Dam of Holyoke Water Power Company

Dam of Holyoke Water Power Company
Length, 1,019 Feet; Whole Fall, 60 Feet
Capacity of Stream, 30,000 Horse-Powers


Among the natural resources of any section, unfailing water-power has always held high rank. Mines may cease to yield, and other sources of natural wealth may be exhausted, but the flow of the river to the sea is constant, and its daily contribution of power and resulting value to the world, may be exacted forever. And when a great water-power, like that of Holyoke is made available, yielding its vast total of thirty thousand horse powers, greater than the water-power of Lowell and Lawrence combined, and greater than the energy of man has ever utilized elsewhere, the possible addition to the industrial forces and capital of the country becomes an interesting study for the manufacturer and the man of business; and gives to the place where such a force is turned to use, unmistakable promise of a growth, great in proportion to the vastness of the power employed, and permanent as the force that has brought it about.

The project of constructing a dam on the Great Rapids, which should withstand the powerful current of the Connecticut River and afford motive power for a new city of mills and shops, was so gigantic, and the capital to be invested was so large for those days, that the undertaking was famous from its inception, and still ranks among the foremost manufacturing enterprises of the world. The great volume of the water at this point, the rapid fall of sixty feet, the rocky ledge underlying the stream, and flanked by walls of solid stone, whereon to locate the dam, the convenient site for the canals and mills, encircled on three sides by the graceful sweep, and steady, unfailing flow of the "Long River," as the Indians called it, rising three hundred miles to the northward among the hills of northern New Hampshire and the mountains of the Canada border, and fed by a water-shed of great area and largely covered with forests, had long attracted the attention of capitalists; but the undertaking was so vast and costly, that if we except the building of a little mill, with its small wing-dam, in 1831, nothing was done to develop the water-power we describe until 1847. In the summer of that year, the volume of water flowing in the river at low water mark was carefully gauged and found to be six thousand cubic feet per second, the equivalent of thirty thousand horse-powers, or four hundred and fifty mill-powers To the daring and far-sighted men who were planning the enterprise, these figures, which have since been verified by the test of time, were the earnest of success, and the certain assurance of forthcoming capital which would seek investment here; for the statistics of American manufactures showed that in the long run, an average population of five thousand would follow the use of one thousand horse-powers in cotton manufactures, and than an equal average would result from an equal use of power in miscellaneous industries. These facts were the sufficient inducement for undertaking the great work which money and engineering skill were to accomplish in the future.

In 1848. Thomas H. Perkins, George W. Lyman and Edmund Dwight were incorporated by an act of legislature as the Hadley Falls Company, "for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a dam across Connecticut River, and one or more locks and canals, and of creating a water-power, to be used, etc., with a capital stock of $4,000,000. To carry out the extensive plans without hindrance, eleven hundred acres of land were purchased, and the great enterprise was fairly launched.

While canals and mills, streets and dwellings were pushed forward to satisfactory completion, the dam, which had been meanwhile constructed, gave way, when tested, and another was forthwith commenced, and completed the following year. Like other costly experiments which, in failing show the way to final success, the failure of the first dam revealed the full magnitude of the engineering problem to be solved, and enabled the company to construct a dam which has withstood the floods and ice of the mighty river for twenty-eight years and in its present form bids fair to endure for centuries.

This great structure, about one-fifth of a mile in length, is flanked by abutments of massive masonry, and may be described in detail as the dam and the apron which now appears in front of it. The former has a base of ninety feet, and rises thirty feet above the original level of the river. It contains four million feet of sawn timber of large dimensions, all of which is submerged and so ensured against decay. A mass of concrete and gravel protects the foot of the dam, and the upper portion is covered to the thickness of eighteen inches with solid timber, while the crest is protected its entire length with sheets of heavy boiler iron. The dam was completed October 22, 1849; and as the river ceased its flow over the rapids and rose against the ponderous barrier, thousands watched the gathering flood with eager interest, and when the slowly rising waters reached the crest, and fell in one broad sheet to the rocky bed below, it was a time of genuine triumph for the engineers who planned the successful structure, and the capitalists who built it.

In 1868, the gradual wearing away of the rocky bed blow, the dam by the constant action of the falling sheet of water, decided the Holyoke Water Power Company, which had meanwhile succeeded to all the rights and property of the Hadley Falls Company, to commence construction of the apron which now forms the front of the original work, an undertaking second only to the building of the great dam itself, in magnitude and cost.

The new portion was even more massive in character than the old, and was built into the latter so as to form with it, one solid structure of timber and stone. The work was completed in 1870 at a cost of $263,000, and, by making the further wearing of the foundation impossible, establishes the durability and permanence of the dam beyond all future question.

All the masonry of the abutments, bulkhead and the waste-weir immediately below, is of heavy ashlar work, built on the solid ledge and massive enough to withstand the great pressure to which it is subjected. The bulkhead, one hundred and forty feet long and forty-six feet wide is surmounted by the extensive gate-house, the interior of which is shown in one of the following views.

The system of canals is laid out on a grand scale, commensurate with the volume of water to be distributed. Twelve huge gates, each fifteen feet long by nine feet, wide and weighing more than four tons, and two others of half that width and eleven feet in length, all operated by a water-wheel in the abutment which actuates the powerful gate machinery, admit the water to the upper level canal. This main artery of the system, starting With a width of one hundred and forty feet, and a water depth of twenty-two feet, extends eastward past the great waste-weir about a thousand feet and then sweeps southward in a right line for a distance of more than one mile to supply the upper tier of mills, gradually lessening at the rate of one foot in every hundred.

To trace the still longer course of the second level canal, we begin at its southerly end, opposite the terminus of the grand reach of the upper level, and follow it northerly for a mile and more, parallel with the first described canal, and four hundred feet easterly from it, this portion serving as a raceway for the upper level, and also as a canal for the supply of mills below; and thence we follow it easterly and southerly for a mile and a quarter more, at a distance of about four hundred feet from the river, this marginal portion of the second level affording mill-sites along its whole length, from which the water used passes directly into the river. For two thousand feet, this canal has a width of one hundred and forty feet, and thence the sides gradually converge to a width of one hundred feet, which is continued to either end, the average depth of water being fifteen feet. These two canals, extending in broad, parallel water-courses, through the central portion of the city, and spanned by iron bridges from any one of which the eye takes in the whole long stretch of water, makes a unique and pleasant feature of the place.

The third level canal, one hundred feet wide and ten feet deep, is also a marginal canal, with mill-sites along its entire length, and, beginning at the southerly end of the second level, extends thirty-five hundred and fifty feet to the other terminus of the same canal, thus making with the latter, a line of marginal canals, around and near the whole water front of the city. The mills on the upper level have a head and fall of twenty feet, and the difference between the second and third levels is twelve feet, while that between the marginal canals and the river varies from twenty-three to twenty-eight feet. The upper level canal throughout its entire length and large portions of the others are walled with substantial stone work to the height of three feet above water level.

Three overfalls of cut granite with suitable waste-gates allow the water to pass directly from each canal to the next lower, independently of the supply derived from the mills above. To maintain a uniform head in each of these canals, watchmen are constantly on duty, whose sole business it is to regulate the inflow from the river, and the outflow at the several waste-weirs and overfalls, and so effective are the means employed, and so thoroughly is the system carried out, that the height of water in either canal is not allowed during the day or night to vary one inch from the established water level at any moment in the year. Whether the mills are running or idle, the long lines of canal are always full to the prescribed gauge-mark, a constant quantity in time of winter floods and summer droughts alike, making a pleasant and profitable contrast in the experience of the manufacturers who have removed hither from the water powers which fluctuate between abundance and scarcity.

It should be stated that gates in the bulkhead at the northerly end of the dam admit the water to another canal which supplies the important mills on the South Hadley side of the river.

Such is a brief description of the great dam and canals by which the whole volume of the Connecticut River is made to serve the manifold purposes of human industry. Everywhere in these constructions appear a breadth of plan, a massive thoroughness of execution and a completeness of finish, unparalleled in the, history of manufacturing enterprises on either continent. It is not an easy matter to describe in words the scope of these p]and or the great works which have been executed under them, but if the reader, assisted by the illustrations here given, shall be enabled to appreciate the advantages of this location for manufacturing purposes and to gain a general idea of the vast system of improvements commenced here by master minds in 1848, and continued by the Holyoke Water Power Company to the present day, the object of this sketch will have been accomplished.

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