December 16, 2013

Road Signs

This morning New Hampshire Public Radio aired the first in a planned series of reports on historical markers positioned along roadsides throughout the state. Administered by the Division of Historical Resources and the Department of Transportation, the program was started in 1958.

Unveiling the town's first historical marker in 1963.
A few years later, New London created its own roadside marker program in order to highlight people and places of historical interest throughout the town. Its first marker was installed in 1963 near the site of the first town meeting on Knight's Hill, and a new one was added each year until the town's bicentennial in 1979.

In conjunction with a graphic design project by students at Colby-Sawyer College, we revisited those signs recently. The subjects and text on most of our signs have held up well, but in two cases the houses that once sat in close proximity to their descriptive signs have been moved farther away, altering the setting and perhaps giving a false sense of the place. We hope to remedy that problem by offering historical photographs of the buildings accessible via smartphones and other web-enabled devices that can read QR codes.

The NHPR story mentioned that some people are taking the time to visit each of the 236 official roadside markers in New Hampshire. Those marker-baggers will bypass the entire set of bicentennial signs here in New London, installed at town expense, but you can find them in person or online using the Google map embedded below. Clicking on each location displays the corresponding marker text, somewhat edited, and its installation year.

September 28, 2013

Two Firsts

Exhibit at Tracy Library
On Tuesday, September 24th, we installed a new temporary exhibit at Tracy Memorial Library entitled "Views at the Four Corners." Reprinted historic images show buildings that stood at the intersection of New London's Main and Pleasant Streets, once the center of town; they also show earlier states of the existing Kidder Building and Lake Sunapee Bank. This exhibit will be displayed through October.

We look forward to covering other topics in the future, including the public library itself (excluded this time for lack of space). Let us know if you have suggestions that might be of general interest.

On the following day we were pleased to host the New Hampshire Archives Group's fall workshop on strategies to build awareness and support for the collections held by libraries, archives, and historical societies around the state. The all-day session was well attended and well received; it finished with a tour of the New London Archives. Thanks to Tracy Memorial Library for use of the Meeting Room and to Hole in the Fence Cafe for catering the event.

September 19, 2013

Whipple Hall

Amos H. Whipple
In 1916 the town of New London did not want a new public library. It wanted a new town hall. So when the conditional bequest of Boston hotelier Amos H. Whipple (1856–1916) offered land and $15,000 for a library, the selectmen asked its executor to alter the terms, and Whipple Memorial Library became Whipple Memorial Town Hall—named for Amos's parents, both deceased.

Sherman L. Whipple (1862–1930) was executor of his older brother's estate. Sherman was by then an eminent Boston trial lawyer, having earned in a single case the extraordinary fee of $225,000. An alumnus and longtime trustee of Colby Academy, he maintained ties to New London, where he was born and raised. The new town hall, he knew, would benefit not only the townspeople, as his brother wished, but also Colby Academy students, who used the performance stage and auditorium regularly over the next 40 years. Sherman chose a Boston architectural firm, Strickland & Law, newly formed in 1916. It may have been Sidney Strickland's first public commission, but he was prepared.

Whipple Hall lantern
Sidney T. Strickland (1880–1954) graduated from MIT's architecture program, completed a three-year course of study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and then worked as a draftsman for the respected Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, three assistants of Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–1886). When Strickland's father-in-law, Charles Rutan, died in 1915, that collaborative dissolved, and Strickland was on his own.

Strickland's undergraduate thesis of 1905 was entitled "Design for a City Hall...". He considered the special requirements of civic spaces and developed guiding principles that he could apply even to a much smaller project like New London's town hall. We also know that Strickland studied Colby Academy's nearby Colgate Hall, which in 1912 replaced the ruins of an earlier building, burned in 1892.

Whipple Memorial Hall included a jail cell, selectmen's office, records archive, kitchen and dining area, performance stage and auditorium, and a moving picture projection booth in the gallery. It had electric lights and two wood furnaces for steam heat. Unanticipated later uses included municipal court offices and courtroom, a basketball arena, a civil defense and ham radio installation, a police station, and now a recreation department.

Despite all of those activities, the building remains intact in most respects. Two additions were made at the rear (in 1985 and 1999), but the front facade remains intact, even if its formal entrance is disused and overgrown. Above it all is the cupola, or properly "lantern" because of its large, arched windows. Last overhauled in 1957, the character-defining feature once again requires a preservation effort—repairing windows, replacing lost trim, and painting the exterior. The restoration of its original weathervane, last seen in photographs from the 1960s, might also be included in such a project.

We hope to list the building on the State Register of Historic Places for its significance as an example of Classical Revival architecture, for its reflection of the town's development during the 20th century, and for its association with the family of Dr. Solomon and Henrietta Whipple, whose accomplished boys left the state for greater opportunities but cherished their New Hampshire roots, even to their dying days.

View of Sargent Common and Bandstand from Whipple Memorial Hall

July 9, 2013

Gatsby Revisited

Cover illustration by "Skrenda"
Among the many thousands of newspaper clippings at the Archives, one caught our eye a few weeks ago—a book review from The New London News of November, 1933. The article said that Helen St. Bernard (1889–1970), author of Men Forget, had used New London as the central setting for her romance novel. It was first published as a serial but was soon issued as a book by Grosset & Dunlap of New York.

The review noted that "the library has received a copy for which the librarians have already received several requests." Curious, we looked for a copy. The timing was good, and we found one listed online in decent condition, signed by the author. (Apparently there is a market for first edition, Jazz- and Depression-era romances, but collectors often value the dust jacket artwork more than the text.)

The setting is undoubtedly based on the author's memories of the summer of 1930, when she stayed at the home of Mrs. Cressey. Some landmarks have been renamed; others have not. New London and Sutton are fictionalized as Powellville and Sutlow, but Kearsarge and Warner retain their names, perhaps because the author takes no license with them.

Powellville's fictional Valley Vista Farm advertised guest accommodations in the Boston papers, as did many of New London's hotels and inns at the time, and by chance Miss Jardine Emery selected it for her hasty country escape from city entanglements. The guest house seems to have been located on Main Street, not far from the old Post Office. In reality there were several. There was also an automobile repair shop, perhaps Little's or Kidder's. The town's nearby golf club may have been modeled after the Lake Sunapee Country Club, which opened in 1927. Sutlow, however, boasts the small hospital where Miss Emery finally choses between two keen suitors. The real New London Hospital, built on Main Street in 1923, would not serve the story because it was too close to Valley Vista Farm; automobiles figure prominently as conveyances of characters and plot—reminiscent of The Great Gatsby, published to little acclaim in 1925.

Title Page
Library patrons looking for themselves or neighbors may have been disappointed, as most of the story's characters are generic and unencumbered by description or backstory. One exception is Dr. Caleb Powell, who had served in France during World War I and returned to country doctoring—tending patients at home and in hospital. The character bears a resemblance to the real Dr. Bill Clough, Sr., who had served in France, doctored tirelessly by automobile, and had married a young woman from Boston.

In 1918, Helen St. Bernard of Detroit applied for a passport to join the Red Cross in France and England, so she may have tapped her own medical experience and imagination rather than anyone she had encountered in New London. On the 1920 Census she gave her occupation as "stenographer." Unwed at 30, she was living with her sister, Hildegarde, and widowed mother, Elvira. After her mother's death in 1926, Helen worked her way from Detroit through Richmond, Virginia, to St. Petersburg, Florida, by 1940. She died there in 1970.

Her writing was concentrated in the decade of her 40s, during which she produced at least nine published works—a mix of novels, serials, and short stories. The titles suggest she stuck with romance: Men Forget (1932), High Windows (1933), Mystery Girl (1935), Tomorrow Never Comes (1936), Wicked Woman (1937), Where the High Road Led (1938), 'Til We Meet Again (1939), After Tonight, What? (1939), and Heart Unafraid (1941).

A little known author, St. Bernard joins others of that era who found inspiration in the quiet presence of Mt. Kearsarge. Thornton Wilder studied the headstones of West Part Cemetery on his afternoon walks from Blodgett's Landing to Crockett's Dairy for ice cream. Harry Woods reportedly composed music for Kate Smith's "When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain" by conjuring a view he knew from his year at New London's Colby Academy, where he was known as "Snooky." Those artists visited and left, but their characters remained among us.

May 6, 2013

Factory Village Tour

Selected slides from last Saturday's presentation on the Factory Village of New London have been posted on our exhibit gallery site. The talk was followed by a walking tour along the waterway from Pleasant Lake down past the former Tannery, Forge Shop, and Grind Shop Ponds.

Only current and historical images held at the Town of New London Archives have been posted. Slides showing other research materials gathered at the Rauner Special Collections and Baker Library at Dartmouth College (Tyler water wheel patents, published census data), the Cleveland-Colby-Colgate Archives at Colby-Sawyer College (some scythe company business records), and the New Hampshire State Archives (1773 Masonian map, original census returns) are excluded, as they may have restrictions on publication or online distribution.

We thank the Society for Industrial Archeology, Northern New England Chapter, for the invitation and the Masonic Lodge for hosting the morning event at the 1872 Mechanics' Hall Association building in Elkins.

March 14, 2013

Shepard's Barn

March 14 is called Pi Day for its numeric notation as 3.14 — a truncated version of the infinite but constant ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. Here in New London this day marked the finite end of a truncated barn.

Shepard's Barn (original length)
The Shepard Barn has been a fixture on Main Street for 112 years, but its story begins 20 years earlier. The structure was built in 1881 by the New London Scythe Company. For the next six years it served as an axe-making factory located along the Blackwater River between Elkins and Wilmot Flat. After the scythe works closed in 1887, its assets were auctioned off and its buildings reused or recycled.

We do not know what happened at the 30' x 120' axe shop over the next decade, perhaps nothing, but in 1900 its frame was disassembled and hauled up New London hill to the former Sargent Homestead on Main Street. Charles E. Shepard had purchased the property in 1890 and was operating a carriage and livery business there. When the frame was reassembled, its roof was changed to a gambrel style in order to provide more storage volume for Shepard's hay and feed. Although gambrel barns are prevalent elsewhere, they are unusual in this area.

In 1947, James E. Shepard, II, removed over half of the barn. He took it down to Newport Road, where it became the New London Locker Plant, the modern version of his father's ice business. Within two years the venture failed, but it was soon reopened by Eliot Clemons, who sold groceries in addition to refrigeration services. That building, "a specially-designed and handsome structure" according to historian J. Duane Squires, was recently converted into the dental offices of Drs. Gutgsell & Phipps.
Wednesday, March 13 (4:50 PM)

Thursday, March 14 (9:15 AM)
Shepard's Riding School having closed, in 1947 the remaining portion of Shepard's Barn and 3 acres of land were purchased by Colby-Sawyer College for its maintenance department. Since that time the property has had several owners, none of whom found much use for the barn. Meanwhile, roof shingles started leaking. The foundation settled, bowing outward. The window frames racked and glass panes broke free of sashes. The trim and clapboards blew off in the wind. The barn had become a potential liability rather than the productive asset it once was.

Its days were numbered. Until today. Pi Day.

February 18, 2013

Badge of History

The Historical Society recently received a medallion depicting a four-horse coach running past a building, with the letters “NL” visible on a hanging sign. The coach is not exactly a Concord Coach, nor does the building look quite like any in town, so what is this artifact?

The sesquicentennial celebration, marking 150 years since New London’s incorporation, took place over three days, August 2–4, 1929, preempting Hospital Days that year. Scheduled events included three performances of an outdoor historical pageant (professionally written and produced, with 500 participants and 20 yoke of oxen), the dedication of four historical site markers (Colby homestead and sites of the first dwelling, schoolhouse, and meetinghouse), a golf tournament, baseball game, band concert, and a church service.

For an event logo, the stage coach was chosen as symbolic of the town’s development, and, in episode five, the pageant recreated a scene in which Colby Hill school students were excused from class to watch the first stage coach travel down Main Street in 1831. Future Governor Anthony Colby was credited with the securing the New London stop on the Lowell (MA) to Hanover (NH) route.

In 1929 the elected organizing committee of Emma Colby, Charles Shepard, and Stanley Spiller oversaw the work of 28 subcommittees. Taxpayers had appropriated $2,500 for the celebration, and of this amount, $575 was paid to the Whitehead & Hoag Co. of Newark, New Jersey, to furnish “badges” — cast medallions with ribbons and attached pins. The sale of badges, along with programs, postcards, and reserved-seat pageant tickets, raised over $4,000 to help meet expenses for the three-day observance.

So this coach-themed medallion played a fundraising role in one of the most ambitious historical celebrations the town has ever undertaken. You can learn more about New London’s sesquicentennial and read the pageant’s script in J. Duane Squires’ book, Mirror to America: A History of New London New Hampshire, 1900–1950.