Preserve America Community:
Holyoke, Massachusetts, (population 39,958) home to major cotton and silk mills and once considered the “Paper Capital of the World,” offers a microcosm of American industrial development.
Founded in 1848 as one of the nation’s first planned industrial cities, Holyoke became a city in 1873. It attracted successive waves of Irish, French Canadian, German, Polish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants who worked in the mills, established small businesses, raised their families, and created communities defined largely by ethnic and religious affiliation.
However, by the mid-20th century, Holyoke found its industrial base rapidly disappearing. In the 1960s the most recent wave of newcomers began re-creating Holyoke. Puerto Rican migrant farm workers, attracted by jobs in western Massachusetts, began settling in old tenement houses once inhabited by earlier immigrant groups.
These new migrants shared much with their immigrant predecessors: primarily rural, Catholic, and non-English speaking, they too sought to build better lives for themselves and their families. But the opportunities made possible by plentiful factory labor were no longer available. Today, the city faces an uncertain economic future, although it has a rich industrial past and a growing arts community.
Holyoke’s history is presented through several venues, including the Wistariahurst Museum, built in 1874. Originally the home of prominent silk manufacturer William Skinner and his family, the museum offers a wide variety of programs including workshops, concerts, lectures, and demonstrations. Its permanent collection features decorative arts, paintings and prints, textiles, and a manuscript collection of family and local papers.
Another attraction is the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, a beautifully preserved 1929 Philadelphia Toboggan Carousel located in Heritage State Park. The park’s Visitors’ Center offers tours and historical and environmental programming and features exhibits about water power, paper manufacturing, and Holyoke’s social history.
For more information
City of Holyoke: www.holyoke.org
Wistariahurst Museum: www.wistariahurst.org
Posted June 2, 2009