This is my favorite historic building in town. Not because of its looks (the library and train depot are more my taste in architecture) but because of its rich cultural history and my family’s connection to it. This is the Historic Belknap Mill, a former hosiery mill, built in 1823.
My family is French-Canadian, and when times were tough in Québec, they headed south to work in the mills. My mother’s family settled in Laconia and worked at the many mills that lined the river. My Dad’s family settled in Manchester, NH and worked at the great Amoskeag Mills, at one time, the largest textile mill in the world.
This is a picture of the Busiel Mill next door. It currently houses offices. And beyond that is city hall.
The Belknap and Busiel Mills are one of New Hampshire’s most prized landmarks. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Every spring the mill runs a program for school kids called “My First Day of Work in a Mill”. From the Belknap Mill’s website
: “We take the children back to 1918, when production was at its peak, and the Belknap Mill was shipping socks overseas to soldiers fighting in the trenches. Children take on the identities of people who worked in this mill and learn the different jobs to make the socks. In addition to taking pride in their heritage and practicing good management and teamwork, they also learn business applications they can use for the rest of their lives.”
I love this program and I’ve been volunteering there for three years now. I’ve graduated from a tour guide to a role player. I have a BLAST with those kids! I love chatting them up with what little French I know and see their little faces scrunch up, “huh?”
This pathway runs between the buildings. I wonder where it goes? Let’s go see.
It leads to this bridge that crosses the Winnipesaukee river. In the back is Avery Dam. Across the river is Avery Hill, also known as French hill because that’s where the French-Canadians settled. Every morning the mill would ring its bell, typically at sunrise, to let workers know it was time to report to work. They would walk down the hill and return at sunset.
Turning your head in the opposite direction, you would see another old mill, still being used by various manufacturing concerns. The grassy area next it it is now called Stewart Park, but was the site of Cormier Hosiery Mill, started by my grandfather, Alcide Cormier in 1939. He started out as a turner boy working in one of the other mills and learned the trade through years of hard work.
Here’s the Gazebo built behind the mill where they have summer concerts. Inside the mill is an art gallery, concert hall and the only industrial knitting museum in the United States.
If you take a walk between city hall and the Busiel mill you will find these odd contraptions. They are sluice gates that used to let water through canals that ran under the mills to the turbines that would power them.
Here’s a close up of the area behind the sluice gates. It’s hard to make out, but if you look carefully to the right of the door, you will see bricks that form an archway. It used to be open below that and the water would run under the building there. When the Busiel mill was through with the water, it kept going onto the Belknap Mill and through their turbine. If you visit, the Belknap Mill still has their turbine set up.
The aerial shot was taken by Bill Hemmell of Lakes Region Aerial Photo. The building at the top is city hall, in the middle is the Busiel Mill, then the Belknap Mill at the bottom. You can see the pedestrian bridge and Avery dam above it. At the bottom center, you can barely see the gazebo.