Bert Wingerson History Articles

The Cotton Factory in Munsonville

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 »

One Room Schools

Nelson’s One Room Schools

Roberta Wingerson

Settlement began in Nelson, then called Packersfield, in 1767.  The first town meeting was held in 1772 but it was not until 1785 that the town voted to raise thirty pounds to support a  “reading and writing school.”  Prior to that, Nelson’s children were encouraged to have instruction at home largely focused on religious teaching.  The first one-room school was built on the hill south of the present village.  It was across the road from the site of  the old meeting house where the Nelson Cemetery is now located.

The population of the town grew rapidly after the Revolutionary War, reaching a maximum of 1076 in 1810.  Farm settlements were scattered, and roads in some areas were no more than grassy paths through the woods, making travel to the village school difficult.  The state-sanctioned solution was reached in 1805 by dividing the town into 10 school districts.  A one- room schoolhouse was built in each district.  The locations of District 9 and 10 are no longer known.

Each district was controlled and administered independently taxing its residents for the support of the school.  They became, in fact, a separate entity independent of town government.  A state law passed in 1827 established a Superintending Committee of one to three town residents to provide general oversight to town schools.  However, records show that independent management continued within the districts.  Each school was still supported by taxes from residents within the district as determined by the district school board.   The  length of  terms, divided into the summer school and the winter school term, varied from district to district, as did the competence of teachers, some of whom may have only completed a local district education.  The summer term was shorter because help was needed on the farm during this busy time of year.  Some of the boys only attended school in the winter term when farm labor was not so demanding.  Attendance was often irregular and classroom behavior sometimes difficult for young teachers to maintain. Tales are still told in the village of the older boys who often tested a new teacher’s merit by physically removing him from the classroom with the intent of closing school for a few more days.

The subjects taught also varied among the schools.  A report from the Superintending Committee in 1829 showed that most district schools taught “Arithmatick and Grammar and Geography,”  while only one also listed “History,” one “Latin,” and three “Rhetoric” in their annual reports.  The same report showed that the length of the school year varied from as little as thirteen weeks in District 9 to as many as twenty-six weeks in District 1, the Nelson village school.  In 1860, the length of the school year was between seven and twenty weeks depending on which district students lived in so it appears that little had changed to achieve a more even learning experience throughout the town.  This ended in 1885 when the district system was abolished by the state in the Town School Act.  All schools were placed under one town school board of three members elected at the annual town meeting

Only two of the one-room district schools now survive, being soundly built of brick.  The present District I school was built in 1838 in the newly established village of Nelson replacing the original district school.  At the request of the First Orthodox Congregational Society a second floor was added, paid for by public donation.  It was used for religious and community gatherings. The old barrel-vaulted ceiling can still be seen above the alterations added later to fit it for town office use. By 1898, it was the only one of the original ten district schools that was still teaching students within its walls.

The “Old Brick,” as the village school was fondly called, continued to serve as a school until 1945, still without water and only a wood stove for heat.  It is listed on the National Register in recognition of its importance in the town’s history.  Presently, it is still serving the needs of the town by housing the town office.  A sensitive renovation a few years ago provided more modern office space and made the building handicapped accessible while being carefully designed not to impact the historic building.

The original District 1 school  located on the hill across the road from the old meetinghouse was sold for private use when the new brick school was built in the growing village. The early center of the town had been established on the hill south of the present village but travel during mud season and long cold winters with snow and ice contributing to difficult travel lead residents to move to the more accessible “Nelson plain.”

The second surviving school building is in the former District 5 on Lead Mine Road.  It is now the living room of a private residence with added living space built on the east side as can be seen in the photograph.

The Munsonville school on Granite Lake road was built in 1893 to replace the old District No. 2 school on Murdough Hill road.  After the Nelson village school closed in 1945, it became the only grade school in Nelson, though still a one-room school.  Grades one through eight were taught there.  In the 1953 annual town report, School Superintendent Dr.
Charles Bowlby stated, “Thus again we are almost at the maximum number of pupils which one teacher can properly educate in a one room school.”

Thirty pupils were listed as students and an additional seven were expected the following year.  A new classroom was added in 1955 as well as an additional teacher thus ending the long tradition of one-room schools in Nelson.  A renovation in 1990 added greatly needed space.  After much discussion, the residents approved the design of architect, Dan Scully, to suggest the external appearance of a train leaving the station.  The center structure with the gable end to the road seen in the architectural rendering is the original 1893 school. The name was changed to the Nelson School to reflect its service to the entire town. Students are now taught from grades one through six.  For all further education, both middle school and high school students are bussed to the Keene School District.


Tolman, Rodger M.,  “Nelson Schools: 1767-1967″,  A History  of the Town of Nelson, New Hampshire, The Sentinel Printing Company, Keene, N. H.,  1967.
Bowlby, Dr. Charles L., “Report of the Superintendent”, Annual Report of Nelson, NH, 1953. Bowlby, Dr. Charles L., “Report of the Superintendent”, Annual Report of  Nelson, NH, 1955.

The Mill in Munsonville

The Mill in Munsonville

The Mill

The village of Munsonville began with the building of the Cotton Factory in 1814 and the larger brick mill in 1843.  For over 100 years it was the focus of the community.  The site remains as the visible connection of the village to its historic past and to the importance of water power to the development of early industry in the state.

1814   Asa  Beard built a cotton factory and boarding house.
1815  A meeting was held for members of the Nelson Cotton and Woolen Corporation, Sept. 18,1815. The notice was signed by Amos Heald and Asa Beard.
1816   Oliver Stone (1786-1841) opened a store in the village.
1818  The Baptist Church was organized, meeting in the attic of the Cotton Factory storehouse.
1837  The Post Office was established in the village.  It was called the Nelson Factory Village P. O.
1843  Alvin Munson bought the Cotton Factory and built a two-story brick mill with “a good basement.”
1849  The Post Office changed its name to Munsonville in honor of Alvin Munson.
1857  Alvin Munson sold to J. D. and L. J. Colony who modernized the cotton mill and doubled the output.
1877  Fire damaged the brick cotton mill.
1878  The brick mill was rebuilt to manufacture chairs adding a third story and a mansard roof, storage, a brick powerhouse, and a dry house.  It began producing 12,000 chairs per year.
1912  Mrs. Frannie Barrett ran the factory after the death of L. J. Colony.
1914  The Colony chair factory ceased production.
1919  Demeritt and Fisher bought the property and made porch and summer chairs.
1929  The Demeritt-Fisher Company ceased production.
1934  McBean bought the factory to make boxes.
1938  A hurricane blew off the factory roof ending manufacturing.

Sally Minot Melville

Sally Minot Melville: A Woman of High Respect
by Bert Wingerson

“Sometime prior to 1792 Josiah [Melville], the first of the family in Cheshire county, came to Packersfield with his wife, Sarah (Minot) to whom he was married January 28, 1790.”

This entry in the Struthers History of Nelson is all we would know of Sarah (called Sally) Melville if not for the survival of two insightful reflections written after her death in 1811.  While the exploits of men in military and political history are more likely to be recorded, the life of most women, even a remarkable one like Sally, soon fade as the memories of those who knew her are extinguished.  Yet here was a woman who by her kindness, sensitivity to the needs of others and willingness to serve enriched both the life of her family and the early community of Packersfield as Nelson was then called.

One of the items among the Melville papers donated to the Nelson archives by Henry Melville Fuller (great great grandson of Sally) was a small booklet consisting of a few yellowed pages sewn together by hand. It was written as a eulogy by the Rev. Gad Newell after Sally’s death.  The other was a list of remembrances by Sally’s oldest son, Jonas, as he recalled his mother’s life.  He was only nineteen when she died.  Together they provide us a small window with which to view a life and a community.

The Rev. Gad Newell was installed as pastor of the Nelson Congregational Church in 1794 and served for 47 years.  While many members were added to the church during this period, Newell’s strict interpretation of scriptures and moral conduct led members to bring complaints against each other for supposed trespasses resulting in public hearings and sometimes excommunication if confessions and requests for forgiveness were not forthcoming from the accused.  Struthers states that a cloud of distrust among certain of its members hung over the congregation. Offenses included “not taking communion” and using “wicked expressions” while working on the highway.  Poor Mary Adams who had 11 young children plus the baby daughter of her dead sister to care for was also accused of using wicked expressions.  While she confessed that she was sometimes unstrung, and it would seem for very good reasons, that excuse was not considered satisfactory and she was barred from communion.

It might be inferred from this that the Rev. Gad Newell would find few in his congregation who could measure up to the standards he set, but Sally Melville won nothing but praise from him.  He writes, “Very few persons have maintained, in every respect, so irreproachable a character and been so much sincerely respected, by all classes, thro’ life.  The tongue of the slanderer could find nothing to gratify its malignance in her character.  Taken away in the midst of her days and usefulness, irreparable was her loss to the family; great to the poor and needy; and to society, and to the interest of religion. The sick and distressed in the neighborhood experienced her kind sympathy and assistance.”  Sally was a woman who worked at keeping the social fabric of her community in good repair.

Sally’s husband opened a large store at a site across the road from Henry Fuller’s house in about 1795 that, according to Struthers, attracted trade for miles around.  It is probable that Sally helped him in that business because Rev. Newell states that she was in a situation where she was well known and “she had the high respect of all that became acquainted with her.”  He praises her intelligence and quick sensibility, her industrious and prudent management and her husband’s trust in her as an endeared and affectionate companion.

He speaks of her dedication to her children as a “tender and discretely indulgent parent. She regarded with a very kind wakeful concern, the best interest of their bodies and souls; their happiness for time and eternity”  When she knew she had not long to live, she gathered her children around her “to give them her dying counsel. These affecting seasons can not, we trust, by the family be soon forgotten”  She and Josiah had four children, Jonas born in 1791, Lydia born in 1792, Josiah born in 1793 and Henry born in 1794.

It is in the recollections of Jonas that we learn of some of the more personal activities and personality of Sally as a mother and the manager of a household.  The opening pages written by Jonas begin with a family genealogy after which  he penned the following lines:

“My mother when I was small took me with her when she visited her father in Concord.

Mother took me with her and visited Amos Child in the fall and apples ripe.

My mother reproved me for making too much noise when I rode to Gad Newells.

My mother rode to Marlborough when my eyes were sore to see a doctor.  Nursed me for six months for sore eyes in the North room in the house and kept it dark.

My mother used the north east room in the house for to keep milk.

My mother occupied the North West room of the house for a sleeping room.

My mother was subject to fevers during her life time.

My mother used the South East room of the house for a parlor room and kept the clock and bureaus in it.

My mother used the South West room for spinning and weaving.

My mother took Sally Minot daughter of her brother after his death to bring up but died and left her with my father.

My mother never used a cooking stove.

My mother in the back small kitchen had a small room to keep cheese and a sink room with a door to each.

My mother used frequently to work with sick people.

My mother used frequently to have a psalm tune sung called Flanders.

My mother used to receive her father at Packersfield.

My mother used to assemble her children around her to say our prayers and every Sunday to say the catechism to her out of the Primmer.

My mother used to keep the milk in the cellar and skim it there.

My mother used to keep the clock in the south east room and the desk remained there as long as she lived.

My mother used to receive long visits from her cousins.

My mother used to cut brown bread into milk and boil the milk and bread for the childrens breakfast.

My mother used to make a toast of bread and butter and water as one she liked best.

My mother used not to eat salt fat pork.

1811.  My mothers last work was to skim the milk in the cellar and have me bring the milk up stairs for to make cheese.

1811.  My mother in June taken sick and the remainder of her life occupied the North East room below where she died.

1811.  Before she lost her reason called my father. myself, Lydia, Josiah and Henry and gave each of us her advise and her blessing while she lay in her last sickness and we all were near her bed.

1811.7.30  Died aged 48 years 5 months 16 days.

After the funeral of my mother, I walked onto the top of John Osgoods highest land on his farm.”

Sally set an example that Jonas followed all of his life.  He moved to Jaffrey in 1821 helping to organize the first bank in Jaffrey and became a respected banker.  Jonas was very active in the town and church affairs, a leader in the temperance movement and the first signer of the constitution of the Anti-slavery Society.  Jonas had a great business ability and became a wealthy man. As a strong supporter of education, he was the principal benefactor in establishing the Melville Academy and built a handsome residence known as the Stone House.  Both buildings are still standing today.

For all his wealth, the story is told that when he bought a new suit, he would hang it on the clothes line and beat it thoroughly so that it wouldn’t be noticed when he wore it to church not wanting to appear a cut above his neighbors.

Jonas, unfortunately, invested in the development of railroads which were never profitable and in the financial panic of 1857 both railroad and bank stocks became almost worthless. In an attempt to return as much as possible to his creditors, Jonas sold all his real estate, personal property and assets leaving him and his wife, Betsy, homeless.  They spent their remaining days with an old friend in Pepperell, Massachusetts.

This is the house built by Josiah and Sally Melville in 1795.  It was burned to the ground in an arson fire in 1925.  A new house was built by Henry Melville on the same site and is now home to Henry Melville Fuller.