Windham Life and Times – April 12, 2019

Nutfield 300

The First Settlement: By Land or River?

“…The company followed a trail from Haverhill about fifteen miles through the woods.” (But did they come by land? Not according the John Greenleaf Whittier who was intimately acquainted with the Scots-Irish in southern New Hampshire. In his book, Old Portraits and Modern Sketches Whittier describes the pioneer’s journey as follows: “In the early part of the eighteenth century, a considerable number of Presbyterians of Scotch descent, from the north of Ireland, emigrated to the new world. In the spring of 1719, the inhabitants of Haverhill, on the Merrimack, saw them passing up the river in several canoes, one of which unfortunately upset in the rapids above the village. The following fragment of a ballad celebrating this event, has been handed down to the present time, and may serve to show the feelings even then of the old English settlers toward the Irish emigrants:

 

‘They began to scream and bawl,

As out they tumbled one and all,

And, if the Devil had spread his net,

He could have made a glorious haul!’

 

     “The new comers proceeded up the river, and landing opposite the Uncanoonuc Hills, on the present site of Manchester, proceeded inland to Beaver Pond. Charmed by the appearance of the country, they resolved here to terminate their wanderings. Under a venerable oak on the margin of the lake, they knelt down with their minister, Jamie McGregor, and laid, in prayer and thanksgiving, the foundation of their settlement. In a few years they had cleared large fields, built substantial stone and frame dwellings, and a large and commodious meeting-house; wealth had accumulated around them, and they had every where the reputation of a shrewd and thriving community. They were the first in New England to cultivate the potato, which their neighbors for a long time regarded as a pernicious root, altogether unfit for a Christian stomach. Every lover of that invaluable esculent has reason to remember with gratitude the settlers of Londonderry.”

It’s probably true that both the trails and river provided access for the Scotch-Irish to their new settlement in southern New Hampshire. If they truly did take the river in April it would have been roaring with spring snow melt.

Rev. MacMurphy continues, “The men and boys, perhaps no women or small children as they were to stay with their friends a month while preparations were  being made to shelter them; sixteen men, their pastor and the boys, trailing up from Haverhill through the woods, with a few packs on horses, a few oxen and cows, and other live stock. What could they bring? Axes and hammers, saws, iron bars and shovels, hoes and plows, seed corn, potatoes, onions and beans, some garden seeds, some provisions, flour, meal, tea and molasses, pots and kettles, tins and dishes, knives, forks and spoons, their clothing, etc. (Also, undoubtably, rum.) And then where should they unpack? They came to a little west running brook, in a sheltered valley, and decided to camp down there. The horses and cattle were soon staked  to good low land grass. By the aid of steel and flint and tinder and dry wood a fine warm fire was kindled and the pots and kettles hung above and necessary arrangements quickly made to prepare supper in the open field. With axes, rude shelters were provided under which men and boys could sleep at night. The number that listened to that sermon on Sunday might have been seventy-five persons, perhaps even a hundred or more, for note that the pastor had six boys and sixteen other men with one exception are quite certain to have had average families for those years.”

The names of the sixteen should be of interest, they may be found in several places: In the Town Records, in Parker’s Centenary Sermon, in Book of Nutfield, and on the map of the Double Range. These sixteen or seventeen men selected their homes on both sides of this little brook and located their huts with reference to frontage on the brook and land a mile long stretching away north and south, but only 30 perches in width; bringing their families near together.” (The rod or perch or pole is a surveyor’s tool and unit of length exactly equal to ​5 12 yards…)

     In a month’s time the woman folks were anxious to join the menfolk and come to Nutfield and by that time sufficient accommodations had been erected of hewn timbers, split shingles, and stone chimneys with open fireplaces to make a cheerful place to live in. Rude furniture, tables and chairs, benches and bedsteads, cut and fashioned from the living forest gave an impression of comparative comfort. This colony had not been on the premises a month before they called a meeting and were duly organized. They ordered the construction of a mill dam and saw mill and in six months they had a saw mill in operation on Beaver Brook less than a mile away from their cozy valley, and in less than two years they had a gristmill there and a second saw mill on Aiken brook. So the log shanties began to be replaced and supplemented with framed houses with real boards, clapboards, and shingles. Of course a church was built the first year of Nutfield and just about where the First Church now stands. Four months had brought more families and in September of 1719, they voted twenty more homesteads to the first new comers, to that number who should make immediate settlement in Nutfield. By the time the territory had been surveyed and laid out in ranges and homesteads of sixty acres the number of inhabitants had increased to that degree that the first so called Schedule named one hundred and five heads of families to receive allotments of homesteads; and others rewarded for services rendered the colony, up to the number of homestead rights of 122 1/2.”

“The Wheelwright Deed, given to Nutfield Colony as an Indian title to the ten miles square territory was not signed until October 29, 1719, and consequently the surveying and settling of bounds to the homesteads did not progress much in the first six months of occupation. The colonists working together cleared a few acres of forest around their camps at West Running Brook, with difficulty plowed among the stumps and in common raised and harvested their first crops and thus originated the name ‘common field’ as applied to a section well known to this day. The winter was not particularly severe, their mill was kept running, the timber around prospective houses and homes felled and drawn to the mill yard. In March of 1720 the homesteads were surveyed, laid out, butted and bounded, as we find in the Town Records and may trace on the map drawn for the purpose by the writer of this address and published in sections in Willey’s Book of Nutfield, with the provision that all rights to use these maps are reserved by the original draftsman.”

 

 

Windham Life and Times – April 5, 2019

Nutfield 300

Introduction: April 11, 1719

This year, 2019, will mark the 300th Anniversary of the founding of Nutfield. This grant of land came through the Wheelwright deed for a ten square mile parcel that he had acquired from the Indians. Nutfield consisted of the towns of Windham, Derry, Londonderry and parts of Manchester and Salem.  Beginning below is the historical address by the Rev. J.G. MacMurphy  at the Nutfield Celebration of 1919.

The Derry News, September 12, 1919

“Following is part one of the ‘Historical Address’ delivered by the Rev. J.G. MacMurphy at the 200th anniversary celebration of this township.”

Anticipation of the Important Celebration

“For many years it has been in the minds of the lineal descendants of the pioneers that a large gathering should be held in 1919 to properly commemorate the achievements of two hundred years. Curiously enough it is generally claimed one person in his last will left a small legacy to be held in trust, for the purchase of apples, cider and nuts, to be liberally dispensed to all the guests and attendants of the town’s 200th anniversary celebration.”

“On many public occasions speakers have referenced to the probability that this date would be observed by an extraordinary effort, to duly memorialize the more conspicuous events of the town’s history, and to cherish with fond recollection the names of worthy men and women who have contributed most to the welfare, prosperity and honorable reputation of the community.”

“As a growing community it is quite impossible to conceive the amount of material necessary  to any historic account of the principal events and personal notices of the chief actors. There is no adequate work in existence to supply the need of the present generation. The History of Londonderry, N.H., is yet to be written and published in the rich abundance of the town’s inception, development and present conditions. The sources of information are numerous and sufficiently reliable and varied. The records of the town from its earliest beginnings to the latest transactions have been carefully preserved. There are details of the settlement, the laying out of homesteads and other subsequent allotments of land; the privileges of saw mills, gristmills, and water flowage; the names of the inhabitants as they arrived; the marriages, the births, the deaths, and all these records are accessible to the public at any time.”

“The New Hampshire Gazetteer is a series of published volumes in which to find a condensed account of the settlement of Londonderry and all the affiliated interest of adjacent towns in course of time taken off the original possession of this pioneer colony. There have been several large Rockingham County volumes published in which due space has been allotted to the history of this and neighboring towns closely allied together. At the end of the first hundred years of history the Rev. Edward L. Parker delivered a centenary sermon on the history of the town to a large and appreciative congregation in the First Church. The sermon was printed and copies are in existence, although rare and not easily found. About 1850 he wrote and his son published the History of Londonderry. It contained valuable copies of records, among them a list of names of those who in 1718 petitioned for land in America to settle upon; a list of those who did settle Londonderry under the Royal Charter of 1722; a list of the selectmen for a hundred and twenty-five years; a list of the Revolutionary War soldiers from this town; a list of lawyers, doctors, and prominent men who originated in this town.”

At the end of one hundred and fifty years there was held on the sand plains of West Derry an immense gathering of the inhabitants and descendants of Londonderry. There was due preparation and distinguished men were present to tell the experiences of their sturdy ancestors in opening up the wilderness to make comfortable homes; and after this big celebration, Robert C. Mack gathered material from the speeches, personnel and occasion to make a book and a committee provided for its printing, binding and distribution. This book is also rare now and not readily found. About twenty five years later was published a book that more than all others combined in the one universal reference book, Willey’s Book of Nutfield, to point out exactly where every head of family had a homestead, and the location of every allotment of land to him. It has aided materially in answering inquires genealogists usually seek to answer by consulting the Register of Deeds in Exeter. Again, it is particularly valuable in giving names, dates of death, kinship, and ages of all persons buried in Derry and Londonderry, so far as their graves had stones and inscriptions, Index with more than 700 names.”

The First Settlement

“There has been considerable emphasis laid on the fact that sixteen families and their pastor, the Rev. James MacGregor, are reported as the first to arrive on the site selected for the town. (The other Scots-Irish which had arrived on the five ships from northern Ireland in 1718 were spread around New England from Andover, Worcester, Boston and the coast of Maine.) They arrived early in the season for this climate and in a wilderness of wood and timber. (Although there were many Indian meadows where Native Americans had grown their crops and were much coveted by settlers since they had been cleared of trees and used for farming.) This was a country of many beeches, walnuts, oil nuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts, in the season of gathering; and so they had chosen the name of Nutfield for their territory and they had the promise of an Indian deed to this land, briefly described as ten miles square and bounded by Chester, easterly by Haverhill, southerly by Dracut and Dunstable (Nashua) and westerly by the Merrimack River.”

“Why did those sixteen families and their pastor emigrate from Ireland and come here and settle in the wildness? It has been said they emigrated to obtain freedom of action and liberty of personal conscience. When did they arrive and how? They were here on Saturday the 11th and their pastor preached to them on Sunday the 12th day of April, 1719, on the Blessings of Christ’s Kingdom taking for his text Isaiah XXXII;2  ‘A man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry ground, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.’  Imagine the conditions of this season of the year. The company had followed a trail from Haverhill about fifteen miles through the woods. The men and boys, perhaps no women of small children as they were to stay with their friends a month while preparations were being made to shelter them…”

 

Windham Life and Times – March 29, 2019

Counterfeit Crown Point Note

Passed at Dennison’s Tavern in Windham in 1755

A Crown Point Note, similar to the counterfeit passed in Windham, is pictured above. As can be seen, any half way decent printer could have counterfeited these notes and many did.

James and Donna Belle Garvin have written a really interesting account of New Hampshire’s Taverns and Turnpikes. In On the Road North of Boston, the Garvin’s write about the problem of counterfeiting bills prior and during the Revolutionary War.  Unlike today, when Federal Reserve Notes have all kinds of technology embedded in them to prevent the problem of counterfeiting, early notes in America looked as if they were made with pen and ink of plain paper. One of the places the counterfeiters hit in 1755 was Dennison’s Tavern in Windham NH.

The Garvin’s write that, “New England’s developing road network facilitated the spread of other types of crime into New Hampshire, particularly the making and passing of counterfeit money. As early as the 1680’s, an English immigrant known to his contemporaries as the ‘Chymist of Cocheo’ faced trial for counterfeiting coins in Dover. And, in 1774, ‘the infamous Glazier Wheeler, the Money-Maker of Cohoss, and Peter Hubbart his Accomplice’ were apprehended and brought to trial in Plymouth. Frequently, counterfeit money was passed to an unsuspecting public at the local tavern. Around 1755, counterfeiter Benjamin Winn unwisely drew attention to himself at a Windham tavern by treating anyone who entered and paying with an eight-pound bill.” Unfortunately, nothing is recorded in the historical record about Denison’s tavern in Windham. On September 28, 1758, by a legislative act, the number of taverns allowed in New Hampshire were limited to eighty-four. Windham was limited to one. According to Morrison, “In 1755, John Stuart, who lived on the Range near Robert Armstrong, was an innkeeper;” but no mention of Denison.

“During the American Revolution, counterfeiting served a political rather than purely economic, purposes; loyalists in New Hampshire as elsewhere undertook to discredit the new American economy by circulating spurious notes obtained from New York City. It is perhaps significant that the leader of the Tory counterfeit ring in New Hampshire was himself a prominent tavernkeeper, Colonel Stephen Holland of Londonderry. Predictably, Henry Tufts also became entangled in this counterfeiting operation. At a Claremont tavern toward the end of the Revolution, Tufts happened to share a bed with a stranger who claimed in the night to ‘have long been an agent of the British, who had now employed him…to explore the country, and circulate counterfeit money’ Tufts ‘found not the slightest difficulty in passing [the spurious notes he received],’ his first purchase being, naturally a horse.”

There is an interesting account of the use of counterfeit bills during the Revolution. Many Windham men served under General Stark at the Battle of Bennington in Vermont. It was to these men that the counterfeiters hoped to pass their spurious bills.

“When the workmen were tearing down the old Wells & Newell’s Store in Springfield, Vt. in the early 1800s, they discovered a cache of money hidden in a wall – both counterfeit and real. It was, they believed, the remnants of the Eureka counterfeiting ring — a band of Tory sympathizers who hoped to pass their counterfeit money off on General John Stark and his soldiers as they passed through toward the Battle of Bennington. The story, as retold many times, goes like this:”

“In the summer of 1777, a group of men were working their way through New England, pouring phony pewter coins and passing fake paper money to unsuspecting victims. The state of official currency during the American Revolution was dicey, creating opportunities for counterfeiters. The bills from the old store walls bore the image of an Indian in a canoe travelling down a raging stream. They carried the legend: ‘Pass Me Along.’ ”“

This band of counterfeiters had holed themselves up in the tiny town (not even a town, really) of Eureka, Vermont. The area gets its name from the small schoolhouse located there. Four families had built the school in colonial times. And the school got its name from David Searle, a young graduate from Yale College who had set off for the frontier. Upon reaching Fort No. 4 in western New Hampshire, he learned that a small school nearby was lacking a teacher. Searle traipsed through the wilderness until he found the building and shouted, ‘Eureka!’ The name caught on. As the legend goes, our counterfeiters were busily drinking and pouring phony coin late into the night. They made up a little ditty to celebrate their expected boon:

 

Our money bright

Buys rum at night

For the weary soldier boy

 

For what care we

And what care he

If it is all alloy

 

From daylight to dark

We’ll cheat old Stark

Yankee Doodle do.

 

“Eureka, however, was like any small town. It wasn’t so easy to keep a secret. The young daughter of a friend of General Stark overheard the song, and it stuck in her head. Out gathering her cows one morning, the girl saw Stark’s soldiers coming down the road. Rushing to meet him, she told Stark he had enemies in the house at Eureka. Forewarned, Stark seized the counterfeiters and most of their bogus cash – missing only a small portion hidden in the walls. He proclaimed it a good omen for the battle that was coming. Exactly how true is the tale? Tough to say. There certainly was money found in the walls of the old store. And there certainly were counterfeiters during the Revolution. One large-scale counterfeiting operation was centered in Londonderry, N.H. – Stark’s own hometown. It was organized by Tories hoping to destabilize American currency, and one of the leaders of that ring was well known to Stark: It was his own brother. But that’s another story…” http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/general

An Outtake on Life – March 28, 2019

Escape from Three Mile Island

The Redneck Multiverse

Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Station

This is a cautionary tale about the meaning of life, how we’re impacted by choices, and how the various multiverses of which we can chose often bring us to unexpected places. Sometimes the most logical, prudent choice is the absolutely worst choice…then again, is it? Is there any bad choice? Its been forty years since I embarked on the magical, mystical, redneck express, and found myself facing the most surreal experience of my life. I never felt more alive or afraid of dying. This is also a tribute of sorts to the Ford Mustang, 10 million strong, that saved our lives, even if it was only a crappy Mustang II.

You see, I have become convinced that the One, God, the Tao, is an utterly still, void, through which we all live, breath, move and have our being. Within the One are trillions of choices, made on the neutral ground of Being, where we are free, to follow our path. It has to be this way, or there is no choice, or freedom, or the ability to to self-empty in the cause of of others, to sacrifice ourselves out of love. Logic and rules, are the realm of the Angel of Light, where dwells blackness and death. Look at the world where self righteous, authoritarian nations with the most laws, the most restrictions on human freedom and speech, are the most evil and lead over and over again to genocide. Christ could die, commit a selfless act of love, against rationality, logic and order, because of the freedom of the Way. Rules bind, God frees. In order for the universe to exist, with multiple choices, God, the One, has to self-empty, abandon his|her power, and become the neutral ground upon which everything exists.  (And for all you physics aficionados, he has to be seen or he doesn’t exist, thus the need for the Son, or the Word, the dual, visualizing nature of the Godhead)  So doubters, you can’t “blame” God, because he is free-flowing and totally out of control. I’m sure this is quite the opposite of what you have believed, but I’m here to announce that the God is not sitting on a throne; the One surrounds you and you are within! Be still and think on that for awhile. Then ask yourself a question; which “truth” feels more authentic? Well, sorry, that’s way to deep for this tale and likely to end up in a nasty cul-de-sac.

At 4:00 A.M. on March 28, 1979, the Unit 2 reactor at Three Mile Island, near Middletown, PA., partially melted down. The China Syndrome premiered at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival and was released theatrically on March 16, 1979. This has always seemed odd to me, that a movie about a nuclear meltdown would be released just two weeks before the real event in Pennsylvania. False Flag anyone, “cui bono,” who benefits? The Oil Lobby and the Saudis no doubt, as no new nuclear plants would be built after.

Gassing up the Mustang II

I was a student at Dickinson College at the time, located just 30 miles away. Everybody was freaking out because America had no experience with nuclear core meltdowns and we were all sure we were going to die. Especially after China Syndrome. The suspense went on for days, typically with no real answers forthcoming from the experts. Remember all, Jimmy Carter was in charge!  My parents consulted with the maestro himself, the keeper of all things, John Sununu, and they were given the word that we should scram. Two of my fraternity brothers, Quasimodo Gandolfo and George Salvaggio to be exact, decided the right move would be to get in my Mustang II and head west away from the nuclear reactor. With no planning or forethought, we headed out to a campground in West Virginia, that somebody had stayed in previously as a kid. I don’t even know if we packed gear, then again it didn’t matter because we wouldn’t need it. The long drive was a strange trip indeed, with lots of fuel stops at bars and liquor stores along the way. At one liquor store the owner told about his elaborate plans to construct buildings of the future with biomass walls…you remember the seventies with the energy shock. In our haze, we found his ideas amazing!

Well back to the story. As we pulled into the town where the camp ground was located, somewhere in the mountains of West Virginia, there was an ominous breeze  moving through the trees, making the music that you would swear was the sound of dueling banjos. But that movie hadn’t come out and we were too ignorant to know what that meant and too wasted to care. We stopped to use a pay phone in front of the local bar. (You remember pay phones, right, you put a coin in them and you could make a phone call.) We wanted to call our parents to tell them we were safe.

Clueless and not functioning with the highest mental capacity, we ambled out of the beautiful little Mustang with smoke wafting behind us as we opened the doors. For some reason the pay phone stood right in front of the big plate glass window in the bar. So here we were the freak show for the local rednecks. We could see all the fine folks inside the bar and after we made calls we headed back to the Mustang. Just as we got to the car, all of these young, unkempt, “white privileged” folks, my own kith and kin if the truth be told, were at the door  cat-calling after us. Now what was the sensible thing for us to do? You’re right, we didn’t do it!

My “brother in the bond,” George Salvaggio, using his best judgement and mental reasoning, (it must have been that Phi Delta Theta cool-aid,) decided to flip them off and call them a bunch of f____ing rednecks. Not a good idea at all. You do remember the multiverse conversation we had at the beginning of this story, well this is where bad choices carried us all into a very unexpected place.

We jumped into that crappy little pony and took off, feeling safe that we were on the road again.

It never occurred to us that they would follow us, after all, why would they? YOU MEAN BECAUSE THEY WERE BORED AND DRUNK. WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN THE HOLLERS OF WEST VIRGINIA. ESPECIALLY WHEN FOOLS DROP OUT OF THE HEAVENS WITH NEW HAMPSHIRE LICENSE PLATES IN FRONT OF THE LOCAL BAR. DO YOU THINK IT WAS BECAUSE WE HAD INSULTED THEIR HONOR BY FLIPPING THEM OFF AND CALLING THEM REDNECKS! No, it was a jolting shock to us fools as headlights quickly pulled up behind us.

There really was only one choice. We had to get off the back roads and out of the hollows, outrun them, and reach Dwight D. Eisenhower’s beautiful interstate highway system, the promise of the twentieth century, on the other side of town. We did a short, quick, U-turn, and headed back by the way we had come. The rest of this ride is a blur, not because I can’t remember it, but because it took place at 70, 80, 90 and 100+ miles an hour on twisting turning back roads. God that Mustang was good to me!

The fact is, I will never forget that ride and the constant dread as headlights shone in the rear view mirror, following close behind. At points in the drive we were side by side, at other points we were driving on the wrong side of the road in order to pass other cars. We could see that the car was packed with people. Now before you critique my driving, you tell me what other  choice I had. Should I have stopped and tried to reason with them? We both came roaring back through the center of town, and all of the patrons of the bar we had so merrily stopped at, stuck their heads out the door to see what the hell was going on. I have to admit, whoever was at the wheel of that other car, the yin to our yang, knew how to drive! And good for them, we held each other in an embrace of adrenaline and fear as we headed on through that incredible redneck multiverse.

The worst part of this ride was when the rifle barrel made its appearance out of the side window of our pursuers car.  It sure appeared as if they planned to shoot at us or simply just shoot us. Or maybe they were just trying to get us to stop so we could be friends. About a mile from the Interstate the road widened and we were driving side by side, when I lost control of the wheel and my beloved Mustang did a 360, stalled, and came to an abrupt stop on the side of the road. At least we hadn’t flipped it over! As the dust cleared, we could see the car behind us, and all of the occupants clamoring out to get us. I often wonder what they would have done to us. It couldn’t have been good. To many insults, to much racing, to many intoxicants for a positive outcome.

Well, the mystical Blue Light of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Angels, Demons, Mother’s prayers, and even maybe the Virgin Mary, must have been invoked at this point because that beautiful “Stang” came roaring back to life with just one turn of the key. All praise be to the glorious Ford Motor Company! Because the “Necks” had left their car, this gave us the opportunity to get a huge head start and we hit the exit ramp of the Interstate with nobody behind us. The chase ended, we had prevailed.

We headed back north and stopped in Cumberland, Maryland. The glowing lights and mid-century architecture of the Holiday Inn or Ramada beckoned us like a warm embrace. Unfortunately, my friends and I couldn’t come up with the fifty bucks for a room. The nice lady behind the check-in desk, who must have found us a bewildering sight, directed us to the local fleabag, the Algonquin Hotel. It didn’t cost more than twenty bucks, and we probably could have rented the room by the hour, but it was a safe, warm, palace to us! The next morning life returned to normal and I dropped my friends of at their homes outside of Pittsburgh and in south Jersey before heading back to New Hampshire. Dickinson College closed for the week until they could determine whether or not there was a reason to worry. Luckily, it was my senior years and I had bulked up on tough courses like photography. That is why I have all of these wonderful black and white, thirty-five millimeter photographs of that trip.

I’m hoping that one of those fine folks who chased us through West Virginia, might remember that night, and would be willing to tell their side of the story. So there you go, a tale about choices and whether they really matter. Renounce all attachments, let go, and be free within The Way!

A gas stop somewhere in West Virginia

Envisioning the new green revolution…the first time!

 

 

Windham Life and Times – March 22, 2019

Windham NH Center

Circa 1900-1902

This photograph of Windham Center was taken from the Samuel Harris farm (Windham Village Green today) by William Austin Brooks between 1900 and 1902. He had rented Fairview cottage, on the shore of Cobbett’s Pond from the Harris family at the time. It is hard to imagine this beautiful scene where  busy Route 111 is located today. The house to the right was owned by the Brown family for many years during the twentieth century but at the time it was known as Aunt Rufina’s place.

 

Windham Life and Times – March 15, 2019

Gilbert Alexander Farm

Gilbert Alexander Farm North Lowell Road, Windham

Gilbert Alexander built this house about 1835 on a portion of the original Nesmith farm. His son Charles owned the property when this photograph was taken. The house still stands on North Lowell Road and was for many years the residence of the Low family. (Baldwin Coolidge No. 258-A; courtesy of SPNEA

Windham Life and Times – March 1, 2019

Benjamin Thompson- Lord Rumford

The Rumford Fireplace

When Lord Rumford was not chasing skirts, he put his brilliant mind to work solving practical problems in the world. This was a common attribute of many of the  settlers of America in the 18th century and brings to mind other “Renaissance men” such as Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.  If you have lived in New England for awhile, you have probably heard of the “Rumford” fireplace, but might not have understood why it was such an advance in woodburning technology.

A plan of a traditional fireplace next to the Rumford design.

“Rumford applied his knowledge of heat to the improvement of fireplaces in the 1790s. He made them smaller and shallower with widely angled covings so they would radiate better. And he streamlined the throat, or in his words “rounded off the breast” so as to “remove those local hindrances which forcibly prevent the smoke from following its natural tendency to go up the chimney…” Rumford wrote two papers detailing his improvements on fireplaces in 1796 and 1798. He was well known and widely read in his lifetime and almost immediately in the 1790s his “Rumford fireplace” became state-of-the-art worldwide. Subsequent testing of Rumford’s designs has shown that their efficiency would qualify them as clean-burning stoves.” The Rumford fireplace created a sensation in London when he introduced the idea of restricting the chimney opening to increase the up draught. He and his workers changed fireplaces by inserting bricks into the hearth to make the side walls angled, and they added a choke to the chimney to create a circulation of air inside the chimney. In the unmodified chimney, smoke rises up the chimney propelled only by buoyancy…Thompson became a celebrity when news of his success became widespread. In an age when fires were the principal source of heat, this simple alteration in the design of fireplaces was copied widely… Rumford fireplaces were common from 1796, when Count Rumford first wrote about them, until about 1850. Jefferson had them built at Monticello, and Thoreau listed them among the modern conveniences that everyone took for granted.” Wikipedia

A cross section of a traditional fireplace next to the Rumford design.

“The work for which Rumford is perhaps best known today is his energy-efficient design for fireplaces. His essay “Chimney Fireplaces, with Proposals for Improving them to Save Fuel; to Render Dwelling-houses more Comfortable and Salubrious, and Effectually to prevent Chimneys from Smoking” was first published in 1796, in the Bibliotheque Britannique in Geneva, and in volume I of his Essays, Political, Economical and Philosophical, published in London. An American edition of the Essays was published in 1798…A Rumford-design fireplace in the South Square Room…Thomas Jefferson owned volume I (Boston, 1798) and volume II (1799) of the three-volume American edition of Rumford’s Essays. However, it seems that Jefferson was familiar with Rumford’s designs well before 1798. Jefferson’s remodeling notes for Monticello, begun in November of 1796, contain sketches and notes for ‘Count Rumford’s fire places in the square rooms;’ ….By 1798 Rumford was already complaining that masons took short cuts and ‘neglected to round the breast,’ and his second essay on fireplaces published in that year was written primarily to address these faults. Once again he re-emphasized the importance of keeping the ‘back perfectly straight’ and of ‘rounding the breast.’” (The Collected Works of Count Rumford; Harvard Press; 1969; vol. 2.) Jim Buckley, rumford.com