Windham Life and Times – January 28, 2022

Windham Native Sons – Thomas and John Nesmith (Part III)

Washington Square in the Belvidere section of Lowell was popular with the wealthy residents who located there. The high elevation helped them to avoid the stench of the productive mills that was the foundation of their wealth.

    “Located in Belvidere, the Washington Square Historic District was Lowell’s earliest fashionable neighborhood. It was one of the city’s first subdivisions and was home to many prominent early citizens. The focal point of the district was one of Lowell’s earliest public parks, Washington Square, today known as Kittredge Park and the neighborhood was where the Italianate style of architecture first appeared in Lowell….In 1831, prominent residents John and Thomas Nesmith purchased the 150 acre estate of Judge Edward Livermore in Tewksbury and hired Boston’s Alexander Wadsworth to layout streets, house lots, and a small park known as Washington Square.  Wadsworth’s plan for Washington Square was very formal with a double row of trees surrounding the park and residents were required to plant shade trees at 20 foot intervals along the streets.  The main street through the neighborhood was named Nesmith Street after the brothers and with its 60 foot width and ten foot wide sidewalks became Lowell’s first boulevard. By 1834 the area had been annexed to Lowell from Tewksbury with most of the district’s residences erected in the 1840s and 1850s. By 1865, the area was largely developed with the location high above the city and its picturesque views being a highly desirable address.”

   “Here, let me remark, we find perhaps the most important secret of the success of the two brothers. They were widow’s sons. They learned to bear the yoke in their youth. They were early called to bear burdens and assume responsibilities. A widowed mother, five brothers and sisters younger than themselves, called for aid and sympathy, and early led them to assume the duties and bearing of men. It is truly remarkable how many leaders of men are widow’s sons…” The Nesmith’s bought the 150 acres in Lowell for $25,000. “…After purchasing this land the Nesmiths proceeded to lay out the appropriate streets…The investment proved a very remunerative one, for the building lots were very eligible, and the purchase having been made only nine years after the formation of the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, which started the first mills in Lowell, the Nesmiths reaped the full benefit of the rapid growth of the new and prosperous city. Their fortunes were now secure. The wealth was large and honorably made…”

   “The two brothers were not alike, and I will close this article by recalling a few prominent characteristics of each. On coming to Lowell in 1845 and settling in Belvidere, I had the good fortune to have both of them as near neighbors, and to receive from them many favors for which I shall ever be grateful. Thomas through life was known for those affable and courtly manners which marked the gentleman of the old school. Though in the last of his life he sough quiet seclusion of home, persistently avoiding almost all participation in public affairs…He was enterprising in business and was the man who, in 1813 brought the first wagon to the town of Windham. He had a taste for military affairs, and a short experience in a soldier’s life. In the War of 1812 he was enlisted as a solider for three months, and served as third lieutenant in Capt. Bradley’s company stationed at Portsmouth. In 1820, when thirty-four years of age, he was chosen colonel of the eight regiment of New Hampshire militia. But after coming to Lowell and serving two years as a member of the city government, I know of no public office, either civil or military which he ever held. He was however a director of the Merchants Bank and a member of the Old Resident’s Association. It is to the honor of both the head and heart of Col. Nesmith that in his last will he left to the town of Windham the sum of $3,000 for the founding and perpetuating a public library. $1,000 to the High Street Church Sabbath School in Lowell…and a $25,000 fund in support of the poor in Lowell…”

    “John Nesmith, who was younger by five years than Thomas, possessed a mind far more speculative and aspiring than that of his brother. He had left home, as we have seen, when only fourteen years of age, and knew more of strangers and had enjoyed less of home life. His spirit was inquisitive and aggressive. Besides caring well for his large estate he was a student and inventor. He devoted his off hours to philosophical and mechanical studies. He was enthusiastic, versatile. He invented machines, one, for example , for making wire fence and the other for making shawl fringe…Mr. Nesmith was far more of a moralist than a politician. The temperance and anti-slavery causes found in him a life-long friend and liberal contributor to their pecuniary support. I well remember a meeting of the leading temperance men in Lowell in his office, at which he took the noble position, that men of humble means and small earnings,  should not be expected to sustain pecuniarily these great moral enterprises, but the wealthy from their abundance should freely and cheerfully bear these expenses, and lift the burden from the shoulders of those who needed all their slender means for support of their families. Few rich men are wont to talk like that, and few rich men give so generously and cheerfully as he did.”

     “Mr. Nesmith possessed and ardent and aggressive nature. His convictions were positive, and it was hard for him meekly to bear the opposition of those who differed from him. He even sometimes defied public opinion, and it cannot with truth be said that he had no enemies to question his sincerity and judge him severely. The great amount of real estate owned by him brought him in contact with a great number of tenants and debtors who presented many opportunities for criticism and complaint. In his declining years he was not a man to give up labor, to retire to a quiet domestic life and sit down in the easy chair of old age. He worked while strength lasted. At his home he spent freely to make that home one of comfort and even beauty. His graperies and hot-houses, his fruit trees and shrubbery, his lawn adorned with noble ornamental shade trees, all  attest to his tender care for the happiness of those he loved, his fine taste and his love of the beautiful. His will makes handsome provisions for the foundation of the ‘Nesmith Fund’ for the maintenance of the indigent blind of New Hampshire, and also for a public park in the town for Franklin in that state. He died in 1869, at the age of seventy-six years. His brother Thomas survived him only a few months.” 

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