Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: The Manchester Locomotive Works meets unexpected challenges
The new Manchester Locomotive Works got off to a fast start. Beginning in 1854, the corporation constructed a large manufacturing plant on Canal Street, between Hollis and Dean (now Dow) streets that stretched over five acres.
Before construction could proceed very far, however, the company had to determine what to do about a small private cemetery that existed at the northwest corner of the property (near the current corner of Dow and Canal Streets).
From the mid-1700s into the early 1800s the Christian Brook Cemetery had served the scattered pioneer families who had once lived in the vicinity. The Locomotive Works needed the land, so there was no possibility that the cemetery would simply be fenced off and allowed to remain.
Among the people buried there were Archibald and Eleanor Stark, parents of Revolutionary War General John Stark, as well as John's younger brother, Samuel Stark, Sam's wife, Elizabeth and their daughter, Polly. Also interred there was Samuel Blodget, the visionary and eccentric inventor who had built a transportation canal nearby that enabled cargo-carrying river boats to bypass the roiling waters of Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River.
The Locomotive Works arranged for the bodies to be exhumed and identified, and for the remains to be reburied in a lot in the southwest corner of the Valley Cemetery. The few simple slate headstones that still existed were also moved.
Samuel Blodget's grave was not marked, however it was known that his casket had ornate handles. When this was located, the remains inside were examined. It was noted that the skull was quite large. This further confirmed that this was Samuel's casket, as he was known to have had a large head.
Eleanor and Archibald Stark's remains were moved a second time to the Stark family gravesite at Stark Park. They were buried there in time for the dedication of this new municipal park in 1893. For some reason the remains of Samuel, Elizabeth and Polly Stark were left behind in the Valley Cemetery.
The new Locomotive Works facility, under its first General Agent and Superintendent, Oliver W. Bayley, began producing steam locomotive engines as soon as space was fitted out for manufacturing. Working with Oliver was fellow investor and mechanic Aretas Blood.
The first engine off the line was the "Pioneer." It was built on speculation, and wouldn't find a buyer until March 1855. An identical engine was built and both were delivered to the Central Military Track Railroad (a line servicing cities from Detroit to Chicago) at the same time. These machines were massive, weighing 48,000 pounds.
In April 1855 a third engine was completed and called the "Troubadour." It was sold to the Chicago & Aurora Railroad. Other names given to engines in the early years were the "Gray Eagle," the "Lightfoot," and the "Quickstep."
In 1855 the company built 24 engines, but demand slowed and only 13 were produced in 1856 and nine in 1857. An international financial slowdown and panic began in 1857 which impacted manufacturing in the United States. The negative effects of these economic tribulations were felt particularly severely in industrial New England.
In 1857 Aretas Blood took over as Superintendent of the Manchester Locomotive Works. In May 1858 he was forced to suspend operations as the demand for new steam locomotive engines had dried up. The company intended to start up again when conditions were more favorable.
In the meantime, Aretas needed to earn a living. He decided to lease the buildings and tools and began operating his own general machine shop, which met with some success. He and his men built and repaired a variety of machines including wood planers, portable sawmill engines, and stationary boilers. They also produced machine tools.
The Manchester Locomotive Works' local competitor, the Machine Shop of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, had been heavily involved in manufacturing steam locomotive engines since in 1849. After completing its 234th engine, the Amoskeag decided in early 1858 to get out of the locomotive business. The Manchester Locomotive Works acquired the Amoskeag's locomotive manufacturing assets in 1859, but was not able to take advantage of this favorable market advantage for some time.
When would another steam locomotive engine be produced in Manchester?
Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — The Manchester Locomotive Works flourishes and takes on the building of fire engines..
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org