Restoration in Holyoke

Before trolleys and trains (let alone cars), communities were built within walking distance of where the jobs were.  This meant that traditional communities were mixed-income, with rich and poor living within walking distance of each other, if not on the same block.  It also meant that industries that required extraordinary numbers of workers required nearby housing with extremely high densities (and before modern steel and concrete).  In Holyoke, Massachusetts, the Connecticut River plunges 57 feet and led to the world’s largest concentration of water-powered mills.  At the time, this required a dense assemblage of SIX story “walk-up” apartments within an easy walk of the mills, and the large population that was housed supported a wide range of shops and services.


Mixed-use main street in Holyoke MA.

Holyoke’s historic main street.

Historic Walk-Up Apartments in Holyoke MA.

5-story walk-up apartments near factories.


As milling declined, so did the role of these walk-up apartments and many were torn down.  Barrack-style public housing was put up to house those left unemployed by industrial decline.  Ten blocks in the pre-War neighborhood were assembled into a superblock where front doors with no street address faced open spaces with no purpose.   In 2000, The Community Builders and local partners acquired federal “Hope VI” funding and implemented Churchill Neighborhood, the masterplan for which was  designed by the author while a Principal at Calthorpe Associates.


Churchill site plan / master plan in Holyoke MA.

Churchill Neighborhood after redevelopment.

Churchill Neighborhood prior conditions, Holoke MA.

Public housing superblock before redevelopment.


One notable aspect of this masterplan is the mixing of four housing types to meet different housing needs and create a visually interesting mixed-income neighborhood.  Each type was used to its advantage, with townhouses shaping a small park, larger triplexes mediating the scale of the historic walk-ups, and single-family homes transitioning with the surrounding neighborhood.


Neo-traditional townhouses face toward surrounding streets in Churchill Neighborhood in Holyoke.

Porch-front townhouses under construction.

Churchill Neighborhood, Holyoke, under construction.

New triplex mediates scale of historic walkups.

One Response to Restoration in Holyoke

  1. Chuck Lynch says:

    I knew Holyoke was a former mill-town but I didn’t know that it had been “the world’s largest concentration of water-powered mills”. Our family lived “uptown” which was known as the “highlands” so I wasn’t too familiar with the mill area. I’d be very interested in the approximate address of the Churchill neighborhood so I can see it when I’m visiting my sister who still lives in Holyoke. Thanks for posting that info.

    Taecker replies: Google Holyoke and you’ll get several sites on its history. I’m happy to report that the character and form of the Churchill neighborhood worked out as envisioned. For location, Interstate-391 becomes Resnick, which is the eastern edge of the project between Elm and Beech. Thanks for your interest.

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