Hippo Manchester
September 15, 2005

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History via the mail

Every postcard in his collection tells a local story

By Dan Szczesny

Manchester, by Robert B. Perreault, Arcadia Publishing, Postcard History Series, 2005, 128 pages.

Local teacher and historian Robert Perreault’s wonderful new picture book, Manchester, is a history book in the simplest fashion. Perreault has taken samples of his postcard collection, added historical tidbits about the images and grouped them geographically into West Side, Downtown, etc.

The result is a Manchester history book that will leave you proud and discouraged at the same time; proud of the city’s industrial and architectural past and disappointed that so much of our history has been burned or torn down and replaced with box stores and cookie-cutter residences that are only a shadow of their ancestors’ former glory.

As you might expect, many of the postcards depict Millyard scenes or scenes of famous city floods (1896 and 1936). There are also quite a few shots of grand buildings that are long since gone—the six-story Kennard block building on Elm Street that burned and the Upton’s Block building on Bridge and Elm that was torn down in 1987 are both fine representations of lost Manchester.

The most startling postcards, however, are of places that still exist in lesser form, stripped of former greatness. There is a postcard of the Crown Theatre on Hanover Street with its original ornamentation and decoration. Now, the building, which houses Child and Family Services, is barren and plain. Another shocking old postcard shows Saint Cecilia’s Hall from 1911. The building still exists and is used by the Police Athletic League, but without its ornate architectural features and overhangs it is nearly unrecognizable from the postcard.

Perreault’s book should serve a purpose as simple as its layout and captions: preservation should not be just a hobby. Taking the easy way out and tearing down an old building or dumbing down its style or look is not always what’s best for a city. As Perreault writes in the book’s introduction, the identity of Manchester’s future depends on an appreciation of its past. Manchester should help anyone who reads it better appreciate the city’s past.

Robert Perreault will sign copies of his new book at these city locations:

Thursday, Sept. 22, 5 to 8 p.m. at The Franco-American Centre, 52 Concord St.

Saturday, Oct. 15, 1 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 1741 South Willow St.