This Somersworth, New Hampshire Building a Testament to Long-Lost Era
For almost 100 years, the building that takes up much of lower Main Street in Somersworth has stood as a testament to a long-lost era. Most Hilltop residents still refer to the building as the General Electric (GE) building as they were the lifeblood of the structure for over 70 years until they left in 2015. The building itself certainly has an interesting history.
Built in 1921 by the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, the building was to be one of several such mills that would span the banks of the Salmon Falls River. The original plan called for the building of several similar structures that would earn the proposed building the nickname: "The Taj Mahal of the textile industry.”
Alas, not long after the first of the six-story art deco cement structures was completed, the company would become the victim of a recession within the textile industry. In 1928 the building would be bought by the Dwight Manufacturing Company, another textile company. They would operate the mill for a short period of time and, by 1931, they too had left the area and the six-story building would stand empty for the next 10 years.
It would not be until 1941 that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard would annex the building and it would become part of the war effort. According to local legend, parts used in torpedoes were built there until the shipyard would depart from the building.
By 1945, the General Electric Corporation had shown an interest in Somersworth as a possible base for their meter production plant. They would, according to records, try out the area first by opening a small site which was located in the brick building that sits next door on the site. General Electric would start with just seven employees in that building, but by 1947 that staff had risen to some 150.
It would be in 1947 that the decision to buy the cement building next door was made and by December of that year the first employees were busy making meters in the building.
By 1965, that same meter department would be employing, on average, 1,514 men and women, and the payroll would reach a yearly sum of north of $9.4 million/ By that time, GE had established itself as an economic powerhouse within the City of Somersworth. To say that this was once again the heyday of Somersworth would likely be seen by many as an understatement.
GE was, for the first 50 years of its presence in Somersworth, a force for good. Over the years, millions of watthour meters, which the Somersworth plant was legendary for producing along with meter sockets and instrument transformers, were produced. Many of Somersworth’s seniors worked in the walls of the GE building and most have fond memories.
The building soon became an economic powerhouse and both spawned and supported many local businesses throughout its history. Shops along Main Street were plentiful as were those downtown. Those shops ranged from supermarkets, jewelry stores, hardware stores, and everything in between.
The building would undergo many modifications over the 70-year life span of General Electric and many additions were added, making the original structure harder to recognize. When stripped down, it is a beautifully crafted art deco building that many feel deserves to be preserved.
For over 60 years Somersworth pictures would feature the infamous General Electric 90-foot long neon light that would sit on the roof of the building. Truth be told, it was hard to miss the sign, especially if you drove down Main Street.
Sadly it would be taken down in 2015 when the building was sold to Aclara. For many, that was a sad day and many came out to watch as the towering letters were lowered to the floor, one by one, ready to be put on a truck and transported away.
Aclara announced last year that it, too, would be vacating the building in 2020-21 and would place it up for sale. Only time will tell what the next chapter holds for the building that has provided local jobs, spawned many memories, and supported countless Somersworth families.
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