Windham Life and Times – December 13, 2019

“Footprints” of Genius

Built in 1902 by William Meserve for Dr. William A. Gabeler, a local dentist. In the seats are, front: F. Clayton Meserve, builder’s son, at the age of three, and his sister, Grace Meserve, now a teacher of Music in the East Orange, N.J. schools.

William F. Meserve: Windham Inventor

William F. Meserve was an inventor who brought electricity to Windham in 1890 and built many early automobiles and trucks. He has been claimed and mentioned in the “Edge of Megalopolis,” Salem’s History and “From Turnpiked to Interstate,” which is a Derry history. The fact is William F. Meserve was raised in Windham from a young age, his father operated a mill here on the “Turnpike,” he built most of his cars and trucks in Windham, and had constructed an electrical generating station in Windham in 1890, and built and electrified a home here. Hand’s off Salem and Derry, he is our native son!

“Footprints of Genius” by Grace Meserve: “ ‘Jack of all trades, master of none,’ so the old saying goes, if ‘tis ‘the exception that proves the rule,’ the rule is sound; for my father was such an exception.”

“Arriving in Woodman, New Hampshire, October 10, 1871, christened ‘William Forrest,’ he grew up during that period of the machine age when it was just reaching out to influence the daily lives of each of us, even you and me. Little was popularly known about either machinery or electricity, nor had mankind learned to utilize them generally to lighten the daily task. Both of these fields held great fascination for young William’s scientific and creative mind. At an age when most boys were mainly thinking of fishing and marbles, and other boyish occupations, he began to study and find ways to make his limited knowledge of machinery and electricity serve him and his family.”

“His boyhood environment was stimulating to such interest, for the elder William Meserve, his father, carried on a prosperous lumber business in Woodman, almost on the Maine border. Fire destroyed his mill, and a few years later the opportunity came to buy one in Windham, New Hampshire, thirty-five miles north of Boston, on the old Boston to Concord turnpike. This was one of those old time combination mills, now extremely rare, to which people came from miles around with logs to be sawed into planks, boards, building timber, shingles, etc., or finished into boxes, flooring, doors, or some other building material. They also brought apples to be made into cider, and corn to be ground into meal or hominy.”

“Hardly had the business been established when failing health overtook William Meserve, senior. My father was then seventeen years old. Realizing his father’s condition, he gave up school to lend assistance which was sorely needed. This was a great disappointment to his mother, who had set her heart upon his entering the medical profession. But fate has a way of shaping our destinies to suit her own ends, regardless of our desires. So it was that he stayed at what he felt was his post of duty, assuming more and more of the responsibility until his father’s death, six years later, when the entire business was left to his direction.”

“Shortly after coming to Windham, he attended a ‘Mechanic’s Fair’ in Boston. This was probably in 1889. There he saw his first electric light. The exhibit was of a small dynamo which lighted but one bulb. The exhibitor was selling books explaining this marvel of the age. My father bought one and eagerly devoured its contents. He instantly recognized how useful electricity would be in lighting both the house and the mill. With the meager help of the little book, he set to work in his spare time to make a dynamo of his own. Presently another wheel was placed beside the big water wheel which furnished power for the mill. To this he attached his dynamo. We do not know when exactly it was completed; but we do know that in August, 1891, it was operating most successfully, for it was then that my mother, whom he had met the previous winter, made her first visit to their home. She found it and the mill electrically lighted, which was indeed extraordinary at this early date. When two other house were added to the settlement, he wired them both, and his dynamo furnished ample power for all.”

To put this in context, the Edison Illuminating Company was established in 1886 with electricity reaching it’s first customers in 1887.  Frank Woodbury’s power plant in Salem, NH. was built just prior to 1900. Power came to small parts of Windham at about the same time as Salem, It wasn’t until 1945 that all areas of Windham were served by electrical power.


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