Massachusetts : Safety by City
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Without Holyoke, Massachusetts, we might never have known the sport of volleyball or had so many paper options.
This city is an industrial legend and home to a predominantly Hispanic/Latino population just north of Springfield, Massachusetts.
A series of canals that once fueled the paper mills still runs through the area just west of downtown, known as The Flats.
Once a technological marvel, the Hadley Falls Dam still churns water to this day.
This is actually the second dam, the first having lasted less than six hours before a dam disaster.
While making its mark on the technology and paper production world, Holyoke still had a sporting stride to make.
In 1895, the YMCA director sought a new sport that was more suitable for athletes who couldn’t handle the pace of basketball.
Thus, the Birthplace of Volleyball was born.
When the paper industry died down, those empty mills still had the power and just needed the ingenuity of entrepreneurs to fill the empty warehouses.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the scent of a Yankee Candle, you can thank Holyoke.
Holyoke (“Holy-oak”) offers just a handful of hotels along the busy I-91, with more hotels found on the same interstate south of I-90 in Springfield.
That’s probably for the best, as Holyoke faces some serious safety concerns for residents and visitors.
Warnings & Dangers in Holyoke
OVERALL RISK: MEDIUM
Holyoke consistently makes the list of the most dangerous cities in Massachusetts. Across the board, crime rates are at least twice the national average. We're giving this a medium risk because you could end up in trouble if you don't know where to go and where to avoid. However, Holyoke doesn't hold a candle (pun intended) to some of the more dangerous neighborhoods of Boston.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Holyoke is at the center of the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, with routes going through the city, to Springfield, and throughout the smaller towns on the north, west, and east sides. The southernmost route goes to the Connecticut border. Routes are repeatedly being revamped to make stops safer, but use this as a last resort. Taxis, rideshares, and rental cars are available. The city also has a bikeshare program with other nearby communities.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: MEDIUM
Just 12 pickpockets were reported in 2021, which seems like good news, but there's a higher risk of being robbed than deprived of your valuables by manipulation. Keeping your valuables safe in Holyoke comes with a medium risk.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
While major steps have been taken to improve the safety of the damn, flooding will always be an issue in a city along a river. Nor'easter and hurricane seasons cover all months of the year, with harsh winter weather common and spring bringing a risk of severe thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes. The risk is medium, but all the concerns come with plenty of warnings and safety guides to help you prepare.
MUGGING RISK: MEDIUM
The robbery risk is medium, with a rate over twice the national average. While slightly less than 20% of robberies happen person-to-person, that data is from the end of 2021, and some jarring crimes happened in 2022. Just use exceptional situational awareness to lower your risk, and don't walk around The Flats at night.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
This is a low risk, but America has seen too many Lone Wolf acts of domestic terrorism or hate crimes. In 2020, a Holyoke hospital received a white powder letter prompting an evacuation. It's smart to treat any city with medium risk.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
While most scams reported here involve phishing emails and unsolicited texts, it's important to know the most common scams in America before you visit. Credit card skimmers have been found on Holyoke gas pumps. The Holyoke Police Department (HPD) website has a scam section with bright red lettering SCAM, leading you to the website to learn more about updated risks.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Statistically, women are about 5% more likely to be the victim of a violent crime. The concerns here are situational and in specific hot spots. There are certain parts of town to avoid (more on that later) to lower the risk, but treat Holyoke with a medium risk overall to be safe.
TAP WATER RISK: MEDIUM
I'm going to give this a rare medium risk, but let me explain. First, the water quality report is required by June of each year. A report hasn't been posted online since 2018. We can only hope the actual report was mailed to customers, which is mandatory. Seasonal turnover in water, especially in the fall, can cause discoloration issues which the utility claims are harmless. However, you should follow @HolyokeWaterWorks on Facebook to get updated information about water issues and quality updates in the community.
Safest Places to Visit in Holyoke
ExploreWesternMass.com is the official tourism site of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Holyoke is included, but you can also explore regional attraction options.
ExploreHolyoke.com is a more city-focused guide with places to eat, stay, and visit, along with the 150th-anniversary celebration activities in 2023.
Videos for each year are produced under the heading “A Day in the Yoke.”
Historical guided or self-guided tours are available, and it’s smart to take this tour in a group if you can – just to be safe.
The tour includes 18 stops from the factories on the canal to historic homes in the community.
The Children’s Museum at Holyoke is a safe place for families to explore their imagination.
Different exhibits are geared toward children of different ages, starting at six months old.
The Curve Climber is one of the most popular exhibits, especially if you have kids who like to climb trees.
Between that and the rooftop garden, there are nearly 20 exhibits to explore.
The museum is open throughout the year.
Those are both set on the edge of Holyoke Heritage State Park alongside a downtown canal.
You’ll find the visitor center here, along with a popular merry-go-round.
The Holyoke Merry-Go-Round is ADA-accessible and open year-round since it’s indoors.
Each horse has its own story, which you can read on the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round website.
Tickets are $3.50 per ride of 4 rides for $10 (a $4 savings if you plan to ride it four times).
The International Volleyball Hall of Fame spikes the interest of sports fans, starting with details of how the game was created all the way to the most current Hall of Fame inductees.
This museum is at the same location as the Children’s Museum, though each attraction has its own admission price.
Wistariahurst is a cultural center set in the home of a silk magnate from the 1870s.
Docent-led home and garden tours are scheduled throughout the year, but the center is well-known for its events, concerts, and historical discussions.
Check the website for the upcoming schedule.
El Corazón de Holyoke is a new art display to elicit hope and inclusion in a post-pandemic world.
This is one of several art installations mixed among art galleries in the city.
The tourism department offers a great list of places to visit.
Different art displays honor the mixed races of the community, from Hispanic to Latino to Puerto Rican to African American.
The city has a new Puerto Rican Cultural Area along Main Street between the I-391 underpass and Lyman Street.
While this region is rich with local and state parks, Mount Tom State Reservation is in Holyoke, with sweeping views of the valley.
Each season is a new experience, with summer bringing hikers and anglers out and winter providing an ice rink and cross-country skiing trails.
Keep your eye on the sky for hawks, as they are often seen here.
Holyoke Mall is a traditional American Mall off I-91 near the Springfield city border.
Places to Avoid in Holyoke
Gangs are responsible for most of the crime in Holyoke, but there are certain hot spots for crime police targeted in 2022 and into 2023.
It’s hard to explore some of the safe attractions when you have to drive through dangerous neighborhoods.
Police say the downtown intersection of Appleton and Elm streets is one of the crime hot spots in the city, with nearby Chestnut Street and South Bridge Street in The Flats also making the list.
That first intersection is less than half a mile from the Holyoke Heritage State Park with the museums and merry-go-round.
While one would assume if they aren’t in a gang, they aren’t at risk.
That’s good logic, but gangs are ruthless and relentless.
They don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire or witnesses awful acts during their crime sprees.
For example, a shooting at the Unicorn Bar downtown happened at 9:00 pm in a crowd of people.
One targeted person was shot, and the shooter left right after, but those who watched it happen are undoubtedly traumatized by the experience.
You should avoid The Flats, especially at night, and use caution when visiting the main attractions downtown.
Always drive with windows rolled up and doors locked.
Hotels or inns aren’t located in these areas, so you won’t have to worry about staying in a dangerous part of town.
If you’re visiting here for a trip to Mount Holyoke College, that institution is in South Hadley, a much safer community 10 minutes northwest of Holyoke across the river.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Holyoke
- Holyoke has its own police department and encourages engagement from locals and visitors to help reduce crime. You can report crimes or suspicious activity anonymously by calling (413)533-8477. If you see a crime in progress, dial 911.
- One credit I’ll give HPD is that they posted a 2022 Year-End Report within a week of the new year starting. Being transparent and open about the crimes and demographics of criminal offenses is a smart step toward building trust. You can review that, and a weekly or monthly crime log on the department’s website.
- You can contact HPD with specific questions by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The department has a Facebook page under “Holyoke Police Department” with updated information on crime, safety, and community engagement. They are also on Twitter and Instagram.
- Winter weather will prompt parking bans in Holyoke (and literally every Massachusetts city). Each city has specific rules, with Holyoke opting for even or odd-numbered parking rules. When a snow emergency is declared, you can only park on the odd-numbered side of the street in odd-numbered years. So, 2023 means the side of the street with addresses ending in 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. 2024 visitors will park on the even side with addresses ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, 8. Better yet? Park in a garage and skip all the intricacies.
- 53% of this community is Hispanic/Latino, based on the most recent census, and that means most attraction and government websites offer information in Spanish. This is a great way to avoid using translation apps that don’t always provide the best translation.
- The Holyoke city website has web modules that allow you to ask questions before or during your trip or report an issue while you’re there. Reporting issues like storm damage, potholes, or sidewalk damage can help make Holyoke safer for future guests.
- Do not get into an altercation if someone in Holyoke confronts you. With gangs, drugs, and illegal guns being a problem, you’re likely to worsen the situation. Unless you are directly threatened with a weapon, walk away and call the police as soon as possible. Police will respond to overdose reports and offer potentially lifesaving NARCAN.
- Visit the Be Prepared section of the Holyoke city website to sign up for emergency notifications. You need to stay abreast of approaching severe or winter weather and know about road closures or major crime scenes blocking off intersections.
- Sign up for Nixle alerts to get updated information about crimes happening in the community that might impact traffic or access to certain parts of town. I worked in local newsrooms for years, and Nixle was valuable. You’ll get the information as the local media get it, so you have faster information than a local news app.
- It’s not uncommon to see a black bear in Holyoke, and I don’t mean just the parks and wilderness areas. Nearly 5,000 bears live in Western Massachusetts. As long as you leave the bear alone, don’t get close, and don’t feed it, you have nothing to worry about and might even make the local news with a snapshot. Review the Massachusetts Wildlife Department’s Black Bear Safety section to learn the best practices for avoiding and handling face-to-face interactions with bears.
So... How Safe Is Holyoke Really?
Holyoke is a great multicultural community with an incredible amount of history.
It’s just a shame that gangs and drug dealers are causing so many issues.
According to police data, 75 percent of violent crimes and 90 percent of drug-related crimes in Chicopee and Holyoke are gang-related.
In Holyoke and Chicopee combined, there are 10 street gangs and 300 gang members.
Even if you don’t see the police, they could still be patrolling.
“We have one unmarked cruiser.
This way, we have a better chance of pulling up on activity going on, and this way, the officers are out in the street in these most critical areas,” Holyoke Police Captain Matthew Moriarty said.
On the plus side, in 2022, several news reports show dozens of offenders arrested in crime crackdowns and multi-jurisdictional initiatives.
Many American cities are dealing with an Opioid Crisis that includes drugs laced with fentanyl being unknowingly sold to people who are addicted.
This increases overdoses and related deaths.
The latest trends include prescription drugs, like Xanax, being sold illegally and laced with a potentially deadly dose of Fentanyl.
Living in Holyoke is much riskier than visiting there.
- Violent crime rates are 2.4 times higher than the national average.
- 17% of violent crimes happen against strangers.
- 19% of robberies are against random people on the street.
- While theft reports are twice the national average, the Holyoke crime data shows that rate has been cut in half since 2013.
Even though the city has fewer than 40,000 residents, use the same safety steps as if you were on the south side of Boston.
The risk of being a crime victim would most likely be tied to a random act of violence, not tourists being specifically targeted.
Nearby Springfield is only slightly statistically safer than Holyoke.
If you’re interested in one of the safer communities in this region, check out our article “How Safe is Amherst for Travel?”
How Does Holyoke Compare?
|New York City||67|
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)||60|
- Visas - The U.S. State Department requires all international guests to have a Visa or Visa Waiver, plus a passport that doesn't expire within six months. The visa process faced major backlogs from 2020-2022, but new steps are being taken to speed up tourist visas. Regardless, start the process early.
- Currency - If you exchange currency in your home country at your bank, you'll pay lower fees to exchange currency. The U.S. Dollar is the only currency accepted here, even in such a diverse community. You should avoid carrying cash with you as much as possible, and don't use public ATMs. Credit cards offer the best fraud protection.
- Weather - Four distinct seasons are found in Central Mass, and you should prepare for the worst of each. That means scorching hot summer weather and bitterly cold and snowy winter weather. Fall and spring can be mild or snowy, so pack layers and check out the 10-day forecast before you start packing. You'll want snow boots or hiking boots, depending on which time of year you visit. Don't forget the bug spray.
- Airports - Bradley International Airport, north of Hartford, Connecticut, is the main commercial airport for the Springfield, Massachusetts, region. That's about 30 minutes away from Holyoke. If you're flying in and out of Boston, plan for at least 90 minutes on the road.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance will cost 5-10% of the total trip cost, but it also covers expenses and emergencies that could cost a lot more in the long run. Buy insurance as soon as possible since the policy goes into effect immediately. That means a full refund if you have an emergency or illness that forces you to cancel the trip.
Holyoke Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Massachusetts - Safety by City