Holyoke’s City Hall inspires civic pride

Published Wednesday, May 2, 2007 in the Holyoke Plus section in The Republican. Go to www.masslive.com for more interesting stories.

In 1873, the official Holyoke stamp said in Latin, “INDUSTRIA ET COPIA CIVICO REGIMINE DONATA 1873,”which translates to Industry and Abundance, The Town became a City in 1873. In the middle of the seal it says, “HOLYOKE COMDITA A.D. 1850,” which translates to Holyoke was founded as a town in 1850, was officially accepted by the proud citizens of Holyoke.

In 1872, 14,000 residents longed for an official building where they could conduct the city’s business. A committee was formed to decide who and where it would be built. After an extensive search, they hired architect, Charles B. Atwood, who eventually went on to design the World’s Fair in Chicago and Richard Ponsonby from New Haven was selected to act as the general contactor.

The committee decided on the corner of High and Dwight streets to build this mammoth beauty. After much indecision on whether to use brick or granite on the exterior, expenses escalated and the funding dwindled. To make matters worse, Ponsonby passed away in 1874.

The project came to a complete stand still pending the committee’s hiring of Watson Ely. He was considered a steadfast and robust man. He completed the job by 1876 for about $500.000 according to in records in the Holyoke History room at Holyoke Community College.

Holyoke City Hall has been classified as the finest public building in the state, west of Boston. The building was designed in the high Victorian gothic style. On December 18, 1975, it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. Being placed on the national register entitles the building to be eligible for federal grants and protection from encroachment by federal projects.

I would recommend taking a tour through this incredible building where you will see a 225-foot bell tower, charming gables and impressive clock. The massive bell is inoperable today according to the Department of PublicWorks. The clock, a Seth Thomas Model 14, was installed in 1877 and purchased for $700.00. The National Watch and Clock Museum of Bristol, Conn. estimated its value to be $50,000 in 1983. Albert Lehmann, a self-described “clock buff,” says it is a ‘Dennison Double Three-Legged Gravity Escape Method,’ which makes the clock go ‘tick-tock.’ The pendulum is 13 feet long, swinging the 500-pound ball on the end every two seconds. “The clock was electrified in the 1930’s, so guys wouldn’t have heart attacks.” Lehmann said.

William Fugua, superintendent of the Department of Public works, whose office helps maintain the clocks and their surroundings, says the four clocks can be a little off at times.

The roof has multi-colored slate. The exterior is adorned with delicately carved columns with historic plaques as you enter the mayor’s office. There are 16 stunning stained glass windows on the third floor that were designed by Samuel West of the Ecclesiastical Stained Glass Works, Co. of Boston. The windows are varied representing some of Holyoke’s patriotic and secular attributes. The foyer windows have the patriotic theme-fife and drum, Lady Justice and the American Flag.

In the grand hall from the foyer a worldly view dominates. Clockwise from left to right, the theme is as follows: (1) agriculture- represented by a woman holding a plow, sickle and a background of cornstalks and wheat; (2) water power, represented by a woman holding a right angle, hammer, drawing pen, and a background of factories and waterwheels: (3) painting, represented by a woman holding a pallet, brush, and a background of canvasses, an easel and a bust; (4) music, represented by a woman holding a book, quill against a background of musical instruments; (5) industry, represented by what appears to be a watch with smoke stacks and bunker-like buildings; (6) commerce, represented by a woman holding a scale, staff, and a background of a train traveling on a bridge over water. In this grand room there is a basketball court where the Boston Celtics and the Harlem Globetrotter have played. There are even showers and a locker room.

The building has housed a police station in the basement, the Holyoke Public Library and a district court at one time. There have also been countless gatherings including a wedding, grand balls and pageants.

Over the years, the building has undergone millions of dollars in renovations. While these renovations were desperately needed and a testament to how much the citizens of Holyoke love their city hall, Mayor Michael J. Sullivan said, “This majestic building…still needs basic renovations to face the challenges of the next century.”

The citizens of Holyoke are fortunate to have a city hall with a reassuring presence and a timeless resilience.

© 2007 The Republican. All rights reserved. Used with permission