Holyoke soon lived up to its predicted success

Published Wednesday, April 26, 2006 in the Holyoke Plus section in The Republican. Go to www.masslive.com for more interesting stories.

Holyoke’s first town meeting was held on March 22, 1850. There were about 3,700 residences at this time. Joseph Morrison, Alexander Day and Amos Allen were elected to be Holyoke’s first selectmen. These gentlemen had the pleasure of dealing with successful and positive individuals who created dynamic companies that hired thousands of people.

The Hadley Falls Bank and the Holyoke Saving Bank were created at this time offering ample capital to build new mills. The Hadley Falls Co. sold 59 lots for mills or business sites. In the same year Exchange Hall was built, the Lyman Mills Co. was organized with a capitalization of $1.5 million and the Prentiss Wire Mills was established. They also erected one of the most prominent hotels in the state called the Holyoke House (Hamilton Hotel), which cost a $100,000.

The population increased to 5,000 people by 1855. The Governor of Massachusetts went on record as predicting that with in a decade Holyoke would be a city of 50,000 people. Holyoke was flourishing with the opening of the Lyman Mills Co., which was the beginning of the textile industry. Joseph C. Parson founded the Parson Paper Co. that had eight massive "engines" and two Fourdrinier machines for precision construction. Two artisan wells were sunk in the rock to a depth of 150 feet to ensure a constant supply of pure water. The company manufactured writing papers, notes pads, blank books and ledgers. Hampden Mills were contracted by the Hadley Falls Co., and completely furnished with textile machinery made in the company’s shops for an interlocking group of which Patrick T. Jackson, a large stockholder in the power company, was the leading factor. The intent of this organization was to manufacture "fancy vesting, pantaloon cloth, and sundry."

The mills were later known in Holyoke as the Mackintosh Mills. Jackson Street was named after the founder. The Holyoke Paper Co. was opened in 1857. It was the first mill to be built at the southern end of the canal system, which now houses the hydroelectric plant of the Holyoke Gas and Electric Department.

Private individuals built many pretentious houses and stores during this period. Business ventures were organized on an ambitious scale. Professional men were coming into the city as early as mid-century. There were thirteen persons and corporations in the town paying taxes on property valued at more that $10,000 according to Wyatt Harper’s 1948 book, "The Story of Holyoke."

By 1857, problems started to erupt in the mill section of town. The overworked and under-paid workers took to drinking in the streets disrupting the cities inhabitants. The police tried to quell their disruptive behavior, but were unable to do so without local citizens help. The town magistrate’s court was set up in a small wooden structure on John Street, that also housed a small brick building for locking up these unruly citizens.

The same year the United States went through terrible financial times. It was call the "57 Panic." Funds had run dry to finance the construction of new railroad track across the country and many of the great New York banks failed. This set off a devastating depression in Holyoke. Large and small businesses went bankrupt due to the fact that people were laid off and had little funds to purchase their products. Cotton cloth couldn’t be sold in sufficient quantity at a sufficient price to pay the overhead in the massive mills throughout the city.

The Hadley Falls Co. was sold to the Holyoke Water Power Co. around this time. Fortunately by 1873, the city of Holyoke had left behind these dreadful times to become one of the most prosperous cities in New England. There were 14 massive mills, producing 40 tons of paper a day, 30 tons of which was fine paper. By 1890 there was 25 paper mills, employing 3,000 people with a capital investment of $10 million dollars. It was because of these substantial numbers, Holyoke was deemed the Paper City, according to Harper’s work.

All of these mills needed a steady feed of water to power their machines, which the Connecticut River provided via the canals. The Holyoke dam held the water back allowing the water to flow into these massive canals, which are 50 to 140 feet across and up to 25 feet deep. About 10 billion gallons of water move through the canals on days when there is enough river flow to run all the hydroelectric wheels. These turbines are scattered throughout the city. This is enough water to fill 500 million average size bathtubs. The original system produced enough power to drive a dozen diesel locomotives. It powered over 100 large mills in the 1800 and 1900’s. Today, the canal system produces enough energy to power 20,000 homes, according to a wonderful display at Heritage State Park behind the Holyoke City Hall.

In the next issue, she explains how the production of paper made Holyoke world-renowned.

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