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Built upon the banks of the Merrimack River, Manchester NH has transformed from a nomadic resting spot good for fishing into a thriving multi-cultural city.
Starting out as one of the hunting spots in early spring (due to the Amoskeag Falls), Manchester was transformed into a worldwide industrial city. After the Great Depression, Manchester again transformed into the multi-cultural city with diverse opportunities for growth that it is today.
Originally the settlement of Namoskeag and Penacook tribe, the land was primarily used for its farm-rich riverbank and fish filled river. The banks of the Merrimack River provided good soil for farming and the many falls along the river provided plentiful fishing spots as fish had to attempt to navigate the falls, especially the Amoskeag Falls. The name Amoskeag is derived from the Penacook Tribes word "Namoskeag" that means "the great fishing place."
In the mid 1700's, European settlers started to discover the Amoskeag Falls along with the native tribes. In 1751, the area around the Amoskeag Falls was named Deerfield. And, in 1753, a fort was built under the supervision of Captain John Stark (famous for his participation in the American Revolution - especially the Battle of Bunker Hill) to protect the settlers from the natives.
In the early 1800's, Samuel Blodget saw the potential of the Merrimack River as being a source of transportation and power. He designed a series of canals and locks to allow transportion between Nashua and Concord. In 1810, the areas name was officially changed from Deerfield to Manchester with the vision of being the New Worlds version of Manchester, England. Having a vertical fall of 54 feet in only one half mile the Merrimack river was harnessed to provide power for a blossoming textile industry. Many textile mills were built by various enterprises, but it was not until 1831 that the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company incorporated and Manchester started to grow.
The Amoskeag Company not only wanted to create a huge industrial complex, they wanted to build a manufacturing town with homes, stores, and shops. They were willing to not only use the rivers power for themselves, but they also built buildings for other companies. In 1838, the Stark Mills Manufacturing Company was incorporated and joined the Amoskeag by creating blocks of bording houses for their workers (many of these buildings are still present and used as appartments today). The Amoskeag Company laid out the sites of the town running the main street (Elm street) parallel to the river. Most other main streets run parallel to the river in the downtown area and these streets are usually named after trees (Elm, Chestnut, Pine, Beech, Maple, etc.). The connecting roads are perpendicular to these roads creating a large and orderly grid (unlike its more famous city to the south). In addition to textile Mills, the Amoskeag Foundry produced millwork. They built rifles during the Civil War and later built locomotives - producting up to 60 a year.
At its peak in the early 20th century, the Amoskeag Company was the largest textile producer in the world with 30 mills in operation and most of Manchester was populated by people who either worked for the mills or worked supporting the people who worked in the mills. However, all of that ended around 1935, during the depression, when the Amoskeag Mills were forced to close along with the economic base for most of the residents. During the 1950's, the area started to thrive again due to shoe manufacturing but that did not last long as less expensive imports started to arrive in the 1960's. During the 70's and 80's the mills were mostly vacant and Manchester was trying to find a new cog in their economic engine.
Starting during the 1980's, Manchester started a re-birth as new industries, colleges, and hi-tech started to move in and rent/renovate in and around the Downtown area. Additionally, a large shopping mall "The Mall of New Hampshire" open in the southern part of Manchester right near the intersection of Rt 93 and Rt 293. The "Mall of New Hampshire" was anchored by a Sears, Filenes, and Lechmere along with a bank and small food court. The mall brought many shoppers (and employment opportunities) into Manchester and as it was in "Tax Free" New Hampshire, it was frequently visited on the weekends by Massachuset residents. The growth and popularity of the Mall also encouraged other large chain stores to leave the downtown areas and move to the outskirts of the city where travel was easier and space was more plentiful. The stretch of So Willow Street starting just south of Parkview Street and continuing past the Mall is now filled with large malls and plazas containing almost any type of store you can imagine.
Now, no longer powered by the mighty Merrimack River, the Downtown Manchester area is still a bustling area where people can live, work, and relax. The mill buildings are no longer vacant, being occupied by colleges, business, restaurants, and apartments.