Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: The Mammoth Road is completed
After the town meeting of March 8, 1831, Manchester's selectmen delivered the petition to the Hillsborough County Court requesting that the town be excluded from the Mammoth Road project. According to historian C. E. Potter, '…the Court continued the matter from time to time, for consideration.' A year went by, without the judges moving an inch on the matter, so in March 1832 the townspeople voted again not to build Manchester's portion of the highway. The court, in turn, 'decided adversely to the petition of the Selectmen, leaving the road to be built, and to be built as originally laid out.'
Still, the town did nothing. In August 1833 another meeting was held in the old Manchester meeting house to discuss the situation. This must have been a lively gathering, because by this time some of the locals had either been convinced that the road would be good for the town, or that there was no point in fighting it any further. As there was no agreement on how to proceed, it was decided to postpone the call for another vote. This delaying tactic was about to run its course, however. In October the court ordered Manchester to either comply or face consequences. According to Potter, 'This was necessary as most of the road (from Concord, New Hampshire to Lowell, Massachusetts) was already built, and the neglect of this town was becoming a great inconvenience.'
So finally, on March 11, 1834, the voters agreed to raise $750, and to borrow another $250 to pay for constructing its portion of the Mammoth Road, and the work commenced. The road included segments of existing roads, including the original path through the center of town that ran in front of the meeting house and the cemetery. The selectmen received at least one formal petition from property owners requesting alterations to the original route. Stephen Garczynksi of Merrimack recently shared a copy of an interesting document with the Manchester Historic Association. This is petition dated July 2, 1833, signed by 11 Manchester property owners. It states, 'The undersigned respectfully shew that for the due accommodation of the public there is occasion to make the several pieces of existing Highway connecting the Mammoth road as laid out by the committee leading from the Hooksett line southerly to Londonderry line in said town of Manchester neater and straighter.' The court allowed the town to adjust the plans in order to improve the route, and also to save money on construction costs.
After 16 years of bickering, and stubborn resistance on the part of Manchester's citizens, the segment of the Mammoth Road that ran through the town was finally completed by March 1836.
Over the years, several controversies had sprung up regarding the road project in other towns along the route. This discord had led, as Potter explained, '...to the no small injury of the towns engaged in it, and to the entire ruin of individuals.' For Manchester, in particular, the road project proved to be a big burden on the taxpayers during a time when there were many other important matters to contend with. One of these was the need to repair and enlarge its crumbling 18th century meeting house. The interior of the building was originally open to the rafters, with no second floor. In 1836 a floor and ceiling were built to create space for a classroom on the second floor, and for an improved meeting hall on the first. During this time the State of New Hampshire directed Manchester to build a hospital for the insane. This order was rejected as according to Potter, 'The expense of building the Mammoth Road made the people fear an increase in taxes, even for such an object of charity and humanity.'
In the end, the Mammoth Road, which had been built to accommodate stage coaches, horse and ox carts, proved to be a failure. C. E. Potter wrote in 1856, '…in consequence of the building of the Concord Railroad, and of the manufacturing city of Manchester, the road became deserted in a few years, and in many sections of it there is not travel enough to keep the grass from growing on it.'
Next week: Fishing at Amoskeag Falls.
Aurore Eaton is executive director, Manchester Historic Association. Email her at email@example.com