EDITOR’S NOTE: Imagine Nashua: Then & Now is a weekly photo column by Don Himsel. Each week, he will feature an old photo within a more recent photo, along with the story behind it.
Arguably one of the most unique features of Main Street in Nashua was the curved Montcalm Building on the west side of Main Street. It was located just south of the current Water Street ramp.
A 1939 Telegraph story, published four years after a Main Street widening program began, read “Fifty years ago, Main St. was Nashua’s principal business street, and today it occupies the same relative position in the community.”
Perhaps, but probably not in a current discussion solely about retail. Since then, of course, retail strips on Amherst Street and Daniel Webster Highway have changed the game.
The Montcalm Building was included in the list of standout structures on Main Street. Robin Ann Peters wrote in her book “Nashua, Then and Now” the Montcalm Building was built in the 1880s by Joseph W. Howard and his father, Ezra. A furniture factory was born that went through various associations and name changes over the years, including Howard and Copp and Howard and Company.
The most prominent occupant of the building was a furniture operation, Howard and Sexton. William Sexton came to America from Ireland, fleeing the famine in 1845. He became a farmer in Hollis. He married Johanna Curtin. One of their children, John, became a clerk in a dry goods store in Nashua when he was 18. He eventually ran Jackman and Sexton, then joined the furniture manufacturer Howard & Company. This then became Howard and Sexton.
Sexton married Kate B. Emerson, daughter of William B. and Nancy B. Emerson. William was a second cousin of the former United States President, Franklin Pierce.
The company had a big presence in the city and occupied that curved, Main Street location until 1916. After many years of thought and sweat, a widening project that provided today’s dimensions came to be in the 1950s. In the spring of 1959, The Nashua Telegraph reported, “The construction crew will start the 31-foot widening of Main Street from the bridge esplanade to the F. W. Woolworth Building on Monday, May 4, city engineer Joel B. Hill said today.
“The date was set yesterday afternoon after a conference between state highway department resident engineer Ted Novak, city engineer Joel B. Hill and the contractor, George Brox, Inc. of Dracut who was awarded the contract last year for $23,487. The job is expected to take three to four weeks and involve also the moving of poles, utilities and the like to the new street line about 30 feet west of the present line. It removes a traffic bottleneck known throughout the area and through which flows the largest volume of city traffic in the state, some 20,000 vehicles a day.”
Traffic volume is probably twice that now.
The photo here comes courtesy of the United States Library of Congress.
Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590, DHimsel@nashuatelegraph.com or @Telegraph_DonH.