What People Are Saying about The Greengate Saga


by Karen Tolman

If you don’t already have a copy of The Greengate Saga, get yours from me at tolmanpond@pobox.com or 603-827-3226, or borrow it from our library, and read my newly printed manuscript about our family efforts that made a little bit of recent Nelson history. The manuscript is over a hundred spiral-bound pages of narrative, newspaper attachments, photographs and more, that tells the thirty-year old story of how, with the help of family, friends, neighbors, large doses of legal help and lots of luck, we were able to reverse the ominous sale of nearly five hundred acres of prime Nelson real estate (including over a mile of shore frontage on Spoonwood Pond) and direct it toward its present conserved status.

Meanwhile, here’s what people are saying:

Oh, my god, what a story!” JE

You have captured the story perfectly—the humor, tragedy, suspense––everything.” JC

You did a great job on The Greengate Saga––there were lots of twists and turns in the story that I certainly didn’t know about and to your credit you made sense from what was looking to be a catastrophic loss for the family and the town.” SG

There seems to be a villain, a victim, a hero and a spy!” RC

All I can say is: well written, great anecdotes, a rollicking good time––though I bet it was a lot more fun to read than to live. I think you should fictionalize it, change the town to Darby and you’ll have a story worthy of Ernie.” TL

I loved LOVED The Greengate Saga. It was informative, entertaining, funny, sad and, above all, human. It’s an excellent framework for a movie by an independent filmmaker.” EH

You definitely have the gift of the Tolman yarn, with a wry twist. A great read––that fleshed out so many gaps in the story. One of my biggest pleasures was the unexpected addition to the tales of the drawings––fabulous all, especially of the Rolls Royce.” DS

Well, first tears welled up at the memories, then laughter, then grateful that I knew all of you so dutifully involved.” HW

Congratulations, Karen. It was an honor for me to play a small part in the story, and quite the exciting experience for a young lawyer still wet behind the ears. Your writing brings it all back as though it happened just yesterday. You have done us all proud.” JC

Spectacular imagery in your storytelling. I loved The Greengate Saga, learned a lot and have a new appreciation for the protection of this most special place on earth.” DB

I really enjoyed reading through this. You write well, and you have some great material. I hadn’t heard ‘Going Out’ or all the details about the fun and games at the nursing home. Very funny!” MC

An enjoyable tale of a close family from our own Nelson.” DB

What a great tale from the archives of the Tolman family. It’s well written, organized and illustrated. Interesting to the end. Thank God, we all don’t have such interesting relatives because few of us have such wonderful writers to tell their tales.” CM

You stepped in and salvaged life and land.” JM

Insanity Above Spoonwood Pond

by Rick Church

 From the top of City Hill, overlooking Spoonwood and Nubanusit, 1906

From the top of City Hill, overlooking Spoonwood and Nubanusit, 1906

High above Spoonwood Pond sits a special place called Greengate. Today the scene is one of a beautiful house sited to take full advantage of majestic views and surrounded by nicely kept landscaping. What was it like in 1904 when William S. Hall bought the property from Wilmer Tolman? Tolman farmed when he could spare time from his mill at Mosquitobush, hiring out his teams for construction work and catering to the needs of city people who came to rent his cabins. He owned hundreds of acres of old farmland in Nelson; much of that had returned to forest.

We know from photographs taken then that Hall could see the view that we see today and that Samuel Adams saw when he first cleared the site in the late eighteenth century. The old Adams home was certainly gone when Hall built a home on the old cellar hole. There might have been a few roses or lilies left to remind us of the people who’d lived there. In pictures taken at the time we can see that the apple trees Adams planted still graced a field growing wild. The new place designed by Hall’s friend and relative, Fredrick Law Olmsted Jr. was planned to provide easy living in a tranquil spot with spectacular views of the ponds and Mount Monadnock. Olmsted was the namesake and son of America’s most famous landscape architect, the designer of New York’s Central Park. The son became a nationally renowned urban planner and landscape architect in his own right and helped Theodore Roosevelt found the National Park Service.

Nubanusit from porch at Greengate, about 1910

Nubanusit from porch at Greengate, about 1910

Hall reclaimed the old Adams hilltop developing what we now call Greengate. Here he retreated from his Boston law practice to enjoy the serenity of the view and the company of his friend Louis Cabot, another summer refugee from Boston who lived nearby at Merriconn Farm. Sarah Sharples Olmsted (wife of Frederick) and the Sharples family inherited the place when their batchellor cousin, Hall, died in 1937 and they sold it to Newt and Janet Tolman when Olmsted retired to California in 1950. Certainly the place created by Hall could be called scenic, beautiful and even serene. Just the sort of ambiance to calm a busy Boston lawyer, reinvigorate a well-known designer and inspire Newt Tolman’s writing and music.

Haying below Greengate

Haying below Greengate

In 1810 the farm of Samuel and Sarah Adams was blessed with views of Spoonwood and Mount Monadnock, but the scene could not be described as serene or inspiring. Adams was in crisis and Adams’ twenty-two year old son, Joseph, had put his own prospects in jeopardy trying to hold his family together and save the farm. Samuel Adams state of mind could hardly be called calm or serene, he had gone insane, run up huge debts and brought his wife and their children to a state of crisis.

Insanity afflicted the early settlers of Packersfield just as it does people today. Samuel Adams, the town’s only documented case, was a Revolutionary War veteran who ran up huge debts and threw his family on town support. The condition we call posttraumatic stress disorder was first documented in 1867 after it was discovered that the Civil War had affected the mental health of a number of its veterans. Packersfield’s Samuel Adams may have been the town’s first case. His huge debts suggest his illness had a manic element. It is impossible, of course, to diagnose him from a distance of over two hundred years.

Samuel Adams bought his forty-acre farm at the site of Greengate in 1778. He cleared the farm and moved his wife and first child there about two years later. Children arrived at the regular two-year intervals until there were five in the fall of 1790. At some point Samuel became insane and lost the ability to manage his affairs. He lost the farm and became, with his wife and three of their children, the town’s most expensive welfare burden.

Adams fought in the Revolution starting with the Lexington alarm marching with the minutemen from Dedham, Massachusetts. He enlisted for the balance of 1775 and 1776. Adams enlisted again from Packersfield in March of 1781 serving until April of 1783. His discharge papers describe him as “age 28 years, stature 5 ft. 5 in. tall.”i

At first things seem to have gone well for the Adams; as the children came, he added to his farm purchasing an additional 12 acres in 1799 for $25. Samuel and Sarah’s last seventh and last child, John, was born in January of 1801. Sometime after that Samuel’s management of his affairs began to unravel. Parke Struther’s History of Nelson New Hampshire reports that Samuel had gone insane.

By age fifty-five Samuel Adams was deeply in debt and in danger of losing everything. It was left to Adam’s third son, twenty-two year old Joseph Adams, to attempt to save the family farm by adding his labor and credit to expand the farm and make it more successful. In 1810 he bought 60 acres on the “Island” between Nubanusit Lake and Spoonwood Pond to add to his father’s farm. His father’s debts had mounted, undoubtedly preventing the senior Adams from financing the deal himself. Later that same year Joseph bought his father’s farm and mortgaged it so that the elder Adams had $700 to pay of his debts in full. This was a huge amount of indebtedness for a farmer with 112 acres to incur, far exceeding the value of the home farm itself.

For two years Joseph and Samuel attempted to make the farm support the family, but it wasn’t sustainable; their taxes and other bills went unpaid. The burden of his father and the hard times engendered by the Embargo of 1809ii was too much to overcome. In 1812 Joseph petitioned the selectmen to take care of his parents:

“Under existing circumstances I feel myself incapable to take care of my Honored Parents as I should wish and I think that a seperation [sic] would be for their and my benefit. This is to desire your interference in the way your wisdom may point out. Joseph Adams”iii

The town formed a three-person committee to recommend a solution. Joseph Adams agreed to turn over to the town all the real estate and property he had received from his parents and the Town agreed “to keep Joseph safe” from the responsibility for his parents. Thaddeus Barker was appointed agent to take care of the Adams and their eleven-year old son, John.

The selectmen received the deed to the Adams farm from Joseph Adamsiv and 1 pair 3-year old oxen, 2 cows, a 2 year old heifer, 1 yearling heifer, 1 calf, 11 sheep and 2 swine. Joseph paid all of the debts owed by his father amounting to $46.13. He sold the “Island” pasture to the Bryant family. The town rented out the Adams farm for a number of years to cover some of the Adams’ costs. Having lost their home, the Adams were housed with other families at town expense. This was done annually at town meeting in a process called “bidding out” where the pauper was the subject of a public reverse auction in which people bid to provide their care.

Bidders under this system were entitled to whatever labor the pauper could provide. As the Adams advanced in age and Samuel’s mental state deteriorated, the family became increasingly expensive. By 1820 they were the town’s most expensive welfare case at $153.13. The town budget that year was $2237.20; the school budget, $451.95 and the welfare expenditures in total were $637.81 covering 27 people. (1820 Nelson census: 907 inhabitants.) The Adams’ daughters, Polly (22) and Fanny (28) were on the town’s list of paupers on and off over the ensuing years.

As a Revolutionary War veteran and a pauper, Samuel Adams was due a pension. In 1818 the town undertook an effort to obtain that pension. Henry Wheeler drove Adams to Fitzwilliam where Judge Parker dealt with his pension application. Based on his declaration of service, Adams obtained pension certificate number 10.826. This was followed by a town-paid trip to Marlow to collect the pension resulting in the Town’s receipt of Adam’s first pension payment in the amount of $85. Adam’s yearly pension of $46.67 became a regular part of the town’s receipts, but was hardly enough to cover the substantial cost. Selectmen regularly appeared in the Court of Common Pleas to attest to Adam’s continued poverty and so maintain the pension. The July 4, 1820 petition to the court declared that Adams had no means of support and was insane.v

In 1824 the town sold the 52-acre Adams farm for $482.40. Adams died in 1832 at the age of seventy-seven. Sarah followed him five years later. They are probably buried together in the Nelson Cemetery, but their graves are unmarked. Up on the old place his apple trees are gone but not his stonewalls.

All we know of Samuel’s son, Joseph, is that he married Azubah Henrys in Packersfield in 1811. He doesn’t appear in town records after he sold his land on the “Island” to the Bryant family in 1815. He probably joined the growing number of Packersfield men who went west to New York for a new start.

i This according to his pension declaration made on 10/7/1818. [One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the First Settlement of Nelson, New Hampshire 1917. Nelson Picnic Association]

ii Packersfield sent a petition to the Congress of the United States that gives a picture of the impact of this law on farmers. It read in part: “We are generally cultivators of the soil earning our bread by the sweat of the brow. Many of us are in debt for our land or buildings; we have no means of paying our contracts or taxes, nor purchasing necessaries for our families but by selling our surplus produce. Of this modest payment we are deprived by the embargo restrictions.”

iii Nelson Town Records Vol. 4.1 p. ?

iv Nelson Town Records Vol. 4.1 p. 119 12/11/1812

v Cheshire County Court Records, Historical Society of Cheshire County

The author thanks Ethan Tolman for his editorial help.

One of Nelson’s Old Mills: the Stephen Osborn Place written by Rick Church

Taylor Saw Mill in Derry NH. This is an example of an early nineteenth century saw mill similar to the Osborn Mill.

Osborn Mill:

In the woods off Old Stoddard Road lies the site of the home farm of Stephen Osborn. All that remains today is an extensive array of building foundations that once housed Osborn and his extended family. The old road leading there from Old Stoddard Road bisects the building sites with some surface foundations on the right (probably a barn and a house) and the main house and a large barn attached to the house by an ell on the left. Each site has its own well. Stephen Osborn, like so many citizens in Packersfield in those days could be characterized as a farmer, everyone did that to some extent, or as a craftsman, many made or grew things to trade with their neighbors, but also as a manufacturer of finished wooden products. His enterprise made him a relatively prosperous man.


Bob Spoerl,  operator of Taylor Mill

Further down the same old road, and on Bailey Brook, is the site of his sawmill. Built at the top of a waterfall some twenty-five feet high, there is a partially destroyed dam across the brook at the top of the falls. A depression in the top of the dam marks the location of a wooden sluice that once carried water to the top of an approximately 15’ diameter overshot waterwheel. The wheel was mounted on a shaft that was carried between the two large stone piers. That was connected to an elaborate system of shafts and gears to operate reciprocating saws located in a building to the left of the piers as you look down from the dam.

When the dam gate was closed, a small millpond was created and the water level raised so water could be diverted down the sluice to power the mill. There was not enough capacity behind that dam to store water for dry seasons. Without a substantial reservoir of water, the mill would have been too seasonal to be economically successful. Water to run the mill more reliably was stored behind a stone dam some 400 yards upstream. Water released from this dam was channeled by a stonewall along the stream bank assuring that water for sawing arrived in a timely manner and with some force. Osborn established the mill early in the 19th century.

Stephen Osborn was born in 1771 and married Rachael Baker of Marlborough, Massachusetts in 1792. They seem to have moved to Packersfield with a family of four children in 1799 or1800. The earliest record of them in Packersfield is a tax roll entry in 1800. They were taxed for one cow. A few years later they were taxed for one half acre of tillage in addition to a few farm animals. Osborn was a modest farmer to say the least. He was not a landowner until 1815 when he bought the farm of 104 acres from Zachariah King of Danvers, Massachusetts. It is likely that he leased the farm at first and built a house on the property. Perhaps this first farm consisted of the buildings on the right of the road; the well and foundations on that side are much less substantial. The town established a road to the Osborn house in 1815 and the mill was probably built at that time.

Osborn home foundation

Osborn home foundation

Stephen and Rachael had seven children including Cyrus, his oldest son, and Mary, their first child born in Packersfield. Mary married Nathaniel F. Davis of Stoddard. Nathaniel’s farm straddled the Stoddard line north of the Osborn place. Both Cyrus and Nathaniel Davis seem to have lived at the family place and been part of the business. In 1827 Stephen decided on Cyrus as his successor selling him the place in return for a mortgage and a maintenance agreement for himself and his wife. Cyrus’ plans seem to have changed in 1838. Cyrus and his father terminated their agreement and Cyrus’ interest was sold to his brother-in-law, Nathaniel.

We know the site was a sawmill from the inventory of the place on the death of Stephen Osborn. When Stephen wrote his will in the spring of 1844, several months before his death, he described himself as being “feeble of body but sound of mind and perfect memory”. He named Nathaniel Davis as his sole executor. Nathaniel and his wife inherited the home place and the mill, though the mill was not specifically mentioned. Stephen’s estate contained all the usual home furnishings and agricultural implements as well as many wood working tools including 3 saws, a lot of chisels, 3 hammers, a lot of shaves, a lot of augers, a lot of bits and bit stock, a square and compasses, a lot of planes, a broad axe and two hand axes. These tools suggest the production of planed lumber including boards and beams. The augers and bits suggest that the mill had been developed to turn wood into cylindrical shapes as well.

Falls Mill site

Falls Mill site

Charles Bemis’ unpublished notes on the history of Nelson “manufactures” written in 1913 states that the mill produced tool handles including those for scythes, snathes, hoes and rakes. This kind of small turning work was common at Nelson mills with relatively small water flows producing modest power. Such a mill supplied tool handles for a much wider market than the town itself.

Stephen’s will shows that he died a relatively prosperous man owning, among other things, several dress coats, six vests (including three velvet and one silk) a suit and twelve cotton shirts. There was enough linen to supply beds for a very large family even if only half were in use at a time.

Nathaniel Davis inherited the farm and the mill. It seems to have been a going concern until at least 1858 when the official map of Cheshire County shows a sawmill at that location. It seems the mill closed sometime during the Civil War. Closure may have been occasioned by poor management, but there were numerous environmental factors working against the mill’s success. The war changed markets dramatically requiring difficult or impossible adjustments for people like Nathaniel Davis. Sheep farming was experiencing a rebirth thanks to a demand for wool for uniforms. That benefited sheep farmers and wool processors, but not enterprises like Davis’. New Hampshire hill farms, in decline since the 1830’s were hit hard by the absence of large numbers of young men serving in the Union army. The kind of farming that had supported the Osborn mill was hard hit by this manpower loss. If the mill’s traditional markets were shrinking, Davis could have turned his hand to turning work required by the war. The bigger problem was probably a shortage of raw material. Extensive land clearing had stripped the land of trees and what little wood there was fed the voracious appetite of the steam boilers at the woolen mills in Harrisville which consumed thousands of cords per year.

Osborne Cellar Hole

Osborn Cellar Hole

Evidence of the closure can be seen in the absence of woodworking tools in the inventory of the Davis estate. By the time of Nathaniel’s death in 1866, there were only farming tools in his inventory indicating that the mill was no longer in operation. Gone were the planes, carpenter’s squares, etc. that are the stock of a woodworking business. In fact the place was sold to satisfy Nathaniel’s debts. His estate inventory listed exactly $10 in cash. Twenty-fours years after his father-in-law, Davis died a man of very modest means.

His widow, Mary, lived on the place for a few years by exercising her right to one third of the estate. According to the probate records, she was entitled to “that part of the dwelling house… which includes the parlor, parlor bedroom, kitchen and pantry with a privilege in the chamber, cellar and woodshed and small barn. Said dower to be subject to the right of tenant and occupancy of the other two thirds of the house and other buildings as they now stand.” Neighbor, James Stevens, purchased the farm from the estate.

In 1870 the place was purchased by Parker Hart. He was from Hancock, Massachusetts and likely used it as a seasonal home. His widow, Elizabeth, sold the place in 1901 to Louis Cabot, a wealthy Bostonian, who amassed thousands of acres in the northeast quarter of Nelson and probably did not use the buildings personally. Elizabeth may well have lived in the house as her deed of sale describes her as “of Nelson.” The daylilies that have naturalized throughout the foundation across the road from the main house are her legacy to our generation. The sale out of the Cabot estate in 1917 was the last deed to mention buildings. The town discontinued to road to the place in 1922.

Osborn Well

Osborn Well

The site may be visited via the Bailey Brook Trail created by the Nelson Trail Group; the tail begins 2.9 miles out Old Stoddard Road.

Nelson Town Hall Front Door

written by
Karen Tolman

In 2013, the Town of Nelson received a grant from the State of New Hampshire’s Division of Historical Resources Moose Plate Program “to repair the historic windows and front door of the Nelson Town Hall.” The Moose Plate Grants are funded by the sale of “moose” conservation and heritage license plates.

Nelson’s Grant Writing Committee asked Linda Willett, Executive Director for Historic Harrisville, Inc. (HHI), for a cost estimate to repair the windows and door based on Preservation Guidelines recommended by architect Rick Monahon as part of a Preservation Alliance Grant awarded to the town to create plans to preserve both the Town Hall and the Old Brick Schoolhouse. The town received the maximum amount given for any Moose Plate project, $10,000, and Fred O’Connor, Project Manager for HHI, was hired to do the restoration because of his expertise in the field. Both Linda and Fred are very highly regarded in the building preservation community as is exemplified by their work on Harrisville Village’s National Historic Landmark buildings.

This summer HHI hired a very dedicated intern, Maia DiLorenzo, from Boston’s North Bennet Street School, who is a student in their preservation carpentry program. Fred had already preserved the windows in the Town Hall, but the door remained to be tackled. And tackled it was by Maia, under the tutelege of Fred. Maia has documented her work in exquisite detail with both photographs and a project report, which have now been filed as part of the municipal records in our Town Archives.

The Town of Nelson is very grateful to HHI and Linda Willett, Executive Director, for sparing Fred and Maia long enough to do this important work.

Above is a slideshow (photos by Maia) of the project.

  • Maia removing the door.
  •  Layers on paint were stripped from the front door: dark green, light blue, medium blue/gray, mint green, light yellow and white.
  •  The door was taken apart and each piece was studied, dissected, stripped, repaired, primed and painted. Here are excerpts from an example of the scrutiny that each piece received: “the bottom interior rail had extensive wood failure where it is believed an ant infestation created voids as deep as 1¼” and subsequent rot starting at the upper strike stile tenon and extended horizontally approximately 24” across the interior face. For these reasons, the rail was cut to eliminate the most extensive failure and a replacement piece of eastern white pine was added measuring approximately 35” long x 5” wide x 1 7/8” thick. Stock for this piece could not be sourced locally, so two pieces were glued together to achieve the necessary thickness.”
  •  Samples of repairs to individual pieces.
  •  Individual pieces laid out on the workbench.
  •  All of the pieces repaired, primed and ready to be reassembled.
  •  Our new front door.

Haying at Tolman Pond

Editors Note: Renn Tolman, son of Newton F. Tolman, grew up in Nelson, and passed away in Homer, Alaska on July 5, 2014  t the age of 80. Betsy Street recently found a few essays written by Renn when he was a student at UNH, in the late 1950s. This one is very slightly edited and transcribed by Karen Tolman.

Haying in Nelson

the old Model A Ford truck with Bobby Curtis and Foster Sisson “making the load” and Pop (Wayland Tolman) looking out the window. Pop was Renn and Barry’s grandfather.

When I was a boy, my grandfather kept three or four cows.  He had just enough hay fields to provide enough hay to last them through the winter, although if the hay crop were particularly poor, perhaps he might have to buy an extra ton or two to tide them through until the cows could be put out to pasture in the spring.

Exactly how many acres his fields totaled is uncertain because they were scattered, irregular fields of a New Hampshire hill farm, but ten was the number he would quote if anyone asked him. Of course this acreage was figured without taking into account the combined areas of the rocks that stuck up in the fields. It is a worn-out joke that New Hampshire fields grow rocks as well as hay.

The only field that you could mow with the assurance that the mowing machine wouldn’t tip over and that was relatively rock-free was the Intervale, a ten-acre field of which my grandfather owned half. The Intervale, however, presented a different problem. It was as flat as a pond and tended to degenerate into a swamp on a wet year. Continue Reading »

Dancing Forever in the Nelson Town Hall

This article was published on 1990,  in Leisure Weekly, a Keene-based entertainment newspaper that has long since ceased publication. Many things have changed since then,  but some will remain the same, even with the new renovations  ~ Gordon Peery (author). 

Not too long ago a piano tuner submitted a bill for work done on the piano in the Nelson Town Hall. With his invoice he included the following comment:

“Because of the age of this piano and long abandoned construction practices, it is impossible to give this piano a highly accurate tuning. It has numerous false beats, inharmonicity, and heavy wear. Surprisingly, the overall tone is superior and the action is still fast and responsive. I suspect the piano is favored by those who play on it.”

Over the past decade I have come to know that piano well, playing for contradances that occur regularly in the Nelson Town Hall. I have always enjoyed playing it, though from its condition it seemed like I shouldn’t.

The remarks of the piano tuner helped me to understand why I enjoyed playing it. Then it occurred to me that what was said about the piano was also a perfect description of the hall itself.

The old timber frame building doesn’t pretend to be anything fancy. The light fixtures, the windows, the architectural lines, all clearly address function over aesthetics. But the building, in its simplicity, harbors an elegance, or perhaps rather, a neutrality that facilitates the elegance of song and dance within.

Go to the Nelson Town Hall on any Monday night of the year and you’ll find anywhere from a handful to several dozen dancers moving forward and back, up and down, intertwining, moving through the graceful figures of a contradance. Though the Monday night dance is just about 10 years old, the contradance tradition in Nelson goes back long enough so that no one really knows when it began. Continue Reading »

Finding the Benjamin Sawyer Cellar Hole

The Benjamin Sawyer Cellar Hole

The author pays his respects to the Sawyer family

A snowy morning in February found Dave Birchenough and me crammed into the cab of a grapple skidder rumbling through the woods of the northeast corner of Nelson. There was a logging job underway on the old Sawyer Farm. We were able to drive my ageing truck up the old town road (abandoned since 1860) to the landing near the farm.  The skidder was using its grapple to stack logs on the landing.  Another machine was feeding a huge chipper.


“Are you the owners?” Chuck Rose yelled over his diesel. “No we’re amateur historians.” I answered. “You’ve come to the right place”, he said, “There are lots of old stone walls and old roads in these woods.”


“Have you found a cellar hole over there?”, I said, pointing to the south and the side of Rollstone Mountain.


“Yes”, he said, “Get in and I’ll take you up there.”


Following skidder roads and straddling stumps and boulders, the machine clawed its way uphill to a table of relatively flat land between Holt Hill and Rollstone Mountain. We got off beside the 30 x 40’ foundation – the original home of Benjamin Sawyer, his wife, Tabitha, and their fourteen children. The land sloped away to the north with beautiful views through the thinned, leafless woods.  A beautiful place and an exciting discovery.  The site was covered in several feet of snow.

Continue Reading »

Roxbury is Born

[Editor’s note: this article follows another recently published article about how the town of Sullivan was created. For a complete list of Rick’s many articles on the history of Nelson, click here]

God's Barn Roxbury NH

The Roxbury Meetinghouse, known as “God’s Barn” , from this 1912 photo, replaced the original meeting house which was raised in 1804. That was used as a place of worship, and following the approval of incorporation in 1812 it was then used for official government business as well.

Roxbury was born in an Act of The New Hampshire General Court in 1812 and formed of pieces of Packersfield [now Nelson], Marlborough and Keene. The creation of Roxbury was a co-operative effort led from within Packersfield by respected citizens. It took years of negotiations led by a determined group of families who had settled in the town’s southwest quarter at about the time of the revolution. They were united by their near simultaneous settlement and by their origin. Most came from Rutland, Massachusetts. Town Records make it clear that the special needs of those living in the southwest corner of the town were recognized and accommodated. They had roads, a school, leadership roles in Packersfield government and there was concern for their spiritual lives. It was a far different process than the formation of Sullivan over the “remonstrance” of Packersfield. It also took twenty-five years.

The negotiation seems to have begun the year Sullivan was formed. The petition for a new town made the usual case of citizens being cut off from the center of the old town.  In fact Packersfield residents living in what would become Roxbury had to travel about four miles by road to the Packersfield meetinghouse. Still, southwestern Packersfield was connected by the town’s most important road – the one that connected it to Keene. Indeed there was a well-developed network of roads with road building as active there as in any part of the town. They had their own school house and most of the families mentioned in this article had sheds for their horses at the meetinghouse on the hill in Packersfield. The process was a negotiation not a seizure of land with Packersfield citizens presenting their case for a new town in Packersfield town meetings. Continue Reading »

Sullivan is Born: The “theft” of 3,200 acres

John Sullivan, President of New Hampshire

John Sullivan, President of New Hampshire

Imagine driving back to Nelson from Keene along Route 9 and coming to a store called the West Nelson Country Store.  Today that’s the Sullivan Country Store. But for two fraudulent signatures on a petition in 1786, East Sullivan might be in Nelson today.


Nelson, called Packersfield prior to1814, has lost three large chunks of itself to the formation of new towns since its incorporation in 1774. This is the story of the first of these: Sullivan. Towns in New Hampshire granted by the Masonian Proprietors consisted of lines drawn on maps in Portsmouth with little reference to the geography except for major rivers and the existence of previously granted places. History has proved these divisions unstable and many New Hampshire towns have been formed subsequently from pieces of older towns. In Cheshire County examples of such new towns are Troy, Sullivan, Roxbury and Harrisville. Three times between 1786 and 1870, the legislature determined that citizens would be best served by the creation of new towns formed from significant parts of Nelson and adjoining towns. Continue Reading »

Nelson History Day Dec 14

by on December 6, 2013 in History, Home Page

Nelson History Day Dec. 14, 2013, 11:00 AM Olivia Rodham Library

The Library is sponsoring a presentation of the new 2014 Nelson Calendar with historic photographs of Nelson’s past to excite an interest in the upcoming 250th anniversary of Nelson’s founding which will happen in 2017.

Calendar Collage

Adding to the history theme, new books about Nelson’s past by local authors Renn Tolman, Terri Upton, and Bruce White and copies of a CD of Tolman Pond life by Karen Tolman will be presented and available for sale.

And a special event will be the unveiling of the painting of Helen Towne by Marie Spaeth that was purchased by contributions from generous town residents.

Please join us for a fun morning with Christmas cookies and cider.


The Nelson Town Hall Over the Years

town hall with stepsKaren Tolman was going through some old pictures of Nelson this spring and came across this picture of the center of Nelson taken sometime in the late nineteenth century. One notices immediately how densely settled our town center was then. Karen’s eagle eye noticed that our town hall had front steps in those days and that the building looks taller than today. Karen, Bert Wingerson and I have solved some of this puzzle using old photographs, original town records, a very interesting deed and a history of town buildings written by the Reverend Millard Hardy (1850-1939.)


The history of the Nelson Town Hall that stands on Nelson Common today is one of periodic change and renewal.  It was built in originally1846 using pieces of the Second Meetinghouse and new material. Once the Congregational Church was finished and ready for use, the Second Meetinghouse on the old common was disassembled. The porches were removed as intact units and moved to their current location on Old Stoddard Road and reassembled as the home of George Whitney. Jack Bradshaw owns “The Porches” today.  The forty-five by sixty foot frame was disassembled and substantially reworked to become the present Town Hall. This Town Hall was taller than it is today and had front steps. It has been changed a number of times to accommodate the needs of the Town. Continue Reading »

Maintenance Contracts: A Reflection of Farm life in Early Nelson


Howard House

The foundation of the home of Augustus and Josephine Howard on Old Stoddard Road. The home in which Jacob and Abigail Wheeler enjoyed the use of the two north rooms.

The Sawyer Family’s contract (see the prior article) transferring the family place from father to son in return for lifetime of support was a common arrangement many families found useful. Historians call these “maintenance agreements.” In the Sawyer case it provided a working farm for a son looking to establish his own farm and provided his parents with an assurance that they could live comfortably when they were no longer able to work the farm.  The author has read and recorded ten contracts between generations in Packersfield and Nelson covering nine families. These are in the form of deeds recorded at the Cheshire County Registry of Deeds. Undoubtedly many more families made similar but less formal, arrangements. The ten formal contracts we do have, document the change in the daily life of early Nelson as farm families changed from a virtually cashless and self-sufficient lifestyle to one more integrated with others and, indeed, the whole world.  World events beyond the world of New England hill farms determined the changes these agreements reflect.

All of the agreements required the provision of housing and a means to stay warm. The Sawyers got their own house; others were provided “comfortable house room” – their own space in the common house. Jacob and Abigail Wheeler, for example, got “the east front room in the house now standing on the farm in which they now live with the privilege of the kitchen, oven and sellar [sic] and chamber [upstairs room] as may suit them.” When Augustus sold that hillside farm and moved to Avery Sprague’s 140 acre farm on the Old Stoddard Road, the Wheelers moved with him. Their new living arrangement gave them the right to the “two north rooms….with the privilege of using the chamber, oven and cellar as may suit them…”

The day-to-day requirements of life reflected in these agreements changed as life on Nelson’s farms changed. Continue Reading »

Wanted: Old Photos of Nelson and Munsonville

by on July 20, 2013 in History, Home Page

We will be scanning photos on three different days at the Library:
Monday the 12th from 10 to 1
Wednesday the 14th from 4 to 6
Thursday the 15th from 6-7:30
History Group members will be there to assist.

Old CarDo you have old photos of Nelson and Munsonville – people, scenes, events – that you are willing to share? A group of local residents has been meeting informally to start putting together a digital archive of historic photographs of our town. Nelson’s 250th anniversary in 2017 is not far off, and we hope to be able to publish as many photographs as possible online (on the History section of this web site) or (if we stumble upon a pot of gold) in print.

We are asking people to bring their treasured old photographs to the library during Old Home Week, August 10-17, where we will be set up to scan them, write down caption information, and return the originals. We do not want to keep any original photographs. We would be happy to email you a digital file of your photographs. Watch for notices in the Old Home Day issue of the Grapevine II, the Moving in Step calendar, and posters around town for specific times for scanning.

The Nelson History Group usually meets on the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the library. The group is informal and voluntary, and anyone interested in local history is welcome to take part. For more information, call Karen Tolman (827-3226), Don or Barbara Bennett (847-3347), Bert Wingerson (847-9945), or Susan Hansel (847-9918).


Social Contracts of the Early Settlers

[Editors Note: The issue of social security is prevalent in our lives today. But this has always been a concern. In exploring our town’s archives, Rich Church has come across information about how people met the needs of being cared for in their later years. In this article (and another to be published in the near future) Rick shows us what solutions were put in place.]

Waterfall on the road to Benjamin Sawyer’s farm house

Waterfall on the road to Benjamin Sawyer’s farm house

Families moving to a frontier town like Packersfield employed a number of strategies to sustain themselves. They often came with others they knew from their hometowns and settled near one another in their new home. Often those clusters of new arrivals were related. In the second generation they often took steps to keep the farm in the family and provide for their old age. The Sawyer Family who settled in the northeast corner of Packersfield did all of these things. Continue Reading »

What’s Up With the Town Hall?

by on June 7, 2013 in History, Home Page, Promote

Nelson Town HallThis photograph was recently discovered. It shows our Town Hall, but close scrutiny reveals that it is up a half-story from its present height (see the stairs leading to the door). Stay tuned for more information about this: when was the photo taken, when did the hall get “lowered” , etc. Click on the image for an enlarged view.


Sugaring Season News

[Editors Note: Candyce Fulford has found (and transcribed) three articles from the New Hampshire Sentinel (now Keene Sentinel) published in March of 1891. The first and third are written by “Themistocles”, and the middle article by “Recorder”. While a variety of news is covered, the focal point seems to be about maple sugaring, and a rivalry between the two reporters becomes quite evident.]

Date: Wednesday, March 11, 1891    Volume: XCIII    Issue: 10    Page: 5

NH Sentintel  March 1891The Presiding Elder of the Methodist church has appointed Rev. William Merrill to preach here each Sunday, and his first discourse was delivered in the hall last Sunday.  An effort will be made to organize a Sabbath school, next Sunday.  Hereafter, service will begin at 10:45 o’clock a.m., instead of at 1:30.

Already preparations are being made for the annual sugar-making, and perhaps it is with the view to obtaining the government bounty on maple sugar that a few are making improvements in their appliances.  H. D. Taylor has contracted for one of Wheeler’s new process evaporators to be put in this Spring, which is expected to make a saving in labor and time, with less waste, and improvement in quality.  The furnace is portable and made of iron.  We haven’t room for extended description, but presume Mr. T will be pleased to show it in operation to all his friends and give them a taste of sugar.

If the destruction to sugar lots goes on as it has in this town for the past twenty years, it won’t be long before all the maple trees in town won’t make sugar enough to be entitled to a bounty.

Badly drifted roads affected the attendance of the regular meeting of Granite Lake Grange last Friday night, but nearly one-third of the members were present, and enough to make a good meeting.  The report of the special committee on a children’s fair, in the Fall, was heard, and the proposed plan accepted.  The committee was granted a sum of money with which to issue premiums, and it is hoped that enough enthusiasm will be developed to make the projected fair a success.  The Lecturer’s programme consisted of music, readings and a talk upon the subject of maple sugar-making.  Past Master Taylor read a paper upon maple sugar-making in the earlier times, and remarks were made upon the subject by several experienced sugar-makers.  The evidence was all in favor of cleanliness as the first requisite for first quality.  The theory was also advanced, based on tests and observation, that the flavor and lightness of color depended a good deal on the soil upon which the trees grew.  The subject for the next meeting is How can we make our homes more attractive, in-side and out?”

Gideon Vigneau has sold his place at the centre to Mr. Simmons of Keene, head clerk for Wm. G. Hall, for a Summer residence.  Mr. V. is moving to Keene.


Date: Wednesday, March 18, 1891    Volume: XCIII    Issue: 11    Page: 5

Town meeting has come and gone, and perhaps it may interest the outside world to know, as in the days of the civil war “All is quiet on the Potomac;” so we make the announcement.  Circumstances over which we had practically no control having rendered it inadvisable to attend that meeting, we are obliged to take reports concerning it, at second hand.  We think we speak advisedly in the statement that the vote of the town transferring all future town meetings, and the transaction of all town business, to Munsonville, by a meager majority variously stated at from one to not over three, said vote being secured by the action of a good number, owning little or no real estate, as a flagrant disregard of the rights of a majority of real estate owners of the town which is unprecedented in the history of Cheshire county.

The young people connected with the Y. P.S. C. E. furnished refreshments on town meeting day, the proceeds to be appropriated to the payment for the new organ, recently purchased.

F. D. Taylor and George Bailey were chosen new members of the school board on March 18th.

Preaching at the Centre by Rev. Mr. Newhall, March 15th.  It is announced that preaching services will now be held regularly till the middle of next month, by which time a stated supply is expected.

We think Brother Themistocles is very liberal in the free advertisement he gave H. D. Taylor in relation to the implied invitation to friends or the public calling to see the operation of his new sap evaporator, and to test the virtue of his maple sugar.  If there should not happen to be enough of Mr. Taylor’s sugar to go around, we would suggest that Themistocles is himself a sugar maker, and we hope Mr. T. will be equally liberal and direct those wishing to test free sugar to give him a visit and try his sugar for themselves.


Date: Wednesday, March 25, 1891     Volume: XCIII  Issue: 12  Page: 5

There was a quiet wedding at the home of the late Ezra Wilder, on the 15th inst., the contracting parties being Miss Lucy M. Wilder and William Wood, and the officiating clergyman, Rev. William Merrill of the Methodist society in this village.  The future residence of the bride and groom will be Fitchburg, Mass.

At the chair shop the timber is being fast converted into stock and it is probable that all now in the yard will be sawed up much earlier than has usually been the case.  The band saw, under the direction of Sawyer Gibson, seems to be doing excellent work and proving to accomplish what was claimed for it when put in, viz: – A time and labor saver, and an economizer of timber.  In the finishing department, several new and very attractive styles of chairs are now being made.  Samples recently shown your correspondent were considered of a taking style, and excellent in workmanship and finish.

Sumner P. Fisher expects to move into his new house about April 1st.

Perhaps we were somewhat liberal in our implied invitation to taste Mr. Taylor’s sugar, but we only referred to those persons interested in improved sugar apparatus and did not expect the whole community would accept it as an invitation to a feast.  When Themistocles gets a new evaporator he will be pleased to do as he suggested Mr. Taylor would be glad to do.

Sugar makers in this vicinity have not tapped their orchards yet.

At the regular meeting of the Granite Lake Grange, last Friday evening, it was voted to have a public sugar party in the near future, the date to be determined by a committee.  The lecturer’s hour was given to readings and a discussion of the question, “How can we make our homes more attractive inside and out?”  In the opinion of the speakers it was not necessary to have unlimited means to make our homes more attractive, but the great essentials were neatness and order about the premises, and a cultivation of the homely virtues of good nature and forbearance about the household.  Shade trees and flowers, a well kept lawn and vegetable garden are no small items in the attractiveness of a farm home.  For the next five months the grange will meet but once a month, the third Friday.  Subject for April 17th, “Temperance.”

Frank B. Hardy has been incapacitated from work for two weeks with erysipelas in his face, but is now nearly recovered.


A Modern School: 1855

The record of District Number Seven ends as it began. By 1851 that nice brick building, built only thirty years before, needed a major overhaul. Some in the district thought it needed to be replaced. In that year there was an article on the school district warrant to repair the building. It was passed over.

1883 School #3

Up until 1876 Nelson paid tuition to send students to old Number Seven. On the other side of Nelson, School Number Two was accepting students from District Number Four in Stoddard where there was no school building at the time.

In 1854 James Derby, Darius Farwell and William Seaver petitioned for a special meeting to consider building a new school. The resulting warrant had two articles. One to build a new school and one to repair the old one. The meeting voted to have the Prudential Committee make repairs. They didn’t.

In March 1855, Joel Bancroft, the second generation of that family to be involved with the school, and Chauncey Barker petitioned for a special meeting to repair and enlarge the school. At the next meeting on April 5th, Chauncey Barker moved that the district buy 22 desks and seats and arrange them after the Woodcock Patent; take down the old seats and remove the partition between the school room and the entry. Voters said “no”

School #7

Abandoned the old building looked like this.

Undeterred, and only five days later, there was another petition for a special district meeting to see if the district would appoint a “Disinterested Committee” and delegate to them the power to decide whether to repair the school. Three weeks later, the district meeting voted to appoint a “Disinterested Committee.” The committee members were from Hancock.

The “Disinterested Committee” chosen:

Nelson had done this before. In 1838, when the brick schoolhouse in Nelson Village was built, a private group asked to build a second floor at their own expense.

School # 7 Today

School # 7 Today

When it was finished, there was a dispute about what each party’s share should be. A disinterested committee of Hancock people was appointed to sort it out. Wisely the committee held the upstairs group responsible for the front 5 feet of building that housed the stairway to the second floor, but held they were not to pay for the roof that the school would have had in any case.

In three weeks the Disinterested Committee recommended “covering the floor, furnishing lathing and plastering the walls, fixing the window frames to receive the lathing, affixing Woodcock Patented seats instead of the old ones…” The building really had deteriorated in the thirty-five years since its construction. Continue Reading »

School Vandalism (In the Olden Days)

1883 School #3

1883 School #7: The shutters on the windows in this 1883 picture certainly weren’t installed to deflect arrows.


Early Nelson schools experienced vandalism.  Numerous rules were adopted and published by the town that defined responsibility for damage and that give us a picture of the problems for schools almost two hundred years ago – problems not so different from today. An example is an 1838  set of bylaws adopted on the occasion of the opening of the two-storey brick schoolhouse in the village.


To preserve the schoolhouse from petty damages:

First: That from and after this day if any person or persons shall break a square of glass from the schoolhouse in this district, such person or persons shall replace the same within two days after it is broken or pay the sum of twenty-five cents to the agent of the district to be appropriated by said agent to the use of the district. Continue Reading »

The Management of Early Schools

by on December 12, 2012 in History, Rick Church History Articles

Editors Note: This is the fourth in a series of historical articles on the subject of schools in Nelson.

amanda farwell

Nelson Schoolteacher Amanda Farwell

While school districts were largely self-governing, they were subject to town oversight and a growing body of state regulation on the qualifications of teachers. There were two bodies established during this period to oversee the operation of Nelson’s schools: The Prudential Committee and the Superintending Committee.  These committees seem not to have existed simultaneously and made reports to the town suggesting that their functions were nearly the same.  In their reports we learn what was being taught in the schools and read opinions about the quality of that teaching.  These committees also presented rules of school conduct for consideration at town meeting.

Reproduced below is such a report for 1829:

1829 Report of the Nelson Superintending Committee


There was a report on the performance of each school.  The comments for School Number Seven reads as follows: Continue Reading »

The Cotton Factory in Munsonville

by Bert Wingerson

Munsonville Cotton Mill

A view of the former boarding house overlooking the mill site.

The solid stone walls of the foundation of the large mill built in Munsonville are all that remain of this early industrial site at the outlet of Granite Lake.  In 1814, Asa Beard built the Cotton Factory, as it was called, and a boardinghouse for mill workers in what was then a remote section of Nelson to take advantage of the waterpower provided by the dammed up Factory Lake.

The boardinghouse is still standing and is now serving as a private residence.  These two structures are the heart of what was to become the village of Munsonville. Continue Reading »