Welcome to Manchester
Located along the banks of the Merrimack River, Manchester was a product of the Industrial Revolution and its creation and growth largely the legacy of one entity: The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. At its peak in the early 20th century, “The Amoskeag” employed more than 17,000 people from many different backgrounds of which approximately fifty percent were French-Canadian. Today’s Amoskeag Millyard and the city’s downtown enjoy a vibrant renaissance of high-tech companies, businesses, museums and restaurants complimented by a growing number of in-town urban residents.
The first people to live in the area that is now known as Manchester were members of the Abenaki tribe, who fished at the falls on the Merrimack River 11,000 years ago.
The first European settlers, primarily from Scotland and Ireland, came to area in the 1720s and in 1751 settled and incorporated the village of Derryfield, a modest community at the edge of the frontier. In 1810, its citizens changed the town’s name to Manchester, in honor of England’s great industrial city. At this time, the only industries in the small town were the traditional small saw and grist mills.
The Manchester that we see today was largely due to one enterprise: The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. The company’s early origins began as a small spinning mill at Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River in the early nineteenth century. The enormous power of the water flowing over these falls helped decide the location of the company. Here, the Merrimack drops approximately fifty-four feet over a distance of about one-half mile, creating the best water-power site along the 116-mile-long river.
The Amoskeag was incorporated in 1831 and operated for more than a century before closing its doors in 1935. In the early twentieth century, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was the largest producer of cotton textiles in the world. In addition to controlling the water rights to the swift-flowing falls, the company also purchased 15,000 acres of land from farmers on the east side of the river. This land enabled the company to influence the shape of the millyard as well as the growth of the city that would support its industrial operations. Manchester truly was becoming a company town.
The Amoskeag laid out the city’s streets and built mills, canals and housing for the growing population of workers during the early- to mid-1800s. It then sold over 14,000 acres surplus from the original land purchase to develop business blocks and residential neighborhoods. The company also donated parkland to the city and sold lots at low cost for municipal buildings, schools and churches. The result – Manchester is the largest planned city in New England and a success story of early urban planning in America.
The company produced cotton cloth in its mills for 100 years, with workers coming initially from Ireland and Quebec, then followed by immigrants from Germany, England, Scotland, Scandinavia, Poland, Greece and many other countries. The company reached its peak from about 1910 to 1920. Shortly after this period, the company began to decline. Newer mills and lower cost labor in the South, and the Great Depression in the 1930s contributed to the company closing its doors in 1935.
In the 1960s and 70s the canals channeling water to the mills were filled in and about half of the buildings in the millyard district were torn down. New streets and access ways to the mills were constructed to accommodate a new, equally vibrant era of activity sparked in the final decade of the twentieth century.
As in its heyday, the red-brick Amoskeag Millyard District still stretches along the east side of the Merrimack River, continuing to dominate the cityscape; a continual reminder of the city’s rich industrial past. But there is a whole lot more to Manchester than the tale of one company. The Manchester of today is a thriving city that has transitioned from a former mill town into a teeming knowledge and tech industry center with a millennial demand for housing and living units in the millyard district and downtown areas. All of this, coupled with Manchester becoming known as one of the best dining destinations in northern New England, demonstrates the Queen City’s resilience and stamina moving into the twenty-first century.
Manchester is one of several New England mill towns that attracted immigrants from Quebec, mostly between the Civil War and the Great Depression of the 1930s. The origins of Manchester’s Franco-American community remain vague with early sources offering varying information. Some sources show that one Marie Jutras ran a boardinghouse in Amoskeag Village in 1831 (actually part of Goffstown until 1853). It is also claimed that Manchester’s first Quebecois immigrant was Louis Bonin, who arrived in 1833. The earliest documented marriage of French Canadians in Manchester took place on August 19, 1839 between Louis Marchand and Sarah Robert. By 1848, the year of the founding of Manchester’s first Roman Catholic parish, Saint Anne’s, at least ten Quebecois families were settled in the city.
The French Canadians came in search of a better life in New England and its textile factories afforded them opportunities for improving their conditions. Many of the Quebecois who came to America left impoverished farmlands with diminishing yields in the hope of a better future for their families. The fact that New England’s developing industries needed operatives and that the habitants (Quebecois farmers) wanted jobs was a perfect match. Realizing that the Quebecois were hard workers, the mill owners began sending agents to Quebec to encourage more habitants to leave the soil of the north for the mills of America, thus setting in motion a great migration.
By 1869, Manchester’s French-Canadian population numbered approximately 1,500. By 1880 this figure had risen to nearly 9,000. During this time, the newspaper La Voix du Peuple (The Voice of the People) was founded. Though only in publication for seven months, it sowed the seeds for a French-language press that would flourish for a century.
In 1880, a major change took place. A sizable tract of vacant land on the Merrimack River’s west side was chosen for the site of a new parish, Sainte-Marie. This property was formerly the farm of Robert McGregor, aide-de-camp to Revolutionary War leader General John Stark. Within twenty years, Manchester had a new French-Canadian neighborhood in the shadow of the Sainte-Marie parish church. A French-Canadian neighborhood or “Petit Canada” was a Francophone village enclosed within an American industrial city, where immigrants became urbanized and adopted certain American customs while maintaining the customs of their ancestral home in the north. The “persistence and preservation” of the Quebecois’ desire to keep heartfelt traditions from their homeland alive in their new homes was known as “La Survivance” (Survival).
The entire French-Canadian community collaborated in the founding of institutions dedicated to the preservation of the Catholic faith, the French language and Quebecois traditions.
By 1895, approximately 17,000 of Manchester’s 55,000 inhabitants were of Quebecois origin or descent. The majority of the French Canadians continued working in the textile mills and shoe factories while others started creating small businesses such as grocery stores, bakeries, barbershops, pharmacies, clothing stores, funeral parlors and many other types of enterprises in their community. It is interesting to note that between 1918 and 1990, the mayoralty of Manchester was almost always occupied by a Franco-American.
Manchester is also known as the birthplace of the first credit union in the United States. By the beginning of the twentieth century, thousands of immigrants pursuing work and a better life found their way to the mills of Manchester. Although gainfully employed, they were denied the privileges of savings and credit. On a hillside overlooking the mills stood Sainte-Marie’s church. As pastor, Monsignor Pierre Hevey knew that many of his parishioners worked in these mills and needed a safe place to save their money and gain access to reasonable credit. With counsel and guidance from Canada’s credit union movement leader, Alphonse Desjardins, and the commitment of local attorney Joseph Boivin to serve as the first president and house the credit union in his home, Monsignor Hevey and his parishioners established the first credit union in the United States in 1908. Originally called St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association its name was revised in 1925 to La Caisse Populaire Sainte-Marie or “Saint Mary’s Bank of the People”.
Various media organizations supported the Franco-American community well into the twentieth century. Newspapers such as the La Voix du Peuple (1869), L’Avenir National (1894-1949), L’Action (1950-71) and many other French language newspapers during this period brought the news and happenings of the city and region to resident Francophones. French radio and television broadcasts were also popular in Manchester. Programs such as the Sunday morning musical radio program Chez-Nous with Roger Lacerte (still on air) and the French language television program Bonjour! (1987 to mid-1990s) sponsored by the L’Association Canado-Americaine were enjoyed by many Franco-Americans in Manchester, the state of New Hampshire and the neighboring New England states.
A Franco-American presence continues be an integral part of the greater Manchester community today. Organizations such as the American Canadian Genealogical Society (ACSG) and the Franco-American Centre (FAC) promote the traditions and heritage of French-Canadians in a variety of ways.
The American Canadian Genealogical Society fosters the study of ancestral origins, encourages research into the history of families and provides genealogical research resources for individuals of Acadian, French-Canadian and Franco-American origin. Its primary mission is to serve persons interested in ancestral research and its membership has expanded to include individuals and organizations from all parts of the world.
The Franco-American Centre’s mission is to preserve the rich heritage of our French communities and to act as a catalyst to involve the community in celebrating the richness of the Franco-American experience. FAC sponsorship of events such as the annual PoutineFest, Francophonie Month, Acadian Family Day, Beaujolais Nouveau Gala and many other social- and language-based programs keeps the spirit of “La Survivance” alive in Manchester.
Museums such as the Manchester Millyard Museum and the SEE Science Center in the Amoskeag District and America’s Credit Union Museum also provide visitors to Manchester with wonderful perspectives on a variety of historic themes associated with the city.
The Millyard Museum features a permanent exhibit, Woven in Time: 11,000 Years at Amoskeag Falls that tells the story of Manchester and the people who have lived and worked on the banks of the Merrimack.
The SEE Science Center is home to the LEGO Millyard Project, the largest permanent LEGO installation at minifigure scale in the world with over 3 million bricks and approximately 8,000 minifigures! The project represents the Amoskeag Millyard as it might have looked circa 1900.
America’s Credit Union Museum on the West Side presents the history of the credit union movement and chronicles the establishment of the first credit union in the United States and its influence throughout the country.
There are many other places to visit in the Queen City, so come to Manchester and experience its “joie de vivre”!
Eaton, Aurore. The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company – A History of Enterprise on the Merrimack River. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2015. Print.
La Survivance – Rhode Island History. Providence, RI: The Rhode Island Historical Society, 1997. Print.
Manchester on Foot – A Stroll through History: The Millyard. Manchester, NH: Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Undated. Print.
Perreault, Robert B. Franco-American Life & Culture in Manchester, New Hampshire – Vivre la Différence. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2010. Print.
Woodward, Colin. How a 19th-Century Town Became a New Millennium Marvel. Arlington County, VA: Politico, 2016. Web. February 18, 2016.
Manchester’s Franco Attractions and Sites
Discover the city’s Franco Heritage sites, along with additional attractions, including geocaching at historical sites, restaurants, accommodations, entertainment, and points of interest, by exploring the city map below.
Centre Franco-Américain St. Anselm College
The Franco-American Centre is a non-profit organization that promotes French language, culture and heritage through classes, social activities and cultural events. The mission of the Franco-American Centre (FAC) is to preserve the rich heritage of our French communities. They promote history, culture and education with an understanding of Franco historic contributions, cultural and artistic expressions, both past and present.
100 St Anselm Dr, Manchester, New Hampshire 03102
Merci Train Boxcar
The Merci Train, also known as the French Gratitude Train or the Forty and Eight, was the 1949 European response to the US Friendship Train. Composed of 49 cars and filled with “gifts of gratitude”, the Merci Train arrived in New York City on February 3, 1949, and was divided amongst the 48 states with the remaining car to be shared by the District of Columbia and Hawaii.
136 Reed St, Manchester, New Hampshire 03102
In Manchester’s heyday as a mill town, the west side of the city was the territory of the Franco-American immigrant community. This is a neighborhood restaurant that specializes in French-Canadian fare, including the famous Grand Poutine (five pounds of poutine!) challenge.
136 Kelley St, Manchester, New Hampshire 03102
America’s Credit Union Museum
With counsel and guidance from Canada’s credit union movement leader, Alphonse Desjardins, and the commitment of local attorney Joseph Boivin to serve as the first president and house the credit union in his home, Monsignor Hevey and the parishioners of Ste. Marie’s established the first credit union in the United States in 1908. Originally called St. Mary’s Cooperative Credit Association, its name was revised in 1925 to La Caisse Populaire Ste.-Marie or “St. Mary’s Bank of the People.”
420 Notre Dame Ave, Manchester, New Hampshire 03102
Ste. Marie Roman Catholic Church
Ste. Marie’s parish was founded to serve the needs of French-Canadian Catholic immigrants to New Hampshire. The Gothic Revival church is perched atop the plateau that makes up Rimmon Heights, and forms one of the focal points of the Notre Dame neighborhood, along with Lafayette Park across the street.
378 Notre Dame Ave, Manchester, New Hampshire 03102
Association Canado-Américaine Building
This building was constructed in 1910 for a Franco-American social club. It was acquired by the Association Canado-Américain (ACA) in 1929, which later modified it into its present neo-classical form. The Franco-American Centre purchased the building from the ACA in 1990 and occupied that space until 2010. The building housed an art gallery, meeting rooms for French language classes and other programs, an auditorium, offices, and archival storage spaces.
52 Concord St, Manchester, New Hampshire 03101
American Canadian Genealogical Society
The Society was founded in September 1973 to serve persons interested in ancestral research.
The ACGS fosters the study of ancestral origins, encourages research into the history of families, fosters high standards of ethics for genealogical research and provides a common access by and for individuals of Acadian, French-Canadian and Franco-American origin.
4 Elm St, Manchester, New Hampshire 03103
Places Serving Poutine
Poutine is a French-Canadian classic that is served across Canada. It’s a hearty dish of French fries, fresh cheese curds, and brown gravy.
136 Kelley St. Manchester, NH 03102
50 Commercial St, Manchester, NH 03101
Thirsty Moose Taphouse
Red Arrow Diner
61 Lowell St, Manchester, NH 03101
The Pint Publik House
River Road Tavern
193 S River Rd, Bedford, NH 03110
North End Bistro
1361 Elm St, Manchester, NH 03101
Backyard Brewery and Kitchen
1211 S Mammoth Rd, Manchester, NH 03109
Bonfire Restaurant & Country Bar
950 Elm St, Manchester, NH 03101
Franco Historical Sites
Sites of Interest