In March 2006, at the age of 86, Betty Hutchinson came on a Historical Society walking tour. She rested for a moment before
going up the hill on Locust Street, off Downtown Main Street. During this little break, Betty talked about her own history,
right at that very corner.
Betty said that she and her family lived on the south side of the corner, in the parsonage of the Center Congregational Church. The house is long gone, as are her parents, Edna and the Rev. Watson Woodruff (1880-1957). Those familiar with Center Church will recognize the name Woodruff, memorialized by the auditorium Woodruff Hall.
Across the street, Betty said, on the north corner, lived Malcolm S. Mollan, an editorial writer at The Manchester Herald, a daily newspaper that ceased publication in June 1991.
By then, many of the participants in the walking tour had gathered around Betty. “Mr. Mollan and his wife, Dora, were quiet people. I think they didn’t have any children themselves, and they were always nice to my two sisters and me. We used to go to their little house on Halloween for trick-or-treat.
“Well, someone thought the Town needed a motto, so there was a competition, and Mr. Mollan won the contest. His entry was: A City of Village Charm.”
We enjoyed hearing about Mr. Mollan and about the parsonage, which was not the only house that served as Center Church’s parsonage over the years.
The event that Betty attended, the “Hidden Gems Walking Tour,” yielded an unplanned gem: Betty herself! Fortunately, Betty gave me her phone number, and I had the opportunity to talk more with her later on. She is a World War II veteran, having served in the Army Nurse Corps in the Philippines. She was active in the Girl Scouts in Manchester, and contributed to the Historical Society’s 2006 Scout exhibit. She is a gem in more ways than one, holding the Manchester Road Race record for the 80-89 age division. Although she and her husband, Jon, have moved to a retirement residence in New Hampshire, they are still interested in Manchester’s history and activities.
We have additional information on how Manchester came to be known as a City of Village Charm, but Betty is the only person I’ve met who actually knew Malcolm Mollan.
Of course our Town Historian, Vivian Ferguson, has lots of information about The Manchester Herald, having written for it, and also being married to its publisher, the late Tom Ferguson. Vivian found an article in a 1977 Herald, in which her husband wrote about Malcolm Mollan’s creation of the motto City of Village Charm. Beginning December 12, 1935, and for many years after, the motto was on the masthead of the Herald.
David Smith, curator of the Historical Society’s collections, found a clipping from the Herald, which gives a sense of the excitement about the contest:
“Manchester Evening Herald, December 5, 1935: HERALD’S EDITOR WINS TOWN SLOGAN CONTEST; Malcolm Mollan’s Entry Gets Most Votes As Civic Progress Committee Pours Through Big Batch of Suggestions. ‘Manchester–A City of Village Charm.’ This slogan, chosen by the Civic Progress Committee today, as the one best suited to describe the town in attracting new friends to Manchester, was written by Malcolm Mollan, editorial writer on The Herald. To Mr. Mollan goes the $25.00 offered by the Chamber of Commerce for the best slogan submitted. The contest closed yesterday morning at ten o’clock.
“Over 600 slogans were entered in the contest. A special slogan committee waded through the big pile of entries last night and finally eliminated until 75 were left. These 75 were presented to the entire Civic Progress Committee in meeting today and the winning slogan selected on the basis of points.
“Mr. Mollan’s entry – “A City of Village Charm” was away out in front when the point counts were totaled. Incidentally, it was the only slogan entered in the contest by Mr. Mollan. He took but little time in writing it and maintained after he had the inspiration that he wouldn’t try to find another since he was satisfied with that one.
“After it had been learned at The Herald that Mr. Mollan was the winner the entire staff tried in vain to find from him how he would spend the 25 bucks. Hungry reporters suggested a big feed but the genial editorial writer was deaf to suggestion.”
The Herald story goes on to mention two other staff members’ successes, and finishes the story with: “It was a big day for Herald men, but none of them seemed to bother about fame – 'tis such a trifling thing to gentlemen of the press.”
It may seem odd today, but at that time, it was almost only men who wrote for newspapers, with the exception of a female
“Society” editor, who handled news and announcements about events such as weddings, engagements, and parties.
In conducting slide shows about the history of Manchester and its charm, I frequently ask the audience what they consider the charming spots of Manchester today. After we get past occasional debate about whether there IS any charm left, the audience will usually name, in this order:
• The Cheney Historic Landmark District, including Cheney Hall
• Our Downtown with its vintage buildings
• Highland Park, its stone walls and bridges, and the view from the summit of Case Mountain
• Center Park, behind the Mary Cheney Library building, and
• The public libraries.
In addition, many “vote” for the Pitkin Glass Works, Porter and Howard reservoirs, and the popular eatery Shady Glen.
Manchester also has charming events such as free summer concerts at the Manchester Bicentennial Band Shell, the Thanksgiving Day Road Race, Cruisin’ on Main, the Hockanum River canoe race, and Pride Week and Heritage Day in early June each year.
If you’re interested in meeting some interesting people and discovering more about familiar and charming sights, consider taking a tour with the Historical Society. Events are listed on the events tab at the web site.
As a frequent leader of walking tours, I am pleasantly surprised by how much I learn from participants who come on the walks. Although I spend time researching with books and old newspapers, I encounter people who actually lived in the houses along our route. That’s how I met Maureen (Shea) Chalibox, who attended a Boulder Road walking tour as a participant. She grew up at 123 Boulder Road with her parents, Judge and Mrs. Shea, and shared some fascinating memories of the house and neighborhood. She recalled, for instance, the day that she couldn’t join neighbor Mr. Pearson, the high school music teacher, for a planned trip to the circus in Hartford. Her family was busy getting ready for visitors coming that day, July 6, 1944. They were shocked to hear on the radio of the disastrous Circus Fire, where 168 people died. It turned out that Mr. Pearson and the children who accompanied him escaped the fire, and got home safe and sound.
On a walk that started at St. James School, I met Bob Gorman, who had started kindergarten there three years after the school’s founding, and graduated in 1936. He knew more stories about St. James than I could find in books. He also let me borrow pictures of his family’s State service station on Main Street. Since then, Bob has written a memoir of his experiences in World War II.
So, in addition to places and events, a most important aspect of Manchester’s charm is its interesting and generous people, willing to take a moment to share their memories. Let’s hope that charm, like Mr. Mollan’s motto, endures at least another 72 years.
Written in April 2007 by Susan Barlow and copyright by the Manchester Historical Society