Opportunities abound for Manchester hikers to get out into the great outdoors, but some may be surprised to find there are
trails that run straight through the commercial centers of town. On Saturday, March 29, the public was invited for a free
walk along the old Cheney railroad bed, a line built in 1869 and funded by the Cheney family to create a connection between
the Cheney silk mills in the south end of Manchester to the main line in the north end of town.
The hike and historic tour was led by Susan Barlow, a member of the Manchester Land Conservation Trust, and followed the approximately 1 linear mile of the line that was purchased in 2005 by the Trust. The land was obtained through a gift from the Truman Cowles Estates, the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection under the Recreational Trails and Greenways Program, an SBM Charitable Foundation grant, donations made by members and friends of the MLCT, as well as donations from local businesses.
Hikers picked up the historic Cheney trail at the railroad tracks near the intersection of Hilliard and Main streets. Along the walk, Barlow pointed out where trestles and spurs off the main line were once located, as well as a still-standing "whistle post," which in its time alerted engineers to blow their whistles as they were soon approaching an intersection.
"This trail takes you right through the center of Manchester without having to deal with very much traffic," said Barlow. The rail line took hikers into the vicinity of a number of old mills, including the former Mather Electric Company, which manufactured generators as well as a light bulb that competed with General Electric, owner of the patent for the very bulbs invented by Thomas Edison. A patent infringement dispute resulted in G.E. obtaining an injunction against Mather to discontinue manufacturing their bulbs, a move that eventually forced Mather out of business. The building would later become the home for the maker of Bon-Ami soap. Today it is home to Time Machine Hobby, whose back room includes a model railroad display of historic Manchester.
Originally known as the South Manchester Railroad, the 2.25-mile Cheney railroad line was built by the Cheney family and served to transport workers from the north end of Manchester to the Cheney’s silk mill factories in the south end. The railroad also transported raw and finished products to and from the mills, and made a number of other freight stops. It was the shortest freight-and-passenger railroad and the longest private railroad in the United States at the time. With the advent of cars and trolleys, passenger service for the line ended in 1933, but the railroad continued to transport freight into the 1980s.
The MLCT land connects with trail property owned by the town of Manchester, and with a short veer off of the trail, hikers were quickly brought to Center Springs Park.
"The town is in the process of building Bigelow Brook Greenway," Barlow said, referring to a portion of the Broad Street Redevelopment project that has been underway for some time. The overall concept would create a connection between the Greenway and the historic Cheney trail.
The Manchester Conservation Land Trust leads several free walks throughout the year. For information on upcoming hikes, please visit the Events page on this website.