Windham Life and Times – January 17, 2020

The Merrill House Auction

From the Logbook of William Austin Brooks

     August 3, 1900 from the William Austin Brooks Diary: “In the afternoon we went to the auction at the old Merrill house. We arrived at 2 o’clock and found the sale in progress. Teams were hitched to the fence and trees along both sides of the road and about the house. The house itself is an ancient New England farm house, weather beaten and gray with over one hundred years. Outside in the sunlight stood the furniture, a mahogany high boy, a low boy, a bureau, and two mahogany tables; one a work table with drop leaves. They stood for inspection, a row of veterans, showing scars of many years of faithful usage and now to be sold and scattered. The auctioneer was selling various humble articles, pails, tinware etc. including house things the use of which is now obsolete; a tin kitchen hatchel, wool and flax carders, a hand press, bellows, etc.

     On the whole it was a pathetic sight; one that brought many thoughts to mind of the stories the old house and its contents might tell of an earlier and more primitive life in a new country. Austin climbed on top of the chest of drawers on which the auctioneer placed several articles. ‘How much do I get for this collateral, all except the boy?’ I took four pictures of the scene at different standpoints.

Inside the house people were sitting, talking in low tones and one could not help thinking it was a funeral. On the dining table was displayed the crockery and china ware and men were bringing up from the cellar a lot of preserved fruit, boiled cider, etc. How little Mrs. Merrill thought of this disposition of her labor when she put them up. In another room were the feather beds and bedding. We took the children into the garret, which was unfinished except a room at one end. The lots so far brought small sums, 5, 10 and 15 cents but the china brought more, a blue platter 1.75, etc. Mary bought an iron pan for 15 cents and I two old blue plates, both cracked, for .15 which the auctioneer knocked down to ‘that good looking man.’ I blushed. The highboy brought $16.00, the bureau $14.00, the work table which I bid 3.00 brought 6.00.

Many articles, including the sewing machine (5.00) were bought by Mr. Jewett who has bought a farm, He is a stal-wart, good natured looking giant of 35 years, 6 ft 6 inches tall. The auctioneer joked him a good deal about getting himself a wife now that he has a farm. It was a lively scene, the people and the teams in the bright sunlight, under the blue sky.”



Windham Life and Times – January 10, 2020

The Steamer Mineola

Canobie Lake with Windham NH in Distance

The Steam powered Mineola leaving the dock at Canobie Lake Park. The Windham shoreline is in the background. Windham once owned all of Policy Pond (Canobie Lake) and much of Salem, but out of spite, over a bitter religious feud between the Scotch Presbyterians and the English Congregationalists, it was given away in 1752.

Windham Life and Times – January 3, 2020

“Footprints of Genius”

William Meserve and his workshop on Route 28 in Windham NH,

William Meserve Windham NH

“A leading dentist in Lawrence became much interested in his work, and in 1902 contracted with him to build a two seated surrey. This contact led to the formation of a company, and a gasoline demonstrator, in the form of a truck was built. The company seemed to be ‘off to a flying start’ when ill fortune overtook it. One of the four men who formed it proved himself unequal to his responsibility, and financial disaster terminated this infant industry.”

“Nothing daunted my father and he continued to experiment, and finally brought forth the first gasoline propelled four-cylinder, two cycle motor with lift valves, so designed as to give the same results as an eight cylinder car of today. This car had a compressed-air self starter (which we believe to have been the first ever in service) and many additional features which other automobiles did not have until years later. Two of these were a wheel base of 140 inches and a three speed selective transmission. The chassis and engine of this car were invented and built by my father, the wheels and body being supplied by nearby companies. It was finished in 1904 and ran 125 miles without a stop on its initial trial. This was everywhere considered a remarkable feat. It was built for a lawyer in Derry, where my father moved to provide better educational opportunities for his growing family. The car proved to be most dependable, and gave long years of satisfactory service.”

“What might of developed from his work and experimentation we shall never know, for Fate again took things into her own hands. That same year he was attacked with rheumatic fever, and was for months was too ill to do work of any kind…”

From the history of Derry, NH. From Turnpike to Interstate we learn the following: “William Meserve and the First Automobile. Both Windham and Salem lay claim to William Forest Meserve, but Derry can put in its bid as well. Although he had no formal education after he was seventeen years old, during his lifetime he could have qualified for any of the following: mechanical engineer, electrical engineer, millwright, architect, draftsman, carpenter, and musician among others. William Meserve made the first automobile in Derry in 1900. (?!) He and his family lived in Derry for several autumns and winters during the early years of this century. Their permanent home was in Windham.

“In 1904 Will Meserve built another automobile in Derry. This was the first car he made completely—everything except the wheels and coach work. It had a four cylinder engine, that developed thirty-two horsepower (calibrated by the conservative standards of those days). It was a two cycle engine with lift valves, hence it had the power of an eight cylinder motor. It had a three speed transmission and a compressed self starter. The car was built in the rear of the Bartlett block in the part that had a large door facing Franklin Street. Built for Attorney Benjamin T. Bartlett, it was heavy, weighing 3,300 lbs. In June, 1904, Meserve, along with Attorney Bartlett, Bartlett’s nephew, Benjamin Piper, and another young man, Ernest Low, gave the car a thorough workout. First they drove it to Manchester and back. Travelling times over the rutty dirt roads of that day were forty minutes going and thirty-seven minutes returning. Then they immediately ventured forth on an 125 miles trip that encompassed Nottingham, Durham, Portsmouth, Kittery, Maine, then back to Portsmouth, Greenland, Hampton Beach, Exeter, Epping, and finally back home to Derry. The new machine performed perfectly throughout the trip and did not require a single adjustment on route.”



Windham Life and Times – December 20, 2019

“Footprints of Genius”

William F. Meserve – Windham Inventor

“In 1901 the Pemberton Mills, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, engaged him to build a truck. This was steam driven, which seemed at that time to be the most dependable driving power. It was the first practical commercial truck in that section, and we have been told that it was without doubt one of the very first — if not the first — practical heavy commercial trucks to be built anywhere. A picture of it was published in The Horseless Age.”

The Meserve Two Ton Truck for the Pemberton Mills.

The Horseless Age | November 4, 1901

“The Pemberton Company of Lawrence, Mass., have just placed in service a steam truck designed and constructed by W.F. Meserve at his shop at Canobie Lake, N.H.  The truck is intended for use between the company’s works in Lawrence and the neighboring suburbs of Andover and Methuen, and was designed for loads up to 2 tons. Another similar truck has been ordered.”

“In the construction of the truck frame wood is exclusively employed, and the design aims at flexibility, strength and economy in first cost. Two stringers of white oak of 2 x 6 inches run the whole length of the vehicle, and are heavily bolted at the rear to a substantial wooden yoke the extremities of which carry the bronze rear axle bearings, In the front the stringers are bolted to the heavily trussed vertical frame, which carries the forward axle and steering knuckles. The stringers being placed with their largest dimensions vertical, insures sufficient rigidity, with certain amount of flexibility. Two light metal trusses…further strengthen the fame.”

The total length of the truck is 14 feet 8 inches, the wheel base 10 feet, the platform 10 feet long by 5 feet 6 inches wide and the gauge is 60 inches. Unloaded, its weight is in the neighborhood of 4,000 pounds. Wheels of the Sarven type are used, of 36 inches diameter, and are equipped this 3 inch solid rubber tires. All bearings are of solid bronze and the springs are substantial and of the full elliptic type. The forward axle is of 2 inches diameter. Equipped with heavy steering knuckles, while the rear axle is of 3 inches diameter, divided at the centre and strengthened by a 12-inch sleeve. The driving sprockets, on each half of the rear axle, are bolted to 12-inch hubs, the faces of which are of 4 inches width and serve as drums for brakes.

As is customary in vehicles of this class the boiler is located just back of the operator’s seat, and it, together with the engine, was constructed by Edward S. Clark. It is of 24 inches diameter, with 720 copper tubes 1/2 inch by 14 inches, and is heavily lagged with magnesia covering. The normal boiler pressure is 210 pounds. Gasoline is the fuel employed and is carried in two double riveted galvanized steel tanks, one on either side of the boiler. Their capacity is 30 gallons, and they are arranged that either one may be filled without relieving the air pressure in the other. An ordinary burner is employed, fitted with the usual automatic fuel regulator and pilot light, and the products of combustion pass through a sheet iron hood of the common form and occupy the space under the body. Their capacity is 75 gallons.”

“The engine is supported vertically nearly under the middle of the body. It is of the regular Clark double cylinder model, with cylinders of 3 1/2 inch bore and 4-inch stroke, Stephenson link motion and crosshead pumps for water feed and air supply. Its air pump is provided with an automatic relief and the water pump a by-pass in reach of the operator.”

“An injector is provided as an auxiliary. The engine is connected by means of a Baldwin chain to the Brown-Lipe differential carried upon a countershaftm from the differential Baldwin chains transmit to the two driving sprockets.”

“For controlling the engine a combined throttle and reverse lever is employed, by the rotation of which in either direction steam is admitted. Pushing it downward gives the forward motion, pulling it up produces the reverse, and in its intermediate position the link is on centre. There is a safety shut-off in the main steam pipe. The steam and water gauges are conveniently placed at the left of the operator. Steering is by means of a lever and linkage.”

‘In order to heat the feed water before entering the boiler it passes from the tank through a coil of pipe enclosed in a condensing changer, which receives the exhaust. From this chamber the steam escapes by a pipe terminating just above the boiler tubes in the midst of the hot gases, which tends to render the exhaust invisible. The boiler tanks and other mechanism which project above the platform are very neatly housed, the painting is tasteful, and the general appearance of the vehicle is excellent. Its speed is 7 or 8 miles per hour on level.”


Windham Life and Times – December 20, 2019

“Footprints” of Genius

William Meserve’s Automobile is pictured above. It was built right here in Windham in 1895. He experimented with gasoline, electric and steam power. The Horseless Age is a fascinating early magazine from the pioneering days of automobiles and can be read online. W.F. Meserve’s advertisement from the September 26, 1900 issue

William F. Meserve: Windham Inventor

Throughout his life he maintained an active interest in electricity and its many developments, and was often called upon to make his knowledge serve practical purposes. In 1898, at a time when many big cities had not yet adopted the use of electric lights, the neighboring town of Salem installed them. It was to him that the new company turned when it was ready to start its plant, for he was the only one who could be found with sufficient knowledge to handle the monster safely. He foresaw many of electricity’s present applications many years before they became a reality. Among my earliest recollections is his talking about electrifying the railroads. He often spoke of it at home, although he would have received nothing but ridicule had he been so bold as to try to develop that idea at the time it originated within his mind. It was a great satisfaction to him when, years later, railroad electrification became an established fact.”

“On October 10, 1893 he married my mother, Abbie Chase, who had been his sister’s roommate at Pinkerton Academy in Derry. She had always the most genuine interest in his various undertakings. It is fortunate for her family that she kept a diary during the following years, for otherwise there are many things concerning out father’s accomplishments that we might never have known.”

“About that time he began reading of the wonderful new carriages that could go without horses. Nearly everyone he knew scoffed at such ‘fanciful’ stories. No one in his section of the country had ever seen one. It would be hard to say where the nearest one might be found. But the idea fascinated him, for it was indeed the fulfillment of his boyhood dreams. As a child he had lived near the railroad, and used to enjoy watching the trains come and go. His ever fertile brain, even at that early age, foresaw the possibility of wagons going likewise under their own power, and often did he ponder it. This was typical of him throughout his life. He was forever seeing possibilities for creation or improvement in any field in which circumstances placed him.”

“He snatched at everything he could find in print regarding the latest development, and in 1895 determined that he would make one for himself. He bought a Concord buggy, and cut down the wheels considerably . He conceived the idea of using was then termed ‘hose pipe’ tires, instead of the solid ones commonly used on wagons. He asked a well known bicycle tire manufacturer to make him a set patterned after bicycle tires, specifying the size – I think they were three inch. They agreed to try this experiment if he would give an order for two sets, which he did. These were among the first pneumatic automobile tires ever to be made. It marked a new era for this company, which is still prominent in the tire industry. An automobile engine was not obtainable, so he ordered a two cylinder gasoline boat engine. On July 21, 1896 Mother entered in her diary, ‘Went to the Post Office this morning and found Will’s engine had arrived. He and Charles went for it this noon.’ From then on throughout summer there were frequent references to the ‘carriage’ on which ‘Will’ was working. Almost any hour of the day or night, when he could get away from business (for all this was in his spare time) he might be found working in the little shop which he carefully equipped. (It is still standing on the side of Route 28 in Windham. BRD) Passing neighbors would place their hands over their mouths to hide smiles of ridicule as they watched him tinker with the metals and pipes, water, steam, gasoline and electricity — only he knowing that in them lay the power that today has given America a great and fruitful industry.”

“On September 22, 1896 Mother wrote, ‘Took carriage out and tried to start it this evening.’ Apparently it was not wholly successful, for there are subsequently many recordings of changes to the motor and of trying various combinations until he finally succeeded in making it do his bidding. What a thrill it must have been when at last he was able to drive out under its own power! Great was the excitement when first he drove his new creation down the turnpike. Skeptical neighbors and friends, who had smiled at his efforts, stood watching with mouths wide open and eyes popping out of their heads. For a number of years it was the only ‘horseless carriage’ or ‘motor wagon’ (as Mother variously recorded) anywhere in their section, and it created a great sensation wherever it went – especially in the cities. People would want to climb all over it, and particularly to look under it. On May 1, 1897 Mother wrote, ‘Will worked some on his wagon; rode out to Canobie and back in it.’ Throughout the next few years there were many recordings of trips to neighboring towns and cities. It wandered as far away as Boston, and even farther in other directions. His ‘carriage’ grew to be a familiar site for miles around, and people never ceased to marvel at it or to storm angrily about it. It served him well for four years, during which time he changed its power from gasoline to electricity, and finally to steam in an effort to discover the best means of motivity. ‘The Horseless Age; a leading automobile journal of that day, in its issue of September 26, 1900, carried and advertisement for its sale. We have proof that ten years after it was built it was still travelling New Hampshire’s highways, for its registration may be found in the book of ‘New Hampshire Automobile Law – With Registration to February 1905.”

The Horseless Age Online at:

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.


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.”


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