(c) Connecticut Explored Inc. Fall 2002
An important whistle-stop on the campaign trail of the past was not just Hartford but Manchester. The importance of the Cheney Brothers and their thousands of silk mill workers enticed the likes of presidents Grover Cleveland and William H. Taft and activists Susan B. Anthony and Henry Ward Beecher to deliver their messages from the stage of Cheney Hall.
Dedicated in 1867 by Horace Greeley, editor and founder of the New York Tribune, Cheney Hall also hosted local theatrical and musical performances, touring companies, gala balls and community events. Over time, Cheney Hall has served as a library, armory (during the Spanish American War), banquet hall, hospital, school, church, factory outlet, and tearoom. Today, Cheney Hall, just 10 minutes from downtown Hartford, has returned to its roots as a nonprofit performing arts center.
This versatile and elegant structure was designed by Hammat Billings of Boston in 1866 for Cheney Brothers Company, renowned silk industrialists. Built as a theatre, cultural, and community facility for citizens of the town of Manchester, Cheney Hall’s architecture was fashioned in French Second Empire Style with medieval and renaissance characteristics. A Mansard roof, segmented and full circle windows, brick and brownstone arches, intricate corbelled cornices, carved oak and chestnut trim in arabesque patterns, and an E & G.G. Hook tracker organ built into the rear stage wall are among the many original features that still give character and presence to this venerable structure.
With social and political changes, the silk industry and the use of Cheney Hall eventually declined. By 1925, the Hall had become a fabric salesroom and, in 1976, its doors closed to the public. But two years later, Cheney Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark. The Cheney Hall Foundation and the decorative appointments–some long hidden by earlier remodeling efforts–remained and were carefully returned to their prior glory. In 1991, the building was rededicated to its initial purpose: serving the community as a cultural resource.
Today Cheney Hall is one of the Hartford area’s most important performing arts centers, presenting productions of the Little Theater of Manchester, readings by the region’s best poets, and concerts by regional, as well as national artists.
For more information about upcoming events at Cheney Hall, call 860-647-9824 or visit www.cheneyhall.org.
The Cheney Company Housing Auction of 1937, Spring 2013
Connecticut’s Mulberry Craze, Summer 2010
Child Labor, Summer 2004
Cheney Mills: Innovations in Silk, Spring 2005