Sunday, November 7, 2010

In My Footsteps: Trip 83: Manchester, New Hampshire

In My Footsteps
Christopher Setterlund

Trip 83:  Manchester, New Hampshire
September 21, 2010

            Consistently ranking as one of the best places to live in the United States I had very high expectations for Manchester even before I arrived.  After leaving I can say that it lives up to every word of its reputation.  It is every bit a city with tall buildings and busy streets yet it never seemed as imposing to me as places like New York and Boston can be at times.
Weston Tower
            My time in Manchester began with a tower and ended with a tower, the Weston Tower and Smyth Towers respectively.  Weston Tower, on Oak Hill Drive, was built in 1896-97 during the 50th anniversary of the city.  It was built in honor of James Adams Weston who was four times mayor of Manchester during the 1860’s and 70’s.  It is a magnificent granite structure standing sixty-six feet tall with the observatory being an astounding 360 feet above sea level thanks to the hill it stands on.  On this day that I visited the road up to the tower was closed and so I had to walk, but it is not far.  When it is open the observation deck is a great place to see some of the great sights of New Hampshire.
            Smyth Tower is located on the grounds on the Manchester VA Medical Center which makes it stand out even more.  This tower, another which looks like Scargo Tower in Dennis, was built in 1888 as a hideaway for then New Hampshire Governor Fredrick Smyth.  I found it an interesting mix with the tower sitting on a small grassy plateau seemingly untouched from when it was originally built; this is in stark contrast to the walls of steel and glass of the hospital no more than fifty feet away.  These towers were the bookends of my time in Manchester but there was so much more to see in one of the best cities to live in.
            For beautiful scenery there is Stark Park on River Road.  The park itself is very wide open and it is easy to navigate thanks to winding gravel roads which make it possible to find your own piece of shade in which to relax.  There were many cars spaced out all over the park with people lying back in their seats.  I took a walk around this park and realized it is much more like a neighborhood than just a park.
Stark Park
            In the center of the lush green grass is a huge statue of the man the park is named for: General John Stark.  Stark was a Revolutionary War hero and was known as the ‘Hero of Bennington’ for his service at the Battle of Bennington in 1777.  Stark was born is what is today known as Derry, New Hampshire and moved at age eight to modern-day Manchester.  His grave, as well as that of three generations of Starks, is located in the back of the park surrounded by an iron fence.  These graves show you that General Stark was a real person and not just some name engraved on a statue.
            The soul of Manchester can be felt while walking Elm Street and taking a stroll out onto the Notre Dame Bridge.  I enjoyed Elm Street because while it was in many ways the typical city street with high rise buildings and hotels it was pretty much the only street that looked that way to me.  Much like I mentioned about Newport, New Hampshire and a few other towns I have seen there were many brick buildings with names located up near the roof level.
            There are some odd things about cities that I find fascinating.  One such thing is when there are old advertisements on the sides of the brick buildings that seemed to just be ignored.  This was the case on the Dunlap Building and I have seen it before in Taunton where there was an awesome old Coca-Cola ad on the side of a building.
View from the Notre Dame Bridge
            The Notre Dame Bridge which spans over the Merrimack River as it runs through Manchester gives an amazing view of the city with the water and foliage providing a perfect backdrop.  While this walk might not be for everyone I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see this side of Manchester.  The spots that caught my eye the most were the Jefferson Mill to the north with its green peaked roof, clock tower, and ‘Jefferson’ in cursive on the façade.  Also catching my attention to the south was the building at 900 Elm Street which stood out not only because it was one of the tallest buildings but it had two different colored walls, a deep red and a clear color, plus a green roof similar to the Jefferson Mill.
Entrance to the Red Arrow Diner.
            I will admit that as great as my trip to Manchester was I had been saving the best for last.  The Red Arrow Diner is known nationwide for its amazing food as well as the line of celebrities that have filled its walls.  First opened in 1922 the current incarnation of the Diner is owned by Carol Sheehan who took it over in 1987.  It was voted one of the ten best diners in the country and the list of celebrities that have eaten here include Adam Sandler, Paul Newman, Al Gore, and Guy Fieri.  The seats where famous people have eaten are marked by small red plaques which make each visit special in its own right.  
            Their chili is award winning and I tend to agree with the consensus after having some myself.  The walls are filled with unique memorabilia and photos.  It is the consummate diner experience down to the last detail.  It is obvious why people make it a regular stop in their lives.  There is a lot of Red Arrow merchandise as well which means even if you live far away such as I do you can always have that smiling coffee mug logo wherever you are.
            Manchester is consistently rated as one of the best cities to live in the United States and after visiting it is easy to see why.  With beautiful stone towers, lush green parks, beautiful river scenery, a bustling but not overpowering city life, and of course an amazing diner, Manchester is easily a place where I can see myself going back to again and again.  Have fun and happy traveling!

     My first book, In My Footsteps: A Cape Cod Travel Guide, is now available at,, and, soon to be in stores everywhere!  Follow me on Twitter!

DirectionsStark Park:  From I-93 north take Exit 9S for Rt. 28, after 1.7 miles turn right at Webster St.  Turn right at Elm St., take 2nd left onto Monroe St., turn right at River Rd.  Follow it .5 miles to entrance on left.
            Red Arrow Diner:  From I-93 north take Exit 8 onto Wellington Rd., continue onto Bridge St., follow it 1.4 miles, turn left at Kosiuszko St.  Turn left at Lowell St.  Parking is on either side of road.
            Weston Tower:  From I-93 headed north take Exit 8 onto Wellington Rd.  Take first right onto Rt. 28A, turn left at Stockholm St., turn right at Oak Hill Drive.  Tower Hill Rd. is on left, if gate is closed it is a short walk to tower.

ReferencesRed Arrow Diner
             Friends of Stark Park

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