instead of in the homes. Back of this is the show room, in which is carried a most complete stock of women’s and men’s suits, winding wrappers and caskets of the latest designs. Interments are made in any desired cemetery and out-of-town funerals are taken in charge.

The Alger family remained here until the early 1920s, when they opened a funeral home a few blocks away at 167 Chestnut Street. These three houses on Maple Street may have been demolished soon after, because, according to the city assessor’s records, the current building was constructed on the site around 1930. Today, nearly all of the 19th century townhouses on this section of Maple Street are long gone, with most having been replaced by larger apartment buildings or by vacant lots. The only surviving feature from the first photo is the tall building on the far right, which was built in 1907 and still stands at the corner of Maple and Suffolk Streets.

Hotel Monat, Holyoke, Mass

The Hotel Monat, at the corner of Main and Mosher Streets in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

This hotel was originally built in the mid-1880s as the Norris House. It was much smaller at the time, with only eight rooms, but the building was either significantly expanded or completely rebuilt around the turn of the 20th century, and by the time the first photo was taken it had 46 rooms. In 1906, the hotel was purchased by Henry Monat, a French-Canadian immigrant who renamed it the Hotel Monat.

It occupied a convenient location directly across the tracks from the railroad station, which is seen in the present-day view. The hotel was evidently used by both short-term guests and long-term residents, with the 1910 census showing 21 boarders living in the hotel along with Henry Monat himself. Nearly all of them were either single or widowed, and all but three were men. At least three of the residents worked in the nearby paper mills, three more worked in a livery stable, and other occupations included a waiter, a baker, and a policeman.

The first photo was taken sometime around 1910-1915, and was published in the book Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke, Massachusetts, which provides the following description of the hotel:

In a city like Holyoke, visitors look for the highest degree of comfort in their hotel accommodations and there is no place in the city where the traveller is made to feel more at home than at the Hotel Monat, of which Henry N. Monat is the genial proprietor. It is a house of moderate size and is equipped with a large proportion of the modern conveniences. there are forty-six rooms all open to daylight and sunshine, the hotel being nicely located on a corner. These rooms are all well heated and ventilated and furnished in a comfortable and homelike manner. The house is conducted on both the European and American plan and at popular rates. There is also a cafe connected with the hotel where the finest brands of liquid refreshments are served at all times. With its fine location and its modern equipment, the service is up-to-date and efficient in every respect.

The Hotel Monat building stood here throughout much of the 20th century, but it was ultimately destroyed by a fire in 1978. Today, its site is one of many empty building lots along this section of Main Street, and the property is used only as parking for the adjacent Holyoke Gas & Electric building. In the background, the Henry H. Richardson-designed railroad station is still standing, although it has been vacant for many years and its future is uncertain.

Main Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking north on Main Street from near the corner of Dwight Street in Holyoke, around 1891. Image from Holyoke Illustrated (1891).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows a row of late 19th century buildings along the east side of Main Street, looking north from near Dwight Street, toward Mosher Street. The buildings represent a mix of architectural styles, but the one that stands out the most is the large, highly ornate Romanesque-style Whiting Street Building in the center of the photo. It was built in 1885 at 32 Main Street, and was owned by the estate of Whiting Street, a prominent Northampton philanthropist who had died a few years earlier in 1878. Around the same time, he also became the namesake of the Whiting Street Reservoir, which opened at the base of Mount Tom in 1888, on land that Street had once owned.

One of the early tenants of the Whiting Street Building was the American Pad and Paper Company, which had been established here in Holyoke in 1888 by Thomas W. Holley. The company, which later came to be known as Ampad, built its business around purchasing scraps from the city’s many paper mills, which were then bound into notebooks and sold at competitive prices. In the process, Holley is said to have invented the first legal pad, a development that, if true, likely would have occurred here in this building.

Early on, American Pad and Paper occupied three rooms here at 32 Main Street, and eventually expanded to eight rooms. The company was here when the first photo was taken in the early 1890s, but around 1895 it moved into a building of its own, at the corner of Appleton and Winter Streets. Over the years, Ampad would go on to become a major producer of pads and other office supplies, and it ultimately outlived nearly all of Holyoke’s other paper mills. The company is still in business today, although not in Holyoke. It is now headquartered in Texas, and it closed its last Holyoke facility in 2005.

In the meantime, this building here on Main Street was subsequently occupied by another writing pad company, the Whiting Street Ruling and Stationery Company. Around 1901, it was renamed the Affleck Ruling and Stationery Company, and was described in a 1905 advertisement in the city directory as “Manufacturers Paper, Pads and Tablets, Paper Rulers and Printers. Mourning Cards and Fine Cards for Engravers.” The company remained here until around 1907, but by the following year it had moved to a new location at 18 North Bridge Street.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, none of the buildings from that scene are still standing. The one on the far right was likely the first to go, and was replaced by the present-day building at some point during the early or mid-20th century. Most of the other buildings survived until at least the 1970s, although the Whiting Street Building was destroyed in a fire in 1977. The ones further in the distance were still standing a year later, when they were inventoried as part of the state’s MACRIS database of historic resources, but they have since been demolished, leaving only vacant lots where they once stood.

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.