Area’s early settlers energetic, adventurous

Published on Wednesday, August 3, 2005 in the Holyoke Plus section of The Republican. Go to for more interesting stories.

By the late 1700’s small industries were established, such as a tannery, a sawmill clock making, cider mill, straw paper mill, hydraulic cement mill, gristmill, blacksmith iron smelting, lime kiln, sandstone quarry and a distiller.

Withstanding all odds, the colonies grew as they moved into perilous territories. Being robust and adventurous, they wanted to own land. In 1720, Attorney William Pynchon wrote an important document on laid paper that would give the settlers that right.

“We the subscribers being appointed by the Proprietors of the land called the Outward Commons on the west side of the Great River in Springfield, a committee to let out to each subscriber his one share and proportion in this land, have measured the northern division of said land and find it from Northampton bounds southward four miles in length,” according to research John Zwisler of South Hadley found in Springfield records.

Though the document was missing some parts, it did mention John Riley who in 1684 received land in “Chickuppi Plain,” the old name for the southern part of Holyoke. John Riley, in fact, is credited with being one of the area’s first landholders. He purchased land from Henry Chapin, whose father was Samuel, of whom there is a statue in Springfield. It was an important moment in time for the young colony.

Many of the new residents hailed from Ireland. Riley was on of them, who along with his wife Grace O’Dea, settled in Hartford and later moved up the river to West Springfield in the 1600s. His total holdings were vast -28 acres- in land north of West Springfield and along the Holyoke border near what is today Brightside and the Providence Hospital on Riverdale Road. The southern line on his land ran along a brook that emptied into the Connecticut River. The brook became know as Riley’s Brook. At one point, a Humeston built a tannery at the beginning of the brook. The name was changed to Tannery Brook. Riley lived beside William McCranny and Samuel Terry, whose deed read at Ireland. Though John Riley was Irish, he was of Protestant faith. In 1786 Ireland was officially made a separate parish of West Springfield, properly called the Third or North Parish, but generally still called Ireland Parish, according to Yale Historical Publications, 1939 at the Holyoke Library.

We must give credit to these early settlers for their determination and persistence. John Riley and his wife Grace worked exceptionally hard to establish Ireland Parish. Together with other settlers, they prospered even though it was “difficult laying out a road running east and west, such as the Westfield Road, because of the “ranges of the hills and steep precipices.”

The first Ireland Parish church, which was a Baptist Church, was established. “In 1725, five people were baptized in the Connecticut river directly east from the present Elmwood Cemetery. These first six families are thought to be the ancestors of modern day Holyoke residents, as early as 1729 in this section know as Baptist Village according to John Zwisler.

“Later the Congregationalists tired of crossing the river to the Chicopee (Cabotville) side for Sunday worship, shared a meeting house with the Baptists. This section was known as the Lord’s Barn as it was crudely built,” Zwisler wrote.

It wasn’t until 1763 that the residents of Ireland Parish could plow their fields without danger. The men farmed the land and raised livestock. The women spun and dyed wool, knit, and sewed. They cooked, milked cows, cleaned the house, washed laundry and fed the animals. It was a time of plenty, with fields of hay, corn, potatoes, oats, rye, turnips and beans.

By the late 1700s small industries were established, such as a tannery, a sawmill, clock making, cider mill, straw paper mill, hydraulic cement mill, gristmill, blacksmith iron smelting, lime kiln, sandstone quarry and a distillery according to John Zwisler of South Hadley.

In addition to establishing industries, the people of Ireland Parish were conscious of the importance of educating their young. The first school was built in 1772 in the vicinity of Ashley Ponds area. (off Route 202 near Dead Man’s Bend). “All children from ages five to 10 were to be taught to “read and learn catechism,” according to records in the Holyoke history room.

They were also patriotic. In 1775, Ireland Parish residents fought in the Revolutionary War. In1786, the residents watched troops from Shay’s Rebellion pass through Ireland Parish.

Ireland Parish in the 1800’s was quickly changing from a farming community to an industrial village. “In 1827 the Hadley Falls Company was formed, manufacturing cotton cloth using waterpower for the machinery supplied by a wing dam out into the river.

By 1831 there were 130 houses in Ireland Parish. In 1842 Five Northampton men formed the Connecticut River Railroad, joining the Boston Worcester line from the east, and New York, New Haven & Hartford from the south.

This line crossed Willimanset and went through Ireland Parish, making it a good location for bringing in materials and shipping manufactured goods” according to Holyoke History room of the Holyoke Public Library. “No longer would the people have to rely on the river for transportation or business,”

Or so they thought.

Next month, you can read how one man traveling through the Ireland Depot had his own vision of a prosperous and fluid future for the farmers of Ireland Parish.

© 2006 The Republican. All rights reserved. Used with permission