Water Street in Holyoke has looked the same since about 1875, that is until this spring. With very little fanfare or effort by preservationists several Victorian paper mills are succumbing to the wrecking ball. The mills are dying a slow and prolonged death as salvage men pick them bare for anything valuable. Soon weeds and brush will consume the lots. By next year for the first time since President Grant, the street will be nearly devoid of structures.
Today was Labor Day, and I met my photographer friends Robert and Gene. We went down to the mills to shoot what we could. We were having a productive time shooting until chased away by workers. I can not speak to their photographic vision, but to me this is not “Old Building Porn,” as some have called it. Yes, it is morbid curiosity to photograph these buildings, but all too often we forget these buildings used to be alive.
They once whirled and clacked with the sounds of machinery. Young girls stood amongst rags bleaching them and running machines that mashed the rags into pulp. Men ran the machinery turning cotton pulp into fine writing papers. Hundreds crossed a foot bridge across the canal every day and worked harder than most 21st century people can imagine. Filled with machinery and people, these buildings were truly alive.
It was the the 60’s and 70’s when these buildings started to die their slow deaths. The machinery fell silent one mill at a time. Some of them struggled on as warehouse spaces. They survived the massive fires of the late 70’s. Other small industries came and went, occasionally filling them with life once again… It was never the same. They eventually sat abandon, neglected, almost all memories of their life erased. Decay took its toll and a long processes of demolishing by neglect began. They sat there like American ruins. Towers adorning them like castles, awaiting their rescue. It never came.
I will make sure to have images up from the shoot sooner than later. I also hope to go back and find the construction foreman so I don’t get chased away again. You can see some photos of Water Street from about 2001-2006 in my portfolios on the website.