Cheney Brothers – Houses

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Some people have questioned the nature of the relationship between the Cheney family and the community of Manchester. I started looking into this question and I found that the question wasn’t exactly answered in the National Registry of Historic Places nomination form, but it was discussed. Rather than try to interpret that, I’m going to simply give it to you from the form.

The Cheney brothers Historic District encompasses approximately 175 acres and includes the 18th-century Cheney Family Homestead, several 19th-century mansions built by the Cheney Brothers and their descendants, some two dozen mill buildings dating from as early as 1886, several schools and churches either built by the Cheneys or situated on land donated by them, and about 210 individual and multIfamily mill houses either constructed or purchased by the Cheney Brothers Manufacturing Company between 1850 and 1920 for use by its mill operatives.

Collectively these form what Harper’s Weekly editor Henry Loomis Nelson described in 1890 as “in many respects . . . the most attractive mill village in the country.” Nelson was impressed especially with the community’s park-like surroundings; absence of fences, pigsties, chicken coops, and litter; and rows of neat, well-kept workers’ residences which represented “every phase of the spirit of rural architecture.” 11″ If today he could return to South Manchester, which is part of the town of Manchester, probably he would be pleased that relatively few physical changes have occurred in the historic district. He might not be pleased, however, that the village is considered by many historians, like Ruth 0. M. Anderson, as an excellent example of the “benevolent paternalism” of many 19th and early 20th-century textile mill owners. 12 For while recognizing South Manchester as atypical in beauty and comfort, Nelson applauded the Cheneys as the creators of “not such a model village as a family would erect as a monument to its own benevolence” but “a community of friendly neighbors and good citizens.

According to Buckley, both “welfare capitalism” and “civic responsibility” contributed to the Cheney family’s development of South Manchester. Cheney Brothers Manufacturing Company “decided fairly early in the period of expansion after the Civil War,” he says, “that it had a deep responsibility to the community and that in fulfilling that responsibility it would create the conditions of small labor turnover and employee loyalty which were important factors in achieving business.

National Registry of Historic Places – Nomination form No. 78002885

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132 comments

  1. Hi Dan, these houses and the school and even the outhouse look very neat and well maintained. I am of the view that treating people well, regardless of the motivation which with people who are making money from the sweat of your brow is always likely to be a double-edged sword, is still a good thing. I think most very wealthy people give to curry favour with others and to keep the poor quiet and stop them causing trouble. Is that a mean and cynical thing to think?

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t think its mean, Robbie. There was clearly a business decision at the root of this. Whether to keep workers quiet or simply to keep them available – there were lots of mills throughout New England at the time – we’ll never really know. Later, Cheney Mills reduced working hours from 48 per week to 44 (I think those are the numbers) but it was due to supply problems, not kindness. Whatever the reason, it remains true that they treated their workers better than mill owners in other parts of the country.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like this group, Sofia. It’s true, this benefited the company and the owners, but it was better treatment than others were providing. I like that there were options to rent or buy the houses. Company housing was usually available for rent only, and tied to your work in some way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like what the Cheney Brothers developed in order to provide adequate housing and community for their employees.

    The huge house with the red shutters is quite the eye catcher! The yellow house is very attractive. I like the windows on the first level.

    And wow! A double-seater outhouse that offers privacy. That’s different. 🤗

    Once again, you’ve provided a nice tour for me while I’m still in my pj’s! Only way I travel anymore!
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for booking your travel with No Facilities, Ginger. I am assuming the side-by-side outhouse is for girls and boys at the school. Private, but I’m not sure I’d want to be using it in the winter.

      I couldn’t find all the houses that were included in the nomination form (I was surprised the form only included 10 photos). The large houses shown here are beautiful, and wel maintained. I’m sure they all date from the same era, 120-150 years ago.

      Like

  3. The motivations in such cases are never pure, but it looks much more livable than many photos of mill towns I’ve seen. How it was in actuality for the people that lived there–how much economic freedom they actually had–is hard to tell from the vantage point of now. Whoever lived in the mansions lived quite well though I would imagine! (K)

    I’ve done a poem for the contest this week, but I did stick my own new door into the post.
    Here’s my first one. (K)

    #Tastetherainbow with Thursday Doors

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, it’s hard to know how things really were for the workers, but these are better houses than many mill towns would have had. I also like the idea that people could buy the houses. Again, we don’t know the details of the financing, but most factory housing was rental only and only while employed.

      Thanks for joining the writing challenge with your lovely poem.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love the business model. Sounds very biblical. The Cheney’s were looking out for and caring for those who worked for them. Even the 48 hour work week, can find its roots in the Bible. Six days you shall labor. To our minds, with both Saturday and Sunday that sounds odd, but its not for much of history. As for the Cheney’s benefiting because of the labor of the workers, the workers benefitted because of the benevolence of the Cheney’s. The dirty little secret is that we need rich people in our society. Both classes, rich and poor, need one another. Trying to make all equal in outcome is the devil’s work, has never worked, and will never work for a decent society. But I’m sure some would disagree.

    Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Of course supporting the community wasn’t pure generosity on the part of the Cheney family, but it does seem that their approach to housing and community for their workers was a cut above. Obviously, they were living large, but being able to rent or buy single family homes was uncommon for the time. I also think it’s nice that the people in the late 1960s worked to preserve the entire community as well as the mills. Most mill towns would have preserved a sample of worker housing to go with the mills. This town has an entire district that was built nice enough and well enough to survive.

      I don’t know if we need rich and poor, at least not with the gap between them that exists today, but you’re right about attempts to make it all equal.

      Thanks, too for your doors today.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. […] Travel tip: When in rural America, do not always trust your GPS. Sometimes, county agencies decide that a road is not needed, not useful, or just too much to keep up with and they allow nature, or the local landowners, to use it for their own right of ways. In essence, it’s donated back to the farmers. GPS did not have an update on this donation. Also, remember that signs are not always self-explanatory……if there are any. Such was the case in a recent Thursday Doors search. […]

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  6. I wish some of those original residents could happen by and gossip with you. It would be so very interesting to hear what their perspective was. It all looks so comfortable and secure that it’s hard to imagine it might have been limiting in some ways. I think there’s some meaning in the way all the doors are closed. We just can’t know. Once again, thanks for the history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t imagine the work was interesting. I know the hours were long, but the company was doing something that no other company did, so they probably worked to retain their workers more than the woolen mills, of which there were many throughout New England. It would be fun to go back and talk to some of the people. There have been books written about the Cheney Mills, maybe there are some first person stories. I think I need to visit the library.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying these visits. Next week, I’ll show you some of the other buildings they built in town.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Marian. I’m glad you enjoyed these doors. Your story is wonderful. Your post yesterday (I’m catching up) was wonderful in a different way, but thanks for writing it.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ‘a deep responsibility to the community..’ The Cheney Brothers might be surprised/disappointed if they could see how things are now. They did have a beautiful homestead, though. Oh, Dan–that red shutter house has so much going on with it. That house and the yellow house–I have so many questions. I wonder how many kids live in that house and is it a generational house? The ooh and aah in me still persists, as I look at your photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s strikes me that the Cheneys were simply good business people. If you have a happy workforce they are more productive. Who was it that said: “Our product is steal, our strength is people”? Sounds pretty smart to me. Nowadays we want the best and the cheapest and fastest and you know you can only have two out of three.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pam. I think this arrangement did work for all parties. Most “mill towns” are gone, perhaps some of the housing has been preserved as an example. This housing live on 120-150 years later, and people are living in these houses.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. A lovely collection of houses. I appreciate the effort. Something about the proportions in the first set looks strange. Either that is a huge school, or the outhouse doors are too small for a normal human. :D

    My doors are from this Sunday but chances are you will remember them since they are from Capalbio on the hill, our closest old town. We had day-trip visitors over. https://manjameximexcessive6.wordpress.com/2022/05/05/thursday-doors-5-5-22-capalbio/#Tuscany#Capalbio#view#greendoor

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the outhouse was primarily for children. Maybe that explains the narrow doors. You’re right though, I wouldn’t want to need to use those facilities and have to wiggle in those doors.

      Your photos are excellent!

      Liked by 1 person

    • They had a good business. At one point, they were known for making the best silk in the world. They needed their workforce, as spinning silk was not like other textiles. I think this worked for everyone. The mansions are amazing, but the “ordinary” houses are quite nice and are occupied still to this day.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Dan – this was so interesting – and the one you think might be a church building doesn’t look like a traditional church – but who says they all need a steeple or lots of marble – ahahah a

    Also,
    down in Titusville FL there is a part of state road 50 that is called “Old Cheney Highway” and now I am wondering if their is a connection to the Cheney family highlighted here.
    Hmmm – I might have to look the next time I am around that area.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know if they built the houses themselves, or simply directed the operation. At one point, there were over 4,000 employees in the mills, so they would have had their hands full managing the business.

      Like

  11. Fascinating!! Interesting write up on the nomination form….thanks for including it! The pictures say so much and you truly got a mix of architecture from simplistic to way over the top!! Love all of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kirt. I love it when I can find the nomination forms. They are written by people who invested a lot of time into researching and documenting the district. This area is fascinating. It’s mostly residential now, but so many of the mill buildings remain – repurposed as housing and offices. I’m glad you like it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • The business owners that knew they needed their skilled workers also knew to take care of them. The fact that these houses are still standing and are trading freely in today’s market speaks to the quality with which they were built.

      Like

  12. I really like the brick sidewalks and the house where you said there’s a lot going on. But all are so well preserved and I like the thoughtfulness for the workers. You don’t find that often enough these days.

    I’m quite late to the party today but it’s been a busy day. However,I have some more tiny houses and hopefully that will make things better. :-) https://sustainabilitea.wordpress.com/2022/05/05/thursday-doorshold-me-closer-tiny-dancer/#tinyhouse/#misunderstoodsonglyrics

    Happy Thursday!

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of American history began in New England, Cheryl. We’re fortunate that some people had enough vision to preserve some of it. I look forward to your doors.

      Like

  13. Hi Dan – so interesting to see the buildings – especially the doors and windows … what an interesting town, and company – cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  14. These buildings are pretty to see. So well cared for– and obviously to scale for the times. They seem small to me, but do give good insight into how people lived back then. Nice doors on them, too– of course!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m always fascinated by frame houses that survive over a hundred years. In my head, the elements should do them in. Especially in cold areas. I don’t know. Maybe I have it all wrong. Love give sturdy the buildings look. Loving that porch. And as always thanks for the history lesson. They seem to have been a trailblazer…take care of your employees and this can only increase your profit margins. Regardless, this was a good thing for the workers.

    Pat

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pat. I think these guys would have had additional motivation to keep their employees happy. Spinning silk wasn’t like the work going on in the other textile mills, and these were the only people making silk. Some of their employees actually worked to improve the process. I think the notion of happy employees worked well for them. I, too like the porch on that white house.

      As to the wood frame houses, they do require a lot of maintenance, but, in general, if you can keep the water out, you can keep the house standing.

      Like

  16. […] Welcome to Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments below, anytime between 12:01 am Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time). You can join in here: https://nofacilities.com/2022/05/05/cheney-brothers-houses/ […]

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  17. Love the red of the schoolhouse, Dan. More like a burgundy, I guess. Either way, it looks great. And the rest are very attractive as well. Thanks for another great roundup.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you like them, Paul. I’m trying to imagine attending school in a building like that. I’ve never been able to understand how they taught multiple grade levels at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I read about some companies that seem to care about their employees, but not the truly wealthy ones. They seem to be in the news for exploiting their employees more than helping them. Maybe it’s just the stories the news thinks will get ratings. I think they want to leave a legacy, but I’m not sure what that legacy will be. Maybe it hits them after they retire. I don’t know much about the DuPont family. I hope you have a nice week.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know too much about the DuPonts either. My mom’s cousin, Hal, worked for them all of his career as a chemical engineer. He is 97 now and still going strong. Many of the DuPont family mansions are now museums and parks, not public, but for a fee. He pays something each year to enjoy Winterthur, which is in Delaware. I wrote several posts about my visit there several years ago. You might enjoy a tiny bit of their story https://alwayswrite.blog/2016/12/04/travel-easy-deleware-paths/

        Liked by 1 person

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