The Library The opening in 1870 of a town library with some 2,500 books available for the 300 subscribers made possible wider reading, but reading for pleasure was considered unworthy. If good books were not furnished for the young, they might read novels and sensational newspapers! In 1897, the Holyoke Water Power Company contributed land for a new library, on the condition that the building’s funds were raised within three years. William Whiting of Whiting Paper Company, William Skinner of William Skinner & Son’s Silk Manufacturing, and J.P. Morgan, whose family originally came from the area that is now Holyoke each donated $10,000. The rest of the $96,000 was raised by Holyoke citizens. The library was built in 1902 in a Classical Revival design donated by local architect James Clough, who always felt that this was one of the finest buildings. He chose the Greek Temple idea to symbolize a tower of learning, and adhered to the theme consistently in
his design, from the massive Ionic columns and tiled roof, to the smallest interior details. The entire building is of Indiana limestone and white brick, extravagant materials compared with the local red brick or Mount Tom granite common in many of the city’s buildings.
Skinner Coffee House There were over 20 clubs and organizations associated with the Skinner Coffee House, a local settlement house founded by Katharine and Belle Skinner, for young women who worked in the mills. Along with providing entertainment through pageants and musical revues, organizations created a community through regularly scheduled meetings and luncheons. Many girls joined the same clubs years after their mothers’ involvement, indicating stability of the organization and strong family and ethnic ties. Clubs included: Women’s Club, French-American Club, Association for the Blind, Italian Women’s Club, Homemakers Club, Negro Women’s Club, Polish Women’s Club, Children’s Dramatic Club, Junior Reading Group, Polish Folk Dance Group, Children’s Glee Club, Ukrainian Women’s Club, Quilt Club and the Dancing Club.
The Dynamiters Club was a Saturday night gathering before World War I on the top floor of the Alden Press building on Maple Street. Topics of meetings centered on the political and economic problems of the day. A moderator presided over each meeting. Eventually, this club evolved into the Holyoke Labor College.
In 1951, Barbara Bernard, who was influenced by research done at Mount Holyoke College on the social implications of the aging population, started the Golden Agers Club. The club was to meet the needs of an aging population and provided inexpensive entertainment and a sense of togetherness with others in a similar social and economic class. Activities included a choir, bowling, sewing, knitting and bridge.
Nueva Esperanza, a community development corporation, hosts a variety of educational and after school programs for youth and young adults, including YouthBuild Holyoke and El Arco Iris. Enlace de Familias is an organization that provides assistance with family resources and aids in the improvement of the community and family life.
Nuestras Raices, a local farm founded in 1992 by members of La Finquita community garden in South Holyoke, was created for immersion in Puerto Rican culture. Urban agriculture has proven to be an effective way to promote community development because it is a way for the Latino residents of Holyoke, most who grew up on the farms of rural Puerto Rico, to maintain a connection to their culture while putting down roots in their new home.
Benefit Associations Many clubs in Holyoke were based on ethnicity. Quebecois brought with them institutions from French Canada, including the St. Jean Baptiste Society (1808), the Union of St. Joseph (1880), Union Canadienne (1881) and Cercle Rochambeau (1900). These societies provided mutual insurance benefits and promoted national, ethnic and religious interests which changed as the French community in Holyoke grew more acclimated to its new home.
Italians in Holyoke started the La Progressiva Club, The Italian Progressive Society (1900) and the Sons of Italy (1926). The later was part of an international group that raised money for local youth scholarships and to help persons of Italian descent throughout the world.
The Kocziusczko club, organized in 1893 by the first Polish immigrants in Holyoke, created was a mutual benefit association to help members during times of illness and death. It transformed into a social club and then took shape as an incorporation, which produced Holyoke’s Polish Home, the Kosciuszkco Building, to house the numerous Polish societies and clubs in Holyoke.
Germans cultivated interest in music, and on several occasions German societies gave concerts and hosted festivals. Among the mutual benefit societies founded by national groups in Holyoke, the German Benevolent Society, established in the 1860s, were perhaps the most active and powerful.
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), organized by Protestant church members in 1885, brought young men under moral and religious influences, aided them in the selection of suitable boarding, places of employment and offered an evening school to immigrant boys who had to work during the day.
The Holyoke Auxiliary of the Children’s Aid Society would come to the aid of neglected or abused children. They were often found giving money, clothes, personal help or assurance at the same time they found foster homes.
Holyoke’s branch of the Salvation Army began in 1894 at 328 Main Street. They gave help to the homeless, provided centers for housing, meals, wholesome surroundings, honest sympathy and understanding. They also provided for the youth and helped work with courts and prisons.