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 1890-91.

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

 

 

 

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