The Holyoke History Walk: A Virtual Tour of the City

The Holyoke History Walk: A Virtual Tour of the City

“Holyoke, Massachusetts is marked as one of the first planned industrial cities famed for its paper manufacturing,” writes Penni Martorell, City Historian. “The City’s rich past is reflected in its architecture: remnants of the paper mills topped with wrought iron widow’s walks; the stunning City Hall, buffeted on all sides by stained glass windows; and the central train depot, originally designed by H.H. Richardson. The Holyoke History Walk was created to engage the public with the history of the city through their direct geographic interaction with its architecture, monuments, and historic landscapes while at the same time utilizing historical collections and materials present in the city’s archival records.”

Have you ever walked, biked, or driven through downtown Holyoke and wondered about the history of the city’s numerous old buildings?  Each empty mill, towering church, and brick rowhouse tells a story of the city’s past.  An exploration of Holyoke’s history reveals a rich, diverse, and complicated history.  Visitors to Holyoke can now learn about the city’s history themselves – from home or while exploring the city’s streets thanks to the Wistariahurst Museum!

The Museum has recently added a gigantic community resource to its repertoire- the Holyoke History Walk, available on the museum’s website, offering a comparative look at the city and many of its streets and buildings as they once were (up to 125 years ago).

“A collection of historic maps from the Holyoke History Room were digitized and stitched together to form a single map. The map was then sliced into tiles and geo-referenced for use as a layer in Google Maps. Overlaid atop the map are approximately 100 buildings, monuments, civic structures, and street views. These images were re-photographed from the same vantage point in the summer of 2012.”

The program (created by UMass intern, Jonathan Haeber) uses Google Maps, and provides a map – created by piecing together numerous maps from the museum’s archives – of Holyoke past, layered above a map of Holyoke present.  Scattered across the map are over 100 of the city’s landmarks – churches, civic buildings, prominent businesses, and views across the canal, from hilltops, and down various streets in the busiest parts of town.

The old photos are shown next to a current image of the location.  In some cases, the buildings are unrecognizable; in others, entire blocks are boarded up; meanwhile, some others remain relatively unchanged.  Families can use the interactive tour to learn all about local history, and can use what they learn about the city to bring context and deeper understanding to American history and changes in industry, technology, and the American way of life.

“When visitors view the map on their device, they can see where they are in relation to the sites, touch or click the site that interests them, and watch as the 19th century photograph fades into the 2012 photograph of the same location,” writes Penni Martorell, City Historian.

Topics to explore include the industrial revolution, immigration to the United States, the Great Depression, and issues of race, class, and gender throughout the last 100 years (students can pursue this topic to varying degrees depending on maturity and background knowledge).

The history walk is available in both English and Spanish, and can be used via the internet on any computer, smartphone, or tablet.  Check it out at


2 Comments on “The Holyoke History Walk: A Virtual Tour of the City

  1. Stephanie, you could click on the pause button to stop the back-and-forth. The pause button is at the bottom of the image. Seems to work fine.

  2. Interesting to see the difference in an area, from now to then. Unfortunately, the site seems to have problems – for example, the now and then images change, go back and forth, in about a second. Not much use.

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