July 4, 2015

Public Records

The Declaration of Independence contains a list of “facts" proving the tyranny of "the present King of Great Britain" (George III), justifying the bold actions of the American colonies. Among them is this one:

He has called together Legislative Bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

Ready access to public records was considered an essential element of fair and open government. It remains so today. In that spirit, the New London Town Archives has embarked on a project to identify all of the municipal records in its custody, fill gaps in coverage and content, and work more closely with town departments, boards, and committees to ensure the proper retention and disposition of municipal records—written, printed, and electronic.

New Hampshire's RSA 33-A establishes in each town a municipal records committee responsible for the systematic retention of various records (over 170 different types are specified). The committee must designate where records are kept for the duration of their mandated (minimum) retention periods. The Town Archives holds the most historically important records, to be retained “permanently,” but it also holds many others, more ephemeral and long past their normal retention dates.

We suspect that few small towns in the state have formed a municipal records committee. Despite the creation of our town archives, a rarity among New Hampshire towns, such a records committee has not met here in the last decade, or more. With the accumulated turnover on the town's boards and committees, we also suspect that many individuals now serving may be unaware of their obligations to preserve, document, and provide access to their own records and meeting minutes.

New London’s 2014 annual report lists over thirty entities that create records in the course of normal town business; the Archives holds materials (often with large chronological gaps) related to about twenty of those departments, boards, and committees. The missing records may themselves be scattered "at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant.” By convening a Municipal Records Committee, we hope to improve the preservation and availability of our public records and will post project milestones here.

January 27, 2015

Historic Listing

SHRC at the State Library
Yesterday, the State Historical Resources Council (SHRC) voted to list New London’s Whipple Memorial Town Hall in the State Register of Historic Places. The building’s significance was attributed to its Classical Revival architecture and its important role in the town’s development.

Boston hotelier Amos H. Whipple (1856–1916) bequeathed land and $15,000 for a public library building in his hometown of New London. The selectmen, however, asked his executor to alter the terms of the will, and so the proposed library became Whipple Memorial Town Hall, honoring Amos's parents, Dr. Solomon and Henrietta Whipple. Dr. Whipple, a Croydon native, had served the people of New London as their physician for his entire medical career, commencing in 1849 and ending shortly before his death in 1884.

The executor of Amos Whipple’s estate was his younger brother, Sherman L. Whipple (1862–1930). By 1916, Sherman was an eminent Boston trial lawyer. An alumnus and trustee of Colby Academy, he maintained lifelong ties to New London. He saw the new town hall as benefitting both the townspeople as Amos had wished, but also Colby Academy students, who would use Whipple Hall’s auditorium regularly over the next forty years. Sherman chose a Boston architectural firm, Strickland & Law, for the project—the firm’s first known public commission.

Sidney T. Strickland (1880–1954) graduated from MIT in 1905 and in 1914 was awarded the terminal degree from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. At MIT, Strickland had written and illustrated an undergraduate thesis entitled “Design for a City Hall…”. He had learned the symbolic and functional requirements of civic spaces, and he adapted those principles to the rural town hall in New London. Strickland also studied Colby Academy's nearby Colgate Hall, a Classical Revival design by George Harding of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Colgate Hall was completed in 1912 by New London contractor Horace Stanley, who would also build Whipple Hall, completed in 1918.

Whipple Memorial Town Hall included a jail cell, selectmen's office, town records archive, kitchen, meeting/function room, auditorium and stage, and a moving picture projection booth. It had electric lights and two wood furnaces producing steam heat. Unanticipated later uses included the municipal and district courts, basketball court, civil defense and ham radio station, police station, produce and craft market, and children's recreation. The original building is largely intact above the basement level. Two additions have been made at the rear (in 1985 and 2000), which today house the Police, Dispatch, and Recreation Departments. The town of New London is currently assessing the building’s need for historic preservation and other repairs.

Four other buildings in New London were previously listed in historic registers: the Dr. Solomon M. Whipple House (1985), the First Baptist Church (2005), the New London Barn Playhouse (2006), and Kentlands (2008). Whipple Hall is the first municipal building in New London to be listed. Still in daily use, Whipple Hall’s centennial of service will be observed in June 2018.

May 15, 2014

Memorial Day

Kneeland Parshley, 20, of New London entered the U. S. Army on October 15, 1942 and was assigned to the Air Corps. Ten years earlier his father opened Kearsarge Garage, at their house just over the town line in Wilmot, and the family moved to Elkins, residing next to the village store. He was a "roly-poly sort of boy with a happy disposition," according to storekeeper Percy Thurston. He taught himself to play guitar, singing songs popular on the radio, and entertaining neighborhood kids. For unknown or forgotten reasons, he was always called "Mike."

After enlisting, he headed for basic training in Florida. He left behind his older brother and his mother, Annie Parshley. (Just two years earlier, in 1940, a car accident in Hooksett had taken the lives of his father and younger sister.) He continued his training at Amarillo, Texas, and then at Boling Field, after which Staff Sergeant Kneeland Parshley was deployed to England. There he joined the 457th Bomb Group Wing, which was flying the B-17 Flying Fortress in daylight raids over Germany.

S/Sgt Kneeland Parshley
On April 9, 1944, S/Sgt. Parshley was assigned to his first combat mission, designated as serial number 42-97465. A waist machine-gunner, Mike's job was to repel enemy fighters attacking the right side of the plane. The 500-pound bombs in its ordnance racks were destined for a "modification center" located about 10 miles south-west of the shipyards at Gdynia, Poland, on the Baltic Sea. The round-trip flight was calculated at 1,463 miles, requiring 2,780 gallons of fuel. Sixty-one planes from three different bomb groups participated. The 457th took the lead-high position, at 15,000 feet. Because of weather or equipment failure, sixteen planes turned back early, but the rest arrived on target and achieved "excellent" results.

Some months later, three airmen from Parshley's plane were asked to provide their accounts of the mission on form AFPPA-11.* The plane had been disabled. Parshley and his crew-mates parachuted to safety, while the pilot remained on board, perhaps hoping to divert attention from the drop site by crashing farther away. Patrolling German soldiers were already rounding up the aircrew on the ground. Parshley's parachute got snagged in a tree, where, dangling, he was shot several times in the stomach. Still alive, he and the others were placed in a German truck for transport to a prison camp. Denied medical aid, Kneeland Parshley grew delirious but then fell silent; a crew-mate found no pulse. After the truck stopped for the night and the prisoners were removed, his body was not seen again. According to German records, he died en route to a hospital.

Kneeland Parshley's first burial was made on April 14, 1944, in row 4 of the Waldfriedhof (Forest Cemetery) in Lauenburg, about 35 miles west of Gdynia. The International Red Cross was notified by the German government on June 23, 1944, and his fate was transmitted via Casualty Branch Message Number 17611. Until then, he had simply been "reported missing in action since April 9, 1944" according to New London's Happenings at Home newsletter, dated June 1, 1944. The August edition, however, reported that "Mrs. Annie Parshley has received, posthumously, the Purple Heart Citation awarded to Kneeland J. Parshley for military merit and wounds received in action resulting in his death." A second gold star was sewn on the town's service flag. After the war, Kneeland Parshely's body was exhumed from its "isolated grave" and transported to the U. S. Military Cemetery at Neuville-en-Condros, Belgium, where 5,329 American soldiers lie.

This story has come to us because a father and son, who live in the region of the crash site in Poland, have been researching the flight through incident reports, official telegrams, and other war records. Contacting the New London Archives through a Google search, they asked for background information about Mike's family in hopes of finding relatives. His brother had joined the service within six months of Mike's departure, and he returned to New Hampshire but died in the early 1960s. Some longtime residents of Elkins still remember him as a neighbor or schoolmate.

Maurice and Damian Drąszkiewicz at the commemoration site.
The New London Service Organization was formed to help servicemen and their families during wartime, and for several years it sent flowers to Annie Parshley on Memorial Day, and it made donations in Mike's honor to the Elkins school and chapel. One of four New Londoners killed during the war, his name is inscribed on our Soldiers' Monument at Whipple Hall.

Behind the asterisk appended to his name lies this new story of his death—transmitted from a distant, grateful country, where the memory of mission 42-97465 has been preserved for the past seventy years.

We thank Damian and Maurice Drąszkiewicz and Andrew Nieścior for providing personal photographs and military records to the Archives, and we look forward to hearing more about their research and work in Poland. You can find a slideshow of historic images of the 457th Bomb Group on YouTube.


* The AFPPA-11 ("Individual Casualty Questionnaire") was to be completed by a witness to the loss of a single crew member; other forms, AFPPA-12 ("Casualty Questionnaire") and AFPPA-14 ("Missing Air Crew Report"), were used for multiple casualties or lost airmen.

February 14, 2014


Ira Littlefield dwelled on his family's Pleasant Street farmstead for his entire life. While farming kept him well occupied, he also conducted property surveys throughout the central New Hampshire. His timing couldn't have been better. In the early 1900s, farms were bought and subdivided for lakefront cottages at a rapid rate as recreation became the mainstay of the local economy.

Ira's drawings are held at the New Hampshire State Archives in Concord, and because of their significance to New London's past, we have been cataloging portions of the collection. To date, we have seen nearly 300 sheets (field notes, ink drawings, and blueprints) within the towns of New London and Sunapee. Still unexamined are properties in Springfield, Newbury, Sutton, Wilmot, Andover, and points beyond.

As we sift through the boxes, we also photograph any plans that might be of interest to researchers at back our own archives. The images are loaded into our existing library of digitized maps and identified by general location. Using Google Maps, we are also able to graphically locate each property and the GPS coordinates become part of the digital file's metadata. For archivists, this sort of geotagging is a boon. Unlike residents, road names, and street numbers, the GPS coordinates do not change over time, providing future researchers with at least one fixed geographic data point.

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