IN HIS 1856 “History of Manchester” C.E. Potter recorded that “Agreeably to public notice, the Citizens of Manchester and adjoining towns assembled in City Hall on Wednesday, October 22d, 1851, at 2 ½ o’clock in the afternoon, to listen to the exercises on the occasion of the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of Derryfield.”
Hundreds of people packed into the City Hall’s auditorium for the occasion.
The featured orator for the event was the Rev. Cyrus W. Wallace. Born in 1805 in Bedford where he spent his childhood, he was educated at Oberlin Seminary in Ohio and at the Gilmanton Theological Seminary. Wallace began preaching in Londonderry in 1838 and the next year came to Amoskeag Village, a textile manufacturing hamlet on the west side of Amoskeag Falls on the Merrimack River.
Here he ministered to the Congregational society which moved to Manchester in 1840 and became the First Congregational Church. Wallace was the first ordained minister to hold regular Sunday services in what was known as the “new village,” now downtown Manchester. This was the center of the planned city that the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company was creating to support its growing mill yard along the east bank of the Merrimack River.
Wallace was known for his strict puritanical views on morality, and also for his kindness and readiness to help the downtrodden. In his speech he touched upon the major themes of Manchester’s history that would be expanded upon by Potter in his book.
This included Native American habitation in the region, the early Scots-Irish and English settlers, the incorporation of Derryfield in 1751 (which became Manchester in 1810), the French and Indian wars, the Revolutionary War, and the development of the river boat trade and of the textile industry.
In his closing remarks Wallace described his philosophical outlook in this way, “We dwell in a changing world, amid scenes that are shifting and passing away. As we have walked today among the monuments of the dead; we have been reminded of the influence of the past on the present…The only way we can pay the debt of gratitude we owe to the past, is by living for the future. The only gold that is lawful tender in this commerce is virtue, embodied in truthful and well directed actions.”
A correspondent for the New York Herald, identified in the paper only as “B,” was in attendance.
In his article for the newspaper, he wrote of Wallace’s address that “…it was highly worthy of this occasion, giving a vivid and glowing description of things, as they were ‘long time ago,’ and a most excellent delineation of the contrast between the manufacturing facilities of the past and the present.”
The second feature of the afternoon program was the reading of an original poem, titled simply “Poem,” by its author William Stark, the great-grandson of Revolutionary War Major General John Stark.
“B” wrote, “Mr. Stark’s poem was acknowledged, by all, to be one of most surpassing brilliancy and elegance. It possessed all varieties of styles — the grave, the gay, the complimentary, the satirical.”
Another newspaper correspondent, writing as “Quod,” published a piece about the celebration in the New York Tribune newspaper.
He wrote, “The poem was a most successful effort, and displayed no small share of poetical ability … Although the audience was already weary with a two-hours’ sitting, or, as was the case with many, by a two-hours standing, for hundreds were obliged to stand for want of room, yet the talented poet chained them to their places for another full hour, while many expressed themselves willing to listen for an hour longer.”
Stark’s poetical retellings of Native American legends, his tales of rowdy settlers fishing for eels at Amoskeag Falls, the liveliness of his nature images, and his melancholic stanzas evoking the passage of time, made the poem memorable. Here is a short excerpt from “Poem”:
So, let us unite, as we gather here,
On the safe return of a hundredth year,
In a hasty search, with a curious eye,
O’er the record book of the days gone by,
From the letters old on its moldy page,
We may draw some good for the coming age.
Next week: The Centennial Celebration’s evening program.