MANCHESTER, NH – Set on 10 acres in the North End of Elm Street, Brookside Congregational Church, the sprawling brick building with white pillars and the classic steeple to the sky, is much more than a house of worship for its members. It is a gathering place for the community in all of its facets – dog walkers strolling at sunset, to brides and grooms sharing their commitment, to schools, dance studios and other performance arts, community gardeners, and more. And the history of how this one-time family home became the home to so much of Manchester’s community is much richer than I could have imagined before taking a tour.
There were a couple of locals walking through the gardens, enjoying the tranquil beauty of the property as I was given a tour of the grounds. It is sprawling with gardens and trails that abut a brook, hence the name, Brookside. There are floral gardens, a 24-plot community garden, and a special butterfly garden, a space dedicated to Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents who have lost children.
The church opens its grounds up to the community several times throughout the year, hosting outdoor movie evenings, an immersive lights display for the holidays, always with a new theme, a living nativity with live animals, and more. However, as Covid descended upon the world in 2020 and social distancing – preferably outdoors – became the norm, these grounds became even more of a blessing for the community, as they hosted full theatrical performances of Peter Pan, outdoor concert performances, dance productions, and more.
The stately home once owned by Mary Manning stands in the yard, overlooking the gardens. Built in 1908, the neoclassical estate house is included on the Registry of Historic Buildings, as it was recognized for its’ architecture and its role in Manchester’s religious history.
Unique spaces available for public rental
The house is available as a rental venue, providing a truly unique time-capsule-like experience. Setting foot in the front hall is to be transported back to the turn of the 20th century. The walls are the richest dark wood and your eyes are drawn to the grand staircase ahead, or perhaps to the gothic pendant lantern hanging overhead, or the magnificent and proud grandfather clock that stands against the wall to the right – still keeping time today. In fact, everything looks as though Mrs. Manning could still come walking through the room at any moment, and there is a magic quality to that feeling.
Mrs. Manning’s home has an abundance of personality and offers unique and interesting spaces for renting for any occasion. There is a large, light, and airy sitting room with window seats and collections of books along the walls, a marble fireplace. There is a formal dining room, with walls still buttoned up with the original leather wallpaper from the era, and a service kitchen that can be used for catering staff to heat and serve guests, indoors, or just a step outside into the lawn area.
Connecting the home to the main church building is the original Franklin Street Church that Mrs. Manning had moved to the property in the 1950s. The chapel is complete with the original stained glass windows and organ, and it remains in use today for special services as well as serving as a space for a Romanian Orthodox church.
The newer church building itself houses meeting spaces and classrooms for rent, and is also home to a function hall with a stage and a large professional kitchen. The space is versatile and can accommodate anything from a craft fair full of vendors to an extravagant themed ball for a crowd of high schoolers, or a wedding reception after an idyllic ceremony in the gardens or sanctuary.
I’ve grown up going to church, I’ve raised my children in church, and as a professional photographer, I’ve been privy to many venue spaces over years, specifically churches. But there is something special and hard to completely summarize in any succinct way about Brookside. Around each turn, inside or out, there seems to be a story – one already written, like the philanthropic life of Mary Manning – or one just waiting to start, a child planting in a garden, a couple taking each other’s hands at the altar, a winter’s night of wonder amid twinkling lights.
Learn more and plan your own Brookside experience by visiting their website: brooksidecc.org