History of Manchester, NH
The Merrimack River and the Amoskeag Falls
The area that is now Manchester was once inhabited by various Native American tribes. On the Merrimack River, there are the Amoskeag Falls where the river drops 50 feet, which served as a plentiful fishing ground for the tribes in the region. The name derives from the Pennacook word Namoskeag, which meant "good fishing place." Below is a picture of the Amoskeag Falls from a 1906 postcard.
From Small New England Town to Industrial City
In 1722, the area was settled by colonists and first called Old Harry's Town. It changed names a few more times, becoming Derryfield in 1751. In 1807 a canal and lock system where built around the Amoskeag Falls, opening the area up to industrialization and bringing in more people. Ideas emerged that the Falls and River could be used to power industry along the river and a it was envisioned that the area would become "the Manchester of America," like Manchester, England. In 1810 the town of Derryfield was renamed to Manchester with the goal of making this new Manchester an industrial success. The same year, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was incorporated. Large mill buildings were built along the river with bricks made in Hooksett, NH.
Amoskeag Manufacturing Company
The founders of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company attained their goal, for by the mid-19th century, Manchester had become the largest cotton mill in the world. One mill alone, Mill No. 11, contained 4,000 looms! It was so loud, that workers had to lip read in order to communicate.
Influx of Immigrants
The rapid growth of the mills and city lead to a large influx of immigrant workers. Many of these workers were French Canadian and eventually a large percentage of the population was French Canadian. Many of these French Canadians settled on the West Side of the City, were even today some banks and stores still have signs in French. With a last name like mine, St. Jean, it's not surprising that my own ancestors came to Manchester at the beginning of the 20th century persumably to work at the mills. My family no longer speaks French though, sadly enough.
Success and Eventual Decline
Throughout the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company and Manchester saw much success. They expanded beyond textile production, building trains and fire engines. During the Civil War, cotton became scarce, because it mainly came from the South. Instead, production of muskets became the focus during the war. By World War I, the city supplied material to the government. This was when the mills were in their peak, employing 17,000 workers with 30 mills weaving 50 miles (80 km) of cloth per hour.
After World War I, demand sharply declined. The Great Depression only worsened the situation and in 1935, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company filed for bankruptcy. Many of the mills were torn down and all of the canals were filled in during the following decades. The city's economy remained in a recession for a long while, and business was impossible to attract, with Boston so close to the south.
New Life for the Mills
Thankfully, not all of the mills were torn down and today they have found new life. Restaurants, businesses, art galleries, and more have have opened in some of the old mills. The University of New Hampshire opened a branch in Manchester in one of these buildings. The mills have a certain charm, with their brick walls and their large exposed wooden beams running along the ceilings. The large windows were designed to let in a lot of natural light and depending on where you are, a nice view of the river.
Many companys are now housed in the millyard, such as the DEKA Research & Development Corporation, owned by American inventor Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway.
In recent years, a Millyard Museum was opened. Unfortunately, there are no longer any running looms, but it's still worth a visit!