96 Manchester, NH: Mills

We learned at the history display at the Mill Yard that settlers tapped the Merrimack River in the 1600s to create the first mill, but the town remained a small farming community until it changed its name from Derryfield to Manchester in 1810 and began trying to rival England's industrial center of the same name. Soon, mills lined the river, and the city's population swelled, but in the twentieth century, the mills closed down and they were now rented to boutique businesses.

When we stopped at the information counter at City Hall, we met two gray-haired women who were living reminders of that part of Manchester's history, much as the statue in front of city hall paid tribute to another part: Brigadier General John Stark rallying his troops to victory in the Revolutionary War battle at Bennington by declaring, "There they are boys. We beat them today or Molly Stark sleeps a widow tonight." The two women were sharing a split blueberry muffin and a small cup of coffee when we entered. One wore a sweater decked with puppies and flowers; the other sported a cream-colored turtleneck and bright red blazer.

"My mother worked in the mills," the one in the blazer exclaimed when I asked. "She started when she was 11 years old. At 21, she was a widow with three kids, then she married my dad." She smiled and nodded, "I was the second batch."

The other chimed in, "After the mills closed down, we had famous shoe factories. They're building us a new civic center right here on Elm Street, which is important to the people around here. Not us," she smiled. "We're too old. There are a lot of beautiful things about Manchester--you'll find out. We have the mountains; we have the oceans; we have beautiful lakes; and we're near Boston."

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