A Brief History of Holyoke:

19th Century Irish Immigrants


A project created by the students of Providence Hospital's Acute Residential Treatment program -- Holyoke, Massachusetts.

Before beginning, I'd like to recognize the Wistariahurst Museum and the Holyoke History Room as two outstanding resources. We never dreamed the two sites would contain such a wealth of information.  Without their materials and assistance, our understanding of Holyoke's history would certainly be diminished.

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 Holyoke, Massachusetts, was the first planned industrial city in America. Today we see only remnants of the "Paper City", as it was once called. But for the better part of a century Holyoke was prosperous and very well known throughout the country. Much of its success was due to the hard work of several immigrant groups. This website recognizes the thousands of Irish immigrants who settled in Ireland Parish, the name of the village that would one day become the city of Holyoke. Holyoke would not have become the great city it did without their sweat and determination and commitment to making Holyoke their new home.  

Holyoke also would not have become a prosperous city during the Industrial Revolution without the Connecticut River. One historian, Edwin Bacon, referred to it as "the Mississippi of New England".  The 400-mile river was and still is that important to New England. Throughout the 19th century the Connecticut River was used to transport goods north and south because it was so much cheaper than transporting by land. The only problem was the 50-foot drop where it passed through South Hadley.  Cargo had to be unloaded, transported by wagon, and then reloaded to get around the Great Falls. Eventually locks were built to alleviate this terrible inconvenience. 

There was a benefit to the 50-foot drop, however. Businessmen in Boston saw an opportunity to build an industrial city in Ireland Parish. They envisioned harnessing the power of the Connecticut River which would be possible because of the drop. They would need a dam to be built, along with several canals. Many factories could be built up and down the canals. This huge undertaking was possible because of the many immigrants available for work.  The Irish were the largest cultural group in the surrounding area. They were hired to build the dam, and they did so by hand. Then they dug out 3 canals, also by hand. Once the factories were up and running, their hands were used to create the products of the mills.