August 2021

Vol. 49, No. 4

Birding the Paper City: Holyoke, Massachusetts

David McLain

Call me Elizur. What do you think of when someone mentions the City of Holyoke? Paper mills, canals, the massive hydroelectric dam and fish lift, the mall, the old ski area and amusement park, ethnic diversity, and Nick’s Nest hot dogs come to mind. Crime, of course. Mount Holyoke College? Nope, that’s in South Hadley, but it does have Holyoke Community College. You might be surprised to know Holyoke is the birthplace of volleyball and home of the Volleyball Hall of Fame. It should also be the rightful birthplace of basketball, according to my friend, the late Clara Gabler, whose father, George, introduced a certain James Naismith to a game of throwing a ball into a peach basket at the Holyoke YMCA six years before Naismith honed the sport (Wheeler 1986). Birds? Probably not. Yet on spring migration counts, I can routinely tally over 100 species, sometimes in the 120s if the timing and weather are favorable.

Holyoke has a rich history of planning and development (Connecticut Valley Historical Society 1881, Wikipedia 2021). First explored by Elizur Holyoke in the 1650s, the settlement of “Ireland Parrish” would take nearly 200 years to become the township of Holyoke in 1850. The town chose its name from the Mount Holyoke Range, which Elizur had named after himself during his 1660 survey of the northern boundary of Springfield, what is now South Hadley. Rolland Thomas flanked Elizur on the west side of the river—the future Holyoke—naming that range Mount Thomas. Elizur’s 1653 survey on the west side resulted in the establishment of Northampton.

Figure 1. Northern Holyoke Overview Map.

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