Destination: Holyoke

Article excerpt

Kate Navarra Thibodeau, Destination: Holyoke, Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, MA, 2006.

Holyoke' s history - of a place both grim and colorful - is brought to life with photographs and anecdotes in the new paperback book, Destination: Holyoke, written by Kate Navarra Thibodeau. Thibodeau is the curator of Wistariahurst Museum and created the book, as she describes in its foreward, to share "the stories of the individuals who make up the mosaic of Holyoke. . . "

The mosaic she refers to is the multiculturalism of Holyoke that has shaped the city. Thibodeau traces its history and impact by observing its various representations. By the late 1700s, Holyoke' s earliest inhabitants, Native Americans of the Agawam and Nonotuck tribes, were abandoning their settlements along the Connecticut River as white settlers moved into the area, drawn to the same resources as the Native Americans: rich soil for growing food and quantities of salmon and shad to fish. By the 1840s, something neither group had seen as potential for that site, a group of eager capitalists from the eastern part of Massachusetts did: using water power to run mills. They envisioned a whole city sited there to support their manufacturing.

Thus began Holyoke' s mosaic of ethnicities, as laborers primarily from outside the United States were recruited or drawn to the city. Construction began in 1846 with the building of a dam across the Connecticut River, followed by a series of three canals, with rail access. City streets were built in a grid to accommodate the layout of factories. Residences for workers, such as boarding houses and tenements, were also built. Textile mills were intended to be the dominant industry, but paper production co-existed and later became the primary industry. …