Recently, I took my daughter to a new dance studio, located in the Amoskeag Mill building known as Langer Place on South Commercial Street. We admired the wooden stairs going up and were greeted at our destination by the machinery to the left. (Bonus!) I tend to arrive to my destinations early (when I'm not late) because I have no sense of direction, so I try to give myself enough time to get lost and then find my way. Luckily, there were few necessary U-turns on our car trip over so we had time to explore. I asked my daughter what she thought this machine does. I had no clue and when she showed a little bit of interest I enthusiastically said, "Let's explore!"
Down the hall, we came upon a second machine. This one looks like it was manned by three people. My daughter noted that it has three "steering wheels" and was much bigger than the other. There was no label of any kind on the machinery. It stood like an old ghost watching over a historical landmark; its former life forgotten and ignored by current building occupants.
I turned away from the machinery and I was breathless. I've seen buildings like this before, but each time I enter one I feel transported back to the nineteenth century with Lucy Larcom. The wide empty hallway must have once been filled with this machinery. I told my daughter to picture these machines up and down the hall and to picture the mill girls working them. (Thanks to "American Girl" and the story of Samantha, my eight-year-old is familiar with mill girls and child labor.) The quiet we experienced was in direct contrast to the imaginary scene in my head, punctuated by the thought of loud machinery at work.
I was so pleased that the mill retained some of its artifacts to remind us of its history, but I think few people would notice. A few minutes into our explorations, another mom and her daughter came up a back stairwell into the large hall, looking for the dance studio. I told her that it was just down the hall and my daughter and I were headed there too. We were just exploring. "Oh," the woman said, turning and heading to our final destination. I wanted to jump up and down and shout, "Wait! You have some time! Check this out!"
What I want to know...am I really just a history geek or can we do a better job of getting people to stop and consider their history? What secret, fascinating stories can our historic buildings share with non-professionals? How can we better appreciate the Amoskeag Mill building's movement from housing mill girls to harboring tiny ballroom dancers?
For information about the Amoskeag Mills, see the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company Collection located at Harvard Business School.