Monday, September 15, 2014

Did we Mention that the Red Sox are playing the NYC Yankees?

Yes, you could win an iPad Mini, but did we forget to mention that the Red Sox tickets that you could win are for the September 27th game against the NYC Yankees? And that it is one of Derek Jeter's last games as a Yankee? No baseball fan should miss the chance to win tickets to this game and you could be in luck because the Exeter Historical Society is raffling off two tickets to this historic game. Raffle tickets are $10 each (or 3 for $25) and can be purchased online through the historical society's website, click here. The winning tickets will be drawn on Saturday, September 20 during the Society's annual bowling event. You need not be present to win (though we'd love it if you'd join us).

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fred Frame

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, September 12, 2014.

Race car driver Fred Frame always said he was born in Exeter, New Hampshire. When I happened upon a file about Frame in the Exeter Historical Society archives, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about the man. Frame raced to fame when he won the Indianapolis 500 in 1932, yet there’s little acknowledgement of that achievement in his native town. So, was Frame from Exeter? Or, was that something he simply made up?

Frame is mostly associated with Pasadena, California – where he seems to have spent most of his life. The Exeter Frame family ties him to Charles E. Frame, who, it is said, served as his ‘foster father’ and was a well-known and respected cabinet and furniture maker. Perhaps, but no documentation connects the two as ever living together. The facts about Fred Frame’s early life turn out to be quite complicated. Fred himself filed only two documents that can be traced: his 1917 draft registration form and his 1915 marriage certificate. On both, he lists his date of birth as June 3, 1894, however, there is no such birth record in Exeter. This doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t born in Exeter. Babies were born at home in that time and sometimes they missed being noted in the town’s vital records.

On his draft record, he lists his name as Fred William Frame, born in Exeter, New Hampshire and currently working as a chauffeur for the very wealthy Charles F. Paxton in Pasadena. He was slightly more specific about his origins two years earlier when he reported, on his marriage license, that his parents were ‘C.J. Frame’ and ‘Issabella McClish.’ C. James Frame lived in Exeter in the 1880s and can be found on the 1910 census living with his wife Isabelle and step-son Frederick in Pasadena. So C.James Frame was not Fred’s biological father. That honor goes to Frank Colbath, who was Isabella McClish’s first husband. Colbath died in 1904 at the County Farm after a lengthy bout of tuberculosis. Isabella Colbath and her son, Fred Colbath are in Exeter at the time of the 1900 census. Her elder son, Benjamin, was living with his grandparents in 1900. It was probably difficult for her to make ends meet as a dressmaker without the support of her husband. Sometime after the death of Frank Colbath, Isabella married C.James Frame and moved with him and young Fred to California. Fred must have liked the arrangement because he took his step-father’s surname and used it for the rest of his life.

By most accounts, Fred was not much interested in school but was quite taken with cars. He chauffeured for a few years before taking up racing as a profession. His first Indy 500 was in 1927 when he placed 11th. The Indianapolis 500 was quite a different race in its early days. The event premiered in 1911 with the same 500 mile 200 lap race we have today, but the speedway was paved with brick, drivers had a passenger called a ‘ride-along mechanic’ and the cars looked like they belonged in a pinewood derby. But you won’t need a description, because the Indianapolis Speedway in 1932 has been immortalized in the Warner Brothers film The Crowd Roars. And, like a ghost from the past, Fred Frame appears in the film playing himself. Released in April of that year, Frame went on to win the Indy 500 on May 30th. He only gets a few lines in the film, but he delivers them well as he towers over Joe Greer, played by James Cagney. It’s not often that someone from our archives can be seen walking, talking and breathing, so it is quite a thrill watching him. The film can be rented and streamed over the internet through a well-known site that inexplicably has the name of a famous South American river.

The 1932 Indy 500 broke speed records that had been set seven years earlier by Peter DePaolo, averaging 104.44 mph (for comparison, the 2014 Indy 500 winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay averaged 186.563mph). Although Frame placed well in the years that followed, at 38 he was old for a driver. His son, Bob, became the racer in the family after Fred left the track in 1939 after a particularly bad accident. Bob was later killed in a race in Owatonna, Minnesota in 1947.

Frame died of a heart attack at his home in Hayward California in 1962. There was no obituary published in his home town of Exeter, New Hampshire. According to the Nancy Carnegie Merrill index of the Exeter News-Letter, the only time Fred Frame was ever mentioned in the newspaper was in 1941 when a relative, Joseph LaFramboise entered the New Hampshire Soap Box Derby. Fifteen-year-old Joe gets three columns including, “related to Freddie Frame, one-time winner of the 500-mile Indianapolis speed classic, LaFramboise finished second in the entire field in 1939, and last year reached the semi-finals before being eliminated.” Thanks. Nice that he got a mention. Fred Frame should be considered one of our home town heroes. Pass the word around.

Image: Exeter native, Fred Frame (on right), winner of the 1932 Indianapolis 500.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Exeter Steamer House

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, August 29, 2014.

In 1873, the Town of Exeter upgraded its antiquated fire department. The old fire engines – really just hand pumped ‘tubs’ on wheels -- had proven incapable of actually extinguishing fires. In earlier days, putting out a fire was never feasible, the goal of the fire department was to stop a fire from spreading by wetting down the surrounding buildings. But technology had advanced by the 1870s and a series of devastating downtown fires prompted the town to take action. A beautiful steam engine was purchased from the Amoskeag Company in Manchester at a cost of $4,400.00.

To support such an advanced piece of equipment, several things were needed – specifically horses to pull the heavy thing and an engine house to protect it. The horses were hired from a local livery stable and the engine, quickly named the “Eagle,” was temporarily housed on Clifford Street, conveniently near the horses. But it was recognized that this was a temporary solution. The new engine would need a new engine house – one that could eventually accommodate a pair of horses and new electrical alarm systems. The town meeting had decided that “the matter of providing a building for the new fire apparatus was left with the committee appointed at a previous meeting, to select a location and erect or otherwise provide a suitable building for the purpose.”

Uh, oh. Sure, it’s possible to set up a committee and get things done, but as we all know, committees are comprised of people who have varying agendas, and Exeter in 1873 had some big issues involved in the erection of a new engine house. The first problem was that of location. The obvious place for the engine would be the center of town – at that time recognized as near the central commercial district on Water Street. The major fires of the 1870s had all occurred in this part of town. But factories had been springing up in the western part of town near the B&M depot on Lincoln Street. This part of town suffered from a chronic lack of water and slow response times. Meanwhile, the Eagle proved its worth in August when Michael Murphy’s barn on Portsmouth Avenue caught fire. “The new steam fire engine was first at the scene and prove its power and usefulness,” noted the Exeter News-Letter, “The fire was soon extinguished, with slight loss.” Having proved that the horses provided the speed necessary, perhaps a downtown engine house could serve the entire town.

A special town meeting was called in October of 1873. The committee proposed building a two-story brick building on the Clifford Street site. To achieve this, they would require $3,000.00 more than the original appropriation. Unfortunately, the timing of the meeting couldn’t have been worse. The economic panic of 1873, which ushered in a period known as the ‘Long Depression’ lasting until 1879, hit during the same month. Skittish taxpayers, led by Jarvis McDuffie, balked at the extra costs. The News-Letter reported, “McDuffie opposed the adoption of the resolution on the ground that the appropriation already made was sufficient for the purpose, and the present high rate of taxation in the town and the threatening approach of hard times demanded the greatest economy. A lively discussion followed, which resulted in the rejection of the resolution.” ‘Lively discussion’ is another way of saying ‘loud shouting and fighting.’ It must have been an exciting meeting to say the least. Plans for the new engine house were tabled until everyone could cool down. It took almost an entire year for another town meeting to address the issue and in September of 1874, a new committee was appointed.

The men of Exeter met a week later to vote on the conclusions of the committee. A new, inexpensive wooden engine house would be built on the corner of Lincoln and Middle streets on land leased from the B&M railroad. The Clifford Street land owned by the town would be sold and the proceeds used to help finance the brick steam engine house on Water street on land leased from the Exeter Manufacturing Company. The resolution easily passed and ground was broken for the Water Street engine house within weeks.

Although barely mentioned in the two decades following its erection, the Exeter News-Letter saw fit to brag about the engine house in August of 1894: “Few Exeter organizations are so pleasantly housed as are the members of the Eagle Steamer company. A spacious hall occupies the greater portion of the second floor of the steamer house, and is in daily use by the members of the company and their occasional guests as a place of social enjoyment. It is comfortably furnished, and contains a pool table.” Water Street was the perfect location for the steamer company, but as firefighting equipment became motorized in the early 19th century, the sharp turn onto a main street became problematic. The Eagle was dispatched to its final fire in 1928. Sometime in the 1940s it was sold to collector James Filleul along with two other old Exeter engines, the 1835 Piscataqua and Fountain No. 1. In 1961, after Filleul’s death, the engines were returned to the town. A 1991 overhaul of the Eagle made the old steam engine functional again and it has made public appearances in town ever since.

The Eagle Steamer house on Water Street was sold in 1950 to Western Auto Associates, which installed a store front covering the old barn doors. Recent renovations have returned the building to its former appearance and there can be no confusion about its original purpose. The Steamer House has returned.

Image: The Eagle Steamer House on Water Street in the 1920s.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Scottish Prisoners in Exeter

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, July 13, 2007. 

“Hello, I’m looking for the burial site of Alexander Gordon.” This frequent phone query sometimes makes me want to record the following message on our answering machine: “You have reached the Exeter Historical Society, we are open for genealogical research but we do not know where Alexander Gordon is buried.”

Alexander Gordon was the first Gordon to come to America and I realize that it is important for his genealogically curious descendants to want to find his final resting place. It’s just that we really don’t know exactly where he is buried. The best we can do is direct them to the Perkins Hill Cemetery, formerly the Gordon Hill Cemetery, and reassure them that Alexander Gordon’s son, Thomas, left his entire estate including, “half an acre of land to be reserved for a Burying place” to his own sons. As he had inherited the land from his father, it is more than likely that somewhere on the hill is the final resting place of Alexander Gordon. If it is, then Perkins Hill is the setting for the final chapter of a very exciting biography.

There was very little immigration from Scotland to New England in the early 1600s. The Scots were usually Presbyterians who tended to clash with New England Puritans. They also didn’t speak English, they spoke a form of Highland Gaelic, which may surprise many people today. During the volatile period of the English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell’s forces attacked Scotland not once but twice, both resulting in crushing Scottish defeats. At both the battles of Dunbar, in 1650, and Worcester, in 1651, thousands of very young Scotsmen were marched to England as prisoners of war. Most of them were in their teens and early twenties and it would have been dangerous to allow them to return to Scotland after the war ended. Angry young men tend to hold a grudge. The decision was made to sell the able-bodied into servitude in the colonies.

Fifteen year old Alexander Gordon was caught up in the conflict. Marched miserably to London to await transportation, he survived the cold and near starvation long enough to win a miserable three to four month cruise on an overcrowded fetid slave ship bound for the wilderness of America. Upon arrival in Massachusetts, he was sold for between 15 – 30 pounds for six years unpaid service. Americans were quite used to the systems of slavery and indentured servitude, but the Scotsmen were not. They tried, unsuccessfully, to use the colonial legal system to shorten their terms of service. Gordon himself filed suit in 1654 against John Cloyce, claiming he had been defrauded. Most of these cases were dismissed. After his attempt to manipulate the legal system, Gordon disappears from the record only to reappear in 1664 in Exeter, New Hampshire. There we find him working at the saw mill of Nicholas Lissen on the Exeter River. 

Lissen, an Englishman by birth, seems to have preferred the company of Scottish prisoners of war. He hired, or perhaps bought indentures of, at least three of them: Gordon, John McBean, and Henry Magoon. Conveniently, Lissen had three daughters and one after another they married the Scotsmen. Hannah married John Bean (he dropped the “Mc”) in 1654, Elizabeth and Henry Magoon were wed in 1657, and Mary hooked up with Alexander Gordon in 1663. One way to escape servitude, apparently, was to marry the owner’s daughter. All three men became landowners and partners in the saw mill. Another former prisoner in Exeter was John Sinkler, who worked in a saw mill on the other side of town.

The Scotsmen who came to Exeter all stayed and became equal citizens. According to Diane Rapaport, a writer on the subject, “There is little evidence that any of the men went back to Scotland” after they’d served their time. “What happened to the Scotsmen at that point varied greatly, depending upon who had owned them and where, whether they could read or write, and how well they could speak English.” The Lissen sisters must have been good teachers, because not only are there still a lot of Beans and Magoons living in New England, the Gordon Family returns to Exeter with some regularity to visit the spot where Alexander might be buried.

Image: The densely forested Piscataqua region of New Hampshire and Maine (depicted here in the 1670s) created a need for labor at the saw mills. Local mill owners were more than willing to purchase Scottish prisoners, who would then work off an indenture of 6-8 years with no compensation. Descendants of these prisoners still live in the region.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Brewitt’s Funeral Home – 100th Anniversary

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, August 15, 2014.

In the spring of 1963, Carl and Richard Brewitt donated an ambulance to the town of Exeter. The gift made it possible for the town to begin offering emergency medical services to the general public, which had not been available before. That it came from the owners of a successful local funeral home didn’t seem weird at all.

Thomas Brewitt, the founder of Brewitt Funeral Home, had purchased the business in 1914 when it was a furniture and undertaking business in Epping. In the nineteenth century it wasn’t unusual for a furniture business to have an undertaking department. Caskets were, after all, produced by the same cabinetmakers who made tables, chairs and beds. In one of his early advertisements, Brewitt assured the public, “Having purchased the Furniture and Undertaking business formerly conducted by C.W. Chesley, I shall continue the business and am prepared to serve you. Thomas Brewitt, Undertaker and Embalmer. Telephone at store and residence – Lady Assistant.” Although Brewitt was serving a utilitarian role, it is clear he understood that this particular line of work required a level of comfort that, say, an appliance business would not. Having a ‘lady assistant’ answering the telephone most likely helped. In 1930, he expanded his business into Exeter. By this time, words like ‘undertaker’ and ‘embalming’ were no longer used, replaced instead with the use of ‘funeral services.’

When Brewitt brought the business to Exeter, he expanded his services. No longer tied to the furniture trade, his new advertising announced, “We are prepared to serve the people of Exeter and vicinity when in need of Funeral and Ambulance service.” Say what? To understand why the business took this seemingly odd turn, it’s important to understand how medical services functioned in the early part of the twentieth century.

Today if someone becomes suddenly ill or is injured, our first call is 9-1-1 to get immediate help. But this is a relatively new experience. In earlier times, when there were no emergency departments in hospitals, the first call would be directly to a doctor – if one could be found. Think of every old movie you’ve seen on cable, the cry of “Somebody call a doctor!” is heard instead of “call an ambulance!” Sure, some large cities might have had a hospital big enough to have an ambulance, but most small towns – including Exeter – had no such service. If you managed to get Timmy out of the well, you either tossed him in the backseat of the car and drove him to the doctor’s office, or you put him to bed and waited for the doctor to come to you. In fact, more effort was expended by local police and fire departments to get the doctor to a patient than to get the patient to the doctor. There seemed to be little need of an ambulance in the days of home care.

Exeter Hospital opened in 1897 and had the services patients required once they were there, but not the ability to get the patient to the hospital. There wasn’t even an emergency department until 1960. Before ambulance service, if someone needed to be transported due to illness or injury, the only vehicle in town that was long enough to move a supine person (other than, perhaps a delivery truck) was, you guessed it, a hearse. This wasn’t unique to Exeter. Across the nation the need for patient transportation had provided local funeral homes with the opportunity to provide ambulance services. Although funeral work is always needed, it wasn’t always particularly steady. Sending the ambulance – which was frequently the converted old hearse with an emergency light on top – filled the time and brought in a small income.

Brewitt Funeral Home, like other funeral homes, provided no-frills ambulance services. The patient was simply given a ride to the hospital in the most comfortable manner available. Of course, there was no expectation of anything further. The only place severely injured patients received pre-hospital treatment was on the battlefield. A 1966 report commissioned by the Johnson administration titled, “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society” concluded that for victims of automobile accidents, “chances of survival would be better in the zone of combat than a city street.” The report is largely credited with the creation of emergency medical services as we know it today.

Tom Brewitt, who currently owns Brewitt Funeral Home along with his brother, John, recalls that the ambulance responded all over Rockingham County, but didn’t bring in much income. People paid what they could and the Brewitts weren’t inclined to aggressively collect outstanding ambulance bills. When the service was turned over to the town, new regulations were enacted, which limited use to the confines of Exeter except in extreme emergencies and, “calls for the ambulance must be initiated by a doctor, the state, or county or local police.” Townspeople were reminded “Chief Toland urges all citizens placing phone calls through the operator to make sure it is specified whether it is a fire or ambulance emergency,” to avoid sending the wrong vehicle.

Ambulance services offered by funeral homes played an important role in the development of modern emergency medical care. They provided a bridge between the days of home care and hospital-based emergency care that we have come to expect today. Brewitt Funeral Home has expanded to three locations in Epping, Exeter and Raymond during its 100 years in business. The current owners are the third generation to operate locally and there will most likely be another generation to carry on the business in years to come.

Photo: On April 1, 1963 the Brewitt Funeral Home ceased operations of its ambulance service by officially donating the 1962 Cadillac ambulance to the Exeter Fire Department. Seen here (L – R), Selectmen Dean Thorp and Thomas Cronshaw, Carl Brewitt, Fire Chief Vincent Toland and Town Manager Elton O. Feeney.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Robinson Seminary Alumnae Association

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, August 1, 2014.

On August 9th, a group of about fifty women will get together for lunch in Exeter to reminisce about a school that has been closed for nearly sixty years. The 124th annual meeting of the Robinson Female Seminary Alumnae Association has plenty to talk about. Memories of the school have not dimmed since the last class graduated in 1955.

The first class graduated in 1870, and the first Alumnae event appears to have taken place shortly thereafter. By 1890, when the Robinson Seminary Alumnae Association wrote their constitution, members were already celebrating the third “Quinquennial,” or an event held every five years. From the onset, the women of Robinson realized that their school was unique.

Created in 1867 from funds donated to the Town of Exeter by William Robinson, the all-girls school was an unusual academic institute in an era when most girls attended finishing school. Robinson, who was born in Exeter, earned his fortune in the cotton business in Georgia. His thoughts on education for women were included in the will, “In my poor opinion there is altogether too much partaking of the fancy in the education that females obtain, and I would most respectfully suggest such a course of instruction as will tend to make female scholars equal to all the practical duties of life; such a course of education as will enable them to compete, and successfully too, with their brothers throughout the world, when they have to take their part in the actual of life.”

Robinson’s mother had been widowed at an early age, and it may have been her struggle to support the family that inspired him to donate funds to the town. Whatever his motivations may have been, William Robinson’s bequest made Exeter’s public high school system quite different from most towns’.

At the 1890 meeting of the Robinson Alumnae, they decided to create a typical organizational structure – a constitution was written and officers were elected. The purpose of the group, as stated in the constitution, was to “encourage social intercourse among its members, and to promote interest in the Seminary.” Today we often look down on ‘social’ clubs, as though they have no real purpose except gossip. But what among our current circles are not, at the core, social groups? We may meet with a great purpose – to raise funds, promote scholarship, provide service or raise awareness – but it wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t actually hold meetings and chat. If anything, we sometimes decry the lack of pure socialization in our lives now that we have so much computer based ‘interaction.’ Perhaps the Robinson ladies were on to something.

Meetings of the membership were held annually and a more lavish event would be held every five years, on the Quinquennial – a phrase that needs resurrecting along with pure social clubs. In 1895, the Quinquennial Reunion was held in the gymnasium of the Seminary with one hundred twenty-five members in attendance. There is no mention in the minutes of guests, so it appears that spouses were not part of the event. The ladies ate well – seven courses and coffee were served to the hungry crowd. Each course had a variety of options, the ‘cold meats’ course alone had four options, two of which, Dressed Cucumbers and Dressed Tomatoes weren’t even meat. Considering how much we fuss over food restrictions today, we might want to duplicate a festive luncheon such as this one. No one would have gone home hungry when the options include a variety as wide as roast turkey, cold tongue, cold ham, lobster salad, chicken croquettes and hot mashed potatoes. Heck, I would have gone just for the cakes: white mountain, macaroons, sponge drops, fancy cakes and kisses. Sign me up.

After luncheon, there were several welcoming speeches and a series of toasts, which were a tradition with the group. They toasted the school, the town of Exeter, the “old teachers,” who probably appreciated being referred to in that way, the Alumnae and the faculty. All these presumably with lemonade, because Exeter was a dry town at the time. There was an address, given by Miss Mabel S. Emery, class of 1876, on “What shall a woman do with her education?” followed by an ode to Phillips Exeter Academy by Miss Blanche J. Conner. The Robinson Seminary ladies felt a close bond of friendship to PEA, due to William Robinson’s association with the school. This left the beleaguered Tuck High School boys feeling somewhat left out, no doubt.

Over the years, the Robinson Seminary Alumnae Association has continued to meet. Dues collection at meetings was mandatory until recently and the funds raised were used for many purposes including scholarships. In 2003, Lincoln Street School, which stands on the Seminary grounds, was expanding the playground and the teachers felt the Seminary needed a better memorial .The Alumnae Association raised funds by selling commemorative paving bricks. The resultant memorial garden, now beautifully maintained by the Exeter Parks and Recreation Department, is a fitting reminder of the graduates of the elegant school. Visiting the site, you almost feel the need to wear white gloves and a breezy summer hat. If you find yourself passing through – maybe on the way to a ball game – take a moment to toast the ladies of the Robinson Female Seminary. They’ll be meeting next week to carry on the tradition.

Image: The ladies of the Robinson Seminary Alumnae Association gather for the 1965 Quinquennial Reunion under the tent at the Exeter Inn.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The new Exeter History Minute - The Mysterious Gravesite in the Woods

Have you ever stumbled across a mystery in the woods? Many Exeter natives -- and some who are just passing through -- have found a lone gravesite in the Phillips Exeter Academy woods. Tune in -- click here to watch -- to hear Barbara tell the story behind the grave of Susannah Holman Brown. This history minute is generously sponsored by Phillips Exeter Academy.