Historical Lecture Series at Wistariahurst Museum: Made in the Happy Valley
Made in the Happy Valley
A Historical Lecture Series at Wistariahurst Museum
The Pioneer Valley is home to an abundance of artists, writers, craftsmen, artisans, and tradesmen of all types – a fact that has long been true about the area. Ever since the first European settlers made their home in the Valley hundreds of years ago, the presence of a wide variety of craftsmen and artisans within the community has helped to shape local culture. Creativity – and its expression – is significant in the Pioneer Valley today, and has been throughout its history.
This late winter and spring, families have an opportunity to learn about many things locally handmade (past and present!) thanks to the Wistariahurst Museum’s 2014 Spring Historical Lecture Series, Made in the Happy Valley. Held on Monday evenings at 6pm (beginning on February 24th) in the museum’s Carriage House, the lectures will offer useful information and local history surrounding everything from letterpress printing to the Holyoke merry-go-round, custom footwear to child labor in milltowns.
The first event in the series, titled Life of a Mill Hand, will focus on an Irish family living in Holyoke during the Civil War… Information shared in the presentation will draw upon genealogical records and other primary sources to paint an accurate portrait of the family, whose lives were centered around (and dependent upon) jobs within Holyoke’s mills. Once New England’s paper manufacturing hub, Holyoke’s many mills employed large numbers of immigrants – many of them Irish – under poor working conditions and even worse living conditions. The city’s industrial history is an important part of the history of the Pioneer Valley as a whole, as the paper industry drew thousands of immigrants to the area.
Other topics presented throughout the series include the forgotten potash industry of the 18th century, Deerfield’s transformation from early settlement to arts and crafts mecca, letterpress printing and the Hitchcock Press, early American master potters, and present day handcrafted pieces such as precious metal clay jewelry, custom shoes, unique and beautifully bound books, and corn brooms. Attending any or all of these lectures provides older and self-directed students the opportunity to learn about specific parts of the Pioneer Valley’s history and culture, both past and present. Learning about local history provides context for the broad concepts that students learn about national and international history, and can help them to understand how changes on a large scale (such as war, shifts in government, mass emigration or immigration, etc.) affect communities on a small scale.
Additionally, many of the topics introduced in the series connect easily to studies in other disciplines. For example, a lecture on Irish workers in Holyoke’s paper mills might spark students to examine the engineering behind the city’s canal system that helped to power the mills, a study that might lead to a look at the environmental impact that the mills had upon the nearby Connecticut River. To bolster an interest of either of these topics, try David Macauley’s PBS documentary, Mill Times , or read up on the Robert E. Barrett Fishway.
For more information about the series, contact the Wistariahurst Museum at 413-322-5660. Admission to each lecture is $7. The Wistariahurst Museum is located at 238 Cabot Street in Holyoke,