History

Holyoke holds the distinction of being the first planned industrial community in the Nation. As such, downtown Holyoke features rectilinear street grids, a novelty in New England. In 1847, merchant investors utilized a natural 57 foot drop in the river to construct a granite dam and multi-level canal system. With this construction came an elaborate complex of mills and worker’s housing. The street hierarchy upon which the worker housing and mills were built was seen as a potential economic development tool, it lends well to high-rise buildings and the surrounding canals are landscaped into a source of recreation and relaxation. Holyoke attracted successive waves of Irish, French Canadian, German, Polish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants who worked in the mills, established small businesses and raised their families. Holyoke’s population rose from just under 5,000 in 1860 to over 60,000 by 1920. This population growth led the municipality to become officially incorporated as a city on April 7, 1873, only 23 years after its initial incorporation as the “Town of Holyoke”. The biggest industry in Holyoke was the production of paper, at it’s height Holyoke was the largest paper producing city in the world. Holyoke was coined “Paper City,” a name that carries on to this day.

The Wistariahurst Museum on Cabot St. in Holyoke is dedicated to preserving the history of the City. The building was originally the home of prominent silk manufacturer, William Skinner and his family. In their honor, Wistariahurst offers a wide variety of programs, educational opportunities, and events including workshops, concerts, lectures and demonstrations designed to be of service to and enhance the quality of life of Holyoke residents. Read more about Wistariahurst here

The History Room at the Holyoke Public Library holds collections include maps, photographs, city directories, and Holyoke newspapers (on microfilm) from the 1850s to the 1990s. Biographical and subject files provide information on numerous Holyoke residents, landmarks, businesses, institutions, and organizations. You can read more here


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Last Updated on September 26, 2012 by