I recently finished reading a book called, Manchester on the Merrimack, by Grace Holbrook Blood. The book was first published in 1948 and re-published in 1975 with an added section called Today. Although the book is not up-to-date now, it still gives an in-depth history of Manchester and the many changes it has gone through over the years. While reading this historical journey through the ups and downs of the city, I realized how much Manchester has changed — but also, how much it’s stayed the same.
Manchester on the Merrimack starts at the very beginning history of Manchester, which was first known as Derryfield. The author begins talking about the first Native Americans and concludes with explaining how the Millyard was able to spring back from the closing of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Mrs. Blood focuses on how the Merrimack and Millyard have shaped the city, but she also credits the founding fathers of the city, too. You have seen most of their names on street signs while traveling through any part of Manchester, such as Kidder, Stark, Hollis, Blodget, and many others. These are the people who built the foundation for our city and helped start the Millyard water turbines to spin. Although they are no longer with us, but their legend lives on with the current and future business leaders of the city.
Although the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company is no longer around, the Millyard is full of upcoming industries, just like in its heyday. Textile, cotton, denim, and many other resources were turned into consumer goods for many years. Now the Millyard is full of thriving technology companies and new age firms that look to solve century-long issues.
The Millyard started as a revolutionary workplace for laborers and continues that tradition today with technology at the forefront. Manchester on the Merrimack also talks about the many businesses on Elm Street that brought people downtown to shop. The Bookery, a new downtown bookstore and cafe, once was the home of the beloved McQuades department store. The tiles leading into the entrance way are still there today. Even before McQuades, there was a bookstore, Fisk Bookstore, that occupied that retail space. There are many similarities from the past that we can see now in the current thriving city of Manchester.
Even before reading this book, I had a great appreciation for this city and the history that encompasses it. Now, I feel it even more. As I walk around downtown or drive from place to place, I understand how the author was feeling while writing and I can almost see the city being built in front of my eyes. Although the Merrimack River does not provide our greatest resource anymore, it is a great focal point of our city. Many things have developed and evolved over time; the Millyard has changed from textile to technology, the streets, from empty to full, and the population grown, from a few to a lot.
I believe that one thing in Manchester has stayed the same and stood the test of time: the spirit of its people. Whether there is a flood, snowstorm, strike, bankruptcy, or just a bad day, the people always bounce back.
Manchester may have its problems or issues, but the people of the city are what keeps it going. You don’t have to be a celebrity or have millions of dollars, but you do have to care deeply for this city. History does repeat itself and, whether we like it or not, we can learn from our own mistakes and move forward.
Manchester on the Merrimack may not be a current account of what is going on now, but it can help us realize who are as a city and where we came from.
You can pick up a copy of Manchester on the Merrimack in the Millyard Museum at 200 Bedford St., in Manchester.
Thanks for reading and until next week, live and be happy!
Ben Dion hosts The Weekly Dion live Thursdays at 6 p.m. on 95.3 FM WMNH, Manchester’s only downtown radio station. Follow him on Twitter @BenDionNH and @TheWeeklyDion. Contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org