Do you know the location of Manchester Green? No, it’s not the green park behind Mary Cheney Library. And it’s not the
green parklet where floral wreaths are placed halfway through the Memorial Day parade. Those are both green, but they’re
not “The Green,” which is actually a fairly large neighborhood near the intersection of Middle Turnpike East with
Woodbridge and East Center Streets (see map).
If you’ve ever driven from Manchester’s center to Shady Glen for a cheeseburger, you have passed right through “The Green.” It was one of the first settled villages in Manchester – a self-sufficient hamlet that preceded the actual incorporation of Manchester as a town (1823).
“The Green” had the first post office (1808), which was an important distinction at the time, indicating the most populous commercial district of a town. The first postmaster there was Wells Woodbridge, and the post office was housed in the Woodbridge Store, now Papa Joe’s Restaurant at the end of Woodbridge Street. Across the street, a circa 1910 building houses DeRosa Printing, but is the former site of a stable, where stagecoaches could get fresh horses on their journey through the Green.
Across Middle Turnpike from the former stable, where the gas station is today, stood the Woodbridge Tavern. It had the distinction of serving George Washington in 1781 and 1789. Washington’s diary states that this tavern served “a good brand of rum.” The old tavern was torn down in 1938, and is commemorated by a stone monument in the grassy area, or green, in the center of the intersection (see picture of passengers standing on the green.)
From there, proceeding along East Center Street, stand older houses that were former homes of prominent families of Manchester Green. My favorite is 560 East Center Street, a circa 1840 Greek Revival-Italianate style home with gardens, painstakingly restored by author Ron Roy between 1997 and 2004.
Sandwiched into the corner of East Center and Pitkin Streets, we can see the former Cone Wagon Shop, established circa 1760 by Ralph and Marvin Cone, known for their Yankee ingenuity. They made dump carts, wagons, and carriages. Today, this yellow building houses several businesses, all more modern than horse-drawn carriages.
Other historic areas of the Green are located out along Woodbridge Street and Middle Turnpike East on the way to the Police Station.
Going back in an easterly direction, we follow a route that is both geographically and geologically logical – historically you had to go through The Green to get to Bolton Notch, the most sensible route through the Bolton Range. It was the major route between Massachusetts and Hartford, the one that Thomas Hooker and party took on their way into Connecticut in 1636.
Even further back, it was the route that the Native Americans used, traveling from Podunk villages to Wiashquaqwumsuck, now called Bolton Notch, to get to Mohegan. Until 1648, according to the Spiess and Bidwell 1923 History of Manchester, Connecticut, this was the only overland route to Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield.
We can still use route 44 through the Green and the Notch to go east to Storrs, and southeast to Mohegan, following the Native American routes. This is the “Cumberland Gap” of eastern Connecticut.
So, the Green was important to travelers for centuries, but it was also important agriculturally. From the 17th through mid 20th centuries, The Green had large farm holdings, with many acres of dairy farms. Next to the former post office, the Woodbridge farmstead still stands, with its graceful circa 1830 Greek Revival house and historic barns. In a building next to one of those barns, J.B. Williams created a popular soap, and developed other cosmetic products, including Aqua Velva aftershave lotion. Williams later moved his operation to Glastonbury.
Ed. Note: To see more about the Woodbridge Farmstead, click here.
The Green saw the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, too, handily situated on Bigelow Brook, now mostly underground in this area, but formerly a power source for machinery. In the 1790’s, Richard Pitkin built a cotton mill near the Woodbridge Farm. In 1851, the Pacific Company built a mill there, followed by various fires, failures, and reorganizations. Local stockholders and managers over the years lent their names to locations in the area: Wells Woodbridge (Woodbridge Street), Aaron Cook (Cook’s corner), and Hewitt Coburn (nearby Coburn Road). Coburn was President of Glastonbury Knitting Mills, which remains as the large factory structure across from the VFW. This mill produced men’s long woolen underwear, a product that lost popularity, resulting in the mill’s closing in the 1920s. The mill building has since seen service as an antique store, drug store, bar, printing plant, furniture store, shoe store, warehouse, bookshop, and now a furniture store again.
Further east, today’s Senior Center is the former Manchester Green School, built in 1921, the third school on that site. Fortunately, this structure has remained a worthwhile building, through “adaptive reuse,” a sort of architectural recycling that preserves our past while meeting modern needs.
Going farther east, just across Vernon Street from the Senior Center, Aaron Cook established a blacksmith shop in the early 1800’s, later known as the Lyman Cook blacksmith shop. Benjamin Lyman, “an inventive Yankee,” was famous for his improvements to plowshares, and for metal wagon hubs, a step up from the old wooden ones. These ramshackle workshops later became Cook’s Garage, a gasoline and service station, torn down in 2003.
As with other areas of Manchester, The Green has witnessed many changes over the years, but still retains some of its rural charm. Green Walking Tours are periodically led by Historical Society members, normally beginning at the Senior Center, 549 Middle Turnpike East and running about 1-3/4 hour -- check the Upcoming Events page on this web site for information on upcoming walks. Questions may be directed to the History Center at 860-647-9983, or by accessing the "Contact Us" page by clicking here.
Susan Barlow is a Director Emeritus of the Manchester Historical Society.