Holyoke Falcos: A Case Study in Researching US Soccer History

My interest in the story of the Falcos began because I was curious how they became one of the founding teams of the American Soccer League (ASL) in 1921 and why they dropped out after only one season. I knew beforehand that these might be difficult questions to answer but I had no idea how challenging and interesting and ultimately how rewarding the quest would become.

I started the search for the Falcos with Colin Jose’s book on the ASL titled American Soccer League, 1921-1931: The Golden Years of American Soccer. Early on Jose informs the reader that the institutional records of the league have never been found, a fact that makes the research that follows all the more remarkable. The book is less a comprehensive history and more a detailed numerical record of the ASL, with lists of results, records and brief narrative summaries of each season along with selected player biographies. Through meticulous and undoubtedly tedious research Jose has recovered much of the statistical history of the league. Despite this notable achievement, the information on particular teams or players can be inconsistent or missing, especially for lesser known clubs like the Falcos. Most players are listed by last name, as was the newspaper convention at the time, sometimes with a first initial but most often not.  In the section on the Falcos for instance, we find that “J. Downie” was the club’s leading goal scorer during the season, and that “Moodie” played in eighteen games. The entry contains little information about the club beyond the lists of games and names.

Farr Alpaca, the company that originally sponsored the soccer club had long been out of business by the time I began my research but for many decades it had been an important part of Holyoke’s industrial landscape. I hoped that perhaps a corporate archive might exist and that it would contain information on the soccer club. From Frances Cornwall Hutner’s 1951 book The Farr Alpaca Company. A Case Study in Business History I learned that when she conducted her research the company’s archive was housed at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Hutner later characterized the records as being in a great state of disarray when she worked with them. The records came to Smith sometime after the firm ceased to exist in 1940. Presumably, the extensive collection, running to at least 280 linear feet, arrived at the college because of historian Constance Green. An alumna of Smith and later a professor there, she was also married to a Farr Alpaca executive. Green used the records for her groundbreaking book Holyoke Massachusetts. A Case Study of the Industrial Revolution in America.

building front
The American Textile History Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

In the late 1980s, Smith College donated the archive to the Springfield City Library. The library culled some records and sold more to at least two different document dealers. The American Textile History Museum (ATHM) in Lowell, Massachusetts purchased most of the archive in 1987 while the records involving Springfield were moved from the City Library to the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. Eventually the materials that had remained in Springfield were donated to the ATHM in 1996. The archives as held by the museum were incomplete in several ways. Although the company was in business from 1873-1940, the bulk of the records held by the ATHM spanned the period 1874-1918. You’ll note that the best documented years end before the Falcos joined the ASL in 1921. It is possible that some of the missing records were destroyed in a fire as several items in the collection were described as having fire damage. Despite the existence of a large amount of material the crucial items for my research, information related to the company’s soccer team were missing or never existed in the first place. Despite the fact that the company supported a large number of athletic teams, including cricket, bowling and baseball along with soccer, none of the existing company records listed a single item directly related to these activities. In 2016 the ATHM closed and its collections were dispersed to other museums and non-profit institutions. It’s unclear what happened to the Farr Alpaca collection although it likely has gone to the Cornell University Library – yet another step on its long and winding journey.

The Holyoke Falcos around 1921. The photo was likely taken at the club’s Berkshire Street ground. You can almost see what looks to be the grandstand in the upper left of the image. Image: © Laurel O’Donnell 1995 – 2006; http://www.holyokemass.com/quickclicks/qc_006_falcos/

After coming up empty handed in the archives, I turned to newspapers. The main local papers during the period were the Holyoke Daily Transcriptand the Springfield Republican. The Transcript has not been digitized and so I spent hours searching microfilm for stories about the Falcos and the clubs that came before them. At times it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. It also turns out that the Falcos hometown paper provided less coverage of the local side than did the nearby Springfield Republican. The archives of the Republican have been digitized and this made searching much easier and far more efficient. The newspapers provided me with names, dates and other important information that allowed me to tell a more complete version of the Falcos story. I supplemented these sources with materials from the Holyoke Public Library History Room and Archives. The Holyoke City Guides were enormously helpful in tracking information about players including who they worked for and where they lived. It was at the Archives one day that another researcher happened to mention that a vintage soccer photo hung on the walls of a local hardware store and bike shop. Sure enough, the owner of the shop enjoyed collecting historical photographs of the city and had an image of the 1910 Chaloux cup match between Farr Alpaca Football Club and Clan MacLaren. The search for the Falcos took diligence, travel and a bit of luck but eventually I turned my findings into an article called “The Rise and Fall of Professional Soccer in Holyoke Massachusetts, USA” that was eventually published in the British journal Sport History in 2011.

The podcast episode about the Falcos is available here.

Originally posted August 2013; updated May 2018.

Further Reading

Brian D. Bunk, “The Rise and Fall of Professional Soccer in Holyoke Massachusetts, USASport in History 31, no. 3 (Sept. 2011): 283-306.

William F. Hartford, Working People of Holyoke. Class and Ethnicity in a Massachusetts Mill Town, 1850-1960 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1990).

Constance Green,  Holyoke Massachusetts. A Case Study of the Industrial Revolution in America (Archon Books, 1968; reprint 1939).

Spalding’s Official “Soccer” Foot Ball Guide. ed. Thomas W. Cahill (New York: American Sports Publishing Company, 1921)

Sound Clips in this episode from www.freesound.org:

Bagpipes_in_Pitlochery.wav by Darkgot__inchadney
file0006 Water Fall, Mill, Billerica.mp3 by smokeyvw
motorcycle and car.wav by jaava73
Train upon us.wav by markedit
Rain on Plastic Roof.WAV by gynation
Op_Cls_1.WAV by kjackson
jingle-bells.wav by justkiddink
Metal Band Jam 5 Thrash.wav by RutgerMuller
football score.wav by winsx87

The Internationale orchestral arrangement by Jerry Engelbach

 

Leave a Reply