Ghosts & Phoenix Doors – #ThursdayDoors

The main entrance to Parsons Hall. I’m not sure what the hall was, but now it’s an “experimental art space.”

Like the mythical bird who rises from his own ashes, Holyoke appears to be a city undergoing a rebirth, or at least making the attempt. In the meantime, the canal walk directs visitors past an array of old mill buildings. The buildings are shuttered and sad, but I think it’s a good story, I see reasons to be optimistic.

First, the canals themselves seem to be in good shape. That’s important, because I can only imagine the expense involved in restoring them. About fifty years ago, when they restored the canal walls in Lowell, MA, that had to recruit retired stone masons to direct a younger team of workers in techniques that are no longer in use. The projects were multi-year and multi-million-dollar endeavors.

Second, as I mentioned in the other posts this week, the dam across the Connecticut River is also in good shape.

Third, though the buildings look sad with their doors and windows filled in, that’s actually a very good sign. This means the buildings are protected from the elements, and it means people can’t get inside. A small textile mill in nearby Somers, CT burned after a group of 20-yr-olds broke in for entertainment. A very large mill complex in Worchester, MA burned after it had been occupied by numerous homeless people. Residents and firefighters were both loss in fighting that blaze.

There are signs of some businesses working out of the old mills. Hopefully, in time, the buildings will be transformed into homes for light industry and perhaps residences.

The collection in the gallery is offered in conjunction with Thursday Doors, a weekly blog fest where people from around the world gather at Norm Frampton’s blog to view and share images and stories of doors. If you want to join the festivities, head up to Norm’s place.


73 comments

  1. Dan, I love the fact that there seems to be nascent and unseen little cells of industry going on. It’s almost a hidden yeastlike thing that may eventually enable the industrial loaf to rise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a slow process, Don, but I think they will eventually succeed. They are starting with a great setting, and they appear to have taken the first step of preserving what they have. So many cities let the building rot, and then find that they are too expensive to repurpose, or they burn.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Amazing photos, Dan. Because of your posts, I can’t look at doors the same anymore — particularly those that have fallen into disrepair or are abandoned for whatever reasons. Your photos of the red doors, across from the second canal, are extraordinary. 👌

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The first doors are fantastic, especially the hardware! The last building is a work of art with incredible brick and stonework. It appears to be in fine shape too. Then there’s the building with graffiti! It makes me happy that at least some of these old proud structures might get a second chance to shine.
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you, Ginger. The notion that these buildings might live to serve a few more generations makes me vary happy. When you look at the buildings, you can see the pride of the people who built them. The only thing that makes me sad are the random, haphazard “additions” that have been put in place.

      We have a mill like this that was repurposed into apartments in our town, and it’s been a success. Our building wasn’t even as nice looking as most of these.

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  4. There is something about these photos that harken back to another place and time, yet they feel so urban and today. The doors are beautiful, especially in place in such a commercial venue. It is interesting and somewhat sad thinking about the loss of trades and expertise. Even my cousin (an epidemiologist) was called out of retirement because of the pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true, Maggie, walking around the canals and looking at these buildings made me think about the time when the water in those canals was literally driving the economic life of a city. Trades evolve over time, I understand that, but it’s sad to think that we can’t build or rebuild the wonderful buildings of our past. I worry that, at some point, we won’t be able to repair them. I noticed that, once again, states were looking for programmers who could modify 30-40-yr-old COBOL code to change the unemployment systems. Fortunately, that was one language I chose never to learn.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Making high quality paper for over 100 years. Chances are very good that at some point in your life (maybe childhood) you held a piece of paper or a card made in those mills. It’s interesting for me to imagine that.

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  5. It’s fascinating how much difference location. If those buildings were in my area, they would be snatched up immediately and converted into loft-style condos. I’ve often dreamed of living in building like these, with all kinds of quirky details and charm that the concrete and steel modern structures just can’t match.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Holyoke is trying to attract high tech industry. They are marketing the green hydro power and the aesthetics of this area. Its an uphill climb. They have to bring in / create the technology infrastructure. There is also art space in some of the buildings now. The sad part of the eventual conversion might be the loss of that space. A mill building in our town had artists and a furniture shop for many years. The building was sod to a developer who turned it into apartments, but we lost all the small businesses.

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  6. Even with the most innocent of intentions squatters and trespassers can do a lot of damage. We’ve lost a few historically significant abandoned art-deco buildings here under similar circumstances.
    As for the doors, of course my vote is for those red ones with the gorgeous detailed overhead ironwork…what a beauty that one is.
    Another fun informative post Dan. Here’s to hoping the redevelopment can continue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It would be a shame to lose these buildings, Norm. Individually, they are interesting, but collectively, they were part of a system. The fruition of a very ambitious plan by men who had a vision.

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  7. I’m a real fan of mills kind of like I am of old barns. I hope they breathe life into them and down the road they are bustling places again. It reminded me maybe I should take a stroll downtown in my little town because we have a couple that have been rehabbed and are retail, office, and apartments.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Dan – the walk must be so interesting now … especially if one can find out a little more about the history of the buildings and put a little more social history into the walk. But in a few years the walk will be very different – for the better as the decades move on. Wonderful doors, windows, openings and facades … and good to know the canals were restored and reinforced 50 years ago. Holyoke looks a delightful place to visit … take care – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Like you, I love it when heritage buildings have a rebirth. While they are often utilitarian looking on the exterior, they keep us anchored to our history. I hope in the years to come, these spaces will have been restored and repurposed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sad that there is a loss of life connected to the story. Those red doors and black ironwork are gorgeous. I can appreciate the work involved in clearing old canals and waterways. There has been a volunteer movement to restore old waterways here in Ireland since the ’70’s with some taking more than twenty years to flow freely again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is very difficult to rebuild the canals, Jean. We just don’t have people who know how to how this work is done. I hope we can all find ways to preserve some of this important history.

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  11. That first set of doors (on the building across from the second canal) are so interesting. That orange/red color is different, for starters, and those baroque black accents really stand out. Good pics, Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love the first set of doors. They have a sort of gothic feel and are perfect for Fall. I love all the brick and stone. The buildings do look like they have “good bones” and hopefully one day they’ll find a new purpose and the area will thrive and be prosperous for the people and town.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am optimistic that they can turn this area around. In better years, they draw a lot of people to guided tours of the canal walk, and capacity crowds to the days they drain the canals for maintenance and dredging.

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