On Saturday, July 1, Susan Barlow, Town Historian, led a walk around downtown Manchester, explaining the history of some of the churches. Participants met at the town parking lot adjacent to St. James Church.
After learning about Manchester’s earliest (Podunk) and more recent (European) histories and some of the history of St. James Church, we walked past St Mary’s Church to Emmanuel Lutheran.
St Mary’s Church
Gargoyles on the Steeple at St. Mary’s Church
Church Volunteer Valerie Norris met us on the church’s steps and welcomed us inside.
Group photo on the Steps of Emmanuel Lutheran Church
100-year-old Emmanuel Lutheran Church – Dedicated in March of 1923
The first church was built on land donated by the Cheney Family on this spot in 1886 for $3300.
Volunteer Valerie Norris Addresses the Group
Emmanuel Lutheran Church Altar
A Brief Stop in the Cheney Brothers National Historic Landmark District, established in 1978
Sexton Don Wilby Greeted the Group at South United Methodist Church
Quarry Stone for the Church Donated by the Case Brothers
This post briefly overviews the many interesting facts Susan covered during the walk. If you have yet to attend a history walk, I highly recommend it. Susan presents the historical information in an engaging and friendly manner. You will learn about architecture and how Manchester has changed from demolition to preservation. You will understand how different groups and religions discriminated against each other. You will see things for the first time, something you have often walked by and have not seen.
The next walk is on Sunday, September 17, at 1:00, beginning on the front steps of the town hall and continuing into Center Memorial Park.
Here is a link to the booklet describing all of the walks this year: 23 Walks Booklet
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.
“…other people walked among us…and their greatness maybe wasn’t known right away.”
– Lynn Sottile
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:
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.
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:
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.
In November, 50 people (including me) set off from the Fuss & O’Neill office building on Hartford Rd. to enjoy a talk about local history and experience the most recent addition to the Manchester parks on the newly completed southern portion of Cheney Rail Trail.
Map courtesy of Manchester Land Trust: https://manchesterlandtrust.org/R.R.mapbrochure.pdf
The group hiked from Fuss & O’Neill on Hartford Rd. to the start of the new trail behind the Lofts at the Mills Apartments. Then, on the trail, under the Park St bridge and up to Center St where we had to leave the trail briefly to cross Center St. The new railroad trestle over Center St had not been completed at that time. The walk ended at Center Springs Park. We returned along city streets.
Susan Barlow led the hike and provided information about the history of the Cheney Railroad and the surrounding area. The talk came alive with stories of bygone days in Manchester and the use of pictures taken over 100 years ago of the areas we were standing in and walking through.
The first site of historical significance is Old Engine Company Number One. The firehouse located at the corner of Pine St and Hartford Rd was built by the Cheneys and donated to the town.
Next stop on the tour was the Velvet Mill. The Cheneys were interested in hiring skilled workers. Some of the most skilled workers lived in Non-English speaking countries. These workers arrived in Manchester from around the world to work at the Cheney Mills. To overcome language issues, newly hired workers were given a card with a letter and a number on it similar to the V1 painted on the Velvet Mill in the picture. This indicated the correct building and entrance to begin work.
Across the street from the Velvet Mill is the Clocktower Mill. The smokestack in the background is still in pretty good shape so it has been re-purposed as a cell phone tower.
Almost all of the old mill building are now apartments. During the walk we stopped frequently while Susan explained interesting architectural features of the buildings, when they were built, and what was produced in each one.
In addition to the Velvet Mill and Clocktower Mill, there was a Spinning Mill, Ribbon Mills, machine shop, dye house, silk storage vaults and a storage building large enough for a railroad car.
The Cheney Rail Service carried silk and passengers between the north and south ends of Manchester. Large locomotives weren’t needed for these relatively light loads and a smaller engine called a Yard Goat was used. Yard Goat?
The trail begins right near the old railroad yard.
Some of the tracks were in good shape and were kept in place to create a sense of authenticity.
One of the conductors lived in this house overlooking the rail yard right before the Park St. Bridge.
The trail is 2.5 miles long and ends at Farr’s Department Store in the North End of Manchester. The railroad was the shortest line in the United States but had the unique distinction of having more linear feet of tracks in the railroad yard than on the 2.5 mile route.
There are some great views from the bridge overlooking Center Springs Park.
The next free rail trail hike on the Cheney Rail Trail is scheduled for this Sunday at 1:00. This hike will begin at the north end of the trail. The meeting location is 2 Main St. I highly recommend this activity!!!
The annual meeting of the Manchester Historical Society was held on May 3rd at the Manchester Country Club. We enjoyed the meal and pleasant conversation with the other guests at our table. Then Susan Campbell, author, and former Hartford Courant journalist approached the podium and began a personal and heartwarming talk about her childhood, her career, her books, and local and not so local history.
Susan fully engaged the audience with her sense of humor, anecdotes about her life, and opinions. She found common ground with those interested in history by speaking of her love of stories, sentences, facts, and research. Growing up in the south in a “family of storytellers and liars”, she spent her girlhood trying to discern between the two. She also developed a love of reading and spent time at the local library and reading every magazine that came into her house including Time, Newsweek, and Redbook.
In 7th grade, Susan learned from her teacher that the civil war was about slavery. Up until then, she had been told that the “War of Northern Aggression” was about states’ rights. She began to question what she had been taught in school and church. She decided she would have to discover facts for herself and to seek the real story. She could no longer just accept what she was told by her teachers and preachers.
In today’s information age, as we are bombarded with details from a variety of media sources at all times of day, it is even more difficult to discern fact from fiction. Susan said, “This is a time for truth-tellers because if we listen to one another’s honest story then we are bound by our humanity to think of one another as something besides the ‘other'”. She continued, “At some point, we’re going to have to stop and gather around the campfire and reacquaint ourselves with our stories. Truth is all. Truthful stories are everything. The truth will both save us and set us free.”
In becoming a journalist she “was drawn most to people without a voice” and found famous people to be as dull as the preachers she was forced to listen to in those long ago Missouri churches. Too many of the questions she considered asking famous people had been asked and answered already. She was more curious about the people who no one wanted to talk to. Given her upbringing, Susan’s writing became an act of defiance. Her career as a journalist included stops at the Joplin Globe, Wichita Eagle Beacon and finally the Hartford Courant.
Susan wrote for the Hartford Courant for 25 years. In writing about “people with stories to tell but no one to listen” she discovered her own ignorance about various groups of people. This realization delighted her and was the motivation to continue to educate herself. She also gave speeches on journalism and was occasionally questioned by uninformed suburban residents if she really went into “scary old Hartford” to investigate for her stories. Susan declared, “People fed on a steady diet of crime and aberrations from a particular location will start to believe that those aberrations are the norm.” However, despite many years of work in all of Hartford’s neighborhoods she only had something stolen from her in Glastonbury.
Encouragement to write and publish her first book came from Wally Lamb who was a fellow participant in a writing group. During one group meeting, Susan was met with complete silence after reading about her experience being baptized a fundamentalist until Wally Lamb spoke up and told her to write more about that. Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl was written to enlighten people about “the mostly false public narrative about fundamentalism.”
Her second book, Tempest Tossed; The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker was inspired by research for a series of Hartford Courant short stories about three of the four Beecher sisters. Susan’s assignment was Isabella. She visited the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center to read Isabella’s letters and soon “fell in love with this misunderstood, mouthy woman.”
The idea for Susan’s most recent book, FrogHollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood began during walks around the Frog Hollow neighborhood. She discovered great restaurants and the architectural style apartment building unique to Hartford known as “perfect sixes”. These walks evoked nostalgia for her hometown of Webb City, Missouri which like Hartford gave her the feeling that “something happened here and I missed it.” She talked to people, took notes, researched the history of the area and then decided to write another book.
After answering some question, Susan autographed and sold copies of her books. She continues to research Isabella Beecher and Frog Hollow. Nowadays you can find Susan Campbell teaching journalism at the University of New Haven.
The Guthrie Brothers came to Cheney Hall last Friday night and got the crowd pumped. They played a lot of classic Simon & Garfunkel including Sounds of Silence, Homeward Bound, Dangling Conversations, and 59th Street Bridge Song.
From sing-alongs, stories, music history questions to dancing in the aisles and making animal noises the crowd seemed to have a great time.
Here is a sampling:
A new research library will be opening this summer at the Manchester History Center. I attended a planning meeting on Thursday morning. A small group of dedicated individuals has been working hard on all phases of creating a research library from cataloging books to planning the layout to creating policies.
Also, if you get a chance, plan a visit to the Manchester History Center. It’s an interesting place in the heart of the Cheney Mills complex in the west end and is open Monday-Friday from 10-2.
Manchester Road Race Compares Favorably to the Boston Marathon in Amby Burfoot’s Experience.
Amby Burfoot: Manchester & Me was the title of a presentation I attended at Whiton Memorial Library on Monday night. Amby who has won the Manchester Road Race nine times and the Boston Marathon once will run tomorrow morning in his 56th consecutive race around the 4.748 mile course in town.
At 72, Amby is no longer a red-head with a full red beard but is still long, lean and bearded. He spoke for one hour about his experiences as a runner from high school to the present day. He had many kind things to say about the town of Manchester and the Manchester Road Race as he reminded us that “Every day is a gift, every mile is a gift”. He used a PowerPoint with some great pictures and let us know his books were being sold by his wife Cristina off to one side of the auditorium. He offered to autograph any books purchased.
Amby described himself as the worst player on the JV basketball team as a sophomore in high school. During one particularly bad practice the team was kicked out of the gym and sent out to run the cross-country course. Winning easily over the other players he made the emotional decision to quit being the worst player on the team in a sport he loved to try cross-country.
He ran his first practices in his high top Keds basketball sneakers and his first race in an old pair of bowling shoes on a rainy day. The shoes got soaked and de-laminated and he crossed the football field at the end of the race with a flapping shoe sole to finish in 5th or 6th place. After the race Amby was feeling nauseous and disappointed when John J. Kelly, “the most inspiring, most intelligent, most astonishing man I’ve met” put his arm around Amby’s shoulders and offered words of support and encouragement. John predicted that Amby had some potential for a good future in this sport.
Amby’s first road race was in Manchester in 1963. He had been running high school cross-country for only two years. He won the high school division that year and fell in love with road racing and the big enthusiastic crowds in Manchester. He compares the crowd support in Manchester to that of Boston and contrasts it with the rest of the world, where back in the day, road racers were considered “creatures from a foreign land” and beer cans and beer bottles were thrown out of windows at the runners.
The sport has come into its own since those early days and grown in popularity around the world. It’s been 45 years since he felt the thrill of flying down Main St in Manchester to break the tape and get his picture in the paper. He has returned every year for 56 years because of the community, the crowds and the people of Manchester. Something very special is going on in this town. What it is and what it has always been is the community support of tens of thousands of people.
One of Amby’s best memories was his 50th Manchester Road Race. He was expecting cheers from the spectators during this special anniversary running but discovered the dirty little truth about running in the middle of the pack. It’s so difficult to spot anyone in particular among the throngs of other runners that anonymity is almost guaranteed if you aren’t breaking the finish line tape. However, the thrill of the incredibly energetic scene at the starting line every Thanksgiving Day in Manchester continues for him.
In 1961 Manchester became famous for being the first road race in the country to have a woman finish the race. Amby talked about his interest in the history of women runners which he wrote about in his book “First Ladies of Running: 22 Inspiring Profiles Of The Rebels, Rule Breakers And Visionaries Who Changed The Sport Forever.” Julia Chase-Brand, a 21-year-old college senior was the first woman to finish a road race in the U.S. and she ran it in Manchester. Although being denied entry into the race by the organizers at the time, she ran the race anyway and crossed the finish line in good form. Another woman also ran in that race. She was from Great Britain and had run in races there but stepped off the course before the finish line because she thought she would be banned from U.S. races forever by the athletic authorities. Today some of the most elite female runners in the world compete at the Manchester Road Race.
Amby talked about the cast of characters who participate in Manchester, from Olympians to guys as old as he is today trotting around the streets, to costumes and Safety Man and a variety of bands. It is the only race in country to have an awards lunch celebrating those over 75. He’s looking forward to attending that lunch in a few years.
Manchester owes its success as a world-class event because the right people in town have stepped up at the right time to make it a premier road race. According to Amby, “This is an event that has a history and has a sparkle to it and that has to be maintained.” People in town started the famous “Irish Connection” where John Treacy and Eamonn Coghlan contributed to making it a world-class event. It has continued with the large contingent of top-notch runners from East Africa who have dominated in recent years.
The race tomorrow morning will be a cold one so good luck to all the runners, spectators, and officials.
We were thrilled when Steve’s opened. The bagels are great and we no longer have to drive to the mall or Glastonbury to get a bagel on a Sunday morning. As I was taking this picture I met Nicole McCann waiting for her order. She told me she loves this place “Great people, great food, great service.”
We ate here in October with friends Chien and Anne Nguyen. My husband and I had never tried Vietnamese food. Chien and Anne are experts, especially Chien who grew up in Vietnam. Anne has been a frequent visitor to Vietnam and of course eats Vietnamese food at home when Chien cooks. I had a Bánh Xéo, Vietnamese Pancake made from rice flour that was crispy and folded like a taco. It was stuffed with lots of vegetables, pork and shrimp and it was delicious. We all enjoyed our meal and the ambience of the restaurant. I wish the owners of the building would take better care of it but that is for another post.
OK. I know. Not a restaurant. But we went there last Thursday night for Mulberry Pizza and Athletic Brewing Company Beer. Everyone knows Mulberry Pizza has delicious food. I tried the Italian Job Pizza for the first time and it was tasty; sweet AND savory with lemon creme and prosciutto and carmelized onions. Everyone should try it once. If you don’t it would be like driving to Pepe’s in New Haven and never trying the Clam Pizza. You’ll never know what you are missing.
Athletic Brewing Company brews craft non-alcoholic beer. I tried the Autumn Brown Ale. Very good! It’s a unique and courageous concept to brew non-alcoholic craft beer. They are located in Stratford but you can find the beer on shelves at quite a few Manchester package stores or have some with pizza at Pepe’s on Middle Turnpike and maybe soon at Mulberry St. Pizza.
Both owners were interviewed after we had a chance to sample their products and it was broadcast live on Facebook. It was helpful to hear how each entrepreneur got started and the triumphs and pitfalls of owning your own business. Every month Work_Space hosts an event like this.
After voting on Tuesday we went down to the Angry Egg for breakfast. I like to try different foods but my husband is more restrained in his selections preferring a few favorites. I tried a menu item called “The Jose” which was eggs (poached for me) with meat (bacon for me) and fried plantains and biscuit. It was very good but I’m not sure if the biscuit would be considered a traditional Spanish food.
Army Navy Club Pancake Breakfast
Again not a restaurant. But, today is Veteran’s Day and we went there for breakfast with my mother, stepfather and mother-in-law. My stepfather, Vic is a veteran of World War II. On June 13, 1944 at the age of 19 he landed on Utah Beach during the 10 day Invasion of Normandy. He was shot in the head but survived and still has shrapnel in his skull which occasionally sets off a metal detector at the airport. The guest of honor at the breakfast was another WWII vet who is 104 years old. (I will update this post with his name soon.)