Perry Mill, Newport, Rhode Island

The Perry Mill, seen from the corner of Thames and Cannon Streets in Newport, around 1914-1916. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The first photo was taken sometime in the mid-1910s, during the construction of the present-day Newport Post Office. It shows a group of commercial buildings, most of which were probably built around the mid-19th century, and the signs advertise for a variety of businesses, including B. Richards Gents Furnishings in the building to the left, and a fish market and Lee Yun Laundry in the buildings to the right. There also appears to be a barber shop in the storefront just to the left of the fish market, as indicated by the striped poles on the exterior.

However, the most prominent building in the first photo is the Perry Mill, which stands diagonally across the intersection in the center of both photos. It was built in 1835 as a textile mill, at a time when Newport had been experiencing several decades of economic stagnation. The city’s once-prosperous shipping industry had been badly hurt by the American Revolution, and never fully recovered. By the early 19th century, much of New England’s economy had shifted from trade to industry, and inland manufacturing centers had begun to eclipse colonial-era seaports such as Portsmouth, Salem, and Newport.

Architecturally, the Perry Mill was very different from most other New England mills of this period. Instead of a brick exterior, it was built of stone, and featured details such as lintels over the windows, quoins on the corners, and a fanlight just underneath the gable. It was the work of Scottish-born stonemason Alexander MacGregor, and was one of the few major building projects in Newport during this period. However, despite hopes that the mill would revive the city’s economy, Newport never became a major industrial center. Its location on an island, which had benefitted its merchant fleets, proved a liability in the age of railroads, and Newport would not see widespread prosperity until the second half of the 19th century, when the city reinvented itself into one of the country’s most exclusive summer resort communities.

The mill was still standing in its original appearance when the first photo was taken, but at some point in the 20th century it was heavily altered with the removal of the gabled roof and fourth floor. From 1943 to 1984, the building was owned by General Electric, but it was subsequently converted into retail space, and now houses shops and restaurants. As part of this renovation, the upper part of the building was reconstructed, and the only noticeable evidence of this change is the slightly lighter-colored stone above the third floor.

Today, the Perry Mill stands alone in this scene, with none of the other buildings surviving from the first photo. The post office, which was barely under construction when the first photo was taken, is still there, but the rest of the area has dramatically changed. In the mid-20th century, the four-lane America’s Cup Avenue was built along the waterfront of Newport, running along the west side of Thames Street for part of its route. This meant that many Thames Street buildings had to be demolished, including the ones on the right side of the first photo. However, just before reaching the Perry Mill, America’s Cup Avenue makes a sharp left turn, becoming Memorial Boulevard West. This was constructed around the same time, and involved demolishing all of the buildings on the south side of Cannon Street, including the one on the left side of the photo. As a result, the Perry Mill was spared by these projects, and it remains a prominent landmark along Newport’s waterfront.

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.

Valley Paper Company, Holyoke, Mass (2)

The Valley Paper Company, seen from the bridge over the Second Level Canal in Holyoke, around 1910-1915. Image from Illustrated & Descriptive Holyoke Massachusetts.

The scene in 2017:

This view shows the same building as the photos in the previous post, just from a different angle. As mentioned in that post, the Valley Paper Company was established in the 1860s, and was one of the many paper mills that were located in Holyoke during the 19th century. The original mill building, completed in 1864, was much smaller, and apparently consisted of just the three-story section to the left of the tower. However, as production increased, so did the size of the building, and it was expanded in 1877, with an addition that evidently included the tower and the section to the right of it. The two sides of the building have very similar architecture, and at first glance they appear to be symmetrical, but the right side is actually longer and has a slightly different shade of brick when compared to the right side.

The Valley Paper Company remained in business for many years, but it eventually suffered the same fate as most of Holyoke’s other once-prosperous industries. It closed during the second half of the 20th century, and in 1981 the property was acquired by the city. The rear sections of the mill, not visible in this scene, were then demolished, but the front of the building was preserved and renovated, and it is one of the many historic factories that still line Holyoke’s canals. It still bears the name of the Valley Paper Company, which is written in slate on the left side of the roof and painted on the wall on the right side of the building, but it now houses several different tenants. These include West Mass Elder Care, whose green sign is visible on the central tower.

Valley Paper Company, Holyoke, Mass

The Valley Paper Company, seen from across the Second Level Canal in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

The Valley Paper Company was one of the many paper manufacturers that were located in Holyoke during the late 19th century. It was founded in the 1860s by David M. Butterfield, who had previously worked for the Parsons Paper Company, and in 1864 the company’s first mill building was completed here on this site. However, the facility was subsequently expanded in 1877, increasing its capacity to two and a half tons of fine writing and envelope paper per day. The two sides of the building have slightly different shades of brick, and it appears that the section to the left of the tower was built in 1864, while the tower and the right side were apparently built in 1877.

The first photo shows the paper mill about 15 years later, around 1892. In the foreground is the canal, which provided the water power for the mill, and directly in front of the building is a row of boxcars, which were presumably used to haul away the various finished paper products. Later in the 1890s, many of Holyoke’s paper companies were merged to form the American Writing Paper Company, which was headquartered nearby at the corner of Main and Race Streets. However, the Valley Paper Company retained its independence, and remained in business here in Holyoke for many years.

Holyoke’s paper industry remained prosperous into the 20th century, but by the second half of the century it was, like most other industries in the northeast, in serious decline. The Valley Paper Company eventually closed, and in 1981 the property was acquired by the city. Much of the mill complex was then demolished to provide parking, but the section facing the canal was preserved and redeveloped. Today, not much of the exterior has changed, aside from the loss of the top of the tower. The building even bears the name of its original owner, which is still painted on the right side of the building and written in slate tiles on the roof of the left side.

Hadley Falls Dam, Holyoke, Mass

The Hadley Falls Dam on the Connecticut River, on the border of Holyoke and South Hadley, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, Holyoke is the site of the largest waterfall on the Connecticut River, with a drop of 58 feet. This made the location ideal for large-scale industrial development, and during the mid-19th century Holyoke was transformed into a prosperous manufacturing center. The first dam was built here in 1848, but it was poorly constructed, and it failed just hours after the gates were closed. However, a new dam was constructed the following year. It was built of wood, extending 1,017 feet across the river, and was 30 feet tall, with timbers that were firmly anchored four feet deep into the bedrock beneath the river.

This second dam proved far more durable than its short-lived predecessor, and it remained in use for the rest of the 19th century. However, by the early 1890s there was a need for a new dam, this time built of stone. Construction began in 1892, with the new dam being located 150 feet downstream of the old one. It took three years just to excavate the bottom of the river, and the work involved the removal of some 13,000 cubic yards of bedrock. Construction of the dam itself began around 1896, and it was comprised of a combination of rubble stone taken from the riverbed downstream of the dam, along with quarried granite blocks from Vinalhaven, Maine. The work was done in several different stages, as described in a 1900 article in the Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies:

The dam was constructed in four sections, the south end and a center section just north of the drain channel being built up for a considerable height first. Then a coffer dam was built on the first level of the north channel, thus turning the water through the center channel, while a section of dam 5 feet high was constructed behind it. The coffer was then transferred to the center channel, and a section 10 feet high built in that opening. In this way the alternate sections were built in until the structure was complete. The cost of the entire work is said to have been between $600,000 and $700,000.

Upon completion in 1900, the dam measured 1,020 feet across the river, and is said to have been the longest dam in the world at the time. The first photo was taken sometime soon after its completion, and shows water pouring over the top of the dam. On the far right is part of the Carew Manufacturing Company, a paper mill that was located on the South Hadley side of the dam, and in the distance on the right side is Mount Tom, with the Summit House prominently visible atop the 1,202-foot traprock mountain.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, both the Carew factory and the Summit House are gone. However, the dam itself is still here, after having survived a number of major floods during the 20th century. Holyoke is no longer the major industrial city that it once was, but the dam and the canal system are still used to generate power. Both are now operated by the city-owned Holyoke Gas & Electric, with the hydroelectric generators here at the dam provide a significant portion of Holyoke’s electricity.

Carew Manufacturing Company, South Hadley, Mass

The Hadley Falls Dam and the Carew Manufacturing Company, as seen from the Route 116 bridge over the Connecticut River on the border of Holyoke and South Hadley, in 1936. Image taken by Lewis Hine, courtesy of the U. S. National Archives.

The scene in 2017:

At over 400 miles in length, the Connecticut River is, by far, the longest river in New England, and flows north to south through the region, from the border of Canada all the way to Long Island Sound. It passes over a number of rapids and waterfalls during its course, the largest of which is here on the border of Holyoke and South Hadley, Massachusetts, with a drop of 58 feet. This is also the last major waterfall on the river, and throughout the colonial era it was a major obstacle to river navigation, requiring a costly 2.5-mile portage around the falls.

This problem was partially solved in 1795, when a canal opened on the South Hadley side of the river. It was located on the other side of where the mill buildings stood in the first photo, and it was the first navigable canal in the country, predating longer and more famous ones like the Erie Canal by several decades. However, by the middle of the 19th century, railroads had replaced canals as the most important form of inland transportation, and the South Hadley Canal ultimately closed in 1862.

With the decline of river transportation, along with the rise of industry, this waterfall began to be seen as a major asset, rather than as an obstacle. Industrial development began in the early 19th century, with mills on the South Hadley side, but the most dramatic change to this area came in the the middle of the century. The west side of the river, once a part of West Springfield, was incorporated as Holyoke in 1850, and was developed into a major industrial center. This included the construction of a dam across the river, an extensive power canal system through Holyoke, and a number of large factory complexes.

As a result, Holyoke’s industrial development quickly outpaced that of its older neighbor on the other side of the river. However, South Hadley continued to operate several factories of its own, including two paper mills on the right side of the dam. The one closest to the dam was the Carew Manufacturing Company, and was established in 1848. Its original factory burned in 1873, but it was subsequently replaced by the brick building in the first photo, and produced writing paper for many years. Just to the right of the Carew factory was the Hampshire Paper Company, which was built in the early 1860s and produced the well-known Old Hampshire Bond writing paper.

The first photo was taken in 1936, by prominent photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine. It was in the midst of the Great Depression at the time, and Hine was traveling around the country documenting its effects. He made a visit to Holyoke, where he photographed many of the mills, and he wrote the following caption about this scene:

Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts – Scenes. The dam: The Connecticut River: the old and famous Hampshire bond manufacturing plant, recently bought by its neighbor, Carew Manufacturing. Also an old and independent mill; founder paternalistic enough to build a church which still stands, enough local feeling to employ from South Hadley because on the Hadley side of the River – Carew Manufacturing Company, 1936

As Hine mentioned in his description, the Hampshire Paper Company closed in 1935, and the property was acquired by the Carew Manufacturing Company. However, the old Hampshire mill was later owned by Stevens Paper Mills, Inc., and it stood here until it was demolished around 1970. In the meantime, the Carew mill was purchased by Texon in 1948, and it produced a variety of goods until it closed in 1986. The property was later sold to Holyoke Gas & Electric, but the historic mill stood vacant for many years before finally being demolished around 2012.

Today, all of the mills from the first photo are gone, but otherwise the scene is still easily recognizable from the first photo. The dam, which was completed in 1900, is still there, and it still provides hydroelectric power for the city of Holyoke. Further in the distance, Mount Tom still forms the backdrop of this scene, although it now features a number of broadcast transmitters atop the 1,202-foot summit. These are hardly visible in the 2017 photo, though, and the only other addition to this scene is the Joseph E. Muller Bridge, which carries U. S. Route 202 across the river just upstream of the dam.