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The Volleyball Hall of Fame and the Springfield Armory  (Massachusetts)

(Reprint from News: August 6, 2001)

July 26, 2001


I left Ipswich that afternoon and turned west for the first time on this trip, heading to New York to visit my brother Don and his family.  After camping in another state park that night, I made a few more stops in Massachusetts the next day including the towns of -- now get this -- Athol and Belchertown.  While driving through these towns and wondering about their names, I adhered strictly to a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  After chuckling over these names for a while and still grinning over the "fork incident" in Ipswich, I decided that Massachusetts was a pretty amusing place to visit.  


From Athol, I headed south that morning to Holyoke, Massachusetts, an old mill town with a population of about 50,000.  Holyoke was constructed around 1850 at a bend in the Connecticut River on the "Fall Line" (i.e., a waterfall).  A large dam was built here to divert the river water into a series of parallel, stepped canals that were built throughout the city, amidst all the houses and businesses.  Each drop in water level, from one canal to the next, was harnessed to power the textile and paper mills that were constructed here... quite an engineering marvel, really.  


Here's Boston's own James Taylor singing Millworker, a poignant tune about a woman who works in a New England factory.

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Holyoke today though, like so many former mill towns in New England, struggles with unemployment, is filled with empty brick buildings, and is trying to attract new industries.  Nevertheless, I found Holyoke pretty interesting and spent a couple hours here. 


Amazingly enough, not one but two popular sports were invented in this area during the late 1800s.  First, James Naismith invented basketball in nearby Springfield, then a few years later his friend William Morgan invented volleyball in Holyoke.  Volleyball is my favorite sport and I was looking forward to seeing the Volleyball Hall of Fame, which is in downtown Holyoke, but when I got there I was disappointed to learn that it was closed that day.  I walked over to a nearby museum and met a friendly and outgoing caretaker there named Charlie.  After we talked for a while, I told him that I'd been looking forward to visiting the Volleyball Hall of Fame and Charlie replied, "I'll tell you what -- I'll go over and open it up for you if you want to go inside." 


Sure enough, Charlie walked over, opened up the Hall of Fame for me and said, "I'm going back to the museum.  Just let me know when you're done."  So thanks to Charlie, I walked around Holyoke's brand-new Volleyball Hall of Fame for the next half-hour and had the whole building to myself. 


Later that afternoon, I drove to Springfield which is just a few miles away.  Like Holyoke, Springfield is an old manufacturing city that's seen better days, filled with lots of empty brick buildings.  Although I didn't have time to visit the Basketball Hall of Fame there, I did stop by the Springfield Armory.  After producing weapons for nearly 200 years, the Armory was shut down in 1968 and the grounds were converted into, interestingly enough, a Community College.  Part of the Armory, though, is a National Park site and it's a great place to visit if you like guns.  I've never owned a gun and never will, but nonetheless, I thought the Armory was pretty fascinating.  In fact, I could've spent several hours there, but (or I should say, "butt") once again, it was time to hit the road.


I left Springfield that evening and headed west on the Mass Pike (i.e., Massachusetts Turnpike), arriving a few hours later at my brother's house in Manlius, New York, on the outskirts of Syracuse.  I'd spend the next several days in Manlius getting ready for my trip West.



Above left:  A rude town in Massachusetts.

Above center:  Holyoke was developed on a bend in the Connecticut River.  Note the dam in the upper right corner and the series of diversion canals in the lower left corner, each of which provided power to mills throughout the city.  

Above right:  One of the many abandoned mills in Holyoke.



Above left:  My favorite sport, volleyball, was invented in Holyoke during the 1890s.  William Morgan, director of the Holyoke YMCA, wanted to create a sport that was less strenuous than that new sport called "Basketball" invented a few miles away in Springfield by his friend, James Naismith.  Morgan strung a tennis net across the wall... and the rest is history.

Above center:  Thanks to Charlie, I got to see the Volleyball Hall of Fame.

Above right:  Inside the Hall of Fame where I proved once again that white men can't jump.



Above left:  After leaving Holyoke, I drove a few minutes down to Springfield.  I didn't visit the Basketball Hall of Fame but I did stop by the Springfield Armory.  This is probably the only National Park site that has a metal detector at its entrance... not to keep guns out, but to keep the guns IN.

Above center:  The armory is a great place if you like guns.  Millions of armaments have been produced here for every military conflict in American history from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.  I saw enough locks, stocks, and barrels to last a lifetime.

Above right:  A tool manufacturing plant in Massachusetts, where they make 'em the old-fashioned way.  There are lots of "backwater" industrial towns like this throughout New England, many of which are located on waterfalls.  Back in the 1800s, the waterfalls were used, of course, to power the mills.  Today, they make nice photographs.



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