April 22, 2011

Catholic Heritage

Voters in the Kearsarge Regional School District recently approved funds for the demolition of the former SAU 65 offices on Main Street. Unfortunately, the building has perhaps even more historical significance than its also-vacant neighbor, the New London Central School (1941).

The Green Maple (1931-1936)
From its construction in the fall of 1930, the building provided area Catholics with a year-round worship space—first in the rear meeting hall and later in the main section of the building. Its gambrel frame was raised by two French Canadian storekeepers from Blodgett's Landing, Joseph and Philip Bourgeau. Joe's ice cream and novelty shop was called The Green Maple, but he closed the shop and tea room after five years and sold the building to Bishop Peterson, Diocese of Manchester, in 1936. 

By then about 30% of New Hampshire's population was Catholic. Most were immigrants from Quebec, Ireland, Germany, Lithuania, and Poland, and highly concentrated around the textile cities. In the Lake Sunapee area, the Catholic population was small, and Father John McCarthy traveled from St. Helena's in Enfield to celebrate mass. After the summer of 1936, the novelty shop closed and was converted into worship space. The second floor became a parsonage for Father Walter Blankenship after the parish was officially established on October 31, 1952. Sometime after the new Our Lady of Fatima building was dedicated in 1967, the old church was turned over to the newly-formed school district, which used the space for a classroom and later for administrative offices until 2010.

Catholic Chapel (1931-1952); Our Lady of Fatima (1952-1967)
As the site of the earliest Catholic worship in New London and the product of two French Canadian immigrants, this building reflects an interesting point in our history and society. Not too long before its construction, non-Protestants had been actively discouraged from vacationing at many of our hotels and boarding houses. In 1928, the Democratic party nominated a Catholic as its presidential candidate, Alfred E. Smith of New York. His religion reportedly contributed to his sound defeat by Herbert Hoover. In 1936, however, New Hampshire elected its first Catholic governor, Francis P. Murphy, who served two terms.

This modest commercial/religious building, built in the popular Dutch Colonial style, will soon be destroyed, but at the Archives you can still see its mark on New London's cultural landscape through photographs, newspaper articles, and oral histories.

Further reading: Upon This Granite: Catholicism in New Hampshire: 1647-1997 by Wilfrid H. Paradis (Peter E. Randall Press, 1998).

April 5, 2011

A Rosetta Stone

Taylor's Memorandum of Weather

Sometimes one document unlocks another—a Rosetta Stone, of sorts. Recently we were reviewing a teacher’s journal from the summer of 1880. The journal entries showed the days of the week but not their calendar dates. Fortunately, she noted the weather on rainy days, creating a pattern (e.g. rain all day Friday, evening rain on Monday, rain all day on Wednesday). By itself, this would be meaningless, but with a daily history of local weather we might be able to place the journal entries on the 1880 calendar.

Among the unusual items in our collection is just such a set of local weather observations between 1876 and 1886. By matching rainfall patterns from the two sources, we could see that there was only one period of frequent rains during that summer, and we found that the first rainy day noted in the journal probably fell on Friday, July 2, 1880. Using that as a calibration point, all the other days in the journal slid into place.

But who would keep a decade’s worth of weather observations? In early September 1880, the unidentified observer mentions that he took “Abbie” into town for school. The Colby Academy catalog for 1880/81 lists a student named Abbie Frances Taylor. Lord’s History of New London identifies her as the daughter of John W. Taylor, by then a widower and owner of a cloth-dressing and wool-carding mill in the village of Otterville. Why he kept the weather observations in the first place we may never know, but his record has certainly proven useful today.

On a related note… The British National Archives is supporting an ambitious project to cull handwritten weather observations and other data from almost 1,000,000 pages of Royal Navy logbooks—adding them to a database of climatic and naval history. More interesting, perhaps, is the way volunteers from around the globe are providing the digitization workforce.

Check out www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/news/503.htm or www.oldweather.org for more about this project.