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Immigrant sweat built Paper City

The first group of immigrants came to Holyoke in the 1840s.

Staff writer

HOLYOKE- If one were to write a textbook on immigration and ethnic patterns in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, Holyoke could be a prime example.

A proposal to bring Somali refugees to this city would be in keeping with a tradition in which Holyoke has been home to many different immigrants.

To understand Holyoke and its growth, you must understand its history.

The very exploration of the site where the city now stands was done by one Elizur Holyoke, an English explorer, for whom the city, the college and the mountain were all named. Holyoke in fact was married to the daughter of William Pynchon, one of the founders of Springfield, according tot he city annals available through the Holyoke Room of the Holyoke Public LIbrary.

At that time, the area was inhabited by American Indians. An occasional farmer would come along, usually up river from Springfield.

For many years, Holyoke was known as Ireland Parish and was a section of West Springfield. At that time it was little more than a way station on the road between Springfield and Northampton and there were taverns along the road for weary travelers to refresh themselves.

The first Irish immigrants to the area arrived in the 1840s and helped to build the railroad.

It was about this time that The Hadley Falls Co., a group of Yankee businessmen from the eastern part of the state, heavily invested in Holyoke, seeing the potential of the Connecticut River as a source of power to drive the turbines of industry. That group has also invested in eastern cities such as Lowell, Haverhill and later Lawrence.

Many of Holyoke's downtown streets such as Cabot, Dwight, Lyman and Appleton were named after the officials of the company.

Construction of a dam across the river, financed initially by the Hadley group, was begun in the 1840s and more Irish workers were brought in at that time to do that work.

After several failed attempts at building a dam, the Daniel O'Connell's Sons Co., replete with Irish workers, finally finished the dam under the auspices of the Holyoke Water Power Co., which had supplanted a bankrupt Hadley company.

When the dam and canal systems were in place, heavy industry, paper manufacturing and silk mills among others, were constructed. Again the Irish had a hand in the construction and also got many of the new jobs that opened up when those industries began.

Once the factories and mills opened, the owners looked around and saw that they needed more help to keep them running.

The mill owners hired an agent, one Jones Davis, who also looked around and found that the nearest "help" would come from Quebec Province in Canada. Davis sent an agent there, especially to Sorel in Quebec, to recruit female labor. The women came for the work and brought their families, parents, brothers and sisters with them.

The first settled area of the city was the old Ward 4, now pretty much the downtown of the city.

The Irish moved into recently constructed "blocks," one of which, "Dillion Block" at Maple and Hampden streets, was a huge edifice that housed many families over the years. In fact, it became known as Dillion's "baby factory" because so many of the city's new citizens were born there.

The churches also came along with the immigrants.

St. Jerome, the "mother church" of Holyoke, on Hampden Street, which still serves a population in the city, was the first "Irish" church built.

When the French-Canadians came, they followed the Irish, first into Ward 4 but more prominently into "the Flats" section or the old Ward 1. An "Irish" church, Rosary, was already built there and gradually the French-Canadians had their own church, Precious Blood, in South Holyoke and later Immaculate Conception in Ward 1.

The Polish immigration began later, in the 1880s and they gradually took over the old Ward 4 from the Irish. Their Church, Mater Dolorosa, opened in the mid-1890s.

Many Germans came in the 19th century. Those who were mill-wrights and the like, took up residences in the old Springdale section of the southern part of the city along the river. Many others, farmers, moved into West Holyoke to operate the dairy and vegetable farms.

Scotsmen came too. They were well schooled in the paper industry and they settled in Holyoke as well.

The Lutheran churches followed in with the Germans, and the Scots brought their denominations with them as well, including the Presbyterian Church.

From the 1920s on, the rate of immigration slowed and as the work in the factories and mills began to ebb away, the immigration rates slowed even more.

During the 1960s, a new ethnic group began to move to Holyoke: the Hispanics, mostly Puerto Ricans, came to this area to work in the tobacco fields and in the various farms surrounding the city.

As the Irish, French-Canadians, Polish and others gradually moved from their neighborhoods, the old blocks became available to the new waves of people coming to the city. Holyoke had the housing stock and the jobs were there in the fields and indeed in some of the factories in the city.

The Hispanic population has grown in the city so that today about one third of the population of 40,000 is Hispanic. Seventy percent of students in city schools are Hispanic.

Recently. Southeast Asians such as Vietnamese and Laotians have also moved to the city, although numbers are smaller than the groups that preceded them.

All this sets the stage for the influx of new people into the city. And, as it was over a century ago, newcomers are bound to come.

"This is a free country and people can go where they want," Mayor Michael J. Sullivan has said.


Mike Burke can be reached at mburke@union-news.com

(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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This article reports on immigration of various ethnic groups to the town of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Holyoke was a planned city and its population grew dramatically after the construction of the dam and canal system in 1849. The town's nickname, The Paper City, comes from the time when there were twenty-five paper mills along the canals. The article comments upon the many nationalities of immigrants that came to Holyoke. It erroneously states that Irish immigration began in the 1840s. There actually were Irish in Holyoke from the beginning. Many of the ones who came in the 1840s were employed building the dam, canals and railroad. Once the canal system was finished, mills and factories were built and created the need for more immigrants to fill the jobs. This time the immigrants were French Canadians. Each decade brought more immigrants from different countries, and each group of immigrants brought their own customs and religions with them. These immigrant groups made Holyoke a diverse community.


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"Immigrant Sweat built Paper City" article from Sunday Republican newspaper

author   Mike Burke
publisher   The Republican Newspaper
date   Sep 29, 2002
location   Springfield, Massachusetts
height   10.25"
width   8.75"
process/materials   printed paper, ink
item type   Periodicals/Newspaper
accession #   #L07.012

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See Also...

Rock Cut on Mountainside, Mt. Tom

"King's Handbook of the United States"

"At Work" photo & "History Finds Irish in Holyoke in 1663" from "Irish Heritage Important to Wmass.. in The Republican newspaper

"Irish Immigration" article from the Greenfield Gazette and Franklin Herald newspaper

"State of Irish Poor" article from in the Greenfield Gazette and Franklin Herald newspaper

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