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A Walk Down Memory Lane – Downtown Manchester

On a cool and cloudy Sunday in early March, Town Historian, Susan Barlow, led a group of about 100 people on a history walk down Main St in Manchester.

The first stop was the Bennet Apartments. Formerly Bennet High School and Manchester High School. The architectural firm responsible for the design of the building was Hartwell, Richardson & Driver, the successor firm of H.H Richardson. The style is colonial revival and includes doric columns at the entry and syncopated bricks at the corners. The building was paid for by the Cheney family and opened in 1904. The last graduating class was in 1956, when the new high school opened. The building continued as a junior high school for decades but was converted to senior apartments in 1984.

MHS—Bennet Apartments


Across the street from the old high school was Educational Square, a quadrangle of buildings built beginning in 1914, which today is Bennet Academy.

Before the Educational Square, the Ninth District School was located on this site. It was a giant wooden pine building. It burned to the ground in October of 1913 with no deaths or significant injuries except to the principal, Miss Bennet. She returned to find some people who had not evacuated the building. Her scalp was burned, and in most pictures, you will see her wearing a hat, covering up what happened to her.

**** The Sculpture Project is raising money to erect a statue of Miss Bennet on Main St. in front of the school. Here is the link:    

Next, on the left, where it says Firestone, that used to be Watkins’s Furniture, and then it became Keith’s Furniture, and finally Pinewood Furniture, owned by the Firestone family. They still own it. And now it’s an art studio and cafe. It’s a great example of a building that was reused instead of being torn down. Unlike the north end of town, where buildings were demolished, many buildings downtown were saved and repurposed.

The Guinipero Family built these buildings on Main St. At one time, there was a bakery and a tavern. The family lived in the house, which is still a private home.

When many buildings on Main St. were initially built, the first floor was retail and had a huge plate glass window. And then upstairs, the second floor would house professional offices, dentists, doctors, and lawyers, and maybe a dressmaker would be up there. And then, on the top floors, apartments, and some of the apartments were quite grand, overlooking beautiful downtown Main Street in Manchester. Over the years, many of those apartments have been broken up into smaller places, and there’s not much retail in downtown Manchester. One building had the third floor removed, possibly to reduce the taxes.

This building was the Orford Hotel and later Marlow’s Department Store. When it was the Orford Hotel, there was a huge restaurant on the first floor, hotel rooms on the second floor, and a ballroom on the top floor. Most people on tour remembered Marlow’s and that you could buy anything there. Today you might have to search the farthest corners of the internet to find an item that, back in the day, you could just walk into Marlow’s and ask Mr. Marlow if they had it. There was a chance the thing might have a layer of dust on it, but it was most likely on a shelf somewhere. When Mr. Marlow sold the business, the remaining inventory was sold to the Vermont Country Store.

The final stop on the tour was the Full Gospel Interdenominational Church which used to be the State Theater. The church has been housed in this old theater since 1974. The theater opened in June 1925 and was for live theater with a large stage and an orchestra pit. In the 1940s, it was run by the Warner Brothers and became a movie theater. The church has kept the theater seats and sconces from that time. No pictures were allowed to be taken inside the theater. It is a beautiful building with a mezzanine and balcony.

Joe McCluskey (Olympic Medalist from Manchester) and his brother John were Irish Tenors who were paid to sing at the theater when they were teenagers.

**** You can learn more about Joe McCluskey and the first sculpture completed by the sculpture project here.

This year is Manchester’s Bicentennial.  Susan Barlow is leading 23 History walks to celebrate. More information is available here.



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Happy Birthday Elisabeth!!!

Celebrate Elisabeth Bennet’s 142nd birthday on January 22, 2023, by donating to the Sculpture Project.

Manchester’s unique Sculpture Project is raising funds for a sculpture of Elisabeth Bennet. The Sculpture Project will place a statue of the visionary Manchester Educator on Main Street in front of Bennet School. The project aims to educate the citizens and visitors of Manchester about Manchester’s history and its famous residents.  

In celebration of the 142nd anniversary of her birth, the Sculpture Project is seeking donations of $14.20. Checks can be sent to:

The Sculpture Project c/o The Manchester Historical Society                                                                                                                                                                           175 Pine St.                                                                                                                                                                                                   Manchester, CT 06040

If you prefer to pay by credit card, call The Manchester Historical Society at 860-647-9983.


For more information about the Sculpture Project, follow these links:

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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 Update

Thanks to Lynn Sottile for sending the above flyer.

The following information is copyrighted material : Copyright 2022, Manchester Historical Society, founded 1965

On November 10, 2019, the first of our life-size bronze sculptures was unveiled, honoring Olympian, athlete, and Manchester native Joe McCluskey. The statue is located along the route of Manchester’s Thanksgiving Day Road Race, on Highland Street near its intersection with    Street. Info: Joe McCluskey.

Tickets now on sale for our fabulous October 15 house tour, at $35 per person. Purchase at: • Woodland Gardens, 168 Woodland St. • Highland Park Market, 317 Highland St., Manchester, at the Customer Service Counter, and • Manchester Town Hall, 41 Center St., Manchester. Payment is by cash or check. The house tour, on Saturday, October 15, invites the public to visit six unique and historic homes, generously opened on this day by the homeowners. There will be a silent auction of special items, music, and artist’s boutique. Details: House Tour 2022. Our first house tour, in October 2018, was a popular event and a great opportunity to find out more about these vintage Manchester houses. We thank our sponsors: • Green Moving & Storage, Porter Street Victorian house • Woodland Gardens, Ridge Street mill employee house • Blanchard & Rosetto, Clifford Cheney mansion • Taylor Rental Party Plus of Manchester, Charles Cheney mansion • Harbor Chase Assisted Living, Federal Colonial on Arvine Place, Lakeview • State Farm Insurance, Austin Cheney mansion.


Recognition of Elisabeth M. Bennet and her achievements: Elisabeth Bennet. Our second statue will be placed at Bennet Academy, Downtown Main Street, recognizing educator Elisabeth Bennet (1881-1959), credited with many “firsts,” including establishing a school library in the basement of Barnard School with donations from friends and her own personal library. To donate or become a sponsor: Sponsorship packet. In honor of her birthday this year, Mayor Jay Moran proclaimed January 22, 2022, Elisabeth Bennet Day. You can read the proclamation by clicking on the icon on the right. The proclamation includes a list of Miss Bennet’s work in the Manchester public schools, as well as information about her own education. Thank you, Mayor Moran and the Town’s board of directors for supporting the sculpture project.

Watch Town Troubadour Bill Ludwig sing this Miss Bennet song, original lyrics by Bill and music by Bill and Dan Thompson.

We are currently raising funds for Elisabeth’s statue. Here are some opportunities for the public to participate in and support the sculpture project:
We are selling tote bags in natural color canvas with navy blue lettering. The Elisabeth Bennet tote measuresToteWEB.jpg 14-1/2″ x 15-1/2.” One side of the tote bears the Sculpture Project logo, and the other side has a brief history of the Project. Consider it as a gift for birthdays, as well as a fun way to support the statue of Elisabeth. Totes, at $20.00 each. Available at the History Center (175 Pine St., Tuesday-Friday, 10:00 to 2:00; 860-647-9983; pick up in person or mail a check with “tote” in memo line), Highland Park Market (317 Highland St, open Monday through Saturday 8:00 to 7:00 and Sundays 8:00 to 6:00), and Town Hall customer service center (41 Center Street). Read the fundraising letter sent out in April 2021.

Notecards with the image of the Joe McCluskey statue are for NotecardJoeM.jpgsale at the Historical Society (phone Lynn Sottile 860-649-3487), Sweet Pepper at the Manchester Mall, Downtown (phone Amanda 860-652-5305), Customer Service Center at Town Hall, Window Box Farm at Manchester Mall (Lena 860-916-7833), WorkSpace on Main Street, Downtown (Michelle 860-647-6029). There are six cards to a box, and the price is $10.

Find out more about Miss Bennet’s career as an educator in “Moments with Miss Bennet.” Click each icon to bring up the video…

Background on this project. The Sculpture Committee has planned three bronze statues for the Town of Manchester as permanent public art designed to connect us to our past and create a legacy for future generations, emphasizing Manchester’s historic assets and illustrating its cultural heritage. The bronze sculptures will honor individuals who have made significant contributions to our community in the areas of sports, education, the arts, inventing, etc. Manchester’s history is all around us — in the architecture, the paintings in Town Hall, the Dancing Bear fountain, and the silk industry legacy left to us by the Cheney family. With thanks to the very generous donors who funded the first sculpture, the Sculpture Project continues its fundraising efforts. Your investment will make the sculptures a significant asset to our community.

To donate and become a Sponsor of the Sculpture Project, please click SPONSORSHIP FORM, print, and enclose it with your check as described on the form. All contributions welcome! Mail your check to “Sculpture Project,” Manchester Historical Society, 175 Pine Street, Manchester, CT 06040. Write Sculpture Project on the memo line. Contributions by credit card can be made by calling the Historical Society at 860-647-9983. Thank you for your donation! Read more about the project’s Nine-page sponsorship packet.

Honorees are:


  • Joe McCluskey (1911-2002) statue located in the parklet near the intersection of Highland, Wyllys, and Spring Street, along the route of the Manchester Road Race. Joe, Olympic medalist and winner of multiple national titles in various distance events, is credited with the early success of the Manchester Road Race, winning three consecutive years. Click to read the printed program distributed at the November 10, 2019, ceremony dedicating Joe McCluskey’s statue. Click to read “Joe McCluskey, Manchester’s Greatest Runner.”


In the fundraising process:

    • Elisabeth Bennet (1881-1959), principal of Manchester Public Schools, was credited with many “firsts,” including establishing a school library in the basement of Barnard School with donations from friends and her own personal library. She is credited for saving the lives of 1,100 students in the 1913 fire that destroyed the school building. Two years after her death, Barnard Junior High was renamed in her honor to the Elisabeth M. Bennet Middle School. Click to read more about Elisabeth M. Bennet. Click here for information about Miss Bennet’s own educational records.
    • Next on the plan: Emily Cheney Neville (1919-1997), mother of five children, began writing when her youngest entered school. She won the Newbery Medal for her first novel, “It’s Like This, Cat,” and is recognized as a notable author of children’s books. She went on to publish many books, including an autobiographical novel, “Traveler from a Small Kingdom,” which describes her life growing up in Manchester. You can read “It’s Like This, Cat,” online here. To be located outside of the Mary Cheney Library, seated on a bench holding a book. Click to read more about Emily Cheney Neville and her books. Click to read Emily’s Autobiography.


About the sculptor: Michael Keropian of Carmel, NY, grew up in Manchester.

He began his professional career and training as a sculptor at the oldest art school in the country, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, in 1978. To further his training in sculpture, he moved to New York’s Hudson Valley in 1986 and worked for ten years at the Tallix Sculpture Foundry in Beacon, NY, working on hundreds of sculptures and learning the technical skills that go into casting a sculpture into metal.

During this period, he started Keropian Sculpture LLC and worked after hours to develop his business. Keropian Sculpture LLC provides sculptural services and consulting to a variety of clientele.

After leaving the Tallix Foundry in 1996, he continued building Keropian Sculpture LLC and started teaching at a number of schools in the New York Metro area, such as the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City and Artlife Studio in Portchester, NY. He currently teaches privately and at the Katonah Art Center. Keropian Sculpture has also completed sculpture restorations for a number of private estates, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Academy of Design and Fairfield University’s Bellarmine Museum. In 2000, Michael received a commission to create nine heroic-size tigers for the new baseball stadium of the Detroit Tigers, Comerica Park.

Since 2000, Michael’s commissions includethese sculptural projects:

    • Memorial bronze plaques for the Mayor of Brewster, NY, John Cesar, Daniel Nimham (Revolutionary Hero) and Edith G. Read (Naturalist), Luigi Del Bianco (Carver), Wendell Scherer (Teacher), and Bob Steele (Radio Personality).
    • Medallions for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Archbishop Brunett.
    • Historic portraits busts of John Cesar, Edgard Varese, and Louis Armstrong.
    • Full figures of Frank Zappa, Vic Morrow, John Cooper Fitch, and RIT President Dr. Albert Simone.
  • Memorials for Aaron Vays and Tiran Nersoyan (Founder of St. Nersess Seminary). Michael is currently working on a bust of General Thomas F. Meager (Irish orator and Civil War General) for Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Michael has won numerous awards throughout the years and recently won the coveted Hudson Valley Art Association’s Gold Medal. His works can be found in private collections around the world.

He is a Fellow of the National Sculpture Society and is the Sculpture Chairperson for the Hudson Valley Art Association. Watch a video of Michael describing his work.


Example of Michael’s work of sports-car racer John Cooper Fitch:

The committee: Inspired by the possibilities of public art and support from the community, the committee has organized and raised funds to honor Manchester’s historical figures with sculptures. Committee members are Lynn Sottile, Joyce Hodgson Post, Tana Parseliti, Donna Fitzgerald, Claudia Kuehl, Michele O’Neil, Ann Lucente, Catherine Wynn, Susan Wright, and Susan Barlow.

One of our fund-raising projects was a house tour of six private homes in Manchester on Saturday, October 13, 2018. Read more, including information about each house: House Tour Pamphlet.

All content copyright 2022, Manchester Historical Society, founded 1965. All rights reserved.