Homeland Day 100th Anniversary Celebrated in Manchester, Connecticut
Posted on June 16, 2014
Story & Photos by Jacqueline Bennett newsandviewsjb.com
The 100th anniversary of Homeland Day was celebrated on June 14 in Manchester, Connecticut. Since renamed Heritage Day, the annual celebration was originated by Ruth Sears Cheney to recognize the heritage of the many ethnic groups living in Manchester and working in the Cheney silk mills. The first celebration included a day of festivities and floats representing the varied cultures of Manchester’s population in the early 20th Century.
This year’s Heritage Day capped the 23rd Pride in Manchester Week with a ceremony at Cheney Hall, that is now home to the Little Theater of Manchester which is currently staging a production of “Almost Maine”.
The ceremony was followed by a march from the hall along Hartford Road to “The Great Lawn” outside the Cheney Mansions. In addition, free admission was offered at the Cheney Homestead, Keeney Schoolhouse, the History Center and the Connecticut Historical Society Fire Museum. June 14th was Connecticut Open House Day offering free admission to numerous, tourist sites across the state.
Saturday morning ceremonies at Cheney Hall drew local dignitaries such as Manchester Mayor Jay Moran and other members of the town’s Board of Directors. Hometown Heroes were recognized for their contributions to the community. Special speaker John Sutherland, historian and professor emeritus at Manchester Community College, who taught there for many years, drove down from Maine where he now resides.
“I take great pride in Manchester 365 days a year. It’s an awesome community,” Moran told the audience at Cheney Hall.
The Cheney Mills were among the largest and best known makers of silk. In fact, Manchester is nicknamed Silk City, the renown Silk City Barbershop Chorus is based here, and from about 2000-2009 was home to a summer collegiate baseball team called the Silkworms.
Sutherland described the relationship between the Cheney Mills and the mill workers as mutually dependent. As well, he said oral history shows that many workers got their jobs through recommendations from their family members.
“They came for a better life for themselves and helped make a better life for the neighbors around them,” said Sutherland.
He noted boarding houses run independently by residents helped house the mill’s workers. In order to earn a living for themselves, the boarding houses were often run by young single women, or older empty nest couples. They typically provided one meal in the evening, a sandwich to bring to work for lunch, and soup when the workers returned at the end of their day.
During a guided tour at the Cheney Homestead located across the street from Cheney Hall, it was pointed out that the success of two sons from the Cheney’s nine children ( eight boys and one girl) who made millions as artists actually bankrolled the start-up for the Cheney Mills.
(Writer’s note – look for a feature on the Fire Museum to be posted tomorrow.)