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. Windham may have been home to the first electric generating station north of New York City.

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

 

 

 

Windham Life and Times – February 15, 2019

An Afternoon at the NH Historical Society Museum

The notorious, brilliant, womanizer, Benjamin Thompson, depicted in a painting with his wife, daughter and slave Dinah. He would soon abandon his American wife. One of the beautiful signs at the New Hampshire Historical Society, was a J. Stickney tavern sign from Concord, NH. The beautiful sign depicts the Indian Grand Sachem King Phillip, also known by his native American name of “Metacom or Metacomet.”

My wife is on a quest to find cheap things to do close to home…and thank God for the Hippo, because it really is the guide to what is happening in New Hampshire. This past Saturday, she took us to Concord for a nice lunch at the Barley House and a trip to a sign exhibit taking place at the New Hampshire Historical Society Museum.  The signs were great, but there were many other interesting things on display. My favorite was “White Mountains in the Parlor: The Art of Bringing Nature Indoors,” which included many works by the White Mountain School painters. There were several paintings by Benjamin Champney whose name has become synonymous with the White Mountain art of the nineteenth century. The landscapes of the mountains were sweeping and beautiful. There was also a well attended lecture taking place about how the railroads influenced New Hampshire and the grand hotels of the White Mountains.

One of the oil paintings that fascinated me was  “Benjamin Thompson’s Farewell.” by Daniel G. Lamont. What was interesting to me is that it is a rare visible example of how prevalent slavery was in New Hampshire. The caption states “Painted from memory, this paining was commissioned by Sarah Thompson, Countess Rumford, showing her parents Sarah Walker Rolfe Thompson and Benjamin Thompson, in a British army uniform, seated at a table in 1775. A loyalist, Benjamin Thompson is about to leave his family with British military forces evacuating New Hampshire. Sarah Thompson as baby is held by the Thompson’s African-American slave, Dinah, standing in the background…”Little did I comprehend what I didn’t know until I came across the book, “Sex and the Scientist, The Indecent Life of Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. (1753-1814) In it we learn more about the importance of Dinah in the life of Sarah Thompson.”

“…This would not be the paternal aunt to whom she went when she was four but a female slave in the household name Dinah, who became Sally’s surrogate mother, spoken of with lifelong affection. And who had fairly exclusive care of her. This a slave nurtured the child and also smoothed over things for her. All her life, being sensitive, Sally had the need to go to someone to perform this same function and give the emotional support the enslaved black woman had provided. By the time Sally had the wistful family portrait painting, in which her mother and father were placed in the foreground and Dinah held her infant self, the America South was sentimentalizing slavery, which fed into Sally’s nostalgia and the artist’s stereotypical plantation mammy depiction so at odds with the parents, who look like cutouts of New Englanders.”

Thompson had met his wife in Concord NH. “Apprenticeships in the importing trade and the study of medicine, too, absorbed much of his young life until at the age of 19 he became a schoolmaster in Concord (earlier called Rumford) N.H. There he met and married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Sarah Rolf, who was also the daughter of Reverend Timothy Walker. In this position of influence, young Thompson met Governor Wentworth of New Hampshire who was impressed enough to name him Major in the 2nd Provincial Regiment.” After this painted scene, Thompson would sail back to England and abandon his wife and child in America. He would eventually reconcile with his daughter Sally  (Sarah?).

On Saturday, March 9, 2019 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Genealogy Workshop: The Scots-Irish in New England.

“Three hundred years ago, in 1719, a group of sixteen Scots-Irish families established a settlement in Nutfield (later Londonderry), N.H. They were part of a wave of Scots-Irish immigration to New England that would bring thousands of people to the New World. In New Hampshire, the Londonderry settlement became a jumping-off point for what was essentially a Scots-Irish invasion in the eighteenth century.  Join us for a day-long program with special guest speakers from the Ulster Historical Foundation from Belfast, Ireland, to learn more about the history of the Scots-Irish and conducting genealogical research on Scots-Irish families. Time will also be set aside for Q&A and for some tips on overcoming brick walls in your research. In addition, the Society will present for viewing—for one day only—the Shute Petition, which initiated the Scots-Irish exodus to New England.” Space is limited, and registration is required. The cost is $75 for New Hampshire Historical Society members and $125 for nonmembers. The day we were there new memberships were being offered for $34.99 or half price.

 

 

Windham Life and Times – January 4, 2018

Windham and the Summit

View of the Hotel Ormond, where Mattie Clark worked in Ormond Florida. Ormond Beach would become the winter home of John D. Rockefeller along with other noted residents.

Part 4—Mattie Clark and Ormond Florida

Mattie Clark’s employment at the Summit House on Mount Washington only lasted through the summer months. In the winter she was employed at to Hotel Ormond in Ormond Florida. Mattie Clark’s ties to Ormond, Florida, were through John Anderson. Anderson was of Scots-Irish descent as was Clark. Anderson’s family were pioneers in Wiscasset and later at Windham, Maine starting in the late 1600’s. John Anderson’s youth involved many adventures in and around the White Mountains…” “As mentioned earlier, John Anderson’s father (Samuel) was the organizer and leader of the movement resulting in the building of the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad through the heart of the White Mountains. This was previously considered an incredible feat until accomplished by his father’s brother, John Farwell Anderson, Chief engineer (John’s uncle). General Samuel Anderson was president of this road up to the time of his death, in 1905.”

John Anderson was an early settler in Ormond, Florida where he owned and developed citrus plantations and later with his business partner Joseph Price, railroads and hotels. The connection with Mattie Clark must have begun with Anderson’s hotels and railroad in the White Mountains. “By this time, Anderson and Price had formed a partnership and were planning activities in New Hampshire during the summer season and in Florida during the winter months. The Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad was nearing completion in 1875 through the Crawford notch. Consequently, several hotels in the area were being designed and built, or expanded to accommodate rapidly increasing tourism in the White Mountains. The tourist activity in the White Mountains continued and by the mid 1880’s certainly inspired Anderson and Price to look into the possibility of a North-South railroad through Volusia County, Florida, and consideration for a hotel to accommodate guests during Florida’s mild winter months. The caveat was that Anderson and Price would be almost guaranteed year-round patronage by owning and managing hotels in both the north and the south… The first section of “The Ormond” hotel was constructed in the summer of 1887. Eventually Henry Flagler would purchase the hotel.

Pier on the Halifax River.

Of course, Mattie Clark was a manager at this hotel. She also owned a cottage on Orchard Lane in Ormond Beach known as the “Coacoochee” Cottage in the Santa Lucia Plantation. A brochure describes it this way; “Heavily laden with oranges and grapefruit, Santa Lucia Grove is in plain view from the veranda or front windows of the Hotel Ormond…The shell walk under the grape arbor upon the high river bank along the front of the orange grove an easy and most enjoyable stroll, particularly in the morning, when the red birds, mocking birds and blue jays are making merry a mong the orange trees, and in the dense foliage of the glossy green bays, and squirrels are chasing through the tops of oaks. The vine arbor is the scuppernong grape, the wine grape of Florida…On the walk you encircle the orange grove, passing when nearly back to the hotel, the luxurious log camp, ‘Coacooche’ pronounced Coa-coo-chee, the Indian name of the ‘Little Wild Cat,’ the great Seminole chief who lived, loved and made savage war along the Halifax and Tomoka Rivers.” At his death, John Anderson left Mattie Clark $500 in his will, stating that, “I give and bequeath to Miss Clark – Mattie A. Clark, of  Windham Depot, N. H. – to whose never-flagging interest and untiring efforts is due much of  the success I have had in my hotel business, $500, and I would also have sent to her the knitted afghan which she has made for me and in the possession of  which I have had much comfort and satisfaction.”  John Anderson, His Life and Times in Ormand Florida. Ronald  L. Howell.

 

Windham Life and Times September 28, 2018

Commuter Bus Crash

Route 28 Windham. September 25, 1961

9-25-61-WINDHAM NH– Smoke pours from fiery wreckage of a passengerless commuter bus and a truck that collided and burst into flames. Driver of the bus, Albert Trombly, 22, son of the owner of Trombly Motor Coach Lines, died instantly. Driver of the truck was hospitalized for shock, The vehicles collided on Route 28, Windham.” This bus route was established with the end of passenger service on the B&M railroad. In a related story published in the Union Leader in January 15, 1936 Windham was protesting the proposed bus line route. “Town Left Off Route; Will Meet B&M Official on Thursday. A group of interested citizens, led by Town Clerk John E. Cochran, has finally succeeded in having a representative of the Boston and Maine meet with the people in town to discuss grievances against the railroad in the proposed removal of passenger service on the Manchester-Lawrence branch of the Boston and Maine line. The meeting is to be held in the Town Hall Thursday, January 15, at 2:30. The present intention of the railroad is to omit Windham entirely in making out the new bus schedule to supplant the train service. The proposed router is along Rockingham Road, which will take  in every depot along the line except Windham. The group which will meet with Mr. Pearson, the representative of the railroad, wishes to have the bus leave the present route at City Point, pass through Windham Depot, and thence via Indian Rock Road to Canobie Lake Depot. This will benefit the residents of Windham much more. All citizens interested in such change in route are requested to be present at the mass meeting on Wednesday.” It appears from the crash location that the bus route remained on Route 28 rather than traveling on Indian Rock Road.

 

Windham Life and Times – May 11, 2018

Bette Davis and Chick Austin

Bette Davis greets fans at the Windham Playhouse

SHE ATTENDS WINDHAM PLAYHOUSE IN 1948

In 1948, Bette Davis agreed to attend one of Chick Austin’s performances at the Windham Playhouse.  You might wonder, as I did,  how Austin and Davis had formed their friendship. In Magician of the Modern, Eugene Gaddis details their relationship. “When Chick Austin arrived in Los Angeles, he was Paul Byk’s guest in one of the poolside cottages at the Garden of Allah, the former residence of the Russian actress and silent film star Alla Nazimova. It had become a popular resort hotel for writers like Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Christopher Isherwood, and W.H. Auden, along with artists, musicians, and movies stars. In 1943 Hollywood and New York were the two most stimulating places to be for anyone involved in the arts, and the Garden was a prime location for a meeting place. Chick already had friends in the film world—John Houseman, Virgil Thomson, Ruth Ford, Tonio Selwart, and George Balanchine among them—and Helen’s brother-in-law Willie Graff was in the movies. Chic soon had a large circle of acquaintances. Bette Davis, with her New England background, developed and immediate rapport with him…Chick soon bought a house on Miller Drive in the Hollywood hills overlooking the city, where he could throw his own parties. ‘It was always an event if you went to Chick’s.’ Angela Lansbury remembered, He always had an incredible mixture of people.’ He reverted to his premarital habit of using every dish in the house and never cleaning up. When a friend asked him how he coped with the mess he replied, ‘Oh, Bette Davis comes in once a week and does dishes…” In 1946, Austin was appointed head of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota Florida. “After a brief stop in Hartford, he dashed back to Hollywood to give a birthday party for Bette Davis. When he found out that one of the actors from ‘Tis Pity, Paul Geissler, was planning to visit a friend in Mexico, he invited Geissler to accompany him to Hollywood first to help with the party. Chick decided that nothing less than a total redecoration of the house would do. He borrowed paintings, furniture, and silver from Adolf Loewi to create the perfect setting for his guest of honor, and the  party was one of his most dazzling.” In 1948, Ruth Ford’s brother Charlie with Pavel Tchelitchew, Bette Davis, Tonio Selwart, and his wife Isa visited Chick in Sarasota.

“He was now more of a celebrity in the museum world than ever, but as soon as Bette Davis told him she would attend the opening of Laura  at the Windham Playhouse that summer, he became once again the starstruck movie fan. He rushed to Boston to buy designer clothes for the leading lady and went all out on the set. At the last moment, Chick’s idol sent word that she could not come after all, but would attend the opening of the next play, Voice of the Turtle. Chick was so determined to impress her that, two days before Voice of the Turtle started rehearsal, he announced that he was bringing a professional company from New York to perform it. The summer actors were incensed, but when Miss Davis did appear, radiating charm, they all sat at her feet at Chick’s party in Uncle John’s.”

Despite Austin’s flamboyant and extravagant lifestyle, his true love was his theater and home in Windham.  He is buried on the Cemetery on the Hill.

 

Windham Life and Times – May 4, 2018

My Grandfather’s Barn

Cutting Pine Trees with My Brother

For those  of you who have lived in Windham for a while, you’ll remember my grandfather’s barn, that stood on a small rise, across from his field-stone house on Route 111. I loved to crawl around in that old barn because it smelled so cool, and because there was always some treasure to be found inside. It was quite beautiful with its field-stone first floor and shingled, gambrel second floor. As a kid, I always fantasized about turning it into my house someday. That was not to be. The reason the pine branches are on the roof in the photograph, is because  the large pine grove behind the barn had just been cleared to make way for what would eventually be the Woodland Ridge office building, which was developed by my dad, George Dinsmore. I can still remember clearing those massive 100 foot pine trees with my older brother and a friend of his, without much of any supervision. We were high school aged. We almost killed ourselves; but we didn’t, and we became more confident in our own prowess. That’s what being young and “privileged” got you, as you were allowed to prove your own worth, back in the day. Today, boys are required to follow rules they were never meant to obey. A life worth living is a risk. Can a safe space ever provide a substitute for the bold adrenaline rush? I will always remember as my brother and I watched in awe, as by our own young hands, massive old pines, first cracked and hissed, and then whooshed, before they hit the ground with a glorious, loud thud.

 

Windham Life and Times – March 23, 2018

Memorializing Windham Veterans

1898 and Beyond

On the left are the minutes of a meeting held on August 30, 1898 concerning the installation of marble plaques in the Nesmith Library reading room. It was a time of heightened patriotism in America with the Spanish American War having recently come to an end. “Voted …that a committee of three be chosen to ascertain the names of all soldiers who went from this town to the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, The Mexican War and the War of the Rebellion, array the same upon suitable tablets, and cause the same to be erected in the Library Building when completed.”

     Of course, more wars would follow, with the need to erect new marble plaques. The photograph above shows both the original plaques and the new one which commemorated the service of the veterans of World War Two. The plaque for World War Two memorialized the names of 79 Windham men who had served including Wilbur Tarbell who was the only casualty from town in the war. Bob Armstrong can be seen at left.