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A Walk on the Mild Side

Manchester History Walk

In November, about 3 dozen history buffs joined town historian Susan Barlow on a short walk in downtown Manchester. We met at town hall and walked by Center Congregational Church, the former Lincoln School (now Lincoln Center), and the former Post Office (now Weiss Center). The Weiss Center is on the Register of National Historic Places. It was built during the Great Depression as a WPA Project.

The walk’s highlight was a tour of the Masonic Lodge, built in 1926 and available for purchase today.

Initially, the Masons met in a different building on this site. A fire damaged the building in 1913, and it was moved to Birch St. That Birch St building is still in use today. Would you happen to know which building it is?

The Masonic Lodge is the oldest fraternal organization in Manchester. It continues to be active, but membership has dwindled over the years. The building is up for sale.

Some Masons are also Shriners. The Masons sponsor Shriners Hospitals and MasonicCare facilities, providing skilled nursing, behavioral health, independent living, assisted living, and hospice care. The international organization spends about $1 billion per year on charity.

Each of the four walls in a Masonic Lodge meeting room is labeled with a direction – north, south, east, and west. The east is the focal point of the lodge, and during meetings, the master sits in the east (which is also sometimes actually east).

The second in command sits in the west, and the third in the south. Members can sit anywhere in the other seats. No one of importance sits in the north. In the room pictured below, however, there is an organ in the north.

The lodge has other interesting architectural features, including stained glass windows and real gold on some wall decorations.

After the tour of the Masonic Lodge, the group crossed the street and talked about Orange Hall and the Washington Social Club. The Orange Lodge was started in 1883 by mill workers who were immigrants from Northern Ireland. The property was purchased for $400 in 1900 and paid off by members contributing 5 cents out of their weekly pay. In 1901, Orange Hall was built for $1200. In 1923, the members wanted a social club, so the building out back was constructed and became the Washington Social Club. The Manchester Bagpipe Band practices upstairs in Orange Hall. At one time, the building had a grocery store downstairs.

On the corner of Main and Center is the gravestone for a building built by the Independent Order of Oddfellows. The building was demolished when the intersection changed from a traffic circle to its current configuration.

The tour concluded with a discussion of the Civil War Statue on the other side of Main St. and the probate court, which used to be the police department with cells in the basement. The cells are still there.

By the way, next year is the 200th anniversary of Manchester.  Since it will be 2023, Susan will lead 23 history walks next year.

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The Sculpture Project

“…other people walked among us…and their greatness maybe wasn’t known right away.”

– Lynn Sottile

Elisabeth Bennet Maquette

 

On August 30, I sat down with Lynn Sottile in her graphic design office above Mulberry Street Pizza to talk about the Sculpture Project. Lynn is excited about the project’s success, whose idea first came to her in 2016 while visiting family in Naperville, IL. She was impressed with the statues along the Naperville Riverwalk. Lynn and a small group of civic-minded residents had been discussing making a permanent contribution to Manchester. The group who had worked on other projects together, like Imagine Main St, included Joyce Hodgson, Tana Parseliti, Susan Barlow, and Eileen Sweeney. Soon after, the Sculpture Project was born.

Each committee member makes a unique, significant contribution to the overall success of the project. Joyce Hodgson-Post ran Imagine Main St for a few years and has talent with social media. She has since married and moved to New Jersey, but she continues to participate. Tana Parseliti was downtown manager and is also excellent with social media. She manages the budget. Eileen Sweeney was a big help in acquiring the fiduciary, the Manchester Historical Society. She is no longer active with the group. Town Historian, Susan Barlow, a proficient researcher, depicts Elizabeth Bennet in the videos found here:

http://www.manchesterhistory.org/MHS3_SculptureProject.html

The Sculpture Project Committee continues to grow. Today, other members include Michele O’Neil, Catherine Wynn, Susan Wright, Claudia Keuhl, Ann Lucente, Donna Fitzgerald, and Ed Burzawa. The concept behind the Sculpture Project was to tell the story of the people from this community. The group considered sculptures for the Cheneys, but their legacy is well established with buildings, artwork, and magnificent homes. 

People were invited to submit names, and each group member did some of their own research. The final list included twenty extraordinary people who had made a unique contribution to Manchester that would stand the test of time. The group set some parameters to narrow the list, including that the person must be deceased. With careful consideration, the decision was made to begin with three people, Joe McCluskey, Elisabeth Bennet, and Emily Cheney Neville.

Over the next three years, the committee raised money, found a sculptor, and erected the first statue of Joe McCluskey. Manchester-born Sculptor Michael Keropian works closely with the group by first creating a miniature clay model called a maquette. Props can be added, the tilt of the head can be changed, the pose can be modified. When all are happy with the maquette, Michael will use it to make the life-size bronze sculpture.

Joe McCluskey was a four-time winner of the Manchester Road Race. He was a 1932 Olympic bronze medalist in the 3000-meter steeplechase. Joe developed his skills jumping over hedges in Manchester while delivering morning and evening editions of local newspapers to Manchester residents. Money for this statue came from donations large and small, including the Manchester Road Race Foundation and the McCluskey family. The statue is located on the road race course across from Highland Park Market. Joe’s eight children, their spouses, his grandchildren, and other family members attended the dedication of the statue in November of 2019.

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Elisabeth Bennet’s maquette has been created, and fundraising is well underway. Elisabeth was a teacher, principal, and supervisor of new teachers who brought art, music, physical exercise and dance, and audiovisual equipment to Manchester’s schools. She was dedicated and self-less, using her own time and money to raise funds for a Steinway piano and school libraries.  In 1913 she led the evacuation of Barnard School before a fire destroyed the building. All 900 students were evacuated safely. 

Props included in the sculpture will begin to tell her story and hopefully arouse the curiosity of adults and children alike. She will be holding an art palette and a music clef, and a hopscotch will lead up to the statue. The Elisabeth Bennet Sculpture will be placed in front of Bennet Academy.

Next up for the Sculpture Project will be 1964 Newbury Award Winner Emily Cheney Neville, author of many books, including It’s Like This, Cat”.

If you would like to make a contribution to the Sculpture Project follow this link:

http://www.manchesterhistory.org/MHS3_SculptureProject.html

A fundraising tour of the David Hayes Sculptor Field in Coventry will be held in the spring of 2022. The tour was initially scheduled for September 25, 2021, but has been postponed due to damage from a tornado.

 

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Cruisin’ on Main is Back

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Cruisin on Main transformed downtown Manchester on Sunday from a typical calm summer morning to a festive sea of people and antique cars. These pictures were taken shortly after 10 a.m., and the event didn’t end until 3:00. The weather was good, and attendance was high as people are feeling more comfortable being maskless in outdoor groups. Will the Manchester Road Race be back too?

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What a Treat!! A Break from COVID-19 Monotony!

Thank you Beller’s Music!!!

Not much has been happening in the Manchester area since the COVID Quarantine started in mid-March. Absent are the MCC Band Shell Concerts, Yard Goats Baseball Games, Senior Center classes, recreational opportunities, and TheaterWorks and LTM productions.

Even with a partial reopening in the state, we have felt the need to continue being cautious about social distancing and wearing a mask. We haven’t visited any indoor dining establishments or attended summer social gatherings.  When we were out for our nightly walk around the block with Esther earlier this week, we were surprised by a sign advertising a concert at Center Memorial Park.

A quick look at the Beller’s Music website revealed this flyer.

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We decided to check it out. Most people arrived wearing masks and kept them on until they were seated safely. There was a big sign letting us know how far apart to sit.

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The weather was perfect. A socially distanced audience, relaxing music, and plenty of shady spots to sit created a joyful, soul-nourishing and much appreciated night out. The five-piece band, Autumn Mode, played selections made famous by Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, and Steely Dan, to name a few.

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We eagerly anticipate attending more Beller’s Music Thursday Night Concerts during this pandemic summer!

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Multi-Use Trails Connect Manchester Neighborhoods (Part 2)

Update with August Pictures – What a difference a few months can make IMGP4897IMGP4879IMGP4925IMGP4875IMGP4914IMGP4916IMGP4891The rejuvenation of Center Springs Park has been a great addition to downtown Manchester. Trails through the park connect downtown Manchester to the Parkade.

 One Sunday morning in April, after a delicious breakfast at Sol de Borinquen Bakery Jr. we took a walk from the bakery up Main St in downtown Manchester through Center Springs Park to Broad St across from the parkade.

View of Main St from table at Sol de Borinquen Bakery Jr
View of Main St from a table at Sol de Borinquen Bakery Jr

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Entrance to Center Springs Park from Lincoln Center Parking Lot

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The sights and sound encountered while walking on city streets is entertaining but it’s a pleasant change of pace to walk on the trails through the park. Thoughtful design in Manchester has created a unique connection between one commercial area and another.

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Center Springs Falls “Second-Best Fishing Place of the Podunks” – History of Manchester, Connecticut, by Mathias Spiess and Percy W. Bidwell, 1924

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Bigelow Brook

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Disc Golf

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Shady Area (when the leaves come out in a month or so)

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Fishing Pier on Pond with Cheney Rail Trail Bridge in the Background

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Looking Back at Center Springs Park

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Parking Lot on Broad St near Parkade

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R.E.A.D. with a Dog @ Mary Cheney Library

Pictures of Caleb, Liana, Rhea, Isabella, and Rose discovering storytime with Coriander (Andy) a R.E.A.D. Certified Golden Retriever​. The program was held at Mary Cheney Library on Wednesday after school.

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Rose reading to Minnie while waiting for Andy to make his appearance.

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Rose shows Andy her Lady Bug Boots while waiting for the story to begin and the others to arrive.

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Sandra Lok reads to Rhea, Andy and Caleb.

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Caleb, Isabella, and Rhea are engrossed in the story while Andy checks to see if anyone else wants to join in the fun.

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Rose asking Liana if she likes the book.

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Suspense is building in the story plot.

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Liana wonders what’s up with Andy.

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Rose and Andy share a quiet moment while Liana, Caleb and Isabella look at pictures in the book.

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Rhea and Andy became fast friends.

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Rose and Liana

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Andy enjoying every minute of the attention.

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Carolyn Chudzik

In a second-floor walk-up, at the upper end of Main Street, Carolyn Chudzik and her good friend Terry Eliason opened a Window Dressing and Slipcover Shop almost 20 years ago.  Working with some 1950’s era Singer Sewing Machines purchased from old garment factories in Fall River, MA, an old Lewis Machine bartered for work completed and a rack from Marlow’s Department Store (remember Marlow’s?) the shop has made drapes, slipcovers, bed skirts and pillows for homes all over the area including two Cheney Mansions.

 

All but one of the machines was manufactured in the 1950s or earlier and according to Carolyn, “The machines are real workhorses without any bells or whistles.”  Carolyn has found a reliable senior repairman who enjoys working on these machines.

The work completed by Carolyn and Terry is truly custom.  During my visit, Carolyn shared some pictures of finished window treatments and slipcovers.  The slipcovered couches looked more like re-upholstered furniture than the slipcovers I imagined.  I have purchased slipcovers at various box stores or online over the years that have to be re-adjusted every time someone sits on them.  Not so with this custom work.  Some of the window treatments have four or five different types of trim blended expertly to create a unique finished product.

One of the shops more creative solutions for people with young children and pets came to the seamstresses from a client.  They use a painter’s drop cloth to make slipcovers for a family room couch.  There may be some imperfections in the fabric but with the deft touch that comes from 20 years of experience on the old workhorse machines, the custom look on all of their projects is striking.  Also, the drop cloths are really durable.

Carolyn and her husband Bill have lived in Manchester since 1980.  They bought a house and raised their three children in town.  Her children attended Nathan Hale, Bennet, and Manchester High School and went on to become a musician, a nurse, and a teacher.

Carolyn actually started the business at home making drapes for friends and acquaintances but the business quickly outgrew the space.  She found this shop within walking distance of home.  Working close to home turned out to be a tremendous advantage over the years as her children became more independent but still occasionally in need of adult supervision.  She recalled one day when one of her children called her at the shop to ask how to turn off the smoke detector.  She was home in 2 minutes.

Carolyn likes being located on Main St and being a part of the downtown Manchester scene.  She has a great view of the sledding hill at Center Memorial Park out her large front windows.  She describes her shop as a studio shop more than a retail place.  The location of the studio on the second floor has curtailed the number of unexpected shoppers, allowing for more time to complete jobs.

In addition to the skill and camaraderie offered by Terry and the great location in downtown Manchester, Carolyn also credits the success of her business to a fantastic landlord, Raheem Shamash.

Carolyn and Terry are not really looking for many new jobs at this time as they ponder retirement.