Other Cheney Structures

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).

Last week, when I shared photos of the houses the Cheney family lived in and the ones they built for the employees of the mills, some people suggested that the houses benefited the mill owners as much as the employees. This is true. These were no ordinary textile mills.

The Cheney brothers were spinning, weaving, dressing, finishing, and dying silk. Cotton and wool were being turned into thread, yarn and fabric all over New England, but this was the only place where silk was being processed. The Cheney Brothers Mills were the largest in the world and the silk they produced was considered to be the finest. So, maintaining a happy workforce was essential. Still their approach to the task was more compassionate than many other mill owners.

In reading about the mills, I discovered trends in the way they structured the mills, to make them, and the air the workers breathed, cleaner. They provided facilities and services for everyone. Of course, everything could serve both the town and the mills. The text below is from the National Registry of Historic Places nomination form:

In 1866 Cheney Brothers erected Cheney Hall, a recreational and entertainment facility, for its operatives. Then in 1869 the firm built the 2-mile long Manchester railroad, which, in addition to providing freight connection with the major rail lines, carried workers back and forth from North Manchester to the silk mills for a minimum fare. Three years later the company built Taylor Reservoir to provide water for its factories and fire protection for both the mills and nearby houses, and in 1889 it organized the subsidiary South Manchester Water Company which erected more reservoirs and eventually furnished water for most of the community. Later Cheney Brothers’ Manchester Electric Company supplied electricity for the entire town. Finally, over the years Cheney Brothers donated land for numerous churches and erected several community school buildings.

During and after the 1930s the company disposed of its utilities, most of whose structures lay far outside the present historic district. In recent years the South Manchester Railroad tracks have been removed and several railroad buildings demolished. Cheney Hall, the schools and churches, and most of the post-1886 factories and the majority of the houses remain, however, and along with the Cheney mansions, they stand in striking testimony to both the Cheney Brothers ‘ silk manufacturing enterprise and the mill village that it supported. Within the bounds of the historic district there are a few post-1925 structures, but none of that vintage contributes to its national historic significance.

Cheney Hall, A large, 2 1/2-story, red brick and brownstone structure with full basement and mansard roof, this south-facing edifice is situated off Hartford Road northeast of the Cheney Homestead. “The hall’s importance, socially as well as culturally, in the progress of the community is difficult to overestimate,” says Buckley (historian). Cheney Brothers erected it as a place for social and religious gatherings, amateur and professional dramatic performances, and concerts and lectures. Today it is a fabric store. Inside, it retains its grand organ and hardwood floor as well as its now-hidden (under a false ceiling) balcony, gas chandeliers, and arched ballroom window tops. Outside it is hardly altered at all. Predominant exterior features include one rear center and two front corner hip-roofed towers; six steep gabled dormers on the mansard; round-arched first-story and segmentally arched second-story window openings with two-over-two sashes; and a partially enclosed, full-length one-story entrance portico with five recessed, double doors.

National Registry of Historic Places – Nomination form No. 78002885

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131 comments

  1. Quite a few Mills and factories, Salts Mill and Cadbury’s come to mind, provided housing, welfare and education for their workers here in the UK. It was a step up from the conditions a lot of the workers came from. Of course there were conditions they had to abide to. The Cheney Mill area looks really interesting, as does it’s history.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think a lot of employers were trying to keep their employees “happy enough” to stick around. I do think the Cheney brothers understood the value their workers contributed. There is at least one recorded instance of an employee, making a huge improvement to the machinery. In any case, I like that so much of the history has been preserved.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These buildings and the story that goes with them really are a marvel. It would seem that the Cheney family were most remarkable people. Certainly these buildings say they were. St. James School looks gigantic! Thanks for another history lesson; it’s good to look back like this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know they were working first to be successful and make a profit, but it does seem they went above and beyond the call a bit. I’m surprised that school building meets any modern requirements, but I guess it does.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The Cheney family seems to have operated like it’s own municipality/government–which it was, all but in name. Obviously they did good things for the community, but I’m still ambivalent about that kind of benevolence. Of course employers still maintain (in my opinion) too much power over their employees, particularly since the decline of unions.

    I really like that last doorway with the multiple arches.

    Today I have cherubs (K)

    Cherubs (Thursday Doors)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that their motives are dual in nature, but in the context of the time, I think they were more benevolent than most. Perhaps they had to be, to keep their workforce. Most of these accommodations were being made (at least they began) before the labor movement was gaining strength here. In any case, I am happy that the entire area has been listed and protected. There are sections where it’s like stepping back in time.

      I liked your post a lot. And I appreciate the details in text and photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The Cheney Brothers were shrewd businessmen. Their bottom line was their profit margin, but they were generous by any standards in providing above average housing and a well-rounded community for their employees. These buildings are a testimony to what they accomplished.

    The workmanship that went into these buildings is proven by the fact that they remain in tact today, fully functional. I love the windows and the wide doorways, and the arches and towers and dormers . Amazon should’ve taken a page from their book before they began erecting those ugly boxes!

    Another great tour Dan. I sure appreciate that you do all the foot work and research so I can remain at home in my jammies and get all the benefit of your hard work.
    Ginger

    Liked by 1 person

    • Compared to the 2.2 million sq-ft ugly concrete box Amazon is building a mile from our house, the area is like stepping over the rainbow, Ginger. They were shrewd, but they had good people and a great product. They did what they had to do to preserve that position in the market.

      Everything had a dual purpose. The clock towers are beautiful today, but in the 1800s, people needed them to know when to report to work. The fire department’s main goal was to protect the mills, as was the waterworks, but they were built and located so that they could also serve the town. But here we are, 100-160 years down the road, and almost all of it is still standing and still being used in support of a community.

      The business is gone, but the legacy remains. That has to say something.

      Like

    • I agree, GP. They started doing these things before the labor movement was gaining strength. I don’t know if their workforce eventually became unionized, but they certainly did a lot to establish the community.

      Liked by 1 person

    • This area can get a lot of snow. An average winter here is about 40” (110 cm) but we’ve has as much as 110” (280 cm). The interior section of the mansard roof is flat. The mill buildings all had flat roofs, which would have been caped with row up in row of angled windows to let in natural light. Some of those remain on buildings which have not been turned into apartments ans offices. Flat roofs are still preferred for commercial buildings, here, so they can locate the HVAC equipment on the roof. Mansard roofs and gambrel roofs are a less expensive way of adding additional living space. Building a roof is cheaper than framing a wall and topping it with a roof.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Protecting their employees…what a concept. And here in FL, our head fool wants to do away with OSHA. It’s like the Cheney Brothers were ahead of their time. I like the photo of the building with three big windows and that one smaller window between them. And then the leftover mill utility building with a big door and a smaller door next to it. Why do you think that is?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Green, dark green, teal – not too much in the way of distinction on my end. I’m pretty lucky when I can say it’s green with confidence. I am glad that you like them.

      You have an abundance of green doors today.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s pretty cool driving around this area. The buildings make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. I love how many they have repurposed and how many they have saved. I think they did contribute more than necessary, and I am glad they did,

      Like

    • I was happy to find the stables, and I do hope to visit the rail-trail this summer. So much of what this family contributed to the tow remains in use or has been adapted for a new purpose. It’s fascinating to travel within the area.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Dan – admirable family by the sound of it … the buildings are pretty impressive … and I’m glad the railway is now a place to walk or cycle along, it’ll be interesting to hear about it. The (your) silk industry I find fascinating … and I’d like to know more about the process they used … as ours came from Northern France … and were refugees – Spitalfields in London was their settling area … now changing, as one would expect … cheers Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • I liked your story, very much, Janis.

      I am so happy that such a large district was added to the NRHP. The sheer number of buildings that are still in use, being maintained or that have been repurposed for other use, is amazing. The brickwork is impressive, and I always love it when I see how these buildings were constructed to look good as well as be functional/

      Liked by 1 person

    • I haven’t read anything about how they were perceived by their employees, but I think they are appreciated in the town. Things went downhill for the company during/after the depression. One thing’s for sure, they left a legacy.

      Like

  7. Your post is so very interesting Dan. I’ve been away for a tiny bit and missed your last week’s post so will run back and read. So, the current fabric business in Cheney Hall has a ‘false ceiling’ hiding the original upper fixtures. Is there anyone around who has seen these tucked away parts of the building? There is a story there no doubt. Another interesting read Dan. Thanks, and happy Thursday Doors to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That description is from the nomination form. I think it’s been restored since then. It’s now being rented by a theater company. It’s interesting to see the changes these buildings have gone through over time. Some of the mills remained in industrial service long after the silk business had ended. Some are still being used for storage and small shops. Most of the large mill buildings are apartment complexes now. The houses all seem to remain. long after the original owners are gone.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dan – this is a brilliant post and discussion. I have been very interested in the Industrial Revolution as it has great influence on our current reality. I am very interested in the connection between Britain and North America – how the Industrial Revolution evolved and how they influenced each other. I read that at the height of its success during the early 1920’s, Cheney Brothers had over 4,500 workers on its payroll. Compared this to Manchester who employed less than 900 workers. What I would love to research is how did Cheney Brothers transition. What happened to those 4500 workers? We are now in what many consider the 4th Industrial Revolution, which has the power to increase standards of living worldwide, with a caveat that inequities will arise. The story of the Cheney Brothers stands as model for us. Will we work together to create positive outcomes for all like they did? It is my hope that we will.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Rebecca. I started to write a reply that was somewhat negative. The region of CT where the Cheney Mills were operating continued to be a manufacturing region. Less than 5 miles from Manchester is East Hartford, which was growing as an aircraft technology center, even as the textile mills were closing.

      One of the articles I found about Cheney Brothers is https://connecticuthistory.org/the-cheney-brothers-rise-in-the-silk-industry/ It’s a summary, but quite interesting.

      New England is a giant collection of industrial towns that formed and flourished and then hit hard times as industries moved south and then overseas. I’m not at all certain how things will play out moving forward. I wish I knew.

      Like

  9. These buildings may not have been considered fancy, more utilitarian but they have a quiet dignity like a man in an exceptionally tailored suit. And they are still standing…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Still standing and still serving the community. I find it interesting that these buildings, constructed over 100 years ago, can be renovated and put to new uses. Then I look around at the 2.2 million sq ft Amazon warehouse, that is essentially a giant concrete windowless box. 100 years from now, I guess it will have been reduced to rubble. Meanwhile, these well-tailored old standards will likely still be standing.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. […] Oak Glen is situated at the foothills of San Bernardino National Forest. It barey survived a horrible fire in 2020 (no thanks to an idiotic gender reveal); evidence of the fire is found on nearby hillsides just outside the property. I was happy to see that this old schoolhouse, nestled in a very old oak grove, survived the fire; sharing for Dan’s Thursday Doors. […]

    Like

  11. Thanks for sharing, Dan! These buildings are really impressive. I appreciate the background research you put into finding out the history of these restored buildings. It has inspired me to do more digging about buildings that I take photos of. I found a couple of old schoolhouses from the same time period as your buildings, but they’re on the west coast. I see similarities in the doors, but definitely different building materials.

    Thursday Doors: Oak Glen Schoolhouses

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It does seem like the Cheneys was about more than just the money. Some really good works was also a part of their story. Wonder if they are related to Dick & Liz!! Very informative post Dan.

    Pat

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Pat. I looked into your question, and there is a connection. The following is from the Hartford Courant.

      “Their common ancestor, Lawrence Cheney, was an Englishman whose two sons, William and John, sailed to Massachusetts in the 1630s. Dick Cheney traces his ancestry to William, a campaign spokeswoman said Tuesday; the Manchester clan traces its roots to John.”

      Like

    • I got there, and I liked it. The photos are brilliant.

      I am very happy that these buildings have been preserved. They all seem to be in remarkable condition, given that they are between 100 and 150 years old.

      Like

    • Thanks Cee. I love seeing people participating in this challenge. The doors they find, from all over the world, are interesting. I love the recent photo of yours today. It’s a very nice image.

      Like

  13. That’s interesting that they tried to ensure safer working conditions for their employees – something few businesses did at the time. I could relate to the architecture of Cheney Hall since I grew up in a home with a Mansard roof. We didn’t have any hidden structures though. My contribution of whimsical doors is above.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We don’t see many buildings with mansard roofs around here. This is a nice example. The Cheney brothers seem to have gone beyond the expectations of the time (and possibly current times) to create a community.

      Your doors made me smile.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. […] 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/2022/05/12/other-cheney-structures/ […]

    Like

  15. What a great idea to have a door photo challenge! I will be sure to join this week’s challenge. I enjoyed reading about the Cheney brothers and their contribution to community,

    Liked by 1 person

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