Windham Life and Times – December 6, 2019

A Surprising Episode

meserve home

The Meserve home in Windham NH, located on the “Turnpike” which was electrified by a generating station in the mill across the street installed in 1890. Windham may have been home to the first electric generating station north of New York City.

Introduction to William F. Meserve: Windham Inventor

Over the next few weeks I will be presenting a series of articles about one of Windham’s most fascinating residents from the past: William F. Meserve. Mr. Meserve was part of a generation of people like Edison, Tesla, Ford, Davidson, and the Wright Brothers, that seized upon an idea, followed through on its creation and transformed America. They were individualists who often worked alone or in small companies with no corporate structure or government grants.  Many never achieved financial success of acclaim, but there work influenced others and brought about the miracle of the modern world. It is claimed by his daughter, that the first electrical generating station north of New York City was located right here, at the Meserve Mill in Windham NH. The following account I believe is from his daughter Grace Meserve.

“It was mid summer of 1917, the United States had declared war on Germany and school seemed less important than the war effort. I had decided not t go back to school in the fall when I chance to meet a man who was very active in YMCA work. We talked for several hours and his sincere interest on my behalf persuaded me to change my mind He suggested I attend a new Boston Technical School, which I ultimately did. I went home and prepared to discuss the day’s events with my parents and make plans for the fall.”

“When I told them what had happened and the name of the man I had met, they both exclaimed, ‘What a coincidence!’ and then explained that back in 1901 they had met his father and mother in a very odd circumstance and both joined in relating the following episode.”

My father owned and operated a large job mill located in Windham, New Hampshire – about half way between Boston, Massachusetts and Concord, New Hampshire—on the old Stage Coach Road. As they used to say in those days, ‘This road was laid out  as the crow flies.’ The road bed itself was composed of twisting sandy ruts that skirted around large ledge formations or a ‘mud hole’ as it is called, and seemed never to dry out except in mid summer. The hills were steep and many times it was necessary for all of the passengers in an automobile to get out and push in order to make the top of the hill. It also required a great deal of skill, on the part of the driver, to negotiate these wagon trails, but the ever present challenge spurred them on.”

The mill included water and steam power to operate a complex of individual facilities, including saw mill for logs – edgers – planers and various wood working machines – wooden and cardboard box shop—shingle mill – stone grist mill for grinding corn and barley for farmers and a cider mill for grinding their apples. There was also a carriage shop for repairing wagons, etc. My Dad was a real genius with so many talents that he was true to the Meserve Coat of Arms whose motto reads AU VALEUREUX C EUR RIEN IMPOSSIBLE (To the strong heart nothing is impossible.) and the word ’impossible’ was not in his dictionary.”

“One summer day, as he was operating the board saw, he looked out to see an automobile come to a grinding halt on the sandy hill directly opposite from where he was working. A very well dressed couple emerged and appeared frustrated at their predicament. It was obvious that they were people of means – dressed as they were – he, in his duster and gloves and she, with her duster and veil. Typical tourists!”

The good Samaritan that Dad was sent him out to offer his help. They were city folks and looked rather dubious that out here in the country anyone would be able to fix their new Cadillac – the one cylinder model. My Dad looked it over – located the trouble and told them he could fix it but that it would not be ready until the following day. They expressed doubt but he assured them by explaining that he had been building automobiles and trucks since 1896 and took them to his shop – just over the hill. There they saw a new 2 ton steam truck that he had just built for the Pemberton Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts.”

“He invited them to spend the night at his home and they accepted. Dad took them to his house to meet my Mother and, to their surprise, they found themselves in a large modern home that Dad had built the year before. As they were taken to the guest room, they were astounded to see steam radiators for heating. This was incredible out here in the country. The steam was piped from the mill boiler. This whole picture was out of focus and growing more fantastic by the moment. When they were shown where to turn on the electric lights in their room, they were speechless. They were still using gas lights in their city home. Dad had built the generator that ran it by a water wheel back in 1890. It furnished lights f0r his mill – a Witch Hazel factory nearby – and three houses. In 1889  dad, a young man of 18, had attended the Mechanics Fair in Boston, where the Edison Company of New York had on display a small generator lighting one electric light. He was intrigued and purchased a book they were selling on the subject of electricity. From this book, he was able to develop this light plant – the only one north of New York City.”

“The guests were taken to the living room to relax while supper was being prepared. ‘What a lovely piano you have – may I try it?’ ‘Of course – make yourself right at home.’ She sat down and began to play and it was obvious that she was an accomplished pianist. Dad spoke up and said, ‘I play the violin a little and after supper we can have some music.’ Mother said that their was a look of anguish came over her face – apparently at the thought of accompanying a country fiddler at Turkey in the Straw or Irish Washwoman. However, she did her best to hide her feelings and remarked that would be fun…”

Unfortunately, page four is missing, so we don’t know how this story ends. This may have taken place in 1902 since Cadillac began production in that year. “The first Cadillac automobiles were the 1903 Model built in the last quarter of 1902. These were 2-seater “horseless carriages” powered by the reliable and sturdy 10 hp single-cylinder engine developed by Henry Martyn Leland and built by Leland and Faulconer Manufacturing Company of Detroit, of which Henry Leland was founder, vice president and general manager. Reformed as the Cadillac Automobile Company in August 1902, it began manufacturing the runabouts and named them ‘Cadillac’ after the city’s founder.”

meserve-cadilac

The 1902 Cadillac was almost identical to the Ford Model “A” with the exception of the engine. It was manufactured in the abandoned Ford Motor Plant.

“Cadillac was formed from the remnants of the Henry Ford Company. After a dispute between Henry Ford and his investors, Ford left the company along with several key partners in March 1902. Ford’s financial backers William Murphy and Lemuel Bowen called in engineer Henry M. Leland of Leland & Faulconer Manufacturing Company to appraise the plant and equipment in preparation for liquidating the company’s assets. Instead, Leland persuaded the pair to continue manufacturing automobiles using Leland’s proven single-cylinder engine. A new company called the Cadillac Automobile Company was established on 22 August 1902, re-purposing the Henry Ford Company factory at Cass Street and Amsterdam Avenue. It was named after French explorer Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, who had founded Detroit in 1701. Cadillac’s first automobiles, the Runabout and Tonneau, were completed in October 1902. They were two-seat horseless carriages powered by a 10 hp (7 kW) single-cylinder engine. They were practically identical to the 1903 Ford Model A. Many sources say the first car rolled out of the factory on 17 October; in the book Henry Leland—Master of Precision, the date is 20 October; another reliable source shows car number three to have been built on 16 October. Cadillac displayed the new vehicles at the New York Auto Show in January 1903, where the vehicles impressed the crowds enough to gather over 2,000 firm orders. Cadillac’s biggest selling point was precision manufacturing, and therefore, reliability; a Cadillac was simply a better-made vehicle than its competitors.” Wikipedia

 

 

 

Windham Life and Times – November 22, 2019

Thanksgiving

A Tribute to Native American Foods

TURKEYS

James Adair, published a book in 1775 about the eastern Native Americans. In it he describes their cooking: “It is surprising the great variety of dishes they can make out of wild flesh, corn, beans, peas, potatoes, pumpkins, dried fruits, herbs and roots. They can diversify their courses, as much as the English, or perhaps French cooks: and either of the ways they dress their food, it is grateful to a wholesome stomach.”

Of course, Thanksgiving, is all about a slightly ugly and strange bird, the turkey. “Before Europeans first colonized New England in the 17th century, an estimated 10 million wild turkeys stretched from southern Maine to Florida to the Rocky Mountains…By the mid-1850s, New England turkeys had all but disappeared. Today, New England is again, overrun by turkeys. “Massachusetts captured 37 wild turkeys from New York’s Adirondacks in the 1970s and released them in the Berkshires. Vermont relocated 31 New York turkeys in the mid-1960s, and Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire participated in similar programs… ‘Their population has just exploded, quite literally,’ Bernie says. Today, the wild turkey population in Massachusetts exceeds 25,000 birds. There are 45,000 wild turkeys in Vermont, 40,000 in New Hampshire, and almost 60,000 in Maine— almost all of which descended from those few dozen relocated birds…” Audubon.org. Are thousands of turkeys roaming suburban neighborhood a good or bad thing? I guess you would have to ask a new BMW owner who has had his finish pecked of by a turkey thinking his reflection was another bird. I hear they do eat ticks!

THE THREE SISTERS

    “The three sisters (corn, beans, and squash) were the major staples of Native American agriculture, and were always grown together. Corn was the most important staple food grown by Native Americans, but corn stalks also provided a pole for beans to climb and the shade from the corn benefited squash that grew under the leaves. The beans, as with all legumes, provided nitrogen for the corn and squash. Finally, the shade from large squash and pumpkin leaves held moisture in the ground for all three plants. Although other plants such as potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers were cultivated, the three sisters gardens were the backbone of North American Indian agriculture and provided the primary dietary staples of many tribes, and horticulture remains an important part of modern Native American life.” “Squash is one of several plants with a name that comes from a Native American language– “squash” is an abbreviated form of askutasquash, the word for squash in the Narragansett language.”

THE LEGEND OF THE THREE SISTERS

“A long time ago there were three sisters who lived together in a field. These sisters were quite different from one another in their size and way of dressing. The little sister was so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green.”

“The second sister wore a bright yellow dress, and she had a way of running off by herself when the sun shone and the soft wind blew in her face.”

“The third was the eldest sister, standing always very straight and tall above the other sisters and trying to protect them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yellow hair that tossed about her head in the breeze.”

“There was one way the sisters were all alike, though. They loved each other dearly, and they always stayed together. This made them very strong.”

“One day a stranger came to the field of the Three Sisters – a Mohawk boy. He talked to the birds and other animals – this caught the attention of the three sisters.”

“Late that summer, the youngest and smallest sister disappeared. Her sisters were sad.”

“Again the Mohawk boy came to the field to gather reeds at the water’s edge. The two sisters who were left watched his moccasin trail, and that night the second sister – the one in the yellow dress – disappeared as well.”

“Now the Elder Sister was the only one left. She continued to stand tall in her field. When the Mohawk boy saw that she missed her sisters, he brought them all back together and they became stronger together, again.”

POTATOES

As you have heard endlessly over the past year, it was the Scotch-Irish who brought the potato to North America. While this is technically true, the potato was brought back by the European explorers to their home countries, and eventually found its way to Ireland where it became in a few short years a staple crop. So if Columbus hadn’t come to America, there wouldn’t be French fries… I think I’m in trouble, but correct.

“Holiday foods in the USA (Thanksgiving and Christmas especially) traditionally include turkey, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, baked beans, and mashed potatoes, all of which originate from Native Americans. The original Thanksgiving feast in the year 1621 was a gathering of English colonists and local Indians. The records reveal that the feast which lasted several days included deer, water fowl, turkeys, shellfish, eels, squash, corn, and beans. Other foods were probably eaten as well; chestnuts would have been available as would some berries. However, what is known for sure is that most of the traditional Thanksgiving foods of today were available at that time even if they were not a part of that first Thanksgiving meal almost 400 years ago.”

     So do you want the exhaustive list of Native American foods? Here you go: Casava, chili and bell Peppers, Artichoke; lima, pole, pinto and kidney Beans; Potatoes from Peru; Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkin, and Tomatoes. And then there are Black Raspberry, Blueberry, Cacao-Chocolate; Cranberry, Guava, Papaya, Pineapple and Strawberry. Then there are the grains: Corn, Quinoa, Wild Rice. Nuts: Cashew, Peanut, Pecan.  Allspice, Maple Syrup and Vanilla. Plus game such as turkey. That’s quite an extensive list and I’m sure I missed a few.

Finally, if you, like me are suffering from a plethora of acorns, there is good new; you can eat them. “Acorns were also used to make bread and dumplings. For some Native Americans, acorns were an important part of the diet although they required extensive washing with hot water to remove the tannins.”

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352618116300750#bib26

http://www.birdclan.org/threesisters.htm

https://www.audubon.org/news/how-wild-turkeys-took-over-new-england Brianna Abbott

 

Windham Life and Times – November 15, 2019

Catamounts in New England

Puma or cougar or mountain lion or catamount or panther or mountain cat, vintage engraved illustration.

Catamount Rock in Windham NH

With wildlife returning to Southern New Hampshire in abundance can it be long before Catamounts are prowling through our neighborhoods? We are completely overrun by turkeys, coyotes are becoming common, and a pair of bobcats were seen in Westford this past week. The current Yankee Magazine also has an interesting article about the cats. Of course, the fisher cat, the greatest fear of my childhood, thanks to my brother who told me they were going to eat me, is also found here. So what the heck is a “Catamount” anyway?

Morrison tells us in 1883 that, “Wild-cat, Lynx, or Catamount, were once here, but have disappeared with other wild animals as civilization advanced. Periodically the community is startled by the report of the appearance of a lynx or wild-cat, but only at intervals of several years. A catamount was once killed upon a rock in the east side of the town, and the rock is known as “Catamount Rock.” “It is a large circular boulder, and rises some 4 feet above the surface of the ground. It lies in the pasture of L.A. Morrison…”

So what is a catamount? It is basically looks like a panther or cougar and it was once found in New England. According to Helenette Silver, in A History of New Hampshire Game and Furbearers, published by NH Fish and Game in 1957, “The panther. Felis Concolor, is a beast of many names, most frequently referred to in New Hampshire history as catamount, but sometimes known locally as ‘Indian Devil’ or ‘Carcajou,’ under which appellations it is confused with the wolverine, which may never have existed in the state. In other parts of the country it is variously called mountain lion, cougar or puma; the latter name has been generally adopted.”

“The Eastern panther, Felis Concolor cougar, one of the large sub-species was found in New Hampshire at the time of settlement, but has been regarded as extinct by most authorities for many years. It was a slender, long-tailed cat, probably tawny or light brown in color. Preble (1942) indicates that the color of the New Hampshire panthers was unknown, but a specimen now located in the Woodman Museum in Dover, N.H. is of a very light fawn shade without markings. The inscription reads, ‘This Felis Cougar, sometimes called Mountain Lion, was killed in Lee, N.H. by Wm. Chapman of Newmarket N.H. who was hunting in the fall of 1853 accompanied by his dogs.’ A better example of the Eastern panther is that taken at Wardsboro Vt., in 1875, and now in the possession of the Boston Museum of Science. This specimen is somewhat darker than the Woodman Museum panther— practically the same color as a deer—lighter below, blending to a reddish brown along the backbone…”The Vermont panther was smaller, weighing 110 pounds…”  According to Silver they remained in New Hampshire until the 1880’s.”

So are there live cougars in New England today? Well as a mater of fact, yes and no. According to the Massachusetts Fish and Game, there is evidence of Mountain Lions returning to New England.  Confirmed Reports of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts: “There are two records of Mountain Lions in Massachusetts that meet the evidence requirements for a Class 1 or a Class 2 Confirmation. MassWildlife cannot investigate or confirm Mountain Lion reports without any evidence. Case 1: In April 1997, experienced tracker John McCarter found scat near a beaver carcass at the Quabbin Reservation. McCarter sent a sample to Dr. George Amato of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York and Dr. Melanie Culver of the University of Maryland. Both labs confirmed the sample came from a Mountain lion. MassWildlife and the Cougar Network have accepted this record as a Class 1 Confirmation. Case 2: In March 2011, DCR forester Steve Ward photographed a track trail in the snow near the Gate 8 boat launch area of Quabbin were fresh and well photographed. Tracking experts Paul Rezendes, Charles Worsham, George Leoniak, and Dr. Mark Elbroch examined the photos. These tracks may have been made by the Mountain Lion documented in Greenwich, Connecticut on June 5, 2011, and killed by a vehicle six days later.”

“The Connecticut Mountain Lion is the best documented wild Mountain Lion in New England. The young adult male was killed by an SUV on the Wilbur Cross Parkway in Milford, Connecticut on June 11, 2011. Someone photographed the animal at the Brunswick School on Greenwich, Connecticut about 40 miles away on June 5th. The USDA’s Forest Service Wildlife Genetics Laboratory found that the animal came from South Dakota. This mountain lion was documented by DNA samples from Minnesota and Wisconsin between December 2009 and early 2010.  Sighting of this animal also occurred in Michigan and New York.  Over a period of a year and a half, this Mountain Lion left DNA evidence in at least four states. Mountain lions don’t usually travel more than 100 miles from where they are born. Yet this young male traveled about 1,800 miles. This is the longest documented travel distance of a Mountain Lion.”

New Hampshire Fish and game has the following statement on their website: “Despite numerous reports, the NH Fish and Game Department continues to have no physical evidence of mountain lion presence in the state. The species that once inhabited the Northeast, known as the eastern mountain lion, is now extinct. However, dispersing western mountain lions have left evidence as close as Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York.” Want to report a Mountain Lion sighting in New Hampshire? Contact the Wildlife Division at (603) 271-2461 or wildlife@wildlife.nh.gov to request an observation report form.

Do you want to see real, living mountain lions that do exist in New Hampshire.  You can see two of them at Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness NH. At windhamhistory.org I have included a link to the interesting publication by Mass Wildlife called: Mountain Lions in Massachusetts: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction, by Tom French.

https://www.mass.gov/doc/mountain-lions-in-massachusetts-distinguishing-fiction-from-the-facts/download

 

Windham Life and Times – November 8, 2019

Get-Away on Cobbett’s Pond

Willis and Edith Low on Rocky Ridge Road

Willis Low was the chief of police in Windham for many, many years and his wife Edith served as a dispatcher. They are shown here enjoying a stay at Cobbett’s Pond. Eventually, they would purchase a property on the very secluded Rock Pond, because it allowed them a private place in town where they could get away from their duties for a little while.

Shoreline of Cobbett’s with Dunkan Beach in the background.

Looking toward the narrows on Cobbett’s Pond

Windham Life and Times – October 25, 2019

Novitiate of the Sisters of  Mercy

Searles Castle, Windham, NH.

I had the occasion to pull out some photographs for Cathy Walsh, with the Sisters of Mercy.  The postcard views of the Novitiate of  the Sisters of Mercy, at Searles Castle, reminded me of a very nice childhood memory of growing up in Windham in the early 1960’s.  At five o’clock, the chimes at the Sisters of Mercy rang out and could be heard in a large part of Windham. When they rang, I knew that if I was out and about it was time for me to get home. I wonder how many people still remember them today?

The Sisters of Mercy have a very interesting and inspiring history. The order’s website states that, “…the Sisters of Mercy was an order founded in Ireland, by a laywoman Catherine McAuley. She spent her inheritance to open the House of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland on September 24, 1827. It was a place to shelter and educate women and girls. On December 12, 1831, Catherine and two companions became the first Sisters of Mercy.”

“The Sisters of Mercy arrived in the United States from Ireland in 1843 at the invitation of the Bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.” Frances Ward founded the first Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh…” “Sister Mary Frances (Ward) went to Manchester New Hampshire in July, 1858, and founded a convent where day and night schools were established. In 1859 the sisters began teaching in public schools and received a salary from the city government. The sisters again wore secular dress when teaching and attending staff meetings. In 1863, they were allowed to wear their religious habit in school. Fourteen convents were established from Manchester between 1861 and 1883. Two of these were outstanding in forming new convents Philadelphia and Princeton. Mother Frances travelled with the sisters to each new convent and stayed with them for a month. She held the position of Superior from 1837 – 1884 except for 3 years in Manchester 1880 – 1883. Mary Frances Ward died on the 17th September 1884 in Manchester New Hampshire and was buried in St. Joseph’s cemetery there. A marble cross is erected over her grave…”

So now when you pass McAuley Commons or the Frances Ward Center in town, you will know the reason for the names and the story of the founders of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland and America. Cathy Walsh is working on a multimedia project about the “Sisters of Mercy and their long relationship with Searles Castle.” She is seeking copies of photos of the sisters at the castle and if anybody in town might have any, I would be glad to forward them to her or provide you with her contact information.