December 3, 2010

Friday Holyoke Fix: Holyoke Canal Tour 2010

**Until next Spring/Summer - when our Friday weekly farm share starts up again - Holyoke Home is posting images/stories/events happening in our fair city.** 

Holyoke (as we know it) was built in the second half of the 19th century next to a 60 foot drop in the Connecticut River to power INDUSTRY.  Some of the ingredients that once made Holyoke a bustling, rich city - renewable water power, a dense urban core, and GORGEOUS mill buildings - remain. In fact, approximately 50% of Holyoke's electricity comes from renewable energy via hydro electric generators at the Holyoke Dam and along our 4 mile, 3 level canal system.

Twice a year, the canals are drained for maintenance. I was lucky enough to join a group of folks inspecting two operating water wheels at Open Square
For a more technical explanation of the water wheels, visit last year's tour of Holyoke's canals here.

Open Square is a complex of seven historic mill buildings (685,000 square feet). Upstairs, there are 50 businesses in gorgeous, gorgeous office/retail/artist space (<-highly recommend clicking this link. Come back, okay?) But the basement? The basement has that original industrial mill feeling.

That's one of the two water wheels in the background of the image above, and the wheel's governor in the foreground.
Coming out into the light from under a water wheel.
Life is everywhere. Inspecting a non-operating tail race, we opened a door and discovered this nest. Our completely uneducated guess? Seagull babies.
I wasn't the only one with a camera that day. If you have any questions about Holyoke's canal system, leave a comment and I'll answer it!


  1. I love how your town has preserved its heritage, and wish my town would have done the same. What is Holyoke's industry now?

  2. Awwwww! To finding life everywhere!! :-) Thanks for the deeper water knowledge of my fair city!

  3. I am a total sucker for this grungy industrial look. You think I can pack up my napsack, hop a couple of trains to Holyoke, and move in to that basement? I will even care for the seagulls!

    follow our foster:

  4. Wow what wonderful history! I'm loving the beautiful pictures. Especially the tunnel one.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm glad you liked it! I've actually been following yours for a while now but I guess I never posted. *blush* We're going to be gutting our bathrooms next year so I've been following your progress. Oh and I love your What Was Morgan Thinking posts! He has such a funny personality it reminds me of our own rescue, Sophie.

  5. Wow, beautiful!!! I love the seagull babies

  6. It's wonderful to see a Holyoke and its residents placing value of preservation and adaptive reuse. I had high hopes for other projects in the Valley when I lived in Northampton in the mid 1990's but was repeatedly disappointed. Perhaps it was not yet the time. Fingers crossed.

  7. Gorgeous. If I was to have a studio, I'd want it in an old industrial building just like Square One. The basement is really nice too! Oh, and the baby gulls looked so calm while you were there. What a great thing to see.

  8. Hi there,

    Thanks for the interesting look at the inner workings of the Holyoke canal system. I am currently doing an architectural school project and the site is between canal 1 and 2 on Appleton Street. I would love to get my hands on some information that locates all of the raceways in the canal system. I would be grateful if you could point me to someplace or someone that could provide that information.


  9. Hi Norman! LOTS of places you can go:
    1. HG&E walk in to their office at 99 Suffolk St. or call them for info
    2. Wistariahurst Museum Holyoke Archives. Call Wistariahurst ( and ask to speak to our city historian, Penni. SHE ROCKS!
    3. The system diagram should be somewhere on file with FERC as part of the permitting process. Search FERC hydro licenses online.

    Good luck!

  10. How deep are each of the canals? I've seen some depths on wiki but i'm not sure they're accurate.


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