Rick Church

Insanity Above Spoonwood Pond

by on September 30, 2015 in Home Page, Rick Church

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

by on August 20, 2015 in Life in Nelson, 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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Roxbury is Born

by on February 3, 2014 in Home Page, Rick Church

[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 »

The Nelson Town Hall Over the Years

by on August 18, 2013 in Home Page, Rick Church

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 »

A Modern School: 1855

by on February 24, 2013 in Local Business, Rick Church

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)

by on January 18, 2013 in Educational, Life in Nelson, Rick Church
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 Rick Church

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

school_chartt

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

Heating a One-Room Schoolhouse

by on November 18, 2012 in Rick Church

Firewood

The subject of heating the building consumed approximately one third of the written record of early school district meetings. In 1820 men bid to keep the fire at the school at $1.00 per week.  Five different men supplied both wood and fire lighting for that 8-week winter school session. It is quite a modern idea: subcontract a whole function. In this case heat.

In 1823 the procurement method changed and the district started buying wood. Wood was bid off by individuals and often each cord supplied by a different bidder.

School Number Seven burned 4 cords in a winter school session lasting twelve weeks. Buying their heat this way dropped the cost to $4.99. Continue Reading »

Sophia Returns

by on November 3, 2012 in Favorites, Nelson People, Rick Church

by Rick Church

The cross-stitched sampler that Sophia Griffin created as an eleven-year-old girl in Packersfield in 1801 has come home to Nelson.  This is a story of an old Nelson family; interest in family heritage and local history, the marvel of communication that the Internet provides, and the generosity of Nancy and Ray Foster.

Sophia Griffin's samplerA sampler is an early piece of needlework stitched, or wrought by a young girl in school with silk thread on a linen background as a demonstration of accomplishment. Samplers can run the gamut in quality and complexity. The first attempt at making a sampler usually contained only alphabets, numbers, name, date, and sometimes a small amount of decorative stitching. Sophia Griffin’s sampler is a good example of a simple sampler done at a young age.

This spring Nancy and Ray Foster of St. Petersburg, Florida were doing a much needed weeding out of long stored and treasured things.  Among them was a sampler that had been given to Nancy’s mother, Doris Parrish, by her longtime friend, Carolyn (Peachy) McGlinty in the early 1970’s.  The sampler came with a written history that had come from a family bible. Nancy recalls: “ I cannot recall how the sampler was transported to Woburn, but once it was in Woburn, my Mom proudly displayed it on her dining room wall. At that time, there was never any discussion as to where Packersfield was or who the little girl may have been, only that it had more sentimental value than historic.” Continue Reading »

A New School is Built

by on October 23, 2012 in Rick Church, Uncategorized

This is the second installment of a long article on the operation of one of Nelson’s early schools.  The main source for the series is the seventy page record of School Number Seven from 1820 to 1858 which was generously donated to the town archives with many other valuable historical papers by Ethan Tolman. Thanks to a grant secured by Susan Hansel, the record of School Number Seven is preserved and available to the public on a CD at the Olivia Rodham Memorial Library.  The balance of the source documents are the Nelson Town Records preserved in the Town Archives and material on the Woodcock Patent located at the Cheshire County Historical Society. Click here to read the first article in this series.

Nelson SchoolFolks who were in Nelson in the late nineteen-nineties will recall it took the Nelson School District three years to design, achieve political support for and build an addition to the Munsonville School. In 1821 School District Number Seven faced similar issues and dealt with the inadequacies of the old wooden building in a matter of months.

A year after repairing the school roof for $7 the District launched a major project: 1821 February, “voted to appoint a committee to examine the schoolhouse and see what repairs are necessary and report to the next meeting.” The committee members were Bethuel Harris, Palmer Bryant and Samuel Scripture. The committee took a week to do its work. There is no record of their report, but it resulted in a district meeting in March to consider a warrant article to raise $200 to build a new school house or repair the old one.

At that meeting the district voted to build a new school locating it on James Bryant’s land on the east side of the road that led to Dublin from Captain Scripture’s. This is on the Tolman Pond Road across from Scripture Road today. It was to be made of brick and be 20‘ by 23’ with a wooden shed on one end. Major Bethuel Harris was chosen to make out the bill of materials for the project. Then they adjourned for 10 days. Continue Reading »

An Early Nelson School

This is the first installment of a long article on the operation of one of Nelson’s early schools.  The main source for the series is the seventy page record of School Number Seven from 1820 to 1858 which was generously donated to the town archives with many other valuable historical papers by Ethan Tolman. Thanks to a grant secured by Susan Hansel, the record of School Number Seven is preserved and available to the public on a CD at the Olivia Rodham Memorial Library.  The balance of the source documents are the Nelson Town Records preserved in the Town Archives and material on the Woodcock Patent located at the Cheshire County Historical Society.


Settlement in Nelson had increased remarkably in the years immediately after the revolution increasing from 186 in 1776 to 721 by the first national census in 1790.  With that growth came things that made settlements, proper towns: things like schools. In an era when we worry about dwindling school enrollment in our town of seven hundred, it is ironic to think back to 1790 when Nelson (then Packersfeld) had seven hundred and twenty-one inhabitants and a surfeit of students.

Nelson divided itself into nine school districts in 1789.  Thanks to Ethan Tolman’s donation of a collection of his mother’s papers, the Town Archives has the written record on one of those early school districts from 1820 to 1858. School District Seven included the Southeast Quarter of the town from the area of Tolman Pond (Bryant Pond in those days) to today’s Harrisville it included the Bancrofts at the current junction of the Cabot and Tolman Pond Roads, the Yardleys on the Clymer Road, Samuel Scripture on the Scripture Road and Grovers and Morses around Tolman Pond. Later came the Tolmans, the Bryants, the Farwells and the Harris’ of the mill village that came to be named after them.

When those first school districts were established in Nelson, each was given their proportional share of 270 pounds and required to build a school. School taxes were levied on the whole town and funds were allocated to each district in proportion to their valuation.  Continue Reading »

Bailey Brook Trail

The Nelson Trails Committee sponsored a hike recently with the Harris Center to the Bailey Brook Trail. The hike drew more than 30 people on a clear and cold Saturday, February 11th.  It was led by Rick Church, of our trails committee, and Ben Haubrich, a Harris Center guide. Meade Cadot, senior naturalist at the Harris Center and Martha Pinello, an archaeologist from Monadnock Archaeological Consulting, were along to explain the natural and cultural items of interest.

[move your mouse over the picture to display caption]

Hikers gathered at the Nelson Common and carpooled to Maury Collin’s.  The group walked up and over the hill behind Maury’s house, the area of a new conservation easement and looked across the valley toward Osgood Hill and more land protected by the Harris Center.  The hike followed a logging road back to the Old Stoddard Road where we turned east. Meade Cadot pointed out black bear markings on most of the telephone poles along the road. These are territorial markings.  Most of the poles showed teeth marks and one had bear hair imbedded in the pole itself.

Continue Reading »

A New Minister

by on November 1, 2011 in Life in Nelson, Rick Church
Mrs.Gad Newell

Sophia Newell (or possibly an imposter) in front of the Gad Newell home, on Cemetery Road.

Editors note:  This is the third and final article in a series relating the founding of the first ministry in Packersfield.  The first detailed the many efforts to acquire a minister for a small, remote community. Several ministers came for trial periods and several offers of employment were made before Jacob Foster accepted the call. The second discussed Foster’s contentious dismissal for reasons the records do not make clear.  What is clear is that the parting was difficult.  This final article deals with the start of Packersfield/Nelsons longest ministry, that of Gad Newell.  Sensitive to the situation in the aftermath of the Foster mess, the young Newell took a healing approach.

In the aftermath of the Reverend Jacob Foster’s dismissal, Packersfield moved on.

A much more established community now, the town seemed to have little trouble finding a replacement.  The process took two years, but there is no record of repeated trials of new ministers and rejected offers of employment. The town provided a settlement of 170 pounds (a sort of signing bonus) and offered the new preacher a salary of 70 pounds per year.  The new minister was a twenty-nine-year-old Yale graduate named Gad Newell.  The Reverend Newell was installed on June 11, 1794 and retired 43 years later.  His letter to the people of Packersfield bespoke his faith in God and of the healing needed in the aftermath of Jacob Foster’s dismissal reproduced here in its full late eighteenth century eloquence: Continue Reading »

Trails in Nelson

The Nelson Trails Group recently explored the old class six road to the “Hart Lot” with its extensive foundations and mill site.  The site was home to a sawmill operated in the early nineteenth century.  The mill location on a falls in Bailey Brook provides habitat for numerous wild flowers; wild ginger graces the Osborne home site and there are numerous day lilies contributed by later summer residents, perhaps the Harts.  The road was closed by the town in 1922.

The old mill site is on the upper falls of Bailey Brook . The falls had a lot of water going over  it from recent rains and downstream the brook ran through its rocky bed with a musical sound.  The banks were lush with ferns. Bailey Brook briefly forms a wetland before entering a cut with steep banks culminating in the waterfall that can be seen from Old Stoddard Road.

The Nelson Trails Group, established under the auspices of Moving in Step, is working to make the beautiful, educational and historic places in town accessible to the walking public.  The nearly twenty-member committee plans to start by identifying Nelson’s abandoned but accessible old roads.  The first project,the town’s first documented road laid out in 1773 and only closed in 1959, is the original road from the Packersfield meeting house to Dublin some call the Klemperer Road.  It features gentle walking on an old road, four old cellar holes, and a number of vernal pools.  Forest types change as you pass stonewalls and are the result of early land use by the settlers there and the date of their final abandonment.

The group is in the process of documenting the natural and historical things of interest along some of our old roads and is seeking abutting landowner co-operation so that more Nelson walkers can enjoy the natural and historical features of Nelson’s abandoned roads. If you ware interested in participating, please call Rick Church at 603-847-3206.

The Mill in Munsonville

by on June 18, 2011 in Rick Church

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.

Foster’s Dismissal

The Reverend Jacob Foster served the town of Packersfield for ten years from 1781 to 1791. During that time twenty-seven families joined the church. We do not have census data that exactly match the years Foster served, but the population of Packersfield in 1783 was recorded as 511 and in 1790 as 721.  The census of 1790 listed 160 families.  The town had grown to the point where Foster’s contract called for full pay — 70 pounds in 1774 money.  We can estimate that the number of families had increased by about sixty and just under half had joined the church. Mid-way through Foster’s tenure as town minister, Packersfield undertook the construction of a much larger meetinghouse. Begun in 1786 and finished enough for use by 1788 it was, at sixty by forty-five feet and twenty-eight feet at the eaves, a house of worship to make any town and its minister proud. Continue Reading »

Founding the Church

by on March 30, 2011 in Life in Nelson, Rick Church

The Reverend George Whitefield did not (as far as we know) ever preach in Nelson, but he was a contemporary of Treadway and Foster, of whom no portrait is known to exist .

The original charter of Monadnock Number Six stipulated founding a successful town in accordance with the king’s requirements. The charter contained requirements to establish and support of religion and education. Three of the grantors’ shares in the town, a total of six one hundred acre lots, were reserved  “free from charge, one for the first settled minister one for the ministry and one for the school forever.”  One lot from each of these shares was to be in the center of the new town where a “convenient meeting house” would be built.  The meetinghouse was to serve as a place of worship and for public meetings. Breed Batchellor laid out ten acres of common land for this purpose in the original layout of the town.

In support of the requirement to establish religion, the town hired and paid for the minister and erected a meetinghouse to serve as the site of both civic and religious life of the town.  While not all town residents were church members, the minister’s salary was paid by the town, leaving both church membership and town residents with a joint responsibility for choosing or dismissing ministers.  The Congregational Church in the form of a Venerable Council of local ministers played a role as well, approving ministers as suitable or not.  Town financial support began to change when other denominations began to hold services in Nelson and ceased shortly after the Toleration Act (1819) passed by New Hampshire required that churches be privately supported. Continue Reading »

The Town Pound

by on January 9, 2011 in Life in Nelson, Rick Church

New England’s ancient Town Pounds are seen near the center of most towns even today. Substantial, square and made of large stones, town pounds are New England’s most  enduring and emblematic features of our agrarian past. Most towns have one that survives; Nelson has two!  They were built to hold the largest and most agile of domestic animals in temporary custody, protecting crops and precious cows, pigs, horses, sheep, oxen, etc until their owners could recover them.

Nelson’s first pound was built at the same time as the meetinghouse (1773) and almost directly across the road from it. This suggests they were of similar importance in the early function of the community.  It was a twenty-foot-square stonewall six feet high with a door and an iron lock.  By 1783 this first pound proved to be too small, and a larger replacement, thirty by thirty, was built. The walls were also stone, six feet high, three feet thick on the bottom and one and a half feet thick at the top with another foot of boards extending above the stone.  This pound had a four-foot wide gate and a door with iron hinges with a lock and key. David Beard, the lowest bidder, built it for 11 pounds. It still stands today in the woods on the east side of Lead Mine road across from the Coughlin’s pergola. Continue Reading »

Early Road Machinery

by on August 15, 2010 in Rick Church

For the first hundred years Nelson seems to have built and repaired its roads using hand and ox-drawn tools also used on farms. Perhaps the earliest equipment specifically designed for highway maintenance was the use of snow rollers for clearing roads in the winter.

The town kept its roads open in the winter with men hired to “break” the roads in their neighborhoods. In 1858 the town “voted $113 for the year for breaking roads. Men to be hired for $.08 per hour; oxen for $.10 per hour; horses for the same rate as oxen and cows for less.” They did this by packing the roads with rollers like the one shown in the photograph, from Sutton, VT. Rolled snow made a good surface for sleighs and sleds.

The first record of a town purchase of Continue Reading »

Nelson’s Earliest Roads

by on July 14, 2010 in Rick Church

Cemetery RoadEditors Note: The images in this article may be clicked, and a larger version will open in a separate browser window. The images displaying hand writing were scanned from our town archives.

Nelson’s earliest roads were made and maintained by hand, using men and teams of oxen — the same methods that cleared farms. Road layouts reflected that labor intensity. They tended to be built straight up and down hills rather than be bench cut, and they were likely to follow property lines and avoid using already cleared and productive farmland. However, early property deeds made it clear that all property was “subject to all necessary highways.” Between its founding and today, Nelson has laid out, built, relocated and improved several hundred roads.

In May 1834 the selectmen received a petition from a number of residents to layout a new road. A public meeting was held and the town approved the following road: “Beginning at the Stoddard line near the brook in said Nelson thence south 34 degrees west through land of James Clark 12 rods to a stake and stones. Thence south 12 degrees west 16 rods 9 links. Thence south 5 degrees west 20 rods 12 links to the bank of the brook. Thence south 40 degrees west across the brook to the old road near James Clark’s cider mill 6 rods. The above line is to be the center of the highway which is to be 3 rods wide.”

This road is part of the current Old Stoddard Road from the Stoddard town line to the big culvert that carries Bailey Brook.  The stone foundation visible on the north side of the road today is probably James Clark’s cider mill.

Continue Reading »

Top