Manchester’s charm is enhanced by an architectural gem at 20 Hartford Road, on the southwest corner of South Main
Street and Hartford Road. This lovely mansion was originally the home of Frank Cheney, Jr. (1860-1957), President of the
Cheney silk mills from 1906 to 1926.
The mansion, fortunately, has found a modern-day purpose – the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce resides there. Large old houses that don’t find a purpose tend to get demolished, as did, in 1953, the glorious Rush Cheney mansion, at 80 Hartford Road, two doors west of the Frank, Jr., mansion.
In 1958, the South United Methodist Church, just across the road, purchased the Frank, Jr., mansion from his estate.
In a 2006 interview for a Historical Society television show, church member Phil Susag said that in the 1950s, South
Methodist had been in the process of raising funds for an educational wing needed to relieve overcrowded Sunday school
facilities. Their plans (and capital) for a large wing, however didn’t come to fruition until the 1970s. Meanwhile, two
Cheney mansions and eleven acres of land did become available for $100,000, and the church bought them. Children went to
church school there for several years, and there was space for various church events and for apartments for church staff,
missionaries, and an immigrant family. A parking area was created in front of 20 Hartford Road, when parking was no longer
allowed along Hartford Road.
South Methodist church maintained Frank, Jr.’s house with an eye to historic preservation, including some Cheney furniture that came along with the house – a dining room table, for example, too big to fit in an ordinary house. During 2006, the interior was refreshed and painted. Visitors to the Chamber of Commerce office can admire this work.
The other mansion that the church acquired – at 80 Hartford Road, next door to Frank, Jr.’s mansion – was his parents’ home. New Hope Manor pays $1 a year to the church to use the property, an arrangement that has worked well since 1972. New Hope Manor (NHM) is a residential and educational treatment center, whose mission is to provide “a safe, nurturing, and therapeutic environment,” for up to 20 young women age 12 to 18, in “a family-like structure to encourage trusting, healthy relationships in a home setting.” NHM’s long-term arrangement for the property includes paying for operating costs and physical work on the building.
The church has a similar agreement with the Chamber of Commerce, except there is an annual occupancy fee.
When I-384 was built, the State needed three acres to build an on-ramp, and paid South Methodist approximately the same amount as the church had paid for the entire parcel.
Along with his four siblings, Frank, Jr. grew up at 80 Hartford Road, a commodious mansard-roofed house designed by
architect Hammat Billings, who also designed Cheney Hall. His parents were Susan and Frank Cheney; his father was the
youngest brother of the founding generation of the silk mills. His sister, Miss Mary Cheney, was known as Polly within the
family, and was a noted philanthropist and gardener.
Frank, Jr., and his siblings played with their cousins and friends – sledding and skating on the Great Lawn, “taking part in amateur theatricals, having musical evenings at home, playing tennis, dancing and walking on Mount Nebo. Their mother read them Dickens and other Victorian authors, skipping parts she thought were unsuitable,” according to Alice Farley Williams in her book “Silk and Guns.”
Frank, Jr. went to private schools and then to Hartford High School and M.I.T., after which he worked for the family silk firm, starting as superintendent of the machine shop and then serving as superintendent of the dressing and spinning mill. He managed the electrification of the mills. He was named a director in 1893, and then a vice president, and then President (1906-1926) and Chairman of the Board (1926-1931). He married Florence White Wade in 1897 in Baltimore, MD.
Frank, Jr., was always known as Frank, Jr., even after his father’s death, according to his cousin Antoinette Cheney Crocker in “Great Oaks: Memoirs of the Cheney Family,” her privately printed 1977 memoir. She says, “It seems ironical to call a man in his nineties ‘junior’ but so it was to everyone in Manchester. The townspeople always referred to Cheneys by their first names or initials. The Cheneys were so numerous. The junior applied in many ways – joie de vivre, joy in nature and in youth. One of his greatest joys in life was a trip to Marlborough [where the Cheneys had a rustic camp] with a good many of his favorite cousins…I never saw cousin Frank look grim or sad. There was always a twinkle about him… He was president of Cheney Brothers and president of the Manchester Savings Bank…During a bank crisis he took his own money to back up the bank.”
Frank, Jr. was also a State legislator, director of the Phoenix National Bank, president of South Manchester Water Company, the Manchester Electric Company, and the South Manchester Sanitary & Sewer District. He was the first chief of the South Manchester Fire Department, a director of the South Manchester Railroad Company, and an incorporator of Manchester Memorial Hospital. He devised many mechanical improvements in the textile operations of the mills and perfected a ribbon-making machine that was still in use when Cheneys was bought out by J.P. Stevens in the 1950s.
His lifelong friend C. Elmore Watkins, said in eulogy, “He was never so happy as when called upon to repair some piece of machinery that everyone else had despaired of making work. In overalls and slouch hat, his hands black with grease, it seemed he couldn’t be the same person who had spent the previous evening at dinner in New York with leaders of the nation.”
In 1901 Frank, Jr., built the brick Georgian Revival mansion next door to his parents’ house. The architect was Charles
Adams Platt (1861-1933), grandson of George Wells Cheney, of the founding generation of the silk mills, who designed for
the Astors in New York City and for wealthy clients throughout the country. The house has a semi-circular entrance portico
with balustrade and fluted columns.
In 1923, Platt was called upon again to remodel and expand the house, adding to the roof, to make a two-and-a-half-story, 6,744-square-foot building.
Even today, with its office space, the house is elegant, and visitors can still see the Italian villa motif – large windows out onto verandas, with steps down to the lawn – and interior details such as a curving banister leading up the stairs and parquet flooring. This is truly a gem of Manchester.
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For information on the Frank Cheney, Jr. House and on Charles Adams Platt in the "Cheney Brothers National Historic Landmark District" map page in this web site, please click: C.A.Platt and 27. Frank Cheney, Jr. Mansion.