Amoskeag Falls Support Industry
The abundant river fish and forest game in the Merrimack River Valley attracted the attention of the Native American Pennacooks long before the European traders and trappers arrived in the valley in the early 1700s. The Pennacooks called the river falls area "Namoskeag," meaning "place of much fish." A permanent white settlement was established in 1722 by Scots-Irish Presbyterians who saw the manufacturing potential of the falls, which came to be called the Amoskeag Falls. Until their factories were built, they subsisted on fishing and logging. They later used the 85-foot drop of the Amoskeag Falls to power their textile mills. First known as Old Harry's Town, the settlement changed names when it changed hands, becoming Tyngstown in 1735 when it was absorbed by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The town was rechristened Derryfield in 1751.
Benjamin Prichard selected the area for the construction of the new nation's first textile mills on the banks of the Merrimack River in 1805. Derryfield changed its name again in 1810, taking the name of Manchester, after England's industrial giant. The proponent of this final name change was Samuel Blodgett, who visited England and later engineered the building of a canal around the Amoskeag Falls. The canal linked Manchester with Boston, opening the way for great industrial expansion.
In 1831, a group of merchants purchased the failing Amos-keag Cotton and Woolen Factory and reopened as the Amos-keag Manufacturing Company. At its height, the company operated 700,000 spindles and 23,000 looms, shipping nearly five million yards of cloth each week. The millyard occupied more than eight million square feet of floor space and employed 17,000 people. Amoskeag's operating philosophy was one of benevolent paternalism as the company built homes, schools, and hospitals for its employees. The company also radically altered the makeup of Manchester's population when it invited thousands of French-Canadians to work in its mills. While best known for its textiles, the Amoskeag yards did produce other products, including locomotives. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Amos-keag and Manchester's other mills wove enough cloth each year to encircle the world twice.
Mills Decline, Economy Diversifies
Prosperity continued until the Great Depression of the 1930s. National financial woes, labor unrest, aging machinery, and competition from less expensive southern labor combined to bring about Amoskeag Manufacturing Company's demise. In 1935 it declared bankruptcy. However, the operation was saved. This time, a group of businessmen raised $5 million, purchased the yards, renamed the concern Amoskeag Industries, and developed a plan to diversify Manchester's economy.
By the 1980s Manchester had grown into New Hampshire's largest city. New industries led to new building, including the renovation of the millyard into smaller manufacturing units. Following an economic slowdown during the early 1990s, the rest of the decade saw Manchester's economy turn around dramatically. Recent years have seen the continued development of the downtown area, with the building of the Verizon Wireless Arena, Riverfront Stadium, and new shops and restaurants.
Historical Information: Manchester Historic Association, 129 Amherst Street, Manchester, NH 03101-1809; telephone (603) 622-7531
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