Vintage Views: Our ancestors were flying in 1884

The Sacred Heart School, Church and Rectory pictured in Concord was once home to a very popular roller skating rink back in 1884.

The Sacred Heart School, Church and Rectory pictured in Concord was once home to a very popular roller skating rink back in 1884. James W. Spain Collection

Published: 03-15-2024 4:35 PM

As the year 1882 arrived in Concord, our ancestors could be found down on Main Street enjoying the latest events boasted by the newspapers.

The infamous bandit Jesse James was killed by Robert Ford in St. Joseph, Missouri, and the United States Congress passed the 1882 Immigration Act. The Knights of Columbus were founded in New Haven, Connecticut, and a gentleman named Thomas Edison flipped a switch to the first commercial electrical power plant in the United States, lighting one square mile in lower Manhattan.

Yes, there was much to talk about as the elders gathered over spirits at both the Eagle and Phenix hotels to catch up on the latest town go. There was a popular new amusement that had just arrived in Concord in 1882, and the younger people were flocking to a new hall to enjoy this new sport called roller skating.

Roller skating was invented back in 1760 by a Belgian man named Joseph Merlin. It turned out that Joseph Merlin was quite the grand showman when he wore his newly invented roller skates to a party in London and crashed into a mirror. This slight accident dampened his interest in the skates with rollers but certainly inspired others for years to follow. Almost 100 years later in 1859, a young man developed the Joseph Merlin design further and produced a new skate called a Woodward. The new Woodward skate had a wheel made of vulcanized rubber which gripped the wooden rink floors better than the old steel design. The Woodward skate offered four wheels with one on the front, one on the back and two larger wheels in the middle to create a sensation of flying for the skaters.

With the new skate growing in popularity, it was not long before it was introduced to the young men and woman living in the United States. Dapper young men and Victorian woman elegantly sailed about town practicing this new sport in search of a social gathering location with likeminded skaters. It was in December of 1882 that the first official roller-skating rink opened in Concord at the Eagle Hall. There were hundreds of people gathered to enjoy this sport as well as the company of others. Soon the roller-skating rinks added a sportsmanship twist by adding the game of competitive polo for the skaters and the competition was on. Concord formed a roller-skating polo club and other teams traveled to Concord from Manchester and other New England towns to compete. The crowds at the Eagle Hall grew each week, and many were turned away for lack of space.

With the growing popularity, some local business investors took notice and it was not long afterward that the Payson and Sellers Company secured land on Pleasant Street to build a very spacious wooden rink to host the skaters and polo players. The rink opened on the night of March 31, 1884, with more than 1,000 admission tickets sold. The scene was quite grand, and the rink featured a 5,000-square-foot skating surface, three walls lined with seating, and the front wall lined with offices and restrooms.

The events were enhanced further by a wooden box room suspended from the ceiling and featuring local bands to provide music as the skating and polo events commenced.

For a period of two years, the Pleasant Street roller skating rink was largely attended and very profitable for the investors. After the height of the popularity cooled, the investors sold the building to a company, and it was moved to the Weirs Beach, spending many years as a music hall. The land vacated by the once popular rink fell silent and remained an empty lot for some years.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

FAFSA fiasco hits New Hampshire college goers and universities hard
Red barn on Warner Road near Concord/Hopkinton line to be preserved
Opinion: New Hampshire, it’s time to drive into the future
Keville sentenced to life in prison after a courtroom outburst
22-year-old Concord motorcyclist dead in crash with box truck in Bow
Opinion: How our twin toddlers turned our lives (and chairs) upside down

The Pleasant Street rink, once filled with the gleeful shouts of the young men and woman of Concord did not remain silent for too many years. Decades later, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester purchased the lot and built the Sacred Heart Church and School.

The children played in the schoolyard once occupied by an earlier version of their great-grandparents. Victorian-garbed Concord youth fitted with Woodward skates lost to history years before now replaced by children in the school yard. A sacred place to worship and remember our past....