Holyoke Massachusetts, 1890

HOLYOKE is a modern, enterprising and growing city, situated on the west side of the Connecticut River, and midway of the north side of Hampden County, 106 miles west of Boston. It is bounded on the north by Easthampton and the Mount Tom district, east by South Hadley and Chicopee, south by West Springfield, and west by Westfield and Southampton. It contains 8,700 acres of assessed land, including 1,762 acres of forest.

The western section is somewhat mountainous, but there are no peaks of great elevation. Ashley's Pond, covering about 96 acres, and Hitchcock's Pond, about 58 acres, in the southwestern section, each have outlet through Black Brook. The city water supply is from these ponds. The northwestern section of the town is drained by Broad Brook. The geological formation is middle shales, sandstone and dolorites. The 71 farms in 1885 had an aggregate product $122,544 in value.

The remarkable growth and prosperity of Holyoke are due almost wholly to the great fall of the Connecticut River here, which is computed to afford 30,000,000 horse-power. It is only a few years that this power has been controlled amid made subservient to manufacturing uses. Until 1847, the fall of the Connecticut at South Hadley (about sixty feet) was neglected. At that time a party of capitalists from Boston obtained the incorporation of the Hadley Falls Company, the purpose of which was to construct a dam across the river, and one or more locks and canals, by means of which a water-power might be created for the use of this company in the manufacture of articles from cotton, wool, iron, wood and other materials, and for the purposes of navigation. Four million dollars was the capital stock of this corporation, which was divided into shares of $500 each. It also had authority to hold real estate not exceeding in value $500,000. This company bought the entire property and franchise of the proprietors of the locks and canals on Connecticut River, and purchase the fishing rights above, and 1,100 acres of land where now stands the city of Holyoke.

The dam was constructed in 1848, but in such an unsubstantial manner, that in a few hours after the gates were shut it was swept away. The next year the company, nothing daunted, constructed the present dam, which is a grand triumph of science and skill in the control of a magnificent natural power. The length of this structure is 1,017 feet, or about one fifth of a mile. The abutments at either end are of solid masonry, both together measuring 13,000 square rods. Four million feet of timber are contained in the structure; all of which being under water, is protected from decay. During the construction of the dam, the water was allowed to flow away through gates in it, 16 by 18 feet in size, and 46 in number. The work being finished, on October 22, 1849, at 22 minutes before one o'clock in the afternoon, the engineer gave a signal, and the gates were closed. The mighty river ceased its flow, until its waters gradually rose over the face of the dam and fell in a broad sheet over its crest.

Since this event the town and the city of Holyoke have come into existence; and the city is now one of our most important inland manufacturing centres, containing some of the largest, most costly and well-arranged mills, with the latest improved machinery, to be found in the country. The Holyoke Water-Power Company succeeded the Hadley Falls Company; and in 1870 they added to the dam an "apron" at a cost of $263,000. This was to protect the darn from being undermined by the falling sheet of water, whose force rapidly wore away the rock that formed the bed of the river, The system of canals by which the water is conducted to the points where it is needed for the mills is several miles in total length; and the canals are on three levels, affording power at each descent.

Some of the articles made here have long been celebrated. There are now 24 paper mills, employing upwards of 2,820 persons; and the product of these, with paper boxes, in 1885, was valued at $6,867,753. There were four cotton mills, employing 2,205 persons; three woollen mills, employing 1,285 persons; and a silk mill, 251 persons. The value of textiles made in the last census year was $5,030,985. Iron and metal goods, including steam boilers, machinery, cutlery, screws, wire, etc., reached a value of $866,614. Wooden goods mainly house lumber were sold to the value of $417,013.

The various food preparations made and put up for commercial purposes amounted to $664,943. Other articles produced in small quantities were boots and shoes, books, trunks and valises, and various furniture. Sandstone is extensively quarried in the northern part of the town. The aggregate value of goods made in the census year of 1885 was $15,587,093. There are four national banks here, with a total capital of $850,000; and three savings banks, having, at the close of last year, deposits to the amount of $3,048,396. The dwelling-houses numbered 2,959. The valuation in 1888 was $19,121,335; and the tax-rate was $17.20 on $1,000.

The streets and avenues of the city proper are laid out at right angles, and extensively paved. The drainage of the city is good. There is an ample supply of water, brought by the city works from two ponds situated three and a half miles from the city hall. The original cost of the works was $303,000. The area containing the dwellings overlooks the manufacturing section.

The public schools are graded, and in 1885 occupied fifteen buildings, valued at upwards of $250,000. Other educational institutions are the Holyoke Business College and two Roman Catholic schools, the first especially having valuable buildings. The Holyoke Public Library contains nearly 15,000 volumes; and there is a public school library of about 1,200 volumes, and a teacher's library. The city hall is a fine edifice, and cost $376,000. The weekly papers are the "Holyoke Herald," the "Weekly Transcript," the "Paper-Makers' Record," "Der Beobachter," the "Journal" (also German), "La Ralliement," "Le Defenseur," and the "Sunday Telegram." "Good Housekeeping" is a fortnightly issue; the "Home Journal," the " Builder," the "Paper World," the " Shaver," and the " Manufacturers' and Industrial Gazette," are monthlies. The "Daily Transcript " is a well-established sheet with a large patronage.

The villages in the city limits (aside from the city proper, where the post-office is located) are Elmwood, Ewingsville, Fairmount, Highlands and South Holyoke. The Connecticut River Railroad crosses the river from Chicopee to the city of Holyoke proper, thence follows the Connecticut northward, affording connection with roads at the north and south. Another road connects Holyoke directly with the New Haven and Northampton Railroad at Westfield.

The Baptists have two churches here, of which the First was established in 1803, and is the oldest of the existing churches. There are two Trinitarian Congregational, one Unitarian Congregational, one Methodist Episcopal, one American Episcopal (Saint Paul's), one French Protestant, one German Reformed, and three Roman Catholic.

The present city of Holyoke was originally embraced within the boundaries of Old Springfield, and, at a later date, within the limits of West Springfield. On July 7, 1786, the part of West Springfield now covered by Holyoke was incorporated as the " Third Parish," and was generally known as " Ireland" and " Ireland Parish," from the fact that several Irish families were the first settlers of the territory. For the next sixty years there is little to record of this sparsely settled farming hamlet. Then began the improvement of the water-power, as already described. The building of the dam had a marked effect upon Ireland Parish; and the growth was so rapid that on March 14, 1850, it was set off from West Springfield and incorporated as the town of Holyoke.

Mill after mill went up along the canals; then the opening of the Connecticut River Railroad brought another impulse of growth; and on May 29, 1873, a city charter was granted to Holyoke. Since that date there has been a steady growth. The population of the place in 1875 was 16,200; in 1880 it was 21,915; and in 1885 it reached 27,895. The number of legal voters is 4,046, the mills bringing in a large foreign element. The most stirring events in the recent period are the burning of the French Catholic church in 1875, by which 70 lives were lost; and the bursting of the banks of the upper-level canal in June, 1889, by which much damage was done among the mills, involving the shutting down of nearly all for the several weeks necessary to make repairs.

Holyoke dates from too recent a time to have made a claim for patriotism until the war of the Rebellion; to that it sent 250 officers and men, of whom 40 were lost.

pp. 380-383 in Nason and Varney's Massachusetts Gazetteer, 1890