Holyoke, MA (HLK)
Rising to prominence in the mid-19th century, Holyoke gained the moniker "Paper City" from the more than 25 paper mills that produced envelopes, newsprint, book and writing stock.
74 Main Street
Holyoke, MA 01041
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2021): 630
- Facility Ownership: City of Holyoke
- Parking Lot Ownership: City of Holyoke
- Platform Ownership: City of Holyoke
- Track Ownership: MassDOT
Amtrak service to Holyoke began on August 27, 2015, when the southbound Vermonter made its first scheduled stop. Located at the crossing of Dwight and Main Streets—an area historically known as Depot Square for its railroad associations—the $4.3 million station facility is within easy walking distance of the city’s commercial and governmental core. A Pioneer Valley Transit Authority bus route also serves the Main Street corridor.
Designed by Michael Baker Jr., Inc., it consists of a concrete platform with tactile edging. An angled canopy protects passengers from inclement weather. Station design was funded through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities grant while construction costs were covered by a MassWorks Infrastructure grant. One block to the north of the new station stands the historic 1885 depot that has not been used for passenger rail service since the 1960s.
The addition of Holyoke to the Amtrak national network was made possible by the rehabilitation of the Connecticut River Line that parallels the famed river for 49 miles between Springfield and Northfield, located just south of the border with Vermont. The Amtrak Montrealer (Washington-Montreal) used these tracks from 1972-1987, but later shifted its path eastward due to deteriorating track conditions. At that time, a stop in Northampton was eliminated from the timetable and Amherst added in its place. In spring 1995, the overnight Montrealer was replaced by the state-supported, daytime Vermonter (Washington-St. Albans, Vt).
Upgrades to the rail line, owned by Pan Am Southern Railroad, were made possible through approximately $73 million granted under the Federal Railroad Administration’s High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program and $40 million in state funds. In late summer 2014, the state announced its intention to purchase the railroad. Work included crosstie replacement, installation of continuously welded rail for a smoother ride, surfacing and alignment of track and improvements to signal and communications systems and switches. The state, regional planning organizations and Amtrak believe the project will ultimately produce a reduction in overall travel time for the Vermonter of approximately 25 minutes and improve on-time performance for the train.
Situated at a large bend in the Connecticut River and at the foot of Mt. Tom, Holyoke rose to prominence in the mid-19th century as the United States industrialized. When Europeans first explored the area in the early 17thcentury, they encountered groups of American Indians belonging to the Algonquian language family, including the Agawams and Nonotocks. The Holyoke area was known for a series of falls in the river and a popular fishery abundant with salmon and shad.
A small agricultural community formed and by the late 18th century was known as Ireland Parish after an Irish family that had settled in the vicinity. As in many self-sustaining frontier villages, grist and saw mills were established to provide for local needs. In 1831, a cotton mill was built to take advantage of the water power at the falls, an indication of the development to come.
At Ireland Parish, the river fell approximately 60 feet in one and a half miles, creating what were known as the Great Rapids or South Hadley Falls. As the Industrial Revolution spread into western Massachusetts, entrepreneurs eyed the falls, whose water power, if controlled, could be harnessed to drive water wheels and generators. In the mid-1840s, George C. Ewing, a sales representative for a scale company, recognized the potential of the area for manufacturing. With the backing of his employer, he quietly purchased land on the western side of the river. Soon thereafter, the property was sold to a group of investors from the Boston area that formed the Hadley Falls Company.
Their intention, quickly announced, was to establish an industrial community around the falls by building a dam across the river and channeling the water into a series of canals. The first wood dam went into operation in November 1848, but within six hours it was swept away by the river’s force due to inadequate engineering. Not long after, construction began on a second structure that served until 1900, when the current stone dam was completed. It withstood the great ice jam of 1936, during which a mile-long floe more than 1,000 feet wide and 30 feet deep passed over the dam before continuing downstream.
The dam was designed to direct water into a series of canals along which parcels were sold for industrial purposes. Over four decades, laborers using picks and shovels dug three canals totaling more than 4.5 miles in length. The waterways supported a variety of businesses that manufactured textiles, paper, lumber, metal wire, silk, cutlery and other goods. In time, Holyoke became famous for its paper—more than 25 paper mills produced writing stock, envelopes, newsprint, manila and book stock—earning it the moniker of “Paper City of the World.”
Factories and abundant jobs became a magnet for immigrants representing many nations. They established communities in the growing city that centered on places of worship and social clubs. Irish immigrants were heavily involved in building the dam and canals and were followed by French Canadians, German textile workers, Italians, Poles and the Portuguese.
Shipping raw materials to the mills and goods out to markets across New England, and eventually the world, was essential to Holyoke’s success as an industrial center. Rail links proved vital and were provided by two companies: the Connecticut River Railroad (CNRR) and the Holyoke and Westfield Railroad.
The former was created in 1845 through the merger of two lines intended to run along the river between Springfield and Greenfield. In 1845 the portion linking Springfield and Northampton opened, and in late 1846 it reached its original terminus. The CNRR was extended further north into Vermont three years later and remained independent until 1893 when it was leased to the Boston and Maine Railroad. Subsequently, it served as an important path for traffic between Montreal and New York City. The Holyoke and Westfield Railroad was created by the city in the 1860s to provide a competitor to the CNRR and connected Holyoke with Westfield to the southwest. From there, goods could connect to the New Haven and Boston & Albany railroads.
In 1885, the CNRR opened a new $100,000 depot in Holyoke at the intersection of Lyman and Canal Streets. It replaced an earlier wooden structure built two blocks to the south in the late 1840s after the railroad first built through the area. The original depot, which featured board and batten walls and a simple gabled roof, accommodated both passenger and freight functions. Nearby was the Holyoke House, which opened in 1850 and became one of the city’s premier hostelries; a portion of the building still stands.
The new depot was designed by the famed Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who had shot to national prominence in 1877 upon the consecration of Trinity Church on Boston’s Copley Square. The ecclesiastical building displayed many hallmarks of the architect’s personal design aesthetic, which was characterized by squat, compact buildings usually constructed with unfinished stone in dark red, tan, brown and gray hues. The asymmetrical compositions were often pierced by deep-set, round arches reminiscent of Medieval Romanesque structures found in Europe; polychrome decoration was also a common feature.
The Holyoke depot is built of rock-faced, gray granite random ashlar. Dark rock-faced Longmeadow brownstone is used for accents, such as the coping, trim around windows and doors and the beltcourses that wrap around the structure. The latter emphasize the building’s horizontality, which along with the stone construction creates a sense of strength and solidity. Round arch windows dominate the facades of the cross gables along with horizontal bands of rectangular windows, thereby allowing generous natural light to enter the full height interior. A generous canopy wrapped around the exterior to shelter passengers.
Inside, the center was occupied by the general waiting room and a small ticket office that included a projecting rounded bay that allowed the depot master unobstructed views up and down the tracks. One side of the depot contained a telegraph office and separate waiting room for women and children, while the other end held an “emigrant’s room” and baggage storage, both of which could only be accessed from the outside. According to historical accounts, recent immigrants to the city were vaccinated against smallpox at the depot. Over the years, the depot was a central gathering point for the immigrant communities that occupied adjacent neighborhoods.
Following the end of passenger rail service by the Boston & Maine Railroad to Holyoke in early 1967, the station was altered to serve as a commercial space. In 2009, a city agency purchased the building, and the community is now considering various options for its revitalization and that of the larger Depot Square area.
In addition to the depot, other signs of Holyoke’s economic success were evident. The city sported an opera house, numerous shops and a new Gothic Revival style city hall whose soaring tower remains a landmark. Across the river in South Hadley, the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary had continued to grow since its founding in 1837. Established by Mary Lyon, the school provided women with a higher education curriculum equivalent to those at men’s colleges such as Harvard and Yale. Candidates had to be at least 17 and pass entrance exams to prove they were prepared for the coursework.
Mount Holyoke College now offers more than 50 majors and interdisciplinary programs and attracts women from around the world. Graduates include poet Emily Dickinson, who grew up in nearby Amherst, Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to a presidential cabinet and Ella Tambussi Grasso, the first woman governor elected in her own right. Today this portion of the Connecticut River Valley is known as the “Knowledge Corridor” for the 29 colleges and universities that call it home and attract more than 150,000 students.
Although many of Holyoke’s original industries have long since faded or moved to other parts of the country, the city is still home to businesses in the printing, publishing, electrical machinery and plastics fields. Historic mill buildings have been transformed into homes for new high-technology enterprises and other businesses seeking office space.
Visitors can trace the city’s rich industrial past through exhibits at Holyoke Heritage State Park, which borders the First Level Canal and includes a children’s museum and historic merry-go-round. The city is also known for a variety of annual festivals, including a St. Patrick’s Day parade that attracts upwards of 400,000 spectators with its beautiful floats, bands and celebrities. Those more interested in a quiet retreat head for Mount Tom State Reservation north of town. In the shadow of the beautiful mountain are 22 miles of hiking and walking trails, fishing opportunities and picnicking spots. It’s also one of the most popular spots from which to observe hawks in New England.
Service between Greenfield, Mass., Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn., is financed primarily through funds made available by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The Vermonter is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Platform with Shelter
- ATM not available
- No elevator
- No payphones
- No Quik-Trak kiosks
- No Restrooms
- Unaccompanied child travel not allowed
- No vending machines
- No WiFi
- Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to departure
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- No bag storage
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- No payphones
- Accessible platform
- No accessible restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Same-day, accessible parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight, accessible parking is available; fees may apply
- High platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift