Holyoke's glory days imprinted on paper

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

Holyoke was established in 1850 and incorporated as a city in 1873. Being the first planned industrial city in the United States, it has a unique design, one in which manufacturing and commercial enterprises flourished.

Thanks to a large dam that flowed into a 41/2- mile long canal system, the industrialists were able to offer their products throughout the United States and beyond.

In its glory days, High Street in the downtown area became the pride and joy of city inhabitants. It was the center of commerce that housed some of the most handsome shops, which catered to the employees of paper mills, foundries and machines shops.

Preserved photographs in the Holyoke Public Library, Wistariahurst Museum, Harry Craven’s Highland Hardware and Bike Shop and Heritage State Park illustrate the beauty and splendor of Holyoke.

In these photographs, unique and intricate architecture can be viewed. Men and women wearing exquisitely tailored attire are shown patronizing the distinguished merchants such as the Naumkeag Clothing Co., Bardwell’s Drug Store & Barber Shop and the McAuslin Wakelin store.

By 1870, Holyoke was recognized by the nation as "The Queen of Industrial Cities," and "The Paper City of the World," according to Craig P. Della Penna’s 1997 book, " Images of America, Holyoke."

By the 1890s, paper manufacturers started to use wood fiber instead of cotton fiber. Extensive research into ground wood and chemically separated wood fibers changed the way paper was manufactured. By the 1900s, the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast and Maine capitalized on manufacturing paper due to the economic savings and the proximity of the abundant timber.

The Holyoke paper manufacturers lost market share due to many external factors. Although these companies were built around canals, only enough water for less than a third of the year was available. Higher distribution and skilled labors costs and the passage of an Income Tax Law also hindered their profits.

It eventually came down to regional resources. They just couldn’t compete with the massive corporations that had access to precious resources and a cheaper labor force. After World War I, West Virginia Pulp and Paper Co., Great Northern, Crown Zellerbach, and the St. Regis companies flourished.

Companies in Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas eventually dominated the industry in the 1900s. The timber grew faster in the South due to a longer growing season. A giant yellow pine or southern pine in South Carolina will produce almost twice as much wood fiber in a year as a white spruce in northern Maine.

For many decades, however, the yellow pine could not be utilized because of the high resin content. Southern scientists worked tirelessly seeking to separate the resin from the paper fibers, with little avail. L.C. Reyonlds, who as comptroller of the American Writing Paper Co. in Springfield during the Wilson administration, sought to balance production, went down to the backcountry of Georgia. He bought a giant paperboard machine for a third of its original price due to this problem. The company installed it in their Holyoke Nonotuck Mill facility, where it operated for a quarter of a century.

By the end of the 1900s, the paper industry left Holyoke. There are many men who should be recognized for their stamina and forethought such as Joseph C. Parson, E.P. bag, George W. Prentiss, N.H. Whitten, Charles Holman, George F. Fowler and William B. Whiting.

Whiting was an outstanding businessman with integrity and determination. As a child, he worked extremely hard in the mills and then finally as a bookkeeper for the Hampden Paper Co. He saved his money and bought a wire-making company that he transformed into a paper company.

Whiting paper Co. employed up to 600 people and maintained a reputation for quality and reliability for the life of the company. Whiting was president of several other companies. He eventually became a city treasurer, mayor and a senator. He also served as a Congressman from 1883-1889.

The manufacturing of paper was a prosperous and exciting time for the citizens of Holyoke. While two paper companies, Hampden and Hazen paper still exist today, it remains one of the most memorable moments in the city's history, the time in which Holyoke was called, "The Paper City of the World."

In the next issue, read how Holyoke businessmen manufactured some of the finest textiles on the east coast.

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