Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bowling in Exeter

by Barbara Rimkunas

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Shooter's Pub, we are posting this "Historically Speaking" column which appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on September 1, 2006.

When Robert Lincoln was told his father had been nominated as a candidate for President in 1860, he was standing in a bowling alley in Exeter. “Good!” he is said to have replied, “I will write home for a check before he spends all of his money in the campaign.” He was probably hanging out in the bowling alley because Phillips Exeter Academy had forbidden the students from the town’s billiard parlors. Gambling at the pool hall was “the first big step on the road to the depths of degradation”. Bowling seems to have had only a slightly better reputation in American life.

The game itself is quite ancient and was brought to the New World by some of the earliest European settlers. By the early 1800’s it had evolved into the ninepin game that Rip Van Winkle encountered in New York State. But, like billiards, the frequent gambling that accompanied ninepins prompted most communities to outlaw the game. Enterprising bowlers simply added another pin to create a new legal game they creatively called “ten-pins”. By 1895, when the rules were standardized and the American Bowling Congress was officially created in New York City, ten-pin bowling had evolved into a wholesome national game.

However, in New England and the eastern provinces of Canada, ten-pin bowling had been overtaken by a quirky variation called candlepin bowling. Created by a bowling alley owner named Justin White in Worchester, Massachusetts, candlepin bowling is played with smaller balls and tall lanky pins. The rules of candlepin bowling vary from ten-pin in that three balls are played in each frame and dead pins are not removed from the field of play. Most candlepin bowlers will tell you that it’s a much more challenging game to play then ten-pins, which is another way of saying it’s harder. My own experience on the Exeter Hospital bowling league in the early 1990s would back this up, famous as I was for the “three gutter” frame and an overall average of about 45.

We played at the Exeter Bowling Lanes on Columbus Avenue. Built in 1946 by Frank Wentworth and originally called the Exeter Bowling Alley, the business is now celebrating its 60th anniversary. Designed before automatic pinsetters were developed in the 1950s, the pins were originally set up by teenagers called pinboys. Automation arrived just in time for the golden age of bowling in the 1950s and 60s. Father and son, Mike and Rob Ficara, have owned the Exeter Bowling Lanes since 1986. During this time, there have been more major changes – one of the most significant was when the facility went non-smoking. Shooter’s Pub was added in 1991 and the old grill was removed from the bowling area.

Bowling continues to be a popular sport in Exeter. Fall leagues will be forming soon with divisions for kids, seniors, men, women, mixed and competition. Rob Ficara says that some of the most exciting bowling in Exeter was when the New Hampshire State Tournament was held at the bowling alley from 1995 – 2000. It would have most certainly been more exciting than the game Robert Lincoln played back in 1860. At least Robert was able to find a lane – his father, also trying to kill some time that day, found that the bowling alley in Springfield was filled to capacity and he was turned away.

Friday, August 19, 2011

What's in a Name?

by Barbara Rimkunas
This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, August 19, 2011.

The Exeter Combination, July 4, 1639 (see image below)
How did Exeter get its name? The simple answer, and ultimately the correct one, is that Exeter, New Hampshire was named for Exeter, Devon in England. David Corbett, now of this town but originally from Britain, wrote me a quick note on the origins of the name ‘Exeter’ and its Roman origins: “The Romans called their fortress town Isca Dumnoniorum. In the ancient Celtic language, ‘Isca’ meant river and ‘Dumnoniorum’ was the name of a Celtic tribe – hence, ‘the riverside settlement of the Dumnnonii.’ So how did Isca Dumnoniorum become ‘Exeter’? One theory is that after the Romans left Britain in the fifth century A.D., the Anglo Saxons called the town ‘Isca-Castra’ (castra being Latin for a military camp). By the ninth century it had become Escanceaster. That, in turn, became ‘Exeter’.”

When John Wheelwright arrived in 1638, a religious outcast from Massachusetts Bay Colony, it had already been decided – by someone – that the area was to be called Exeter. Before gaining its English name, the place was generally referred to by its proximity to the river – the Squamscott River, or sometimes the Piscataqua River, but it never seems to have been called simply ‘Squamscott’. There is no evidence that Wheelwright named it Exeter. He wasn’t from Exeter, which is located in the south western part of England, he was from Lincolnshire, which is 240 miles to the northwest.

Charles Bell, author of History of Exeter, NH, noted that, “of course this name was borrowed from Exeter in England. The cause of its selection is unknown. There is no evidence that Wheelwright ever had any acquaintance with the English Exeter, and the only one of his companions who is known to have come from that place, or its vicinity, was Godfrey Dearborn.” So, we don’t really know who decided upon the name.

We can, however, look to other towns named Exeter to see how the name spread around the world. There are at least 13 Exeters in the United States according to our most reliable source, the National Weather Service. Two of these, Exeter Green, Maryland and Exeter, Virginia, aren’t really towns at all. Exeter Green is called a ‘populated place’ on the U.S. Census, whatever that means.

Two more Exeters can be directly linked to Exeter, New Hampshire. Exeter, Maine, population 997, was named by some of its original settlers who were from Exeter, New Hampshire. Exeter, Nebraska, according to Nebraska Place Names, by Lilian Fitzpatrick, was so named because it was, “suggested for this town by a family that came to the neighborhood from Exeter, New Hampshire. The name happened to fit in with the alphabetical system of naming towns along the Burlington railroad, so it was adopted.” It sounds like Exeter, Nebraska, came within a hair’s breath of being named Epping.

The remaining Exeters in the United States- those in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Missouri, Illinois, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, California, and Michigan- were all named for Exeter in England. Each one seems to have some major claim to fame. Exeter, Missouri, was originally named El Paso. Exeter, California is famous for a 1929 Anti-Filipino Race Riot. The best story of all, short of our claim as the UFO Capital of New England, is in Exeter, Rhode Island. Their town Wikipedia entry boldly states, “Exeter is noted by folklorists as the site of one of the best documented examples of vampire exhumations: the Mercy Brown Vampire incident of 1892.” There’s definitely a story there.

Australia has three places named Exeter. Exeter, New South Wales, population 397, is most famous for its fatal railroad accident in 1914. Exeter, South Australia, is actually a suburb of Adelaide and doesn’t seem to consider itself an actual town. Exeter, Tasmania, with a population of only 339, is located in Tasmanian wine country, although there do not seem to be any vintners who print “Exeter, Tasmania” on the label, which is a shame as something like that would make a fabulous Christmas gift.

Exeter, New Hampshire, home of the annual UFO Festival and former home of the Alewife Festival, is sadly and soundly outdone by Exeter, Ontario. Bragging that it is “Home of the White Squirrel” – a genetic variant of the lowly gray squirrels seen around here – the town hosts the annual White Squirrel Festival , primarily a folk music event, each May. The town mascot is Willis the White Wonder, who appears at many local events. We just don’t have anything like that.

Outside of Exeter, England we are the largest Exeter in terms of population. Here at the Exeter Historical Society we often get emails requesting information about the other Exeters. Occasionally, this has led to hours of time searching for records for someone who lived hundreds of years ago in another state, but more often we’re able to quickly realize that they’re looking for the wrong town. To the best of my knowledge, there have been no vampire exhumations here.


On July 4th, 1639, John Wheelwright, the founder of Exeter, New Hampshire, penned a document called “The Exeter Combination”, a framework for the town’s governance (see above). In his own handwriting, he spelled the town’s name “Exceter.” The misspelling shouldn’t trouble current residents – he incorrectly spelled his own name “Whelewright” later in the same document.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The "Bandstand" Turns 95

"Exeter in Perspective" by Nancy Merrill, appeared in the Exeter News-Letter, January 28, 1971

Swasey Pavilion, or Exeter's "Bandstand", between 1916 and 1929.

“Start at the Bandstand…” begins many a direction given by an Exeter resident to either a newcomer or a passing motorist. What is this Bandstand? When was it built? What story does it have to tell?

Some accounts of Exeter say it was built in 1913, others say 1917. One way to find out is to look in the old News-Letters, but more important -- first ask the town clerk, Evelyn Zarnowski, who keeps a little book of the most frequently asked questions.

Looking under “B” for Bandstand or “S” for Swasey Pavilion, she finds that 1916 was the year; then you are referred to the town records for 1916 and find that a special town meeting had been called for a Saturday evening. John Templeton read the resolution as is recorded in the town records and also The News-Letter for Jan. 14, 1916: “The citizens of Exeter, in a special town meeting assembled, hereby accept the offer of Mr. Ambrose Swasey to beautify the Square by erecting an ornate Pavilion therein, and the town clerk is directed to convey to Mr. Swasey, a loyal and distinguished son, the deep appreciation of the Town of Exeter for his beautiful gift.


“And the Hon. Edwin G. Eastman, the Rev. Dr. S.H. Dana and the hon. Albert S. Wetherell are hereby appointed a committee to act with the donor and architect in the erection of the Pavilion and in locating a new granite watering trough, also the gift of Mr. Swasey, in such place as seems advisable.”

Subsequent perusals of The News-Letter reward the reader with the following weekly observations:

Ambrose Swasey
May 5 -- The Swasey Pavilion
“The material for the marble pavilion which Mr. Ambrose Swasey is to erect in the Square as a welcome gift to his native town has been shipped. The work will begin upon its arrival and will be completed before July 4.”

May 12 -- Work on Swasey Pavilion
“Work preliminary to the erection of the Pavilion in the Square, the welcome gift of Mr. Ambrose Swasey began Wednesday when the fountain was removed to a site at the Town Hall corner. There it is intended to place it in temporary operation.
“On Wednesday also began the digging required for the Pavilion foundations. At a depth of four feet was found a deep layer of oyster shells. The trusses and other steel material was hauled to the Square yesterday.
“As announced, the Norcross Brothers Company, Worcester, Mass., is the contractor for the work of erection.”

May 26 -- The Pavilion
“Much has been done this week on the Swasey Pavilion. The three courses of Milford pink granite which constitutes the ashler have been set and nearly all forms for beams of re-enforced concrete which will support the platform are in place. The granite curbing around the space which will form a grass plot is being set. Delivery of marble is being made.”

June 9 -- Work In The Square
“The marble floor of the Pavilion is nearly laid and the laying of curbing around the enclosure has begun.
“The base of the granite drinking trough has been set in deep foundations of concrete and the water main from the opposite side of the Square has been laid. The base, a fine block weighing nearly seven tons, was put in place by Contractor Irving W. Brown without the use of a derrick.”

June 23 -- Town Affairs
“The last marble column of the Pavilion in the Square was set Tuesday and the last stone of the architrave Wednesday. The placing of the steel roof trusses in position was then begun.”

July 7 --
“At the initiative of Mr. Edward E. Norwell and with consent of the Boston and Maine, the fountain which until recently has stood in the Square will at once be placed on railroad land beyond the freight house and slightly back from Front Street. There it should do good service.”

July 14 --
“The Pavilion floor is receiving its finishing touches, beautiful mosaic work around the central bronze plate. The roof has received its copper covering, with pine cone finials and several lion heads as gargoyles to discharge rain water. (During our recent cold weather, several of the lions looked as though they had icicle goatees.) The material for the mosaic ceiling, shipped a fortnight ago and delayed on the way, arrived yesterday.”

The Pavilion under construction
July 21 --
“The ceiling of the Pavilion is completed save for a narrow stripe around the border, which is partially filled in. The design and color effect is eminently pleasing. The grading contract has been awarded to Mr. C. Charles Hayes, who will begin work as soon as possible.”

July 28 -- Town Affairs
“On Tuesday the Norcross Brothers Company, Worcester, Mass., completed its work upon the Pavilion and Mr. C. Charles Hayes finished the grading around it. Stripped of staging the Pavilion reveals a beauty that compels admiration. Approval of the architect and delivery to the town have yet to be made. The beautiful bronze chandelier for electric lighting made to special design, should be delivered early in August. It is hoped to have the dedication on a day when the generous donor, Mr. Ambrose Swasey can be present.”

August 4 -- Dedication of the Pavilion
“The Pavilion in the Square will be dedicated at 8 o’clock next Wednesday evening. Hon. Albert S. Wetherell will preside. There will be music by the Exeter band and addresses by Rev. Dr. S. H. Dana and, probably Hon. John Scammon. (Hon. Edwin G. Eastman had died before the Pavilion was completed.) The donor, Mr. Ambrose Swasey, will present the Pavilion key to the selectmen.
“After the exercise the Pavilion will be open to the public.”
“Following is the program of next Wednesday evening’s band concert, to be given after the Pavilion dedication, if rainy, the next fair evening.” (Eleven tunes were listed.)

It did indeed rain that Wednesday evening, August 9.

The “next fair evening” proved to be August 10, when many gathered in the square to thank Mr. Ambrose Swasey for his “sumptuous gift to his birthplace.” “It was said” that Daniel Chester French got his idea from a pavilion in the gardens at Versaille.

The dedication was largely attended. Hon. Albert S. Wetherell, of the committee which had supervision of the erection, presided. Its other member, Rev. Dr. S. H. Dana, made a felicitious address. It will be recalled that in the summer of 1915 no little curiosity was aroused by Mr. Swasey’s visit to the Square with a distinguished son of Exeter, Mr. Daniel Chester French, and Mr. Henry Bacon, of New York, one of the country’s most eminent architects. Alluding to this visit, Dr. Dana outlined its results and devoted much of his address to the notable trio. Greeted by hearty cheers and applause, the public-spirited donor then presented the Pavilion keys to the selectmen, with acceptance by Chairman Clarence Getchell. Music by the Exeter Band completed the programme.

“The Pavilion is of exquisite beauty. Upon deeply laid foundations of concrete rest three courses of pink Milford granite, which constitute the ashler. Then comes a course of white marble, from which rise eight graceful columns of marble which support the marble architrave. The steps are marble. The floor is of re-inforced concrete, with marble surface save for the central bronze plate showing the zodiac, especially fitting in view of the donor’s interest in astronomy, and the encircling mosaic work. The enclosing railing and gate are of bronze.
“The mosaic ceiling, in its design and the rich colors of its central sunburst and delicate tracery, is a gem. From its center hangs a bronze chandelier of pleasing design, with eight arms pointing to the columns. There are electric lights at the extremities of the arms and a ninth pendent from the center.
“There is much ornamental work in the copper roof, notably the 16 gargoyles, lions’ heads, and the pine cone finial.
“About the Pavilion is a narrow plat which turfed Monday, enclosed by granite curbing, and around this is a finely paved border.
“Mr. Swasey’s gift also includes a granite watering trough set at the west side of the Square.”
Architect Henry Bacon
“As the above implied, the architect was Henry Bacon, of New York, and Exeter is fortunate in the possession of a sample of his work. The principal contractor was the Norcross Brothers Company, Worcester, Mass. (According to Perley Gardner, this company had done larger jobs, but none any better.) The chandelier was made to special design by E. F. Caldwell and Co., Inc., New York, and the electric wiring was done by C. Fred Fifield, Of Exeter, C. Charles Hayes did the grading and turfing.”

The News-Letter of Sept. 15, 1916 shows a picture of the bronze plaque in the floor of the Pavilion. There is the “conventional sun in the center and a border formed of the signs of the zodiac. The first of these plaques was made for the Swasey Observatory at Denison University, O. The second and third are in scientific buildings in China. This one in Exeter is the fourth. It will reward a close inspection. The marble floor itself is of artistic design, and the mosaic ceiling is one of the most beautiful in the country.”

The Lincoln Memorial, designed by Bacon, under construction in 1916

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Squamscott Oxbow

by Barbara Rimkunas
This "Historically Speaking" column appeared in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, August 5, 2011.

When John Wheelwright first arrived in Exeter in March of 1638 he complained of the deep snows that he had to traverse, “it was marvelous that I got thither at that time…by reason of the deep snow in which I might have perished.” He waited a few months before sending for his wife and children so that they could make the trip more easily by boat. As she traveled up the Squamscott, Mary Hutchinson Wheelwright must have wondered about the unusual course the river took as it made its way to the headwaters at the falls where her husband was waiting.

About three miles out of town, the river took an unexpected twist to the right and just as suddenly looped back to the original path. This loop would trouble navigators for the next 250 years.

Called an oxbow, the loop is a natural formation caused by meandering of the riverbed. Sometimes an oxbow can curl all the way around stranding the land in the center. The Squamscott oxbow showed no signs of closing at the base. Its only contribution to Exeter’s busy seaport was to snarl up river traffic.

Exeter residents traveled the river in small crafts until the 1700s, when shipbuilding became an important industry in town. The river was deep enough to accommodate ships – providing they could be transported downstream to Great Bay. That oxbow, or “great roundabout” as it was sometime called, created no end of trouble. To navigate the double twists in a time before motorized engines, the crew would resort to pushing the vessel with long poles or casting the anchor forward and pulling it to get around the bends. William Saltonstall noted, in his Ports of Piscataqua, “no wind could have been fickle enough to get a boat equipped with sails through the Great Roundabout” and Olive Tardiff followed this in Exeter Squamscott: River of Many Uses, with, “Sometimes it was necessary for a vessel to wait as long as a week for favorable winds and tides in order to reach Exeter.”

By 1880, Charles Bell observed, “the navigation of the channel had become so obstructed by rocks and shoals that it was found necessary to petition Congress for an appropriation for its improvement.” The petition was granted and it was decided that instead of simply cleaning up the oxbow, it would be cut through. At the point where the looped ends nearly came together, a channel would be dug to allow a straight entrance to Exeter’s harbor.

Work began in the early Fall of 1881. Although it was nothing like the digging of the Panama Canal, it was made more difficult by an unusually hot Indian Summer. The Exeter News-Letter noted that Wednesday, September 28th was the “hottest day since July 14th.” It was muggy and already 70 degrees at sunrise. To get the miserable job done quickly, the News-Letter advertised, “It is intended to push the work of cutting off the ox-bow as rapidly as possible, and for that purpose, we are informed, employment will be given to any number of laborers from this town at $1.50 a day. As many hands as are wanted can readily be secured from other places, but the contractor prefers as far as possible to secure his laborers from this town.”

You’d think there would have been an excited and jubilant outcry in the newspapers once the oxbow was finally bypassed, but instead the news was silent. It must have been one of those satisfying, but nearly invisible triumphs – like cleaning the oven – that affects only a few and excites even fewer. Nonetheless, river traffic picked up for a time and coal schooners routinely made the trek up river.

The oxbow was still navigable by small boats after the cut was made. John Hurlbert wrote an account of a schooner trip up the Squamscott in 1897 and noted, “A short way down from Exeter there is a triple bend of the river which is called the oxbow. The river winds from shore to shore in graceful curves, but grace and utility cannot always be combined, so a few years ago there was a channel cut close to the right bank. As we sailed down between the high banks of clay we envied the little boat that flitted around the curves, dipping in the breeze like a swallow, and doubtless the occupants envied us as they put about to look at us.”

Fun, perhaps, for a small pleasure craft at the time, but today the oxbow is nearly gone. It can be viewed from above or by zooming in on Google Earth. From the river, if one is in a kayak or canoe, the entrances to the oxbow are tantalizingly broad enough to lure the paddler in. But, unless you are very adept at back-paddling, it is inadvisable to attempt to navigate the entire oxbow. After several hundred feet of pretty surroundings and tall grass the channel narrows until the kayak becomes mired in the spongy undergrowth and shallow water. The wildlife of the area will offer no assistance to the desperate paddler and will only mock you with deep throated croaking. I did get out, eventually, a tired but wiser adventurer.

The images: Top - The Squamscott Oxbow, here called “Roundabout Marsh” as seen on the 1802 Merrill Map of Exeter. The oxbow impeded the easy flow of river traffic in Exeter for nearly 250 years. Today it is almost gone. Bottom - The Oxbow today, courtesy Google Maps

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Engraved Tusk will Celebrate Lincoln's 1860 Visit to Exeter

To some it may be an unusual way to commemorate history, but to William Markey it's the perfect way to make use of an elephant tusk that has been in his family for more than 70 years.

With the help of a scrimshaw carver from New York, Markey is using the two-foot-long tusk to commemorate Abraham Lincoln's 1860 visit and speech in Exeter.

The tusk will be engraved with Lincoln's image and will have the date of his visit to the town on it.

Markey is hoping to present the tusk as a gift to the town upon its completion this fall.

Markey said the tusk once belonged to his father and was just sitting around his Newmarket home. Because ivory dries up, he knew he needed to do something productive with it when he started to see cracks developing. "I wanted to do something good with it, something the family could be proud of," he said.

The 77-year-old's love for history and Lincoln helped to inspire the idea, along with an article written in a civil war magazine that talked about Lincoln's 1860 visit to Exeter and other Granite State communities.

"I figured I got a story, an idea and a tusk that I don't know what to do with," he said.

Markey said the article he read put great emphasis on the importance of Lincoln's visit to the state in 1860.

"I went through the schools in Exeter and then went to school at UNH (University of New Hampshire) and not a breath was uttered about Abe Lincoln's visit to Exeter," said the Newmarket resident.

Lincoln in 1858.
Lincoln gave speeches in Concord, Manchester, Dover and finally Exeter, where he also visited his son Robert at Phillips Exeter Academy.

His visit to the state went a long way to winning over the support of seven of the state's 10 delegates four months later during the Republican convention in Chicago, Markey said.

New Hampshire, which was mostly a democratic state at the time, eventually supported Lincoln in the presidential election. "New Hampshire had an important say in Lincoln's election," Markey said.

Markey later contacted the author of the article he read, Ron Soodalter, who is also an accomplished scrimshaw artist, about his tusk idea.

"He loved it," Markey said. "He wanted to help out."

Soodalter is currently working on the tusk in New York.

Markey expects the tusk to be finished in September, at which point he plans on giving it as a gift to the Exeter Public Library.

Markey and Soodalter are still working on ideas for mounting the tusk and the display case. Markey said the tusk should be in a glass-enclosed case for the proper protection and kept at the correct humidity to avoid cracks.

He is also currently examining insurance options for the tusk, so it's insured in case of an unexpected loss.

Exeter Public Library Director Hope Godino said the library plans on accepting the tusk as a gift and would likely display it on its adult services floor for awhile before moving it to the historical collection area.

Markey is hoping to have a presentation ceremony when the tusk is complete.

Markey is a retired Air Force officer and once survived a jet bomber crash in 1961 that killed three of his co-pilots.

Article appeared in the July 29, 2011 issue of the Exeter News-Letter.