by Laurel O'Donnell
Sometimes I attended school in Holyoke and other times I did not, depending upon where my father, a career military man, was stationed.
My very first school experience was in Holyoke during the 1955-56 school year, when I was enrolled in Kindergarten at the Elmwood School.
The Elmwood School was located at 541 South Street, and to be honest my early childhood memories bring forth nothing to mind. I cannot recall the name of my teacher nor any of my classmates, only that it was a scary experience, a feeling most kindergartners must share.
I have the following photograph to remember this first year of school and nothing more, for other than my own image, no others are recognizable. Maybe you know some people from this photo or perhaps you are in it yourself. Let me know and I will identify them on this page (many are likely in the class of 1968)!
Elmwood School, Kindergarten, 1955-56
After this 1955-6 school year, my family moved away and years later, in January of 1969, I found myself facing the Elmwood School again in another capacity. After the old high school building had unexpectedly burned, the former Elmwood School was now being used as classroom space for Holyoke Community College.
Here I found myself coincidentally attending classes in the very same building I had experienced my first encounter with formal education. It was a strange feeling. I looked in many of the rooms seeking a sign that might tell me it had been my kindergarten classroom, without success. It was a school for college students now.
This time, however, there are many memories to fall back up as the educational experience included making many friends, some of whom I remain in contact with even now. The Elmwood building was brick and full of beautiful wooden accents. It was a building that was bright and interesting, full of angles and areas to explore, especially in the now-converted basement which seemed like catacombs at times with its odd nooks. The building now offered social science classes such as psychology, philosophy, and sociology; history, government and there were art rooms were in the basement. There were some "temporary" walls placed in rooms on an upper floor, providing some faculty office space, and how well I remember a painted mural on one of them, a grotesque head with a hand growing out of the skull. Full of symbolism and executed beautifully, it had been painted by a friend of mine named Maureen Brennan who was, I believe, from Ludlow. I can remember trudging up the stairs occasionally to have a look at it, making a mental note to photograph it some day, knowing it would be painted over or even removed at some future time.
Unfortunately, as Dr. Samuel Johnson wrote "Hell is paved with good intentions." I do not recall the date when the building came down, but it did, of course. My father was there to document it, but I had missed an opportunity to preserve a memory visually and could not bear to see the building destroyed.
Demolition of the Elmwood School, 541 South Street
Photograph by James R. Smith, Jr., all rights reserved.
© Laurel O'Donnell 1995 - 2006, all rights reserved
This document may be downloaded for personal non-commercial use only
and should not be reproduced or distributed without permission.