This will be my last post about Manchester for a while. We are going on a 6-week adventure to visit National and State Parks in other states. I won’t be publishing a June Calendar. If you want to follow our trip, I hope to post on this blog using the category Travel Away from 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.
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.
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.
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:
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.