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.