Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Furnace is Down!

The Historical Society's furnace ceased functioning on December 28th, so the Society will be closed for the next couple of weeks while the furnace is being replaced. Our January program, The History of the Wentworth, will be held at the Baptist Church on Wednesday, January 5th, at 7:30pm. You can reach us by email: We thank you, in advance, for your patience with us during this process.

Here are a few photos of our progress:

Removing the furnace.

Thank you for all of the hard work!

The remains of the furnace...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Kingston Stowaways

The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the December 24th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

by Barbara Rimkunas

In June of 1896, Albert and Lucy Tyler set out from Exeter for a trip west. The two had been married just over two years earlier and must have been looking for a bit of adventure. The trip would not turn out exactly as expected, although it definitely did become an “adventure” and they would justly earn their 15 minutes of fame.

The trip appears to have begun as a pleasure excursion. The Exeter Gazette, a rival of the Exeter News-Letter, noted that they set out from Kingston, “in a pneumatic run-about wagon, drawn by a horse, Peter. At Des Moines, Iowa, they purchased another horse and then made the rest of the trip to the Pacific with two horses. They were nine days on the Great American desert, and arrived at Los Angelos, Cal., after being on the road just 180 days.” A “run-about” was a small lightweight carriage. It was the favored type of transportation for doctors and fire chiefs because it could be pulled by a single horse and hitched up quickly. With air-filled tires, it was well-suited to town and city roads that were well maintained. But it was hardly the type of transportation one might take on a long arduous cross-country trip. It had neither fenders nor heavy tops to weigh it down and little space for luggage.

The two lingered in California for a while before heading to Seattle. It may have been the lure of gold that brought them north. Gold had been discovered in Alaska and the Yukon River basin in Canada while the Tylers were making their trip and 1897 would prove to be the summer of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Albert and Lucy were nearly there, but their finances had mostly run out. Albert had tried to support them by “trade” – perhaps dealing in merchandise as his father, Rolla Tyler, of Exeter, did back home, but it wasn’t enough. The Gazette reported that the couple found themselves, “living in a tent near the corner of Second Avenue and Virginia Street.” At this point, they decided they had to get out of Seattle one way or another and hatched a plan to get out. Mr. Tyler would later tell a railroad official that, “little obstacles to a pleasure trip across the country like those they had just encountered, did not discourage them, and that sooner or later they would go out of Seattle.” And so, they determined to head back east to Boston.

“Being without funds,“ the Gazette continued, “they hit upon the scheme of getting a piano box and fitting it out for a transcontinental trip to the bean-eating town.” An upright piano box would have been three feet deep, five feet tall and six feet long. Not roomy by any stretch of the imagination, but they weren’t planning to spend too much time actually in the box. “One side of the box was fixed so that the boards could be removed and thus allow exit. The plan was to open up the box, once on the road, and then enjoy the freedom of the car,” noted the Gazette.

Unfortunately, once they had packed themselves inside, the freight wagon delivered them to the rail station 15 minutes after the train left. The box was moved to storage where someone began to hear noises from within. Opening the top, a woman’s voice piped up and said “Hello!” “Freight Agent Allen could hardly believe his ears. He looked down into the box and discovered that the salutation came from a little woman clad only in her night gown. Further inspection revealed also a man clad in abbreviated costume. The remainder of the box was taken up with a supply of provisions, including apples, crackers, figs, bread, onions and water. The human freight was not shipped.”

Because they hadn’t actually been taken on the train, Albert and Lucy hadn’t broken any laws. Albert produced his marriage certificate as proof of their identity and they were apparently free to go. They called an express wagon, packed up their supplies and, “as they went away from the station the man waived his hand derisively toward the railroad people saying: ‘Ta, ta, I’ll see you in the Klondyke!’” perhaps to throw them off his track.

But the railroad got its revenge on Albert and Lucy, releasing the story to the newspapers. It hit the wires and was picked up by the Boston Journal, which quickly relayed the story to Exeter. When the couple finally arrived in Exeter a few weeks later – by train, no less – they were embarrassed to find themselves a media sensation. The Gazette caught up with them and asked about the incident. “This story they both deny, and say that the parties who made the attempt, were caught and gave their names, thus making it appear as if it was Mr. and Mrs. Tyler, when in fact, it was not.” But the News-Letter gave them no such denial, stating only, “Mr. and Mrs. Albert Tyler, whose attempt to ship themselves east from Seattle, Wash., in a piano box, was a recent sensation, are now at Mrs. Tyler’s old home in Kingston.” And with that, their brush with fame ended.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the December 10th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

by Barbara Rimkunas

“Mom, I don’t feel good.”

These are the most dreaded words a parent can hear first thing in the morning. The day’s plans are shot, the school has to be notified, possibly a doctor’s appointment has to be made and met, maybe a workplace has to be called, coverage found, ginger ale purchased and always the potential threat looms that any other children in the family might be similarly afflicted within a few hours or days.

But except for a few rare cases, most of the time our main concern is all the inconvenience. Kids get sick. Kids get better. We take for granted this usual progression of illness. A century ago it wasn’t quite so simple. For one thing, your child was likely to come home from school with something a lot worse than a stomach bug.

In 1900, the main childhood killers were infectious diseases such as scarlet fever, measles, diphtheria and whooping cough. All of these are highly contagious and would spread like a wild fire through classrooms. There were no vaccines and no effective treatments besides supportive care. The only tried and true way to prevent an epidemic was quarantine.

By the late 1880s, most states, including New Hampshire, had created a board of health. Regulations were enacted to close down ports if cholera was detected. Sanitation systems were improved to create cleaner streets and safer drinking water. And procedures were developed to make some illnesses “reportable.” Local doctors were required to report and, if necessary, isolate any suspected cases of these illnesses.

The New Hampshire quarantine regulations from 1916 included the entire family of a sick child: “When a child is sick and suspected of having a contagious disease, other children in the family must not attend school until they produce a certificate from a respectable physician that there will be no danger of their communicating the disease to other pupils.” A sign was placed on the family’s house notifying everyone of the quarantine.

Usually, the father would escape to stay with a neighbor or other family member. His income was too important to lose because of a child’s illness. But if both mother and father were employed – and in Exeter many families had both parents working in the factories – quarantine created a financial hardship. And the quarantine period was very long. Today if your child misses three days of school it’s considered unusual. The 1916 regulations required – at minimum – a 15 day quarantine for measles and chicken pox and up to six weeks for scarlet fever and whooping cough. Why all the fuss? The following account from the Exeter News-Letter in January of 1901 illustrates the difficulties and tragic outcomes that could happen. In this case, a teacher was the first to notice that one of her pupils had missed a number of days of class:

“Miss Annie l. Davis, teacher of the Prospect hill primary noted her absence on Monday, and on inquiry of her scholars was told that she had the measles. Miss Davis promptly notified the school board, and that in turn the board of health. Dr Nute made an immediate investigation Monday afternoon, having almost to force his way into the tenement. The girl, who the father declared was not very sick, was found by Dr. Nute to have not measles, but scarlet fever in pronounced form. He promptly quarantined the house, and gave the requisite instructions to its occupants, the men being unreasonable and hard to deal with. An hour later Dr. Nute had occasion to revisit the neighborhood, and found one of the children at a neighbor’s and other violations of the quarantine. The board of health consequently invoked police aid.”

The police placed a watch on the house and the entire neighborhood, but it was too late. The children next door quickly developed symptoms and their mother and older sister, who worked in the household of Phillips Exeter Academy professor John Kirtland, brought scarlet fever into his home. The professor and his three sons developed the disease and became gravely ill. The two younger boys, aged 10 months and 3 years, both died within a week of one another.

This particular episode took place before quarantine rules were well-known among the general public and it is of note that the violators were all recent Polish immigrants who were unschooled in the newfangled rules of public health. The News-Letter’s article was meant as a cautionary tale, as the account of the events was preceded by a notice from the school board; “Even if new cases, already contracted, should develop, the teachers are on the watch for any symptoms of illness and will promptly report any case at its earliest stage.”

Parents were under advisement that the children’s health was being monitored. Sick children were reported and children who missed school were investigated. As restrictive and financially devastating as quarantine could be, there was too much at stake.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Plupy's Thanksgiving

Since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, we thought we'd share this chapter about the holiday in Exeter from Henry A. Shute's Plupy: "The Real Boy".

It was a custom in those days which I am glad to say is practically obsolete to-day, at least in Exeter, for the children of the lower classes to spend the early hours of the night before Thanksgiving in going about the town begging for Thanksgiving supplies. The housewife of the well-to-do class would be called to the door and would find there a boy or girl who would greet her with the time honored request, “please gimme suthin’ for Thanksgiving’.” Sometimes a few kindly questions would elicit sufficient information to convince the good woman that it would be a real charity to case a little bread on the waters, and the ordinary result was that the small beggar went away well laden with goodies. Again a severe cross-examination would frequently end in the headlong flight of the mendicant and his shrill yells of derision when at a safe distance.

This custom was regarded rather tolerantly by the good people of Exeter, and was not looked upon strictly as begging by those who regularly indulged in it, but rather as a fascinating game of chance. Indeed it was by no means an uncommon thing for children of the better classes to yield to its fascinations and, evading the vigilance of their maternal guardians, to solicit alms with a persistence that in any good cause would have been most praiseworthy, and a fertility of prevarication that was appalling.

With these shining examples in mind it was not surprising that our young friends became interested in any project affording the alluring alternative of excitement and probable gain. And so one rainy afternoon when they gathered in Fatty’s barn and had exhausted the possibilities of “rassling,” “knocking off hats,” “punching,” and that most delightful pastime known as “pilin’ on,” in which when one of two wrestler was squarely thrown and was recumbent under the body of the victor, any boy present could by throwing himself on the bodies of the fallen and yelling, “pile on, pile on,” at once produce a confused mound on squirming, shouting, struggling boys, whose combined weight crushed the unfortunate victim almost flat, that the conversation turned to the delightful subject of Thanksgiving dainties.

“Do you know what Fatty Melcher did last year?” continued Beany. “He and Pewt went begging and they dressed up in old clothes and they got a lot of cookies and a whole mince pie and a half of a squash pie and a big turnover and they went down back of Fatty’s father’s shop and et it all.”

“Gosh,” again exclaimed the boys as the same idea struck them simultraneously, “less we fellers go.”

“What if they ketch us?” demanded Plupy anxiously.

“Twont do any hurt,” said Bug, “everybody expects somebody round begging night before Thanksgiving, and they don’t care much who it is.”

“My father would lam the stuffing out of us fellers if he should find it out,” said Whack.

“Fatty can’t,” said Beany, “because everybody wouldn’t know him.”

“I won’t do it,” said Billy Swett with decision.

“Then ‘twill have to be Pewt or Beany or Plupy.”

“I won’t unless Pewt does too,” announced Beany decidedly.

“I’ll tell you what,” said Fatty. “Pewt and Beany and Plupy can go Wednesday night. Thanksgiving comes Thursday and we will meet here Wednesday night and eat what they get.”

“Aw now,” scoffed Beany. “I guess you fellers think you are pretty smart to get us to take the risk and do the work and then help us eat it up. I guess not much, Fatty.”

“Oh come now,” said Whack. “What is the use of your being so mean about it? They will know Fatty every time, he is so fat, and they will know he don’t need nothin’. If my father hadn’t said he would lick us if he ever heard of our going out begging we would do it. Your father hasn’t never said he would lick you for it Plupy, has he? Or yours neither Pewt, or yours, Beany.”

The boys addressed admitted that no such injunction had been laid on them, but sagely opined that paternal relations might be a trifle strained in the event of their detection, whereupon the other boys loudly reassured them.

“Course your father wouldn’t be mean enough to lick you when they hadn’t never told you not to do it,” asserted Pile Wood. “I tell you, Whack,” said Fatty, in audible tones aside to that gentleman. “It takes a pile of pluck to do it. Plupy and Beany and Pewt is jest the fellers to do it.”

“Aw come on now, Plupy,” said Bug, “jest think what fun it will be. You can lie so good too,” he continued.

“Huh,” said Plupy, plainly pleased at the flattering words. “I can’t lie so good as Pewt. He can lie jest bully, and Beany can too.”

And so after much urging and specious flattery, the three worthies, Plupy, Beany and Pewt were persuaded to undertake the task, upon the other boys’ promise to go with them and hang round in the neighborhood of the houses they were to favor with their patronage. This latter arrangement was a suggestion of Fatty’s, who evidently distrusted the generosity of the three in an impartial division of the spoil.

The agreement so pleased that luxurious youth that in order to show his appreciation of their noble conduct, he tip-towed into the kitchen and in the absence of the cook successfully raided the pantry and brought away a squash pie and about a peck of doughnuts stuffed into his pockets, which he distributed with the utmost impartiality.

The next Wednesday evening just after supper the boys met as per agreement at Fatty’s barn and arranged for a plan of the campaign. It was deemed advisable that the initial demand should be made at the house of one William Morrill, a most worthy and kindhearted citizen, whose only failing was a belief that every man, and in fact every boy, was as honest as he.

Straws were drawn for first chance and Plupy, always unlucky in games of chance, drew the shortest straw, and in high spirits the boys shinned over the fence and out through Elm to Court street, where the old gentleman lived with his sister, old Mother Moulton, the best natured, talkative old soul in the town.

Plupy, urged on by his friends, approached the door with much diffidence, and in answer to his timid knock the door opened and disclosed the ample figure and wrinkled face of the old lady, peering at him through her iron rimmed spectacles.

“Please gimme suthin’ fer Thanksgiving?” stammered Plupy, pulling his hat down over his eyes, while a row of heads peered over the board fence of the school house yard, awaiting with much anxiety the result of negotiations.

“Why, bless your soul, you poor little boy. Come in, come right in,” said the kind old lady, vigorously hooking the dismayed Plupy, who tried to escape, into the room.

“Now, my poor boy, tell me all about it,” she continued, “and take off your hat, it isn’t polite to keep your hat on in the house, didn’t you know that?”

Thus urged, the desperate Plupy shamefacedly removed his hat, and as he was perfectly well known to the old lady, she instantly recognized him.

“Sakes alive, Harry Shute, if it ain’t you. What in the world are you up to such doin’s as this for?” she demanded sternly.

Now if Plupy had told her frankly she would have laughed and let him go, but abashed at his position and somewhat terrified at her sternness, he unfortunately tried to lie out of it.

“We ain’t goin’ to have any Thanksgiving at our house,” he said sadly. “We ain’t goin’ to have no turkey, nor mince pie, nor nothin’.”

“For massy sakes, child, what is the matter? Is anyone sick,” snapped the old lady, on fire with philanthropic zeal.

“No marm,” said Plupy, with a sigh, “nobody is sick, but father has lost his place in the Custom House, and we can’t afford any turkey.”

“What, George Shute lost his place, and with a wife and seven children to support! I don’t wonder you feel pretty bad about it. Does your mother know you are begging?”

“No marm, she wouldn’t like it, but I thought if I could get a nice chicken or a nice mince pie, I could leave it in the pantry, and perhaps she might think she had made it.”

“Well, Harry Shute, I allus did think you was no-account sort of boy, but you have got a kind heart, a kind heart,” quavered the old lady, wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron. “I’m going right straight down to your house and see your poor dear mother,” she continued, greatly to Plupy’s discomfiture, who knew that interesting developments would result from her visit.

“I don’t believe mother could see you to-night for she went to bed with a awful headache,” said Plupy, lying desperately and shamelessly.

“Well, well, well,” said the old lady, “they are going to have an awful hard time now. Hum, hum,” she continued as she packed two mince pies nearly in paper, and filled a paper bag with cookies, and urged them upon the shrinking Plupy, as with many kind words of encouragement she led him out and closed the door behind him, and returning for her shawl and bonnet, made a hurried round of visits through the neighborhood, freely imparting the information that George Shute had lost his place in the Boston Common House, and what he would do to support a wife and seven children she for her part couldn’t imagine, and what was going to become of them all she didn’t for the life ‘o her know.

Upon his return to the boys, Plupy was greatly troubled over the magnitude of his lies, but the reassuring flattery of the boys and the appetizing smell of the provender soon put him at his ease.

Pewt having drawn the middle straw next applied at the house of George Smith on Elliott street. Unfortunately Pewt was of so ambitious a nature as to desire above all things to tell a bigger story than Plupy had, and as he was not recognized by Mrs. Smith he began to pour out a pitiful story of how his father and two sisters were down with the small pox, and was elaborating further and harrowing particulars, when he was told to leave or she would have him arrested, the door was slammed in his face with great violence, and a few minutes later a wild-eyed woman with a shawl over her head was acquainting the neighborhood that small pox of the most virulent type had broken out in town and they were all likely to take it before the week was over, and that everybody must take belladonna and fumigate their houses at once, and what would happen next she for her part didn’t know.

The boys were somewhat depressed at the barren results of Pewt’s first trial, but at the next place, Mr. John Kelley’s, having concocted an equally pitiful but less dangerous recital of a poor father dying with consumption, he so excited the kind hearted hostess that he came away with a whole roast chicken and an apple pie.

It was now Beany’s turn and at the first place he applied he invented a wholly original story. As he was not recognized, he took the opportunity of representing himself as the son of a beloved pastor of the Second Congregational Church, and to disarm suspicion, further informed her with engaging frankness that his father had not been paid any salary since May, and that they couldn’t have any Thanksgiving.

Now as this good woman was an ardent supporter of the First Church of the same denomination, and inasmuch as veiled but bitter rivalry had for years existed between the two churches, she lost no time after she had dismissed “the pastor’s little son” laden with good things, in putting on her shawl and acquainting the prominent members of the church that the pastor of the Second Church was actually in need of the necessities of life, that his salary hadn’t been paid for a year, and that for her part she should think that people who held their heads so high as the Second Church people had better pay their minister. That she always thought they were upstarts and that now she knew it.

Now while the boys, affluent in dainties, were hugely enjoying their feast in the rear of Fatty’s barn, the most sinister rumors were flying through the little town, to the effect that George Shute had lost his place in the Boston Custom House under very suspicious circumstances, that several cases of small pox had been discovered and that one or two deaths had already occurred; and of the extremely humiliating position in which the pastor of the Second Church was placed by the inability of the parish to meet the demands upon it.

Three such disquieting rumors were sufficient to stir the whole community to a boiling heat, and great was the amazement of Plupy’s father the next day at receiving many visits of condolence from his friends, all of whom had already sent in written applications for the supposedly vacant office.

And great was the annoyance of the pastor of the Second Church a most independent and high minded gentleman, at receiving many donations and offers of financial aid from members of the alien congregation.

But the feelings of the harassed and much abused slectmen after spending the early hours of the forenoon in trying vainly to locate the infected district, and to suitably fumigate and effectually quarantine the same, were beyond language vitriolic enough for adequate expression.

Indeed for a long time the source of the information was unknown, but the promised visit of good Mother Moulton gave the first clue to the elder Shute, who promptly acting on this clue elicited from the terrified Plupy sufficient information to implicate Pewt and Beany and they with their respective fathers were promptly summoned to a conference, at which the full nature of their atrocious doings were divulged.

It is doubtful if those three miscreants ever spent a more unhappy day. That they lost their Thanksgiving dinner, which they had for weeks looked forward to was bad enough, but to be obliged to spend the greater part of that day accompanied by irate parents, in making reiterated apologies and explanations to their victims and the friends to whom they had imparted the information gained, was bitterness itself, and the sound and deserved thrashings they each and everyone received formed the culminating tragedy of a sorrowful and memorable day.

And as the three fathers, weary but triumphant, separated after their energetic search for the truth, they repeated to each other the familiar and oft quoted words, “Did you ever see such cussed boys?”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving Before Lincoln

The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the November 26th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

by Barbara Rimkunas

We don’t know when Thanksgiving really got started in Exeter. Generations of Native Americans lived here long before written language began creating a reliable record. There were probably days set aside to acknowledge the bounty of the harvest, and these were most likely joyous.

Thanksgiving didn’t officially become a fixed holiday until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln placed it on the fourth Thursday in November. Before that time, individual states got to decide when it would be observed. The basic traditions of Thanksgiving, like the food served, haven’t changed much over the years. Elizabeth Dow Leonard, when writing about her Exeter childhood in the early 1800s, recalled, “A Thanksgiving dinner of the olden time baffles description. It was anticipated for weeks, and preparations for it were on a scale of stupendous magnitude. Such choppings and poundings and apple parings and raisin stoning as were heard throughout the length and breadth of the land were never known on any other occasion. Such havoc among fowl and stalled oxen, such exhibitions of every kind of pastry that the soul of woman ever conceived!“

The feast was the task of women. Except for possibly applying a hatchet to the neck of the unfortunate turkey, the menfolk did what they did best in the kitchen – basically nothing. While the women were hard at it for a week in advance, their husbands and sons simply waited until the big day when, to their minds, food fell from the sky onto their plates. This probably explains why it was so difficult to find any accounts about the day in the early editions of the Exeter News-Letter. Aside from cookbooks and a few memoirs written by women, the preparations are wholly unregarded. Elizabeth Leonard dryly commented that after this, or any other feast, the men, “when they had taken a sufficient quantity of wine, paid us with some complimentary toast, spiced according to the number of glasses drunk.” Thanks, honey.

In earlier times, Thanksgiving Day was preceded by “begging night”. Henry Shute grew up in town in the 1860s. He remembered, “It was a custom in those days which I am glad to say is practically obsolete today, at least in Exeter, for the children of the lower classes to spend the early hours of the night before Thanksgiving in going about the town begging for Thanksgiving supplies. The housewife of the well-to-do class would be called to the door and would find there a boy or girl who would greet her with the time honored request, ‘please gimme suthin’ for Thanksgivin’.”

In Elizabeth Leonard’s day, the practice was heartily accepted, although she did describe it as “a carnival to the giver and the recipient.” It was viewed as an extension of the holiday and, “flour, sugar, fowls and money were freely given, and to the better class of the poor, pies and other luxuries were sent, so that when we sat down to our own abundant table, we felt we had contributed to help every poor person’s table in town who would accept our offerings. People who never asked charity at other times were not ashamed to ask and receive from the abundance of God’s Harvest at Thanksgiving.” Preparing for the onslaught of the petitioners could be quite a task. She recalled, “I have known my poor mother to make seventy pies to eat and give away!”

Fifty years later, begging night still persisted, although there was some cheating going on. Henry Shute commented, “This custom was regarded rather tolerantly by the good people of Exeter, and was not looked upon strictly as begging by those who regularly indulged in it, but rather as a fascinating game of chance. Indeed it was by no means an uncommon thing for children of the better classes to yield to its fascinations and, evading the vigilance of their maternal guardians, to solicit alms with a persistence that in any good cause would have been most praiseworthy, and a fertility of prevarication that was appalling.” If the tricksters were caught there were harsh penalties to pay. By the twentieth century, begging night was no longer part of the Thanksgiving tradition, having moved to Halloween.

Even our current frustration with Thanksgiving travel has a long history. In 1850, when Exeter was still new to the railroad age, the Exeter News-Letter noted, “The 3 o’clock train from New York, over the New York and New Haven Railroad on Wednesday, P.M. was made up of fifty-two cars. A moderate allowance of passengers for each car would give about 3,000 persons to this single train, nearly all of whom, doubtless, were going home to Thanksgiving.” If that doesn’t seem like a lot of people, keep in mind that in 1850 the population of the entire town of Exeter was about 3,000 people. Imagine cramming our whole town on a train nowadays.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Robert Luist Fowle: Exeter’s Tory Printer

The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the November 12th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

By Barbara Rimkunas

In 1776, when most American colonists were considering independency, Exeter printer Robert Luist Fowle found himself in something of a quandary. The capital of New Hampshire had been moved from Portsmouth to Exeter, and there would be plenty of printing work for him. But he really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of breaking away from Great Britain. Whether this was common knowledge to the people of Exeter is unknown, but certainly it would cause problems if he didn’t keep his mouth shut.

Robert Luist Fowle had apprenticed with his uncle, Daniel Fowle, in Portsmouth. Daniel had been an able printer in Boston until he was arrested in 1754 for the publication of a pamphlet entitled The Monster of Monsters, which was critical of the government of Massachusetts. Daniel’s brother, Zachariah, had been the true engineer of the piece, but Daniel bore the brunt of punishment. Upon his release, he left for Portsmouth, fed up with the Massachusetts government and firmly dedicated to the idea of freedom of the press.

In Portsmouth, Daniel and Robert Fowle printed together, founding the first newspaper in New Hampshire, The New-Hampshire Gazette. But by 1775, the two men had a falling out concerning politics; Daniel firmly planted on the Patriot side and Robert leaning toward the British Loyalists. The schism caused the break-up of the printing firm. Robert took one of Daniel’s presses and set up shop in Exeter. There he began publishing his own newspaper, The New Hampshire Gazette or Exeter Morning Chronicle. With his political inclinations under cover, he was able to settle amongst the rebellious Exeter townsfolk with little notice.

Exeter was a smaller town than Portsmouth, and Robert Fowle found it necessary to take what work he could find, even though it might mean printing items that went against his own politics. New Hampshire declared itself independent of Britain in January of 1776 with the adoption of its new constitution. Exeter, as the new capital, was now a hotbed of the rebellion.

On July 16, 1776, Robert Luist Fowle printed a special edition of The New Hampshire Gazette, or Exeter Morning Chronicle, containing the full text of the newly approved Declaration of Independence. John Dunlap’s original Philadelphia printing of the document had recently arrived in town and Fowle had rushed getting it to press. He printed it within his newspaper and then as a separate broadside. One can only imagine what was going through his mind as he set the type. As a loyalist, or “Tory,” he would have been quite uncomfortable with the idea of revolution against Great Britain. Historians have estimated that 15 – 20% of the American colonists were loyalists, but in New England the numbers were much lower.

The only edition of Fowle’s New Hampshire Gazette or Exeter Morning Chronicle in the collections of the Exeter Historical Society was printed in August of 1776. In it, he prints an act passed by the Committee of Safety of New Hampshire to prevent the forging and altering of Bills of Public Credit – the paper money issued by the state. The publication of this act becomes ironic when, in early 1777, Fowle is arrested on suspicion of forging paper money.

The evidence against him was strong – there were no other printing presses in Exeter and Fowle had received the commission for printing paper money from the state. Thrown into Exeter’s notoriously permeable jail on Chestnut Street, Fowle offered to name the other conspirators if he were given bail. As the court was considering this offer, he slipped away and escaped behind British lines, most likely remembering the words he himself had set to type concerning the punishment for forgery: “every person so offending…shall be punished by being set on the gallows for the space of one hour, with a rope round the neck, and pay a fine for the use of this colony, not exceeding fifty pounds, and suffer six months imprisonment, and be publickly whipped, not exceeding thirty nine stripes, and be incapable of holding any office under the government of this colony, or shall suffer all or any of the foregoing punishments in the discretion of the court.”

Fowle’s brother, Zachariah, took over the Exeter press and continued, unmolested, throughout the war. Robert returned to town around 1790 after Zachariah’s death. He married his brother’s widow and became a merchant downtown. Although he received a loyalists’ pension from the British Crown, Fowle still felt the need to demand repayment for the pamphlets and paper he’d lost when his printing shop was looted. Eventually, he felt it best to move, with his wife, to Brentwood where she had inherited some land. It was there that he died in 1802, having lost his trade, but kept his principles.

Robert Luist Fowle’s printing press now stands in the museum room of the Exeter Historical Society. As an artifact of the American Revolution it is an odd accident of fate that it is a British press, used to print the Declaration of Independence by an American Tory. A rare copy of this broadside will be up for auction at the Skinner Auction House in Boston on November 14th.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Fine Undertaking

The latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the October 29th issue of the Exeter News-Letter.

by Barbara Rimkunas

When Exeter’s large cemetery on Linden Street was created in 1843, it was designed to be park-like – a place one might stroll through on a warm afternoon. It was a far cry from the stark graveyards of earlier times. Funeral rites and furnishings had changed considerably since the town’s settlement in 1638 and the new cemetery reflected some of those changes.

When John Wheelwright and his small band of Puritan dissenters first arrived in Exeter, the necessary graveyard was located near the meetinghouse, somewhere in the vicinity of Salem Street. The grave markers of these earliest residents are gone now. Most likely, they weren’t marked well and when the new meetinghouse was built in the center of town, the graveyard was abandoned.

Not that it would have been a pleasant place to visit. Puritans considered one’s mortal remains to be relatively unimportant. Death brought with it a frightening uncertainty about a loved one’s eternal soul. No one knew whom God had elected to salvation or damnation and this terror of the grave was reflected on the carving that can still be viewed on older headstones. A quick walk through the Winter Street cemetery will reveal numerous examples of the “winged death’s head” – a cold reminder of man’s mortality – on the stones. The people buried are never “beloved” or “dear”; in fact, the men are never described at all, they’re just a name with dates attached. Women are nearly always attached in some way to a man. She’s a “widow of,” “wife of,” “consort of, “or even “relict of,” someone else. Rarely is she her own person, even in death.

Children- and there are a startling number of children buried in the Winter Street cemetery- are treated the same way as adults with the same type of headstone art. Children weren’t sheltered from death; it was all around them. When one of their playmates died, the children were part of the funeral rite and frequently carried the coffin of their friend to the graveyard. This was done to remind them of their own mortality. They didn’t fool around back then.

Over time, the harshness of the Puritan worldview began to melt. The flying skull softened into a winged cherub and later an urn and willow took the place at the top of headstones. By the time the Exeter Cemetery was laid out, there were no more harsh symbols to be found. Funeral practices and care of the dead began to change as well.

When James W. Field opened his undertaking business in Exeter in 1895, it had evolved into a specialized field. In previous decades, the dead were simply washed and laid in a crude homemade coffin in preparation for burial. In the United States, the Civil War changed this practice.

During prior wars, fallen soldiers were simply buried where they’d fallen. It was a rare, and usually wealthy, family that was able to retrieve their dead. Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, who was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar, was famously preserved in a cask of rum until his fleet returned to London. But his treatment was rare. More often, soldiers’ remains were returned years later after temporary internment. By then, there was little left but dried bones.

During the Civil War, the railroad allowed quick transportation for the fallen. It was quick, but not quick enough to fend off the obvious effects of decomposition. Ice proved to be impractical for a trip of several weeks, so surgeons began to use various concoctions to preserve the body long enough for the trip and subsequent funeral. Formaldehyde wasn’t discovered until after the war, so these early embalmers tried other substances such as arsenic, creosote, mercury, turpentine or alcohol. It’s no wonder that the embalming profession itself had a high mortality rate. As crude as the practices were, grieving families were grateful to have their loved ones returned home and embalming became nearly standard practice in North America.

With this greater care of dead came a desire for more elegant coffins. The traditional shape, six sides tapered at the shoulders, gave way to a rectangular casket that looked more like a piece of fine furniture. The field specialized as a branch of cabinet-making, which was why James Field’s business was “Fine Furniture and Undertaking.” Today we’d never think of going to a furniture store to pick up a casket, but it didn’t seem morbid at all in 1900.

Although some funerals were still held in private homes in the early 1900s, the advent of the funeral parlor made the practice less common. Caskets ceased to be sold in furniture stores, so you could no longer browse through stacks of them while shopping for a new dining room set. Field’s Undertaking services ceased to be listed in Exeter’s business directory by 1920, and by the 1940s there are almost no home funerals listed in obituaries. Death had become quite separate from the everyday world of the living.

Field Trip Day 1913

This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on October 15, 2010.

by Barbara Rimkunas

The Exeter Historical Society and American Independence Museum recently hosted a field trip of over 100 students from the Cooperative Middle School. As we put them through their paces; writing with quill pens, identifying map features, transcribing impossibly hard documents and analyzing features of puzzling artifacts, the day was a reminder of the value of field trips. They’re not some new idea invented by helicopter parents who want to give their kids an ‘enrichment’ experience. Field trips have been around a long time.

In 1914, the Exeter News-Letter reported that “Miss Elizabeth H. Baker last Friday took her Seminary Class to Salem, Mass., to inspect places of historic interest. This was her 18th trip.” Although she wasn’t an English teacher, perhaps the Salem trip was meant to counter the prevailing opinion then (as now) that some of the classroom reading was a tad dull. “We are reading House of Seven Gables,” Seminary student Louise Tyler wrote in her diary in 1910, “I hate it.”

Young Helen Tufts recorded the same exciting excursion in her diary, “My class went to Salem on special car. Ate lunch on the train! Visited all sorts of historical places. Got back at 5:30.” Considering she didn’t mention which ‘historical places’ she visited, it’s easy to conclude that the trip’s highlight was lunch.

Maybe a better strategy was to give the students an actual assignment while on a field trip instead of a vague ‘inspect places of historic interest.’ The first and second year students took Nature Study as their science class. Every fall, they’d head out into the wilds of nature to take notes and study the flora and fauna of New Hampshire. Emma Kimball kept her school notebook and it now belongs to the Exeter Historical Society. In penmanship that is enviable in an 11-year old, she wrote notes about the “cricked” and “muscrates.” “Crickeds,” she wrote, have “feelers longer than the whole body.” Her teacher, Miss Maud Jewell, who’s dual teaching roles of nature study and penmanship (Palmer Method) may account for the quality of Emma’s notebook, encouraged the girls to get outside. Emma had a list of “Things to do in the Fall,” which included: “Learn to stand still; Go in every variety of weather; Don’t expect to find all the animals in a row; Use your ears and your eyes; Go raccooning; Go cacooning”

After being prepped in this style, the girls went on a Saturday afternoon field trip to Fort Rock Farm. Starting at the Seminary on Lincoln Street at 10:30, they headed north towards Forest Street and there enjoyed some fresh water from the jailhouse spring. “The water here was refreshing and after filling our bottles and cans we prepared for a long march into the woods .” They reached Fort Rock at noon and, after a quick lunch, went on to the ledges - a granite outcropping with a pool of water below. Although some of the girls went climbing, others stuck to the task at hand, “They used the nets for dredging the pool and found many interesting (things). While some of us finished our lunch, the girls were bringing us tadpoles, polliwogs, frogs, common leeches, back swimmers and American newts, - these last are easily confounded with lizards, but they had so smooth a skin, we could readily see they differed from the scale-covered lizard.” They captured a garter snake and Emma noted, “The girls of our class did not scream and run at the sight of a snake – for that is unreasonable.”

The following year, the class ventured to Hampton Beach on the streetcar on a Tuesday. “The weather was lovely, although it was the coldest September 29th that had been known in thirty-one years,” Emma wrote. They scoured the beach for specimens finding sea urchins, starfish and sand dollars in great abundance. But it was the crabs that the girls found most intriguing. “At first we could scarcely tell where the head was, but we noticed the position of the eyes and that settled the question. Walking, as they do, forward, backward, and even sideways with equal ease, it seems as if they, too, might be slightly puzzled about their formation, and so, not stopping to decide which part is intended to go foremost, they dart off on a venture, and in the oddest manner possible.”

Emma’s observations make us realize how important field trips can be. They get you out of the classroom for a while and perhaps out of one’s comfort zone. Field trips can make you brave even when you’re a little scared, whether it’s a slithery snake or a crazy historical society curator wielding an 1812 musket with full bayonet attached. The experience itself links together the sights, smells and textures of a different place – different from a classroom or computer screen – and that, in itself, is the value of a field trip. Even if the best part is lunch.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

AHSNH Public Programming Award Goes to Exeter Historical Society

The Association of Historical Societies of New Hampshire Recognizes the Exeter Historical Society in Celebration of Local History Successes

The Association of Historical Societies of New Hampshire honored the Exeter Historical Society for its Lincoln in Exeter Sesquicentennial Celebration, along with eight other projects throughout the state, at a ceremony at the Peterborough Historical Society on October 23. These awards pay tribute to outstanding examples of preserving, interpreting or promoting appreciation and understanding of an aspect of New Hampshire history.

“We feel that this awards program is an important way to thank people for their innovative and generous contributions, and to inspire others,” said AHSNH president Tom Haynes.

Criteria include the significance or impact of the undertaking on a community, region or the state; the use of professional practice, volunteer engagement, and degree of support; and projects or people that act as a model for others seeking to preserve or interpret local history.

The Association praised the Exeter Historical Society’s Lincoln project by noting that: “Exeter Historical Society’s Lincoln Sesquicentennial Celebration organized a town-wide school, church, artistic, historic, and business collaboration that produced ten public events and sixteen school visits to commemorate Abraham Lincoln’s historic visit to Exeter in March, 1860.

“This initiative was a comprehensive, well thought-out, and masterfully coordinated series of events that reached extensive audiences, enriched the community, and was of a caliber befitting an organization many times the size of Exeter Historical Society. From the credentials and stature of the presenters, to the imaginative nature of the public events such as walking tours, children’s activities, band concert, and celebratory procession, to the high quality of publicity and collateral materials, this event was first-class in every respect. Exeter Historical Society has set a very high standard for public programs – in the words of the New Hampshire Humanities Council, which supported the program, this was a ‘spectacular celebration,’ with which the Humanities Council was ‘proud to be associated.’”

Other 2010 award winners include
• Carol Christian and the Walpole Historical Society’s costume rescue project for outstanding collections management
• Paula Robbins Page and the Westmoreland Historical Society’s A Historical Tour of Westmoreland, New Hampshire for outstanding public education and programs
• Strawbery Banke Museum’s N.H. History Explorers Program for outstanding public education and programs
• Partners Around Lake Sunapee (PALS) Collaborative for outstanding public education and programs
• Hopkinton Historical Society’s Cemetery Walk for outstanding public education and programs
• Jeff Dalzell and the Hopkinton Historical Society’s Talent and Luck: Walking in Fellowship with Deacon Philip Brown exhibit for outstanding public education and programs
• Toppan’s History of Hampton: The Early Settler by Lori White Cotter for outstanding research and documentation
• Wallace Rhodes for excellence in documenting, promoting and preserving Belmont’s history

The Association of Historical Societies of New Hampshire was formed in 1950 to encourage and assist in the study, preservation, and understanding of New Hampshire’s history. It acts as a networking organization to serve the state’s historical societies and organizations, cultural institutions, and other interested organizations and individuals. For more information, please contact Ann Sprague, President of the Association at 603-279-7172, or Laura Gowing, Program Manager at the Exeter Historical Society at 603-778-2335 or via email at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Arthur Fuller

Barbara's latest "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on September 7, 2010.

There were two Arthur Fullers living in Exeter in 1907. The elder was Arthur O. Fuller, well-respected local lawyer, police commissioner, state congressman and town selectman. His son was a dreamy-eyed schoolboy attending Phillips Exeter Academy. In his diary, now part of the collections of the Exeter Historical Society, the younger Fuller illustrated his surroundings from memory with a refined ability that is quite impressive. His sketches of the wildlife of the area, particularly the animals and birds of the Exeter and Squamscott Rivers, are detailed and beautifully rendered. His diary reflects a boy who valued his time outdoors much more highly than his time in the classroom.

If his son’s love of nature bothered the elder Fuller he had only himself to blame. He, too, loved the outdoors. His friend, Henry Shute, later wrote of his neighbor’s attentiveness to his children, “the boats that he provided for them to use on the big river, and the canoe he built for them to be used only on Little River and from which the entire family cheerfully fell and were thoroughly ducked; the fishing rods, shot guns, butterfly nets and everything else that tended to keep them in the open, testified to his affection for them.” Young Arthur seems to have taken to the wild more than his many siblings.

During his years at Phillips Exeter Academy – during which he prepared for admittance to Harvard – he garnered more enjoyment from the wild ducks he raised, than from his studies. He carefully collected eggs from nests along the riverbank and then placed them under a broody hen in the family chicken coop. His illustrations follow the progress of the ducklings as they hatched and the peculiar sight of a mother hen surrounded by her flock of baby ducks. Whether she was any the wiser about her unusual offspring is unknown. Arthur, meanwhile, was neglecting his studies and reported in his diary, (on January 28th), “School all day. Flunk all day”.

Luckily, he was bright enough that he could overcome his failures in daily schoolwork. Like many smart kids who won’t do homework, Fuller usually comfortably passed his exams. Though it took him several tries in the spring of 1907 to pass the Harvard entrance exams, he entered Harvard in the fall after giving his ducks to his neighbor, Stafford Francis.

If his father had any illusions about his son following him into the study of law, he was to be sadly mistaken. Young Arthur’s love of art and nature blossomed after his graduation from Harvard. He attended the Fenway School of Art and later studied with Harvey Dunn at the Leonia School of Illustration in New Jersey. There he met and married fellow student Sylvia Ditchett in 1918.
Fuller went on to become a successful illustrator for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post , Field and Stream, Liberty, Cosmopolitan, Collier’s and McCalls.

His son, Harvey Fuller, described his father’s work, “(his) first love, however, remained the theme of the outdoorsman, the hunter, and woodsman, incorporating the myriad facets of color and beauty which are to be found in the lonely sea marshes, mountains, lakes and forests; the ever-diminishing solitudes haunted by sportsman and (for want of a better word) nature-lover alike.”

His illustrations became his bread and butter but he never lost his enthusiasm. His son remarked, “(his) pictures attained a unique distinction (which was widely recognized) because of their absolute authenticity and the authority born of first-hand knowledge, coupled with a zealous, almost boyish enthusiasm that remained strong in his personality even to the last. The birds, hunting dogs and wild animals he depicted were never static. They soar…poise for the chase…crouch or slink…with a sense of movement like life itself.”

Fuller eventually moved to Westport, Connecticut on the north coast of Long Island Sound – close enough to New York City to meet with his clients, but always within a short walk to the marshes and water life that mirrored the wild places he’d grown to love during his boyhood in Exeter.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

George Lewis Stokell – Exeter Postmaster

Barbara's latest "Historically Speaking" article appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on August 20, 2010.

When Ruth Stokell Challis wrote her essay, “I Grew Up in New Hampshire,” in 1944, she mentioned her father as a kind man who gave her a set of encyclopedias for her birthday. The large ever- expanding family lived on the outskirts of town on Epping Road near Old Town Farm Road. She recalled that “One of the earliest things I remember is the birth of one of my sisters.” It was the kind of memory that would be repeated often as her mother produced 11 children, eight of whom survived to adulthood.

Ruth’s memories about growing up in Exeter in the late 1800s included stories of school and play and losing (and later finding) a little sister. She mentions her parents as a child might, with little specific detail. She left out the most obvious feature of her father – he had only one arm. One might think that a one-armed father would be an interesting part of one’s childhood, but to Ruth he was simply “Father” and the arm, or lack thereof, didn’t seem to matter much.

George Lewis Stokell was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on April 1, 1846. His father, also named George Stokell, headed for California in search of gold in 1849 and told tales of the gold fields for the rest of his life. He didn’t strike it rich, however, and returned home to his family, moving them to Portsmouth, New Hampshire where he worked in the building and construction industry. Young George was quick to sign up when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted in 1861, at age 17, in his birth state of Massachusetts with the 18th Massachusetts Regiment and re-enlisted three years later.

The War took him to most of the engagements of the Army of the Potomac, including the Second Battle of Bull Run, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. While fighting in the Battle of the Wilderness in Spotsylvania, Virginia in May of 1864, his regiment lost track of him. He was listed as “missing in action” and was presumed dead. The Wilderness was the first battle that pitted General Ulysses S. Grant against General Robert E. Lee. Both sides saw heavy casualties.

After the battle, the Confederate Army found Stokell still alive on the field. His right arm had been shot. Ruth would later write, not in her memoir but in a letter to her daughter, “the old soldiers did not like to talk about those things, and he had a hell of a time. He had a gold ring like an old wide gold band his mother had given him. The Doctor took it off his right hand and put it on his left finger,” shortly before his right arm was amputated. He told his daughter, “If it hadn’t been for the Southern Women, coming nights to give him hot soup, and food, dressings and such he would have died.”

After his recovery, Stokell became a prisoner of war for nine long months. Imprisoned at various camps, including Andersonville, Lynchburg, Danville, Florence and Charleston, Stokell survived and was repatriated during a prisoner exchange. Conditions in the camps were so harrowing, so appalling, that Stokell couldn’t bring himself to talk about it in his later years. All he told his children, according to Ruth, was that, “they were starving, Southerners and prisoners.”

He was discharged in March of 1865 – just a month before the war ended. He returned to Boston to take up business, but later returned to New Hampshire where his parents were living. In 1882, already a widower with a young son, he bought a farm on Epping Road in Exeter and married Alberta Carroll – the twenty year- old daughter of Exeter’s Dr. Albert Carroll. Alberta was a graduate of the Robinson Female Seminary. The farm was able to support the growing family for many years. When the town of Exeter decided to close down the District Three School on Epping Road because of low attendance, Alberta simply set up her own school room and taught the children at home.

It was common, for decades after the War, to appoint veterans to public office. In 1904, according to historian Nancy Merrill, “the office of postmaster became a matter of rivalry between the current postmaster, George N. Julian, and Judge Thomas Leavitt. About forty influential citizens sent a petition to President Theodore Roosevelt favoring a third candidate, George L. Stokell, Jr. Stokell’s nomination appealed to the president and was accepted by the Senate. Mr. Stokell began his new duties on April 1, 1904.”

The family moved to Gill Street to be closer to the public schools and the post office. Stokell served the town as postmaster for eight years, a well-deserved reward for his army service. When his final term was up, he moved to Medford, Massachusetts where he became commander of the Grand Army of the Republic post. In 1931, at the age of 87, the old soldier died. He’d been looking forward to marching in one last Memorial Day parade, but missed it by two weeks. The flags in Medford were put at half-staff in his honor.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Exeter Water Works

"Historically Speaking" by Barbara Rimkunas, Exeter News-Letter, August 6, 2010.

Exeter’s location on the falls between the Exeter and Squamscott Rivers, gives it an aura of water abundance, but the earliest residents of Exeter were faced with the problem of procuring clean drinking water. The Squamscott River, which looks appealing, is salty, thanks to its tidal nature coming in from Great Bay. The freshwater of the Exeter River was only available to those living close by and it became fouled when lumber mills began dumping copious amounts of sawdust into the water in the mid-1600s.

Most people would sink a well on their property if they wanted fresh water. It was an easy low-tech way to get water for your own family and animals. But by the late 1800s, it was becoming increasingly evident that small family wells were not the best solution for the town’s water problems. They dried up easily in summer and harbored a load of unsavory bacteria and natural contaminants, like arsenic.

As an added problem, the lack of water made firefighting difficult in certain parts of town. Townspeople looked enviously at places like New York City, which had created a reservoir and set up a gravity fed system to supply the entire city in 1842. By 1880, Exeter was still supplied by a haphazard system of wells, springs and private cisterns.

In spite of the obvious need, the citizens of Exeter refused to build a water works. It was too expensive. Seeing an opportunity for profit, a group of local businessmen banded together and in 1885 created the Exeter Water Works Company.

A small stream off Portsmouth Avenue, called Wheelwright’s Creek, provided the water. To create a reservoir, Nancy Merrill wrote, in her History of Exeter, NH: 1888 – 1988, “this venture involved a tremendous amount of hand-digging and horse-hauling. It was reckoned that when the area was flooded, it encompassed almost twenty-three acres, with a depth ranging from nine to twenty feet, and held twenty to thirty million gallons of water.” The town of Exeter made a deal with the Water Works to supply the town with water for firefighting and municipal purposes for $2000.00 annually. It also gave the town the right to eventually buy the water works.

Although the water works itself was privately owned, the town paid for a sewerage system and required most homeowners to hook into it. At the same time, inspectors condemned many of the private wells and residents had no other option than to tie into the new water mains. None of this happened without the typical grumbling. One annoyed taxpayer wrote to the Exeter News-Letter, “Will you please inform me through the News-Letter where the statue can be found which makes it legal for the selectmen of the town to lay a sewer and raise the rate of taxation on property to pay for it – then compel owners of real estate to enter their drains into it at their own expense – and then assess them a large percent to pay for the privilege of entering the sewer? Can this be right?” The editor grimly replied that the town health officer could indeed compel abutters to link into the sewer lines when it was for the public good.

The new system may have been for the public good, but the water wasn’t good for at least the first two years. Residents accustomed to cold crisp, if unsafe, well water were taken aback with tepid sometimes foul smelling public water. One letter to the editor said, “When first drawn from the pipes the water is hardly suitable for domestic purposes, cooking especially, and, if allowed to stand any length of time, its unfitness is still more apparent. There is danger that a cold bath, even, may become a penance instead of a pleasure. The water, after being heated, takes on a strange color and quality, clothing washed in it looks dubious, and dish-washing ceases to be an unalloyed delight.”

The water was tested every six months and judged safe. The strange taste and color were caused by vegetative matter in the holding pond. This was eventually alleviated through the installation of filtration systems.

The Exeter Water Works Company served as a local monopoly for decades, but not necessarily because it wanted to. The town repeatedly discussed buying the water works so they could control the quality and pricing of water. Each time, from 1893 until 1950, the voters refused to pay for the system – even when it was determined that the Exeter Water Works pricing, based on the number of spigots, animals and cars one had, would be reduced if home meters were installed. When, after much discussion and debate, the water works was finally sold to the town, the meters went in a mere month after the purchase was made. Water quality quickly improved when new deeper wells were dug and the stagnant Water Works Pond was no longer used as the primary source for the town’s water.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Exeter in the Age of Polio

"Historically Speaking", by Barbara Rimkunas, Exeter News-Letter, July 23, 2010

Under the headline of “Great Medical Victory,” the Exeter News-Letter announced in April of 1955, “A crowning achievement, and a milestone in medical history came Tuesday with the announcement of success for the Salk polio vaccine.” Within a week, the Rockingham County Medical Society was discussing plans to hold mass immunizations in the county. Time was of the essence; polio season typically occurred during the summer months. By late May, the first clinics were underway. “It is a tribute to the common senseness of adults that a vast majority of parents reasoned that the advantages of child inoculation far outweighed the over-publicized risks,” commented the News-Letter.

Strangely, Polio epidemics were fostered by improvements in sanitation and medical care. Transmitted by fecal-oral route, it was easily passed around among children. In earlier - and less hygienic - times, most children encountered the virus early in life. As the germ theory became better understood in the 20th century, personal hygiene took a great leap forward simply by encouraging children to wash their hands before eating. By the early 1900s, most of the fecal-oral illnesses could be prevented by simply keeping clean. But oddly, this meant that there was little early exposure to the poliomyelitis virus.

The belief that sanitary methods would save the nation continued into the 1940s and 50s. Mothers were encouraged to give up breastfeeding in favor of clean controllable bottle feeding. But bottle-fed babies do not receive their mother’s immunities, making them vulnerable to pathogens like polio. Further reducing many children’s natural immunity was the common practice of performing tonsillectomy procedures on children in the post-war period. Tonsils are the first line of defense against inhaled or swallowed foreign pathogens. In the 1950s, the connection between tonsillectomy operations and polio was noted and it was recommended that the procedure not be done during the summer months when polio outbreaks were common, but it never occurred to anyone that perhaps relatively healthy tonsils should be left alone.
Even as researchers worked tirelessly to create a vaccine for the disease, polio cases increased dramatically in the post-World War II period. The peak of the epidemic was in 1952 when 58,000 cases were diagnosed in the United States.

Exeter and Rockingham County reported numerous cases of polio in the 1950s. Even though it was still statistically a small number of children who were affected, the fear of polio was profound. Parents were advised to keep children from getting exhausted or chilled. Many towns closed public swimming pools, although Exeter had none to close. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who grew up during the polio years in New York, recalled in her memoir, Maybe Next Year; “Lack of understanding about the spread of polio created a vacuum which parents and editorialists filled with a thousand admonitions: avoid crowded places where you may be sneezed or coughed upon; beware of contacts in trains, buses, or boats; keep children away from strangers; avoid swimming in cold water; don’t sit around in wet clothes; don’t play to the point of getting overtired; avoid public drinking fountains; avoid using one another’s pencils, whistles, handkerchiefs, utensils, food; burn or bury garbage not tightly covered; wash your hands before eating; call your doctor immediately if you’ve got a stiff neck, upset stomach, headache, sore throat, or unexplained fever.”

Local cases were publicized by the March of Dimes campaigns to help encourage donations. President Franklin Roosevelt’s National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis helped cover the staggering costs families faced when a member needed round the clock care and rehabilitation. Mild cases were treated at Exeter Hospital; those requiring iron lung treatments were sent to the Children’s Hospital in Boston or Elliot Hospital in Manchester. Long- term rehabilitation was done at New Hampshire’s Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, which was built in 1950. The photos and news stories did a great deal to increase donations, but they also served as a source for a steady stream of parental fear in a time when there was already plenty to fear. If the increasingly frightening Cold War and atom bomb weren’t enough, polio could strike your child during the hot summer months and leave him or her as a cripple for life. Was it any wonder, then, that when a viable vaccination was created parents were quick to sign up their children?

The first mass vaccination in Exeter occurred in May of 1955. Limited to children in the first and second grade, the clinic was a cooperative effort. The Exeter News-Letter reported, “Upon arrival at the gym, accompanied by their teachers, the children were given basic medical tests by volunteer nurses and they then stood attentively in line while the classmate ahead was given the quick but nonetheless skillful and painstaking treatment by Dr. Nolan and Dr. Tuthill. Teaming up with the two doctors were Mrs. Dean J. Thorp, Jr., R. N., and Lieutenant Commander Angelica Vetullo of the Portsmouth Naval Hospital. Seven naval corpsmen provided valuable assistance by measuring the serum for the individual doses.”

There were a few more years of dangerous outbreaks; Phillips Exeter Academy delayed opening in 1955 – the first year of the polio vaccine – because of the fear of outbreaks among students arriving from Massachusetts. In 1956, vaccination clinics were opened up for all children under the age of 15 as well as pregnant women. By 1957, teenagers and adults were encouraged to get vaccinated. The development and widespread use of the Sabin oral vaccine in 1962 further slashed national polio rates. In 1964, only 121 cases of polio were reported in the entire United States. Summers filled with the fear of a dread disease were a thing of the past.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Exeter Historical Society Announces Programs for '10-'11 Season

Every year, October through May, the Exeter Historical Society hosts a series of programs -- or "meetings" -- featuring presentations by local historians and authors (and occasionally meteorologists, musicians and stone masons). All of these programs are free and open to the public -- though donations are always welcome to help defray the cost. Historically, the programs have fallen on the first Tuesday of the above-mentioned months, but last year we mixed it up a bit, alternating between the first Tuesday and the first Wednesday, to appeal to those who had announced over the years that they'd love to come to our programs if they weren't always on Tuesdays. So, unless otherwise noted, all meetings are held at the Exeter Historical Society at 47 Front Street in Exeter, New Hampshire, at 7:30 pm. Refreshments are served at 7:00 pm.

A quick overview of our upcoming meetings:
Tuesday, October 5, 2010: "The Great Sheep Boom & Its Enduring Legacy on the NH Landscape" by Steve Taylor**
Wednesday, November 3: "Our National Thanksgiving: With Thanks to President Lincoln and Mrs. Hale" by Steve and Sharon Wood**
Tuesday, December 7, 5:30 - 7:30pm: our annual Holiday Open House
Wednesday, January 5, 2011: "The History of the Wentworth Hotel" by J. Dennis Robinson
Tuesday, February 1: "Brewing in NH: An Informal History of Beer in the Granite State from Colonial Times to the Present" by Glenn Knoblock**
Wednesday, March 2: "Fish, Trees, Sheep and Factories: Environmental Change in NH" by Jeff Bolster
Tuesday, April 5: "Whatever Happened to Robert Todd Lincoln?" by Barbara Rimkunas (our curator & "Historically Speaking" column writer extraordinaire)
Wednesday, May 4: our Annual Meeting, "What NH Thought was Funny 200 Years Ago" by Charles E. Clark.**

We hope that you can join us for some of these presentations! If you have ideas for future programs, please email program manager Laura Martin Gowing at with your suggestions.

**These programs are sponsored by the New Hampshire Humanities Council's Humanities To Go program.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In honor of the Squamscott River Festival on Thursday, July 22, we are posting Barbara's "Historically Speaking" column on the Gundalow, which appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on July 15, 2005.

Before there were trucks and adequate highways, Exeter was a seaport by necessity. The Squamscott River provided the only reliable transportation network available – but it had some severe limitations. Originating on Great Bay, the Squamscott’s waters, like all the rivers in the Piscataqua estuary, ebb and flow with the tide. Combine this with its treacherous currents, described as “cross-grained and wily waters” by the late William Saltonstall, former principal of Phillips Exeter Academy and local historian, and one can easily imagine the difficulties involved in shipping goods up or down the river.

To tame the rivers of the Piscataqua region a new type of vessel was required. It needed to be rugged, maneuverable, and low-keeled. It had to haul heavy loads without overturning and it had to handle the shallow waters of low tide. By the colonial period, movement in the Piscataqua region was dominated by the packet – a small sturdy vessel powered by wind and tide. It was excellent for transporting people, but the keel was too deep for heavy loads and shallow water. Shipwrights began to create a flat-bottomed barge suitable for transporting large loads of lumber. By the early 1800’s, the design had been perfected to meet the needs of the region with a spoon shaped bow and elegantly rounded stern. A lateen sail was added to take advantage of wind power. This sail, on a short mast, could be lowered to pass under a bridge. A rudder and leeboard provided the maneuverability required to glide into and out of deep currents.

The gundalows were never meant to be used on the open sea, although there are a few accounts of trips made to Boston. Their job was primarily to shuttle goods between the port of Portsmouth and the inward towns of Exeter, Dover, Berwick, and Newmarket. Although similar craft were found in Maine, the triangular sail marks the Piscataqua gundalow as a vessel unique to the region. That they traveled with the tides is clear in the ledger of Joseph Fernald, an Exeter shipper who operated several gundalows from a wharf once located on the current site of Swasey Parkway. Fernald charged Exeter business men for “freighting” and noted in the ledger the goods going “down” river to Portsmouth, or “up” river to Exeter.

Captain Fernald’s busy gundalows hauled lumber, paper, furniture, and leather goods to Portsmouth on the ebb tide and returned later on the rising tide with molasses, lime, fish, candles, and rum – lots of rum. Exeter was a thirsty place before the temperance movement got going. The flat-bottomed gundalows could strand on the mud-flats and wait out the tide if necessary (not a particularly fun experience if you’re unprepared). Gundalow crews were scorned by other seamen as the lowest of their profession and schooner captain Johnson Stevens of Kennebunk was once quoted as saying, “A man that would sail a Gundilo would rob the church yard.” Perhaps all that rum was too much of a temptation when stranded on the mud flats.

Notwithstanding the good Captain’s comments, the gundalow’s crews were really able seamen considering the difficulties they encountered on their hauls. Gundalow traffic began to falter when steam powered vessels began to move barges up the rivers. By the turn of the twentieth century, gundalow traffic had all but ended on the Squamscott River.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

When President Polk Came to Town

Check out Barbara's most recent column:

"Historically Speaking", by Barbara Rimkunas, Exeter News-Letter, July 9, 2010

In July of 1847, President James K. Polk decided to take a goodwill tour of the northeast. Washington, D.C. is well known for its unlivable climate in the summer, and Polk’s Attorney General, Nathan Clifford, hailed from the breezy and cool state of Maine. The President yielded to temptation and boarded a train north.

Polk dearly needed to raise some support for his programs. Most New Englanders weren’t entirely convinced, as Polk was, that the United States’ “manifest destiny” included extending the nation all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific. They were also highly suspicious of the on-going Mexican American War that would result in the annexation of Texas. They knew that Texas would bring with it vast tracts of slave-owning territory that would upset the careful balance of slave and free states. Still, both Maine and New Hampshire had supported Polk in the 1844 election, so it was considered friendly territory.

Whether Polk had planned to stop in Exeter is unknown. Although Rockingham County had gone for Polk in the election, Exeter had not. According to the Exeter News-Letter, “Exeter gave the largest Whig majority” in the returns of 1844.

But the election was three years gone by the time Polk planned his New England excursion and Exeter seems to have remembered its manners. Although it wasn’t quite certain whether the President’s train would actually stop, a suitable greeting was readied.

“On the arrival of the cars,” noted the News-Letter, “a national salute was fired and the bells of the several churches were rung.” This seems to have been enough to get the president’s train to stop, although the noise of the train probably drowned out the church bells. Weare Shaw, of Kensington, later remembered, “The station then was at the crossing on Front Street in a little building that spanned the track. The part on the west side of the tracks was used as a freight room.”

“The President immediately stepped from the cars to the front of the Depot,” reported the News-Letter, “where he was received on behalf of the citizens by Henry F. French, Esq. in a short and appropriate speech, and which was replied to by the President.” Judge French served in the New Hampshire Court of Common Pleas, but he has become better known as the father of sculptor Daniel Chester French, who produced Concord’s Minuteman, and the Lincoln that now gazes down from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Although French would later become an anti-slavery Republican, in 1847 he was a Democrat and therefore the most appropriate local dignitary to greet President Polk.

The Exeter News-Letter continued, “He then was introduced to many of our citizens who availed themselves to shake hands with the first President that has ever honored Exeter with his presence since the visit of Washington.” One of those citizens, recalls Shaw, was a crusty veteran of the southern Indian Wars and the War of 1812 named Waddy Cobbs. “Cobbs was an old soldier and could not walk, so was wheeled up on his chair and into the station, and when the cars stopped the President was then told of his being there. He came out of the cars and greeted Cobbs very pleasantly.”

Traveling with the President were a number of other dignitaries, including Henry Hubbard, the former Governor of New Hampshire and future President James Buchanan, who was then serving in the capacity of Secretary of State. They, along with Nathan Clifford, Attorney General, Edmund Burke, Commissioner of Patents and a few others, were all introduced to the crowd.

The visit to Exeter was short, lasting only a few minutes before the President’s train pulled away from the depot to continue on to Portland.

Abraham Lincoln later visited the town of Exeter in 1860, arriving at the same Front Street depot; but Lincoln hadn’t been elected President yet when he was here. There would be no other presidential visits to town until Benjamin Harrison arrived in 1889. Polk had pledged to serve only one term in office and followed through on his promise. The election of 1848 found New Hampshire men supporting another Democrat, Lewis Cass – a native of Exeter. Although the town voted heavily for its native son, the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, won the Electoral College. Perhaps if Taylor had made a visit to town before the election he might have fared better in the election returns from Exeter.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Join Water Street Bookstore
& the Exeter Historical Society
for a Book Signing by T.H. Breen
of his new book,
American Insurgents, American Patriots
Wednesday, July 7th at 7pm
at Water Street Bookstore
125 Water Street, Exeter

Challenging and displacing decades of received wisdom, T.H. Breen's strikingly original book explains how ordinary Americans -- most of them members of farm families living in small communities -- were drawn into a successful insurgency against imperial authority during the American Revolution.

T.H. Breen is the William Smith Mason Professor of American History at Northwestern University. An authority on the culture and politics of the early Atlantic World, he has written six major books, including Tobacco Culture and Imagining the Past.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Take a Historic Walk through Exeter

It's a beautiful day in downtown Exeter, New Hampshire -- a great day for a historic walk!

As many of you know, this year marks the sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's visit to Exeter. In honor of this occasion, the Exeter Historical Society created The Abraham Lincoln Walking Tour, which highlights key sites in the town relating to Lincoln's 1860 visit. The walking tour is available to download on our Lincoln online resource center, or you can pick up the printed version at the historical society (47 Front Street, Exeter) or at the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce (24 Front Street, Suite 101, Exeter).

This publication was made possible by a grant of the New Hampshire Humanities Council. It was written by Deborah Kanner and Barbara Rimkunas, and designed by Nate LaMontagne.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Perilous Voyage of Lizzie J. Call

Check out Barbara's most recent column:

"Historically Speaking" by Barbara Rimkunas, Exeter News-Letter, June 25, 2010:

At the dawn of the 20th century, river shipping on the Squamscott had declined to a trickle. In earlier times, the river was necessary to haul raw materials to town for the factories and mills. The Exeter Manufacturing Company shipped raw cotton up river and then sent finished cloth out to market. The Flagg and Wiswall paper mill brought in loads of rags to make into paper and the town's many merchants used the river to bring in goods from Boston.

But by the mid-1800s, the railroad had taken over most of the transportation of goods. Newer factories were built on the western part of town clustered around the depot. The only materials shipped on the Squamscott were heavy goods — lumber, coal and bricks — that were still best moved by water.

Harry Anderson didn't give up on the river. By the turn of the century, the town had developed an insatiable hunger for coal. Coal ran the steam machinery of the Exeter Manufacturing Company. It heated the homes, schools and public buildings in town. Exeter's Eagle Steamer fire engine pumped 7,000 gallons of water per minute through the use of a coal-fired engine. Anderson was well aware that the cheapest and quickest way to transport hundreds of tons of coal was by water. In 1893 he almost single-handedly revived river transport for a brief period of time.

Anderson had a great love of sailing and put this to good use by bringing his coal supplies up river on schooners. Nancy Merrill, in her history "Exeter, New Hampshire: 1888-1988," states that "at one time (he) owned five schooners home-berthed in Exeter." One was the Lizzie J. Call.

Built in Portsmouth in 1886, the Lizzie J. Call had a regular crew of five, including the captain. During the six-month-long coal strike of 1902, she brought in the last load of anthracite coal; preferred for heating because it burned hotter and smoked less than soft coal. But even that load wasn't quite enough. "Schooner Lizzie J. Call arrived Saturday morning with 250 tons of broken coal for H.W. Anderson, her managing owner. It was bought the day before the coal strike, 300 tons not being available," wrote the Exeter News-Letter. During the next six months, only inferior soft coal was available and this was snatched up by the Exeter Manufacturing Company and the town. Anderson scrambled to purchase coal from Wales — but only at an increased price. When the Pennsylvanian coal miners finally resolved the strike in mid-October, it took another month before coal was available to householders.

The Lizzie J. Call nearly met her end in 1908. The Exeter News-Letter reported on June 5, "After narrowly escaping being sent to the bottom by passing steamers on three different occasions, the three-masted schooner, Lizzie J. Call, of Exeter, was driven ashore on the rocks at Winthrop, Massachusetts, during the gale early Sunday morning, and those on board gave up all hope of rescue." Heading out of Perth Amboy, N.J., with a load of 278 tons of coal, the ship had encountered dense fog — so dense that three times they were almost struck by passing ships. The gale increased and the ship soon found itself in great danger. The Exeter News-Letter account tells what happened next:

"They were peering through the mist when suddenly the vessel crashed onto the rocks off Winthrop at 12:30 Sunday morning and her masts nearly went by the board when she struck. She was thrown higher up on the beach by the tremendous seas, and the waves beat against her hull and dashed high into the rigging. The men on board were drenched to the skin, and they clung to the rigging to prevent being swept into the sea.

"The vessel pounded so badly that her seams opened and she began to leak. The tug Leader happened along and seeing the predicament of the vessel ran down to render assistance. A heavy hawser was made fast to the vessel and the tug straightened out and pulled on her. After considerable tugging the schooner began to move and she was soon hauled into deep water."

The ship had taken on so much water that even after her rescue from the rocks she was still in danger. The bilge pumps barely kept her afloat long enough to make it to port in East Boston. There she was repaired enough to make it home to Exeter.

The Lizzie J. Call continued to travel up and down the Squamscott River until barges and trucks proved to be more efficient. Anderson sold his coal company to William McReel in 1910. McReel preferred to ship his coal from Portsmouth and Kittery, Maine by barge and the swift running schooners were no longer needed for long trips at sea. Once coal faded from use in the late 1940s, the days of dusty coal mounds piled alongside the river were over. The days of the schooners on the Squamscott River were also over.