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Home | Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

The story begins for the Harrington Family of Manchester

June 23. 2014 11:56PM

One of the most distinctive tombs in the Valley Cemetery in Manchester is the elegant Egyptian-inspired mausoleum located in the northwest corner of the east side of the cemetery. This is the resting place of members of the prominent Harrington family. Their lasting legacy is the Harrington-Smith Block (also called the Opera House Block) on Hanover Street, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its historical importance and architectural integrity.

The patriarch of the family, Edward Wetherbee Harrington, was born in 1816 on his father’s farm in Acton, Massachusetts, a town near Concord, Massachusetts. When he was 18 he found employment in Boston in a grocery store. After four years he returned to Acton. At this time his brother Phineas was a bricklayer in Manchester working on the construction of the new textile mills of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Phineas encouraged Edward to come to Manchester where the Amoskeag was rapidly transforming the small town into a booming industrial and commercial center. There were endless opportunities available there for an ambitious young man.

Edward arrived in Manchester in January 1839. By March 1840 he had opened the town’s first restaurant in the first building constructed on the east side of newly laid out Elm Street. Business boomed from the start. In the fall of 1841 Edward moved the restaurant into the basement of the Union Building on the west side of Elm Street, at the corner of Market Street. This was the first structure constructed on the west side of the street.

In May 1843 Edward married Frances M. Dearborn. She died in 1847, the same year she gave birth to their only child Frances (Fanny) M. Harrington. Edward married Margaret A. Bond in 1849. They would have four children, but only two lived to adulthood, Edward W. Harrington, Jr. and Delana B. Harrington. They would lead colorful lives.

In October 1853 Edward gave up the restaurant business when he became one of the founders of the City Bank (later the City National Bank). He served as the bank’s cashier for the remainder of his life, a lucrative position. He kept busy in the community as the foreman of Manchester’s first fire company, which was headquartered in a small fire house on the corner of Market and Franklin streets, and he was assistant engineer of the city’s fire department for three years. He was also the long-time captain of the Stark Guards (a local militia group), and was a city water commissioner.

Edward was elected mayor of Manchester, serving in 1859-1860. He was the first mayor to pave the streets, and was in office at the time of the famous firemen’s muster on September 15, 1859. This event was unfortunately preceded the evening before by a drunken riot that sorely tested the effectiveness of the local police department. The muster featured a spectacular demonstration of Amoskeag No. 1, the first steam fire engine built in Manchester by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. Mayor Harrington took the controversial step of purchasing the engine for the city. This decision angered many of his friends in the fire department who feared the inevitable — that steam engines would replace their beloved hand-pumpers, and that fewer men would be needed to man the fire houses.

Edward was twice nominated as the Democratic candidate for governor of New Hampshire, and twice as the party’s candidate for U.S. Congress. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1860, 1864, and 1876. The 1876 Convention was scheduled to take place in St. Louis, Missouri, from June 27-29. Edward, who suffered from chronic health problems, decided to depart for St. Louis several weeks ahead of the event so that he and Mrs. Harrington could visit some famous spas in the west. These resorts featured the soothing waters of natural mineral springs that were widely believed to possess healing properties.

Edward and Margaret Harrington left Manchester by train on May 22, 1876. According to a later newspaper account of their fateful journey, “Capt. Harrington had, probably, some doubt in his own mind, before he started on this trip, whether he would return alive, and this feeling was shared by some of his friends.”

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Next Week: Tragedy strikes in Hot Springs, Ark.

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at

History Manchester Aurore Eaton

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