Sunday, September 28, 2014

Our New Exeter History Minute

Exeter's history frequently overlaps with the history of other places -- sometimes it's Portsmouth, sometimes it's Boston, and on occasion, it's even further away. In this history minute -- click here to watch -- Barbara picks up the story of Suzannah Holman Brown's daughter, Julia, and ties it to three famous Boston dishes. (Warning, watching this segment may leave your mouth watering!) This history minute is generously sponsored by Citizen's Bank.

To learn more about Exeter history -- or to support the Exeter Historical Society -- visit our website, www.exeterhistory.org. #ExeterHistoryMinute

Special thanks to the Omni-Parker House for providing the photos of Harvey Parker and the Parker House, to Tom Kohn for the photo of the Boston Cream Pie and to Yankee Magazine for the photo of the Parker House Rolls.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Exeter Town Hall Controversy, 1931

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, November 30, 2007.

Sometimes too much change too quickly can be downright threatening. Imagine if the town government identified a problem, say lack of downtown restrooms and insufficient town office space, and then proposed altering a cherished town edifice to provide these very things. This was the controversy facing Exeter in March of 1931.

It all started when Judge Ernest Templeton, son of the Exeter News-Letter editor, John Templeton, pointed out that the town needed a new police station, courtroom, and cells. At the annual town meeting in 1930, a committee was appointed to look into the problem and make some recommendations for the next meeting. The other sore point in town was the lack of public restrooms. Shopping in the downtown by necessity had to be done in short trips. Especially if one was traveling with small children. Local merchants were keen to make the downtown as inviting as possible.

The 1931 Warrant included a proposal that would solve all of these problems. The 1855 Town Hall building had a perfectly serviceable, but inaccessible basement that could be converted, quite inexpensively, to office space, the district court, holding cells and public restrooms. The renovations would require removing the embankment on the Water Street side of the building to create windows and an entryway, which would widen the street a bit and provide for a continuous sidewalk to the square and a few more parking spaces. It seemed like the perfect solution.

But when town meeting day dawned, considerable opposition had begun to swell. Perhaps it was a reaction to the numerous building projects already going on in the town, but changing the look of the Town Hall was just too much for many people to swallow. Ambrose Swasey had already had a number of old buildings moved or razed for his new parkway and Phillips Exeter Academy was in the midst of a building spree, erecting nine new buildings. It must have seemed that the whole of Exeter was changing in this new modern world. The rickety wooden structures of Water Street that seemed to stay upright only out of habit were rapidly disappearing. Opposition to the town hall renovations was fierce.

When the votes were tallied, Article 15 passed by a vote of 214 to 208. The six vote difference wasn’t enough for a very vocal number of citizens who petitioned the selectmen for a new meeting. A new warrant was posted, and another town meeting was scheduled for March 31st to vote to rescind the action taken on Article 15. In the meantime, the same group filed an injunction to prevent the selectmen from acting on the original vote until the second was taken, lest they try to stealthily install bathrooms during the intervening two weeks.

Handbills and letters flew in every direction. Those opposed were adamant that the building would be ruined architecturally. The beauty of the downtown would be destroyed. “The motive of the leadership in this movement appeared to be both rule and ruin,” commented John Templeton. Supporters countered, “It is a mere handful of sorehead politicians who have persuaded a certain class of our citizens to join them in this ‘rule or ruin’ move to overthrow the perfectly fair vote of March 10. The same class opposed the change from oxen to horses and from horses to automobiles, and always see calamity in progressive measures. We are sorry for them.”

Three times as many voters turned out for the special meeting as had voted originally. Although they tried to paint it as a small number of people in opposition, the vote was again very close – 891 in favor of renovations and 825 opposed. Remodeling went ahead but the defeat was painful. Months later, John Templeton was still grieving. “We know that many well meaning citizens supported this project, but in view of the fact that it was entirely unnecessary, it seems incredible that a majority of Exeter’s citizens should trample on the sentiment of their neighbors and needlessly embitter public feeling. It is not like Exeter. That this spirit is today in the ascendancy is Exeter’s shame.” Had the vote gone the other way, no doubt the wound would have been as deep.

Exeter's New Historic Marker

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published in the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, September 26, 2014.

Wondering about the mysterious sign in front of the town hall? The sign – to be unveiled on Saturday, October 4th – commemorates Abraham Lincoln’s visit to Exeter in 1860. Back in 2010 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of his visit and speech with all manner of public events. The permanent sign will recognize our town's connection to Abraham Lincoln to a wider audience.

Historic highway markers are nominated through the New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources. Exeter already has four such markers. If you’re interested in finding them all, start on outer Water Street where you’ll find a marker dedicated to Brigadier General Enoch Poor. Poor was a shipbuilder who served during the American Revolution. The Ladd-Gilman house, which is now the home of the American Independence Museum, bears a marker to remind us of its role as the state treasury. A marker dedicated to Exeter’s tenure as the state capital stands in front of the town offices and just up Front Street on the corner of Court Street another sign marks the spot where the Declaration of Independence was read aloud for the first time to citizens of New Hampshire.

Lincoln wasn’t a presidential candidate when he visited Exeter in the winter of 1860. His son, Robert, was attending Phillips Exeter Academy after spectacularly failing his Harvard entrance examinations. When Lincoln was hired to make a speech at the Cooper Union in New York in late February, he readily accepted and extended his trip to have enough time to slip up to New Hampshire to visit Robert. Lincoln had other ties to Exeter – he had befriended fellow congressman Amos Tuck during his time in the United States Congress in 1847. Tuck is widely credited with the creation of the Republican Party based on his objection to the spread of slavery into the western territories – a view he and Lincoln held in common. The Tuck family’s presence in Exeter most likely helped the decision to send Robert to Phillips Exeter Academy for a year of intense study. Upon Lincoln's arrival to town on February 29th, he was immediately asked to make speeches throughout the state and he found himself on a whirlwind tour of Concord, Manchester and Dover during his short stay in New Hampshire. Exeter was the site of the fourth speech he made in the state.

So what of it? Lincoln made speeches all the time. What’s one more? Lincoln’s northeastern trip that year introduced him to a skeptical audience. There were several candidates from the region likely to run for the presidency that year, but Lincoln’s debates about slavery against Stephen Douglas for the Illinois Senate had been carefully followed by many folks in the east. Slavery had nearly disappeared in the northern states and most thought ‘good riddance.’ It could stay where it was in the south, but when the western territories began to petition for statehood, decisions about the spread of slavery had to be made. Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, which he paraphrased for the New England audiences, laid out his careful reasoning in opposing the extension of slavery. It also hinted that, perhaps, the system itself, although constitutionally acceptable, was a cancer on the nation. It was in New Hampshire that Lincoln first used the powerful metaphor of slavery as a snake in the bed to awaken the population’s sleepy complacency.

Of the four sites where Lincoln spoke in New Hampshire the Exeter town hall is the last one still standing. Concord lost Phenix Hall to a fire in 1893. Manchester’s Smyth Hall was torn down in 1970 and the Dover City Hall burned in 1866. Last year’s fire at the Exeter town hall, small though it was, was a reminder that these old buildings must be cherished.

The Exeter Historical Society was pleased when a local donor contacted us willing to assist with a petition to have the Exeter town hall recognized as a New Hampshire historic landmark. Please join us during the Exeter Fall Festival on October 4th at 12:30 on the steps of the town hall when we will be joined by Phillips Exeter Academy principal Tom Hassan and, perhaps, Abraham Lincoln himself, to unveil our new historic marker.

Image: Exeter Town Hall as it appeared to Abraham Lincoln during his visit in 1860.

Monday, September 15, 2014

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

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fred Frame

by Barbara Rimkunas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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