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  • Correspondent photo by Dana Benner

    This bark and quill basket sits in the Millyard Museum.
  • Correspondent photo by Dana Benner

    The Millyard Museum.
  • Correspondent photo by Dana Benner

    This sign hangs in the Millyard Museum.
Sunday, April 3, 2011

Take a walk through time at Manchester’s Millyard Museum

Like most areas in New Hampshire, the state’s largest city, Manchester, is rich in history.

Nestled in the heart of the historic mill yard area is the Millyard Museum, an institution that’s part of the Manchester Historic Association and is dedicated to not only preserving history, but also making sure it isn’t forgotten.

Housed in Mill No. 3 at the corner of Commercial and Pleasant streets, the unassuming museum tells the story of not only the mill area, but of Manchester as a whole.

Walking through the doors of this old mill building feels like stepping back in time. If the wood plank floors could talk, one can only wonder about the tales they would tell.

The museum features a wonderful permanent exhibit called “Woven in Time: 11,000 years at Amoskeag Falls,” which is set up tastefully. If you’re into history, you could easily spend hours exploring this museum, which is set up according to time period.

The first area you’ll encounter is the section about the Pennacook people, who have called the Amoskeag Falls area home for more than 11,000 years. Labeled drawers hold examples of tools used by the Pennacook from the first European contact and before.

The Pennacook lived and fished throughout the Merrimack Valley, but it seems that the area around Amoskeag Falls was one of their favorite places to take advantage of the bounty nature offered. Across the bridge, at the top of the hill, was found the remains of a large Pennacook village. Before the area was paved over, many of the artifacts were unearthed, and some of these can be viewed at the museum.

Leaving the Native exhibit, you’ll enter the age of European settlement. The first Europeans who settled here were mainly lumbermen and farmers. They lived off of the land, some making their fortunes, while others lived from season to season.

Early on, these colonists learned the value of harnessing the power of the river. At first, it was for grist mills and lumberyards, but it didn’t take long for other uses to come to light. The beginning of the Industrial Age was born, and thus the next section of the museum.

With the Industrial Revolution came an influx of people to work in the newly erected mills. Most of the workers came from French Canada, but there were also immigrants from Greece, Italy, Ireland and others.

These people worked long hours for low wages. Working conditions were terrible, and there were no benefits. This was long before unions, although it was these conditions that helped lead to the formation of unions.

This section of the museum houses documents and artifacts from the 1800s. There are hands-on stations for children and examples of looms used in the mills.

From the early mill area, the museum leads you into “modern” Manchester. Many don’t realize that the mills remained active well into the 20th century, producing textiles for the military and civilian uses alike.

It was here that the Amokeag Manufacturing Co. was formed, the largest textile-producing company in the world at the time. At its height, it employed more than 17,000 people.

The city of Manchester grew up around the mills. The mills opened the doors to other businesses, such as stores, banks and schools. Manchester was truly a “United Nations” of different people. The mills provided work and the immigrants offered diversity.

The story of Manchester is America’s story. It incorporates immigrant contributions to our society. It’s the true story of how hard work leads to good things. With each generation, things got better.

Unfortunately, the mills and the jobs they provided are no longer here, but their legacy still survives. Like any area, the makeup of Manchester is constantly changing, but it all started 11,000 years ago when Pennacook fishermen plied the waters of the Merrimack River.