During the Great Depression, New Hampshire cities and towns, and the state as a whole, took advantage of funds made available through a complex network of federal programs known collectively as the “New Deal.” One of the programs that had a positive effect across the state was the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which paid wages for workers toiling on a wide variety of projects. WPA support, often combined with local money and assistance from other “New Deal” programs, provided work for hundreds of unemployed people while benefitting the general public.
WPA workers maintained and improved roads, sidewalks, parks, public buildings, athletic fields, cemeteries, water mains, and sewers. They also worked on forestry projects and sewed clothing for the needy. The WPA was particularly important in enabling the state to recover from the widespread devastation caused by the great flood of March 1936 and the hurricane of September 1938.
In Manchester WPA money helped to construct the Notre Dame Bridge (1937), and (under its Art Project) helped to create the equestrian monument honoring Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski (1938) in Pulaski Park. The bridge was demolished in 1989, but the Pulaski monument still stands. Another local WPA project still exists, and is now a museum and education center open to the public in nearby Londonderry, on the grounds of the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. This is the 1937 airport terminal building, which is listed on the New Hampshire State Register of Historic Places.
In 1927, with a modest expenditure of $15,000, the City of Manchester began developing a small municipal airport on its south end. From 1935 to 1942 the city worked with the WPA to build significant infrastructure to modernize the airport, including roads, runways, lighting, fencing, and utilities — and also to acquire navigation and radio equipment.
One of the airport’s WPA projects was the construction of a terminal and administration building on its north side to replace a small brick structure opened in 1931. The new building was designed in an elegant 1930s style known as Streamline Moderne. This late form of Art Deco architecture was inspired by the aesthetics of airplane and ship design. The 1,600-square foot one-story building, completed in 1937, contained a lobby, ticket counter, offices, and a passenger waiting room. It featured sleek exterior walls of white stucco pierced by a row of alternating rectangular and round “porthole” windows. The front entrance was topped with a glass and copper-sheathed steel tower used for weather observation and radio communication.
In 1941 the airport was converted into a U.S. Army Air Corps base. In 1942 the base was designated as Grenier Field in memory of Army Lt. Jean Donat Grenier, a Manchester pilot who died in 1934 in a plane crash in Utah. Grenier Field played an important role during World War II as a stopover and servicing facility for warplanes destined for Europe.
After the war, civilian operations gradually resumed at the airport. In 1961 the Ammon Terminal was built, and in 1966 the Air Force transferred full control of the airport to Manchester and Londonderry. The 1937 terminal was then used for civil (non-commercial) aviation operations. The current terminal was built in 1994 to accommodate further growth.
In 1995 the 1937 terminal was slated for demolition. Recognizing the architectural and historical significance of the structure, the airport, the City of Manchester, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources agreed that the building should be saved. That year a new nonprofit, the New Hampshire Aviation Historical Society (NHAHS), established a fund for this purpose, and more than $1 million was raised to transform the building into a museum.
In 2004 the building was moved over two runways to the east side of the airport in Londonderry. It was placed onto a new foundation and extensively renovated, with historical elements preserved. In 2005 it was dedicated as the Aviation Museum of New Hampshire. In 2011 the museum, which is operated by the NHAHS, was expanded with the addition of the Slusser Learning Center. The museum is dedicated to preserving the state’s aviation history, including the story of Manchester’s airport—from its humble beginnings to its present-day incarnation as the world-class Manchester-Boston Regional Airport.
Next week: Other notable “New Deal” building projects in New Hampshire.