Mine Falls Park revival creating a new future for historical site in city

NASHUA – The next step in the Mine Falls Park restoration project is to restore and preserve the historical gatehouse located in the park near Stellos Stadium.

As birds chirped and water rushed by Thursday morning, U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, city officials, state representatives and students from local schools stood in front of the gatehouse and spoke about its history and its new future.

About $1.26 million in federal grants has been appropriated to the restoration of Mine Falls, thanks to efforts made by Gregg, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The redevelopment of the 325-acre park started in 2001 and construction has been ongoing.

Historic landmarks, said Gregg, “give our towns and communities a sense of self.”

Nashua has done a spectacular job in protecting critical sites that define the city, he said.

The Student Historic Preservation Team, made up of kids from Fairgrounds Elementary School and Fairgrounds Junior High School in the city, as well as The Derryfield School in Manchester, also has played a large part in the restoration.

Vikas Mangipudi, president of the preservation team, said the students drafted a job proposal and met with the Division of Public Works to talk about finding a preservationist to work on the site.

Mangipudi, an eighth-grader at Fairgrounds Junior High, said work on the site should include inventory, repair, landscaping and signage. Mangipudi added that a history tour through the entire park could be part of the educational aspect of the project, which may also include a kiosk or other type of site where visitors can learn about the gatehouse and other areas of the park.

Director of Public Works Rick Seymour worked closely with the preservation team, and said a preservationist may be hired within the year and that the required steps in the hiring process have already begun.

Jaclyn Leeds, senior member of the preservation team and a 10th-grader at The Derryfield School, spoke about the importance of the site itself as well as preservation in general.

“Once a piece of history is gone, it’s gone,” she said. “To achieve our goal of preservation, we need society to lend a hand.”

The gatehouse is one of 77,000 sites, buildings and objects the federal government has deemed worth saving, Leeds said, and it has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The gatehouse, which was built in 1886, was designed to redirect water from the Nashua River into the canal using gates in the water to increase the flow to the manufacturing buildings three miles downriver. The increased flow provided enough energy to operate waterwheels under the mills and produce electricity.

The technology was cutting edge and therefore a “marvel of its time,” according to a new historical sign placed near the gatehouse during the first phase in restoring the park.

Adam Burnett of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has been assisting with the aquatic restoration of Mill Pond and the canal system that will run in conjunction with the gatehouse project.

Retrofitting the gatehouse to increase the water flow into Mill Pond and allow fish to pass from the Nashua River into the pond are two possibilities for the projects, he said at Thursday’s event.

Other developments that have been under way since 2001 and are 98 percent completed are:

– Construction of two decks overlooking the natural cove area on the Cove Circle Trail.

– Construction of the River Run Trail Boardwalk.

– Improvements to boat ramps at Mill Pond.

– Construction of a new concession and restroom building on the soccer fields and new signage.

One past improvement to the gatehouse that was also prompted by the Student Historic Preservation Team was the purchase of a graffiti removal system, called the ARMEX system, which uses baking soda, water and compressed air to remove graffiti from the gatehouse.

James Garvin, state architectural historian, said to see students take part in preservation the way these students have is a fulfillment of one of his life dreams.

He called the team a “model for the entire state,” and said he would like to see a preservation team in every town and city in New Hampshire.

Garvin said the gatehouse has international historical significance and that it has potential as a tremendous educational opportunity.