Lafayette Park was dedicated by the Franco-American Memorial Commission in 1957, the 200th anniversary of the birth of its namesake: Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834). Lafayette was a wealthy French nobleman allured by the ideals of the American Revolution. In 1777, he was commissioned as Major General in the Continental Army. Lafayette served alongside George Washington and played a decisive role in numerous engagements, including Washington’s final victory at Yorktown. During his famous 1824 tour of the nation, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the revolution, Lafayette made a memorable stop in Concord, where an elm tree was planted in his honor. As inscribed on a commemorative plaque, Lafayette Park stands in memory of the General as well as all Franco-Americans who “in times of peace and war have contributed to the glory of their country and to the prosperity of the city of Manchester.”
Encompassing just over two acres on Notre Dame Avenue in Manchester’s West Side neighborhood, the park is also home to several works of sculpture. Most prominent is an impressive statue of Ferdinand Gagnon, a 1949 piece by well-known sculptor Joseph A. Coletti. Born in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec in 1849, Gagnon is widely considered "the father of Franco-American journalism." He moved to the United States as a young man, briefly residing in Manchester before settling in Worcester, Massachusetts. There he founded and published a number of noteworthy French journals, including La Voix du Peuple (“The People’s Voice”) and Le Travailleur (“The Worker”). Gagnon died in 1886 at age 36. He left behind a legacy of diligent advocacy for the rights of French-Canadian immigrants facing discrimination and exploitation in 19th century New England. Gagnon’s towering presence is not the park’s only landmark. Perched on their haunches, a pair of bronze lions guards the corner gate, symbolizing the strength and longevity of Manchester’s Franco-American community.
History of Lafayette Park researched and written by: Will K. from Manchester Memorial High School Class of 2011.