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.

Hampden Street near High Street, Holyoke, Mass

Looking northwest up Hampden Street, toward High Street in Holyoke, around 1892. Image from Picturesque Hampden (1892).

The scene in 2017:

These two photos show Hampden Street, just down the hill from where the photos in the previous post were taken. However, while the other post shows the view looking straight down the street, this view provides a better look at the buildings on the north side of Hampden Street. On the far right side of the first photo is one of the many tenement houses that were built in this area for the workers of the Lyman Mills. Just to the left of it, the building at the corner of High Street was built around the early 1860s by W. L. Martin, a coal, wood, and flour dealer who had his store here in the building. On the other side of High Street is a similar four-story brick commercial block, probably dating to the 1860s or early 1870s, and further in the distance is the tower of St. Jerome’s Church, located at the corner of Chestnut Street. The first photo also shows some of the traffic on the streets, with several horse-drawn carriages near the top of the hill and a stray dog in the foreground on the right.

Today, about 125 years later, this scene is still recognizable from the first photo, although several of the buildings are gone. The building on the right, along with the rest of the Lyman Mills tenements, was demolished in the late 1930s as part of an early urban renewal project. The bricks were saved, though, and were incorporated into the apartments that now occupy the site. The building on the other side of High Street is also gone, and the site is now a surface parking lot. However, the W. L. Martin Block is still standing, without many exterior changes from this angle. In the background, St. Jerome’s Church is also still there, although most of the interior had to be reconstructed after a major fire in 1934. Both the church and the Martin Block are now contributing properties in two different historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places, with the church in the Hampden Park Historic District, and the Martin Block in the North High Street Historic District.

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.

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.