Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: The story of the Mammoth Road
In the early 19th century, transportation between the two important commercial hubs of Concord, N.H., on the north and Lowell, Mass., on the south was slow and indirect. There was much talk about building a modern highway between these towns that would improve commerce for them and for the smaller settlements along the way.
One of the Massachusetts supporters of the road idea purportedly said, 'This mammoth road will kill all other roads.'
Surveyors plotted a potential route starting from an existing road in Hooksett, through Manchester, Londonderry, Windham, and Pelham over the Massachusetts border to Dracut and Lowell. The owners of the stage coach lines in the region were enthusiastic about the prospect of the new road, as were many people in Concord, Lowell and in the smaller towns. Plans for 'the Mammoth Road' gradually took shape, and portions of the highway were being built by the early 1820s.
Support for the project was far from universal. As historian C. E. Potter wrote in 1856, 'In Manchester and Londonderry, there was the most determined opposition to the road, as its construction would be attended with very great expense to those towns, and at the same time accommodated few individuals…' The main road that ran in front of the old meeting house in the center of Manchester and other connecting roadways were considered adequate for the town's needs, and hardly anyone could see a benefit of connecting with the planned Mammoth Road.
The topic of the road project was first brought up at the Manchester town meeting of March 8, 1823. An article proposing that Manchester participate in the venture was soundly dismissed. Local resident Ephraim Stevens was disappointed by the vote. His house was located along the planned route, and he felt that he stood to prosper in one way or another once the road was built. As he was an influential man in town, he was able to persuade several people to sign a petition to hold a special town meeting to again take up the question. This took place on Sept. 8, with 46 voters present. Ephraim's hopes were dashed when he found himself standing alone in favor of the road project. The other 45 voters agreed that '…the public interest does not require said road to be laid out, and that the expense of making the road, would greatly exceed the benefit to be derived … and that it would lay a burden upon the town…' Joseph Moor was appointed to represent the town's interests with the Hillsborough County Court, and he was authorized to hire legal counsel.
The project's supporters in the area brought the matter in front of the court. The judges ruled that the road must be constructed but did not require Manchester's immediate compliance. Manchester continued to maintain its position against any involvement. The issue came alive again in 1828. A special town meeting was called for July 26 and a warrant was considered to again appoint an agent to oppose the Mammoth Road project on behalf of the town. The decision on this proposal was postponed until Aug. 16. At that meeting only four people voted in favor of the road project versus 70 who solidly opposed it. Daniel Watt was appointed as agent to represent Manchester in its continuing effort to be exempted from the project.
The matter of the road was again brought in front of the county court in October 1830. This time the judges ordered that the portion of the highway included within Hillsborough County must be built by the towns involved. The vast majority of the citizens of Manchester continued in their opposition, but they now realized that they were unlikely to prevail. They decided to give it one more shot and petitioned the court to discontinue the road, or to 'make an extension of time & liberty to alter the road as the interests of the town may require & the public good admit.' According to C. E. Potter, 'This vote was evidently dictated by a policy of procrastination; for after the decided action of the Court; there could have been no reasonable expectation that (the judges) could grant a prayer for its discontinuance.'
Next week: Manchester bows to the inevitable and completes the Mammoth Road.
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org