George C. Ewing’s goal was to harness a great river

Published on Wednesday August 31, 2005 in the Holyoke Plus section of The Republican. Go to for more interesting stories.

“He imagined a great dam across the river to harness this water power in order to create a new industrial city”

George C. Ewing was indeed a visionary with exceptional negotiating skills and an astute imagination that would forever change the landscape of the Ireland Parish. He was born in Hudson, NY in April of 1810. His mother, Mirriam was born in Ireland while his father, Noble Ewing, was born in New Jersey.

The Ewing family moved to New York City in the 1830’s. Ewing married his first wife, Lydia Ann Stillwater of Taunton, Massachusetts then moved to Littleton, New Hampshire for a short time where Ewing had a carriage manufacturing business. They also lived in Walpole, Massachusetts where two of his eight children were born.

Unfortunately, in 1854, Ewing’s wife, Lydia, died and they lost three of their children in infancy. Ewing remarried in 1858 to Laura W. Farwell of Augusta, Maine, according to Holyoke History room records at the Holyoke Library.

As a salesman for the Fairbanks Scale Company of St. Johnsbury, Vt., Ewing traveled extensively by stage coach and train. On trips here, he noticed the rapids in the river cause by a traprock bed between two mountain ranges where the river could cut down no deeper, and envisioned a great dam across the river to harness this water power in order to create a new industrial city.

He marveled at the small wing dam that deflected water as it turned the wheels of a small cotton mill. It seemed small and insignificant compared to the dams in Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Lowell, Massachusetts. He knew that an improved device called a turbine had just been introduced that would make this venture very profitable. A group of Boston Investors, or Boston Associates, had already figured out a way to harness water power in Lowell, by utilizing a dam system.

In 1846, Ewing finally persuaded businessmen from Boston and Hartford that a dam would be a profitable adventure. In early 1846, the Hadley Falls Co. appointed Ewing to be the land Agent responsible for buying land from the Yankee farmers along the river and inwards so a city could be laid out. He was also able to secure all water rights needed to bring the project forward.

He successfully acquired 1,200 acres of land and surveying was started for a dam, canals and streets in1847. As he was purchasing farms and pastureland for the “New City,” of the Hadley Falls Co., he was also buying land under the Fairbanks Company.

Being the shrewd businessman that he was, he also purchased many acres for his own family. The land in the upper Dwight Street section was to be eventually called Ewingville.

In 1857 and 1858 he traveled through Europe including Russia on a business trip for the Fairbanks Scale Co. and then returned to the United States to manage their Philadelphia office for several years. He would spend summers in the upper Dwight Street section and winters in Philadelphia according to records.

Ewing, on his first arrival to Ireland Parish, resided in the “Flats” in a dwelling house owned by the Parsons Paper Co. Later he occupied what was to become the old First Congregational parsonage on Northampton Street near Beacon Avenue.

He built his own spacious brick house on the most prominent point of Dwight Street. Through the 1860’s and 70’s Ewing retained his interest with the Fairbanks Co. and was active in town dealings.

When Ireland Parish became the Town of Holyoke in 1850, Ewing was first a Republican, then an Independent and finally a staunch Prohibitionist. He was out spoken about prohibition and was put up for lieutenant governor on the Prohibition ticket with a Dr. Miner in 1878.

His son Henry ran that year on the Democratic ticket for secretary of state. There are no records indicating that either candidate was successful. Mr. Ewing also served as a town assessor, on the Board of Selectmen and a superintendent of Schools for 20 years. He served on many corporate boards such as the Holyoke National Bank.

Ewing was a very religious man and a member of the Congregational Church and a Director of the State Ministerial Society. It was said that he gave good sermons and raised his voice at neighborhood prayer meetings.

George C. Ewing died at his Dwight Street home on July 16, 1888 at the age of 78. He is buried in the Forestdale Cemetery. Mr. Ewing will be remembered for his capacity to inspire and lead people to great heights. Through his vision and perseverance Holyoke became one of the first planned cities in the United States.

Next month, you can read how Ewing reached his goal to utilize the river and industrialize the great city of Holyoke.

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