Manchester Historical Society welcomes new president
By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Wed., Dec. 4, 2013
The Manchester Historical Society has a new president. At the Oct. 20 annual meeting, Dennis Gleeson - former vice president and current chairperson of the society’s genealogical group - was elected for the 2013-2014 year.
“I’ve been involved with the Historical Society for about six years, since as soon as I retired,” said Gleeson. “I stopped by one Sunday and was given a tour by [current treasurer] John Dormer, and I’ve been involved ever since. It was the right fit for me, and it gives me something to do that I enjoy in retirement,” he said.
If one wants to learn a thing or two about Manchester’s history, then Gleeson is the one to ask. Gleeson, whose Manchester roots are fourth generation, said he was raised on School Street with his parents and grandparents, where he grew up with the advantage of hearing a great many stories about the town’s early years.
“I think the best thing about Manchester is that it is a fine example of the Industrial Revolution,” said Gleeson, whose great grandfather worked in the Cheney mills. “The Cheneys were very good to their employees. They didn’t want Manchester to look like a mill town. They wanted it to look like a village, and they cared about education,” he said.
While the Cheneys were major employers in the south end of town, other prominent families contributed to Manchester’s industrial growth, Gleeson said, particularly the Case family in the Highland Park area and the Mather Electric Company in the north end, the latter of which manufactured electric lamps. Gleeson said Mather Electric was one of a number of companies that was forced out of business by General Electric, as GE claimed that Mather was infringing on the Edison light bulb patent. The Mather Electric Company building, Gleeson said, would later house the manufacturing facility for Bon Ami soap.
Gleeson’s main role as Historical Society president is to oversee the Board of Directors, but he said he also puts in at least two to three days a week at the History Center on Pine Street, making himself available to answer questions from the public, work on the maintenance of society-owned buildings, and to do historical research, all parts of the job he truly enjoys. “Last year was the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, so I did a great deal of research on that. I’ve been trying to locate all of the graves [of Manchester soldiers] and I’ve found most of them,” he said.
As both a member and president of the MHS, Gleeson also gets to follow his passion for genealogical research. “Shortly after I retired, my wife and I traveled to South Dakota for her family reunion, and after doing some research I traced her relatives to early founders of Windsor, Connecticut. With genealogy, you keep running into connections. It’s the chase I enjoy,” he said.
With about 580 members, the society continues to expand its efforts and move forward, said Gleeson. Current projects include restoration work at the History Center as well as at the Woodbridge Farmstead, which the society only recently acquired. Preparations are also underway for the society’s holiday gala, a major annual fundraiser to be held this year on Dec. 6. For more information about the Manchester Historical Society and how to get involved, visit the website www.manchesterhistory.org.