Immaculate Conception Church and Neighborhood

stop 1 – Immaculate Conception Church

Perpetual Help Church started a mission church in the Flats section of Holyoke in 1903.  There were many families from Quebec living in the Ward 1 section of the city that had to walk to attend masses at the Perpetual Help Church.  A one story brick church was built facing Ely Street. The congregation grew very quickly such that by 1905 it became its own parish called Immaculate Conception.  This building last until 2017 until it needed to be taken down.  It ended its life as a church hall since in 1927 the grand Immaculate Conception Church was built facing North Summer Street.  This was a High neo-Gothic church with Weymouth granite veneer.  It was designed by the architect Donat Baribault who designed many church in New England.  This second church lasted until 2006 when roof problem and not enough money for heat caused it to be razed.  The third rendition of the Immaculate Conception Church was constructed in 2008 with interior artifacts from the first two churches.  For example, the pews of the first church were also used in the second and third churches.

stop 2 – Immaculate Conception Rectory

There have only been two rectories used during the history of the Immaculate Conception Church.  The first was a house purchased by the parish for its first pastor Jean-Baptiste Victor Campeau.  This small home face onto Mosher Street at the location of the entrance to the present school parking lot.  In 1908 the present rectory was built in a neo-Classical style.  It was not, however, at its present location but rather at the North Summer Street sidewalk where the second church was built.  How did it ever get to its present location 130 feet away?  That is not known but horses and carriages could have done the job.  It was moved because the second Immaculate Conception Church was to be built right where the rectory was in 1927.

stop 3 – Immaculate Conception School

The first Immaculate Conception School was on North Bridge Street.  This was since 1907 when the North Bridge Street School was purchased from the city.  This school was built in 1894 and looks like the Elmwood School which was built the same year.  In 1916 a fire destroyed the Catholic School and students temporarily had to attend the Perpetual Help School.  By February of 1917 the current Immaculate Conception School was ready.  It was designed by Onesime Nault who also designed the convent.  He was a prolific architect that designed many Catholic schools in New England.  In 1971 Immaculate Conception School and Holy Rosary School joined forces to become the Mary Immaculate School.  The school lasted until 1985 when it finally closed.  Neari School started at this location in 1985 and is still here as a special education private school.

stop 4 – Immaculate Conception Convent

The Immaculate Conception Convent was built in 1925 and was home to the nuns of the order called Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.  They staffed the 15 classroom school until 1979 when the St Joseph nuns took over.  From 1907 to 1925 there was a wooden building at this same location that served as the convent.  This building was moved in 1925 to Albion Street.  The last structure that a church needs is a cemetery.  The Notre Dame Cemetery in South Hadley was built for the use of Perpetual Help members but Immaculate Conception members used it also.

From 1913 to 2013, Immaculate Conception Church was served by priests from the LaSalette Mission of Hartford Connecticut.  To honor these priests and their order a diorama and mural of the Lady of LaSalette was installed in the north transcept.  This 40 foot wide scene depicts the visions of Maximime Giraud and Melanie Calvat They met a seated crying woman in the French Alp village of Lasalette France.  She told them stories of the future.  This was a Marian vision and has been accepted by the Catholic Church as genuine.  All that is left of the display is this outdoor scene that was erected the same time as the diorama in 1930.

Immaculate Conception Church had two rose windows.  The west nave had its window donated by the Skinner Brothers.  The south transcept had also a large rose window.  The bottom row of seven stained glasses was changed in 1956 to honor the 50th anniversary of the parish.  This was the Holyoke Stained Glass.  It depicts scenes of the mills and laborers of Holyoke on six of the panels and Jesus in the center one.  It still exists and is in the altar area of the third church.  The pews, crucifix, baptismal font, and some statues from the original churches are still in this modern church.

Holy Rosary Church

Three blocks up Ely Street is the former Holy Rosary Church.  All that remains of it is the church bell.  The parish was formed in 1886 as an extension of Sacred Heart Church.  By 1888 the basement was finished and pastor Michael Howard served the first masses there.  He died that year and was buried alongside his church.  A convent was built joined to the church and a rectory and school were built along Center Street.  The school was completed in 1903 and was comprised of both an elementary and a high school.  The school started in 1902 and that first year the classes were held in the Lyman Street School.  Both the church and the convent had its own chapel.  Saint Mary’s Home for Young Women was attached to the back of the church.  This was a home for girls and young women from Ireland that had no family in Holyoke.

The high school joined with two other schools in 1963 to form the Holyoke Catholic High School. From 1971 to 1974 Rosary School joined with Immaculate Conception School to form Mary Immaculate School.  Rosary was the middle school and Immaculate Conception was the primary school.  In the spring and summer of 1974 the entire campus of the Holyoke Rosary Church was razed.  The body of Michael  Howard was disinterred and reinterred in the Calvary Cemetery.  The church bell was saved and is still in the Lyman Street School lot.

Irish and French-Canadian lived in the Flats from the 1880s.  The mills in this area were mostly paper mills.  The homes were mostly tenement homes.  Two important features of this area pre-date the immigrants.  The Hadley Falls Workers’ Homes are in six segments along Center, Grover, Canal and Lyman Streets.  Workers on the dam and the canal system lived here starting in 1847.  Later workers from the Hadley Falls Cotton and Thread Mills lived here.  Those mills became Hadley Thread Mill and Lyman Cotton Mill.

The first railroad station was placed in Holyoke on the Connecticut River Railroad.  This was where the third station is now.  It lasted from 1845 to 1885.  In 1885 the Connecticut River Train Station was built along Bowers Street.  It was designed the internationally renowned Henry Hobson Richardson.  The style that is used in this station is called Richardsonian Romanesque.  This station was active until 1965 when passenger service stopped in Holyoke.

The last feature of the Flats to discuss is also about transportation.  The first trolley in Holyoke was in the Flats.  The station was just over the bridge in South Hadley.  The company was called the Holyoke Street Railway Company.  From 1884 to 1891 it was horse drawn and the horses were stabled in South Hadley.  The route ran two miles to Cabot Street.  From 1891 to 1915 the trolleys were housed at a trolley barn along Canal Street and the routes were enlarged greatly and electrified.  From 1915 to the 1987 the barn was on Bridge Street.  In 1937 the electric was taken out and buses were used.  By 1987 PVTA took over all bus routes.

Both Immaculate Conception Church and Holy Rosary Church has had a profound effect on the Flats area of Holyoke.  They served 10s of thousands of immigrants for over a century.