Use this search box to find articles that have run in our newspapers over the last several years.

NEH grant helps 'create' Holyoke for new generations

By Courtney Llewellyn

Reminder Assistant Editor

HOLYOKE Last Monday, Mayor Michael Sullivan and City Historian Kate Thibodeau announced that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) awarded the city a grant of $399,950 for the development of a city-wide exhibit and heritage tourism plan called "Creating Holyoke."

With the money from the grant and $97,072 from in-kind services already committed, only $195,948 needs to be raised to finish the project for a total budget of $692,970.

"The concept of a city-wide exhibit focusing on Holyoke's immigrant history began with a group of leaders from non-profit cultural organizations called Passport Holyoke," Thibodeau, who also serves as a curator at Wistariahurst, said. "In recognition that several important factors make Holyoke's history unique and an ideal setting for a large scale exhibit and programming, Wistariahurst Museum, Enchanted Circle Theater, Holyoke Heritage State Park, the Children's Museum and the Holyoke History Room at the Holyoke Public Library applied for and secured a National Endowment for the Humanities Consultation Grant for $10,000 in March 2006. We received that grant and began planning."

In March 2007, the NEH awarded a planning grant for $44,900 so work could continue on "Creating Holyoke." Blackbird Design Inc. of South Hadley was chosen during this time as the firm to design plans for permanent exhibits at three locations in the city as well as walking and driving exhibit panels.

The three permanent displays will be at Wistariahurst, Holyoke Heritage State Park and the Children's Museum. "'Creating Holyoke' exhibits will engage visitors on both the shared experiences and the differences that make up the mosaic of today's Holyoke, which include descendants of immigrant groups hailing from Ireland, French Canada, Germany, Poland, Italy and most recently migrants from Puerto Rico," Thibodeau stated. "The permanent exhibits explore the urban and industrial history of Holyoke through the voices and stories of her immigrants and migrants."

The exhibit at Holyoke Heritage State Park, to be called "Opportunity and Industry," will explore the industries that made the city famous, like paper and textiles as well as current industries such as plastics and rubber, according to Thibodeau.

"Family Life" will be the focus of the exhibit at the Children's Museum. It will identify the changing experiences of immigrant families over the course of 160 years by displaying family artifacts.

The exhibit at Wistariahurst Museum will be about "Recreation and Cultural Life," which will be housed in the museum's carriage house. It will display the recreational life of those who worked and lived in Holyoke as well as how different socio-economic classes used their leisure time.

"For years, Wistariahurst has focused on the history of the Skinner family, silk barons of the United States," Thibodeau told Reminder Publications. "Over the past several years, we have been providing quality programming on Holyoke's history of immigrants and migrants. With the strong support of Mayor Sullivan and the City Council, we have been able to expand our programming and focus outside of the Skinner family."

In addition to the exhibits and the walking/driving panels to be set up around the city, the "Creating Holyoke" Institute will provide a five-day professional development program for teachers for incorporating historically sound research methods and creative interpretation techniques for classroom use, according to Thibodeau. The "Creating Holyoke" project will include a Web site with a comprehensive, central repository that will include photographs, documents, oral histories, video and DVD interviews and curriculum plans.

NEH panelists have commented that "Creating Holyoke" is "a model for collaboration of museums within one city and a model for interpreting urban history." Thibodeau agreed.

"I think Holyoke tells a unique story," she said. "Once considered the Paper Capital of the World, and home to premier cotton and silk mills, the history of Holyoke, Massachusetts, offers a microcosm of American industrial development. However, by the mid-twentieth century, Holyoke, like so many American cities, found its industrial base rapidly disappearing. In the 1960s the most recent wave of people began re-creating Holyoke. These new migrants shared much with their immigrant predecessors: primarily rural, Catholic and non-English speaking, they too sought to build better lives for themselves and their families. But the economic opportunities made possible by plentiful factory labor were no longer available. Holyoke, like scores of American cities, faced an uncertain future in the post-industrial era.

"Our goal with 'Creating Holyoke' is to explore the historical complexity of the American Dream particularly as material conditions changed over time. With one foot in America and one foot in their homeland, immigrants and migrants to Holyoke tenuously balanced their old customs with their new values. All exhibits emphasize that while immigrants and migrants were being shaped by their new lives in Holyoke, they were active agents in changing the opportunities and cultural life of the city. This, to me, is the essence of Holyoke," she continued. "It is Holyoke's unique story that can be a draw to people through heritage tourism."

"It is exciting to see what great things Wistariahurst and partners like Passport Holyoke do for the city of Holyoke," Sullivan said in a release.

For more information about "Creating Holyoke," contact Thibodeau at Wistariahurst Museum at 322-5660 or