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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

In Nashua, a green centerpiece for the city on Concord Street

Don Himsel

Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.

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Editor’s Note: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo and an explanation of how he got the shot.

Romeo Couture called. He had something for me.

When I arrived at his Hudson home, he was ready for me. In the kitchen was a pile of old Nashua Telegraphs and some band memorabilia. He had a great old 8-by-10 print with sharp-dressed bandsmen (and one majorette) outside the James E. Coffey Post on Court Street, which for sure I’ll get to in the coming weeks. But in the stack, and the reason for his call, was a black album, bound at one end with string tied in a bow. Gold print on the cover reads “photographs.” Two-by-three prints line the stiff, black stock pages and for most of us, including Couture, most of the people are unknown.

Couture told me he was cleaning out some old family stuff he had acquired. He didn’t have a use for the photos, since except for a select few, he didn’t know anyone in them. He asked if I wanted to have it. Sure, you bet. So over I went.

The prints are black and white, or more accurately, black and yellow. I suspect they were made with an old Kodak pocket and folding Brownie model camera, which were popular at the time. Maybe the 1A Autographic? The 1A Junior? Affordable and portable; just the kind of thing you could take to the lake or, say, an evening’s outdoor concert.

Flipping through, I see Faye, Charles and George. Flip and Johnny. Francis and Gene. Some captions read “Come on in,” “The Cove,” “Can You Paddle?” and “ Liberty Bond Parade, October 1917.” Deep into the album, I find “Joy Riders, October 1916,” and this week’s photo, “Band Concerts, Greeley Park.”

The park was given to the city by James Greeley in the late 1890s. The Greeley family was prominent in town for many years. Joseph Thornton Greeley was the first president of the Indian Head Bank and a founder of the Nashua Manufacturing Company. James Greeley’s 1879 will reads:

“I give and devise to the city of Nashua my farm situated on the Concord Road deeded to me by Joseph Greeley, containing one hundred and sixty acres, more or less. The farm should be used for farming purposes and some future time for a park or some public institution.”

A little while later, industrialist John Cotton gave a few bucks to the city with improvements. His $5,000 donation and other city money resulted in the stone structure providing bathroom facilities and the backdrop to countless contemporary prom and wedding photos.

Later, other improvements were added. On page 175 of the 1908 annual report, it states “in addition to the generous gift of Mr. Cotton, three valuable strips of land have been given for park purposes …”.

Land purchases from Clara Wheeler, Anna Colburn and the Highland Spring Sanitorium allowed for a roadway to be built. “A thorough up-to-date parkway, twenty feet wide and three courses of crushed rock on a rolled foundation has been completed from Concord to Manchester streets. The Parkway is so constructed it will last for many years.”

“Many evergreens and maples have been planted,” it reads, “thus blending the oak grove with the shade trees near the street. When our plants have matured, Concord street will have the appearance of passing through a large park instead of separating two distinct parks.”

In 1910, another gift from Clara Wheeler resulted in expanded walkways that built upon her gift two years earlier, the total stretching “… 1,300 feet long and 6 feet wide, the entire length of Concord Street bounding the Greeley Park.”

Pines were planted and flower beds created. The city’s centerpiece park begins to take shape, and provides a splendid backdrop for a pleasant evening’s concert.

Don’t forget your camera.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Himsel on Twitter (@Telegraph_DonH).