Hidden History – Whip City (Westfield, MA)

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Date Of Visits: January 25, 2019

Locations: Westfield, MA

Summary: The first and once leading manufacturer of whips in the United States, Westfield, MA, still retains the title of “whip city.”

As a new feature to my blog I am featuring a monthly historical account of one New England city, town or area.  But, my goal is to not focus on the obvious or well known historical aspects of certain areas.  Nor do I necessarily want to focus on the historically famous cities and towns in New England.  Rather, I am going to bring lesser known historical accounts of certain areas in New England.  Every area in New England has a hidden history and I hope these posts help to bring some light to these hidden pasts.

Whip City Music, Whip City Brew, Whip City Candle Company.  Why do so many places and shops in Westfield, MA have “whip city” in their name?

The short is because it is “whip city.”

Back in the horse and buggy days of the early 1900s (shortly before my birth), Westfield, MA, was the leading center of the buggy whip industry.  However, as automobiles became more affordable and accessible, the whip industry declined and many of the whip businesses closed shop.  Interestingly, the first car that was built in the United States (it was really a horse drawn buggy with a 4 HP, single cylinder gasoline engine) made its first run on public roads on September 21, 1893 in neighboring Springfield, MA.

The “whip city” brand still lives on.  Dozens of businesses from a siding and window installing company to a travel agency share the “whip city” name.  And the whip industry isn’t exactly dead.  Not yet at least.

People can still have whips made for whatever your purpose at Westfield Whip. The last remaining whip company in Westfield, MA, Westfield Whip was established in 1884.  Located at 360 Elm St, it is very easy to drive by the building and not notice its historical importance.  It may seem like any other old building in a city of old buildings.  But, it has a long history of industry and commerce in the city.  In fact it is such an important piece of history that it was placed on the National List of Historic Places on October 17, 1985.  The Westfield River runs along the side of the whip manufacturing building.  It was shuttered when I went to visit it Friday and it is only open by appointment only.

In 1872, Henry Martin Van Duesen formed his first partnership in Southfield and moved his business to Westfield in 1880 making it the first whip manufacturer in what would later be designated “whip city.”  Van Duesen began his career in the whip industry as a whip braider at the age of 11.  The building which once stood as the first whip building manufacturer was changed by Duesen to a factory to the production of lawn swings in 1925.  Stanley Hardware bought the factory in 1936 .  Now, it functions as an apartment building located at 42 Arnold St.  But it still retained the name of Van Duesen.

I did gain access to the front desk area and the friendly office worker allowed me to take a photo of the inside of the office area.  Just looking at the brick interior and the structure of the room you can see how it once certainly could have been used to manufacture goods.

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Author: New England Nomad

Hi I'm Wayne. Welcome to my blog. I am a true New Englander through and through. I love everything about New England. I especially love discovering new places in New England and sharing my experiences with everyone. I tend to focus on the more unique and lesser known places and things in New England on my blog. Oh yeah, and I love dogs. I always try to include at least one dog in each of my blog posts. I discovered my love of photography a couple of years ago. I know, I got a late start. Now, I photograph anything that seems out of the ordinary, interesting, beautiful and/or unique. And I have noticed how every person, place or thing I photograph has a story behind it or him or her. I don't just photograph things or people or animals. I try to get their background, history or as much information as possible to give the subject more context and meaning. It's interesting how one simple photograph can evoke so much. I am currently using a Nikon D3200 "beginner's camera." Even though there are better cameras on the market, and I will upgrade some time, I love how it functions (usually) and it has served me well. The great thing about my blog is you don't have to be from New England, or even like New England to like my blog (although I've never met anyone who doesn't). All you have to like is to see and read about new or interesting places and things. Hopefully, you'll join me on my many adventures in New England!

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