During the Industrial Revolution, residents of Holyoke had to tolerate the dirty and polluted atmosphere in the mills. During their free time, open parks with green grass and benches were the perfect setting to spend leisure time. Parks and other open recreational areas were creaed for after work and after school activities. For example, the Riverside Park wading pool welcomed thousands of swimmers over the years. Springdale Park was a busy recreational park where even today, pick-up games of baseball entertain players and fans. At the intersection of Park and South Streets was Germania Park, a park created by the first wave of German immigrants to Holyoke.
Sightseeing is fantastic in Holyoke, whether from the Summit House or from Mount Tom, especially when the fall foliage turns.
By 1821, the Holyoke Range had its first shelter—a small cabin—put up through the efforts of a group of citizens from Northampton. From the 1830s and into the '40s the little cabin offered not only shelter but also "refreshments of every kind." Over 150 years, Mount Holyoke attracted famous visitors from both Europe and America. Literary visitors included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Henry James. At the height of its popularity in the second half of the nineteenth century, Swedish opera star Jenny Lind came and christened the region "the Paradise of America." Painters were drawn to paradise, as well. Thomas Cole’s “The Oxbow” is the most famous depiction.
After the turn of the century, the mountain's fame subsided. The hotel suffered a decline with the advent of the automobile, which made many more kinds of travel experiences possible. In 1916, local manufacturer and philanthropist Joseph Skinner bought the Holyoke Range and the hotel. He immediately logged all of the chestnut trees, which were afflicted with disease, replacing them with 51,000 white pines. Skinner improved the hotel and revived the summit railroad, but no amount of sprucing up could recover the renown Mount Holyoke had enjoyed during its heyday. In 1940, Skinner donated the Summit House and 375 acres of land to the state of Massachusetts, creating Joseph Allen Skinner State Park.
During the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the idea of travel for the purpose of enjoying natural scenery made its way to America from the Continent, and increasing numbers of tourists began to wind their way to the top of Mount Holyoke. Next to Niagara Falls, Mount Holyoke was the most popular tourist destination in the country. One of the biggest attractions at Mountain Park for the city folk was the collection of beautiful gardens. There were reflecting pools, arbors and even a "bear cage."
Just one mile away from being able to boat, fish or canoe on the Connecticut River, Mt. Tom Ski Area was host to both skiing in the winter and an alpine slide and water slide in the summer. Skiing was a social as well as physical sport beginning in the 1920s and 1930s. At that time, Mount Tom had six novice trails. In 1962, Mount Tom had several ski lifts, three slopes and one trail. By the end of the decade, they added another trail. In 1973, four more trails were cutting, boosting stats up to 6 slopes and 7 trails. Another chairlift was added before 1980, and when 1987 rolled around, there were 17 trails. A few years after, a T-Bar was replaced with another double chair. Also, there was night skiing and snowmaking on all 15 of the trails at the time of the closing. The mountain closed to skiing in the early 1990s.
Prior to 1962, this park was known as Hampden Park. The Soldier’s Monument, designed by Henry Jackson Ellicott (1847-1901), located in the center of the square was erected July 4, 1876 at the cost of $10,000, honoring the soldier’s from Holyoke who died during the Civil War. According to the 1926 Holyoke Daily Transcript, Holyoke celebrated the dedication of the monument and the laying of the corner stone of the St. Jerome Church at their Centennial on July 4, 1876. They illuminated the downtown area with thousands of Japanese lanterns lit by candles on trees and in gardens. Maple Street, then the court of the town, was transformed into fairyland. At precisely twelve o’clock a company of gunners fired the first salute from a six-pound cannon on Depot Hill when it exploded, killing one man and severely injuring two others.
The Holyoke Water Power Company donated land in 1883 for Pulaski Park. The park was originally named Kerry Park. In 1885, it was renamed Prospect Park for its sweeping views of the Connecticut River and the Holyoke Dam. At the turn of the century, the city hired the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmstead to redesign the park. Subsequently, this area of Holyoke became a predominantly Polish community and in 1939, the park was renamed Pulaski Park in honor of General Count Casimir Pulaski, the Polish hero who fought for the Colonies in the American Revolution. In 2004, Pulaski Park was named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Riverside Park, which had a large wading pool, was located at Joseph Prew’s Riverside Racing Track. In 1905, the city took over the property, the track was removed and the area was renovated. It is now know as Springdale Park.
Mountain Park bridged the gap between the leisure and working class. It was a simple place with gardens, a carousel, roller coaster and a few concessions. Mountain Park in Holyoke, Massachusetts began life in 1894 as a trolley stop for Holyoke Street Railway Company at the halfway point up to Mount Tom. In 1897 the state granted the Holyoke Street Railway Company a charter for a "pleasure resort." That year the theater was enclosed, with seating for 2,500 people. It mainly presented light opera. In 1909 they added a dance hall, a restaurant and a small German carousel. In 1929, Pellissier took ownership of the park. He expanded the midway with a new roller coaster (initially called The Wildcat), a carousel (housed in what used to be the dance pavilion), an Airplane Ride, Midget Auto Cars, Whip, Penny Arcade, Shooting Gallery and other amusements. A new automobile entrance was created off of Route 5. But Pellissier's timing was unfortunate: that year the Great Depression took hold. Even so, Mountain Park remained open for over twenty years under the leadership of Pellissier until the Collins family purchased it in 1952. That began the park's renaissance. Many immigrants saved up their money and took the trolley to Mountain Park.