Chicopee River History

Last Updated: 7/2017
Three Rivers to Red Bridge Dam
Mile 17.9 - Mill Rapids - Now known as Palmer Technology Center.
      Known originally as the Otis Mills, which processed cotton, was originally built in 1872.  After bankrupcy, it became Tambrands for 50 years, producing cotton products of a very different sort namely tampons.  The Tambrands (Otis Company) plant was originally built in 1872.  The great prosperity kept the downtown of Three Rivers, one of four villages in Palmer buzzing. The plant closed for good in 1997 followed by a few years of vacancy where the mill became another symbol of what once was in this blue-collar region.  What caused this is that Procter & Gamble (P&G), Tambrand’s main competitor, purchased the corporation in 1992, ceasing the manufacturing operations, and converting the plant to its technical research and development center, which was eventually shut down in 1996.  Tambrands had $662 million in global sales and just under 50% of the U.S. market. Every box of tampons said "Manufactured in Three Rivers, MA".

Mile 17.0 - Otis Mills Failed Dam Ruin
           A set of stone ruins on the south shore and a high wall of the same stone on the north shore marks the original site of the Otis Company Dam.  There were no other buildings there.
           The Otis Company was a large cotton canvas company located in Three Rivers at the confluence of the Ware & Quaboag Rivers.  In the late 1800's, a series of canals were built at the confluence to provide direct waterpower for their weaving machinery.  When electric motors became available in the early 1900's, an electric generating power dam was proposed.  Construction commenced.  At the same, downstream Ludlow Mills was constructing the Red Bridge dam for their electric needs.  However, water elevations from the Ludlow dam would have flooded the Otis Co. turbine gates.  A lawsuit entailed, but Otis Company lost its claim and had to abandon their partially built dam.  What remains are the four turbine chambers of this power plant on the south side of the Chicopee River.  The dam itself was never completed, however the headwall on the north side of the river was partially erected and still is visible.  A paddler can almost enter the turbine rooms.  It’s an interesting place for a break or a picnic.

Mile 17.4 - Otis Mills Dam Ruins
        This is the relocated dam site of the abandon site failure.  This dam, its four-turbine chambers and brick power plant (similar to the Red Bridge plant) provided electric power up until the late 1930's when the Otis Company went bankrupt.  Massachusetts Electric Company assumed operation of this plant until 1965 when the Army Corps of Engineers removed the dam and power plant and widened the riverbed for flood control purposes.  All that remains is the old foundation of this power plant.  It’s worth a visit.  The richness of Massachusetts history leave these legacy sites.
      (Information on Mills provided by John Sasur Jr., Water Supt., Three Rivers Fire District)

Wallamanumps Falls
Mile 15.3
        Today, in the 21st century, traffic flows between Ludlow and Indian Orchard almost continuously over the Chicopee River.  This easy passage was not so easy in the 18th century. Crossing the river was downright dangerous at times.  Based on the river level, people would ford the river. A ford is a shallow place with good footing where a river or stream may be crossed by wading or even with a horse and wagon.  In summer and especially in fall, the Chicopee river can be very low like most rivers in New England.  Travel between Ludlow and Indian Orchard (Springfield) was easily planned and safe.  In Spring or when there had been a large amount of rain, suddenly everything was different.  To cross the river meant waiting for low water or crossing using some type of boat/raft.  A strong current would often determine if this could be done easily or with a great amount of assistance.
         As time passed, the need for year-round consistent travel became a greater need with a certain urgency mixed in.  You can read the exerpts from historical books below but I will summarize it here.
           In 1776 a highway survey was done and by 1781 a committee had been established.  In 1788 money was granted to build a bridge.  By 1792 the bridge had become a river craft.  In 1794 plans of a bridge were approved with a requirement that bonds would be taken. Eli Putmam chaired the committee and to this day we hear Putt’s Bridge or Put’s Bridge (Putt’s Project includes the dam.)
          The natural falls today is mostly hidden underwater behind a dam that first provided mechanical power to mills.  Apparently early records spoke of the beauty of the falls and the red sandstone that formed its structure.  We believe that it could be restored to its former beauty by the removal of the dam and a coordinated plan to make the shoreline a public park in both Ludlow and Indian Orchard.  The benefits of this plan would result in greater financial prosperity than from the existing dam.

          The following is from History of Western Massachusetts: The counties of Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire. (Volume II, Part III) by Josiah Gilbert Holland.  Published by Samuel Bowles and Company 1855
The Chicopee River forms the Southern boundary of the town (Ludlow), and in its course of three or four miles, presents several excellent water privileges.  The largest of these is at the falls of Wallamanumps.  The water here decends 42 feet in a distance of 100 rods, (1 rod = 5.5 yards = 16.5 feet so 100 rods = 1650 feet) and the falls, with their wild and precipitous banks, form some of the finest scenery on the river.  These places were favorite resorts of the Indians, and the relics of their rude agriculture and savage warfare may be found, almost at any time, in the immediate vicinity.  Just below the falls of Wallamanumps, the river, in its tortuous course, forms a peninsula of a few acres of woodland, elevated about seventy-five feet above the water, the extremity of which has always been known by the name of “Indian Leap.”  The story (entirely legendary) is that a party of Indians, being surprised in this secluded spot, by their enemies, and finding no way of escape, leaped over the precipice, and perished in the foaming stream and among the rocks below.  Here, too, upon this peninsula, is supposed to have been the encampment of the 600 Indians who burnt Springfield, the night succeeding that event, and where those who went after them “found twenty-four fires and some plunder.” [See Outline History – vol. 1, p. 97.]  The abrupt extremity of this strip of land is composed of red sandstone, large quantities of which have been quarried by the Indian Orchard corporations.
The following is from "The History of Ludlow, Massachusetts"  Alfred Noon, Ludlow, Mass Town history committee
Printed by vote of the town by Springfield Printing and Binding Company in 1912
Before the opening of the eighteenth century only the most inexpensive modes of crossing the Chicopee were employed.  It can hardly be presumed that the bridge for which provision is made in the charter was on the Ludlow line.  A memorandum of highway survey bearing the date of 1776 speaks of the north end of a bridge which was probably at Wallamanumps. There were “riding places” or fords at Wallamanumps and where now Collins bridge spans the stream.  As early as 1781 a committee from Ludlow was to meet another from Springfield to see about the construction of a bridge at Wallamanups.  In 1788, 50 pounds (money) was granted for a like purpose in April, and in November a committee on subscriptions was appointed, possibly to secure a better bridge than the town felt able to construct unassisted.  In 1792 the bridge, which must have made pretensions to respectability, had probably become river craft, for the town petitions the county authorities for another.
In 1794 plans, more or less elaborate, were consummated for a structure, which was inspected by a solemn committee in the later autumn.  The conditions of building are worthy of preservation.
Voted that any Person or Persons that will undertake and build called the Wallamanumps Falls, and shall keep the same in good repair, shall receive sixty pounds from the town of Ludlow – Provided that the Person or Persons being so entitled to the said sum of sixty pounds for building the said Bridge shall procure sufficient bonds to the Town Treas in the sum of one hundred and twenty pounds for the return of the same money into the Treas of said Town if the same bridge so built shall not stand the rapidity of the Floods and the Breaking up of the winter, for four years – And also that the same Person or Persons that shall build the same shall be entitled to all the fare or toll allowed by Law from all Persons not being inhabitants of the
Town of Ludlow forever.
Eli Putnam, moderator of the meeting at which this action was taken, evidently considered the vote as a challenge, and proceeded to the erection of the first Putnam’s or Put’s bridge, also, probably, the first toll bridge at that point.

We will continue to search for more historical information and would appreciate any accurate information that we can add.
Senior Center Former Facemate Corporation Mill 

Mile 2.6 - Senior Center River Mills Center
             Located just below the dam at mile 3.0. 
              In 1822, Chicopee would develop with uncharacteristic speed into something quite different in form, function and identity.  Unlinked to the community’s agricultural past, Chicopee’s new identity focused on the power needed to drive industry, specifically textile mills and Skenungonuck Falls (Chicopee Falls) was a valuable source of such power. The balance between land, market and community changed abruptly when the Boston Associates purchased water and property rights along the Chicopee River in Chicopee Falls.
          The mills constructed by the Boston Associates, known as the Chicopee Manufacturing Company were located on the present-day Facemate property and were used for the manufacture of textiles. The Chicopee Manufacturing Company operated from 1823 through 1915 when Johnson and Johnson purchased the property and continued similar production activities. In 1977, the property was purchased by the Facemate Corporation, which produced finished cotton and synthetic cloth products.
              Read more on Mill History by clicking the button below:
City of Chicopee Mill History
           There is more to this location!  Apparently the mill site was abandoned and taken over by the City of Chicopee. The city planned to build a Senior Center and remove the eye sore that remained.  Demolition began and in 2012. When construction workers were demolishing the buildings and cleaning up underground waste in that summer, a total of four unknown buried fuel tanks were discovered and four buildings that had been demolished and buried on site had been found. Workers also encountered infrastructure from the former water power system.  As you can imagine, there were cost overruns and the finding of asbestos, PCBs, and other chemicals.  Read the news article from MASS LIVE by clicking below:
Facemate Corporation Site Clean Up