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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: The Manchester Locomotive Works thrives for decades

March 17. 2014 3:19PM

When the Manchester Locomotive Works on Canal Street began operating in 1855 it employed 300 men who could produce three engines a month. After a promising start in 1855-1856, the company began to founder. It closed its doors in 1858 due to the lingering effects of the international financial panic of 1857. At that time, Agent and Superintendent Aretas Blood leased the Locomotive Works facilities where he set up a general purpose machine shop, known as Blood's Shop.

It would take six long years before the Locomotive Works could get back on its feet. The economic slowdown continued for months on end and then, in April 1861, the Civil War began. Locomotive engines were sorely needed for the war effort, but none of the early orders came to the Manchester company. The Locomotive Works finally restarted production in 1863. The first engine off the line was completed and sold in June 1864. A total of nine were built that year, with four contracted by the United States government for its military railroad.

More orders started coming in, and in 1865 the company manufactured 17 engines, each weighing 60,000 pounds. That year the Locomotive Works acquired an iron foundry off Elm Street, south of the railroad station's freight depot. It was conveniently connected to the Locomotive Works by the railroad track that ran parallel to Canal Street. The foundry operated two furnaces 24 hours a day, enabling the company to control costs and maintain quality by making all of its own castings. In 1873 alone the company used 3.5 million pounds of castings made in the foundry. That year the furnaces consumed 4,500 tons of coal and 1,000 cords of wood. By 1875 the Locomotive Works employed 700 men, and by the 1880s it had the capacity to produce 150 locomotives a year.

Aretas Blood ably managed the Manchester Locomotive Works, and gradually became its principal owner. In 1877 he bought the steam fire engine business from the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, and the Locomotive Works took on the production of the famous Amoskeag engines. It is unclear how many fire engines the Locomotive Works produced, but by 1901 it had manufactured 1,793 steam locomotive engines. These were used by railroad lines in the United States, Canada, and South America. The Manchester engines saw service with the Boston & Maine, the Montreal & Ottawa, the St. Louis & Minneapolis, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, and the Northern Pacific railroad lines. The company manufactured three special engines for the Mount Washington Cog Railway, designed to push tourist-filled passenger cars up a three-mile track to the top of the 6,288-foot peak. One of these, the Ammonoosuc (originally called the Atlas), built in 1875, is still in use. The Cog Railway also acquired two similar Locomotive Works engines from the Green Mountain Cog Railway.

In 1901 the Schenectady Locomotive Works of New York merged with seven smaller locomotive manufacturers, including the Manchester Locomotive Works, to form the American Locomotive Company (known as ALCO). The new company refitted the plant in Manchester and continued producing locomotive engines, but moved the production of steam fire engines to Providence, Rhode Island.

ALCO made another engine for the Cog Railway in 1908. All six cog railway engines made by the Locomotive Works still exist, as does Boston and Maine Railroad Locomotive #494, built in Manchester in 1892. This engine has been on public display at the train station in White River Junction, Vermont, since 1957. It was shown at the 1939 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, New York.

ALCO stopped production in Manchester in 1913.

Aretas Blood died on November 24, 1897. The former blacksmith's apprentice had risen to the top of his industry through talent, hard work and ingenuity. He was the moving force behind the growth and success of the Manchester Locomotive Works, one of the city's leading enterprises for several decades. He had provided gainful employment to hundreds, and was generous in sharing his good fortune with the needy of Manchester through his support of the Manchester Women's Aid and Relief Society and other local charities. Fittingly, today the former main Locomotive Works building on Canal Street houses two nonprofit agencies that help many people.

Next Week: A Valley Cemetery Story — "Saxie" Pike — Civil War drum major..

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association

History Manchester

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