Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ghost Roads of Exeter

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, January 29, 2016.

When is a road not a road? It might be surprising to know that New Hampshire towns frequently have the decomposed remains of abandoned roadways snaking through their uninhabited woods. Sometimes surveyors stumble upon them and this is what has recently happened in Exeter. Old roads, usually called ‘highways’ in the old town records, are problematic for the landowner because technically they still guarantee right of way to the public, which can prevent the new owner from using the land to, say, erect a building. As Susan Sack, a legal services counsel, wrote in New Hampshire Law of Local Highways, Streets and Trails, “once public rights of way are established, the rights of the public should last indefinitely, unless a formal public decision is made to discontinue them.” This is true even if the road has been abandoned for over a century and no one in living memory can recall the road being used. The only way to get rid of a road is to have the voters agree to discontinue it.

Exeter has been down this ghost road issue twice before. In 1979, the town voted to discontinue an ancient and abandoned roadway called “Jolly Rand Road.” It was further voted to turn the road, which had deteriorated into nothing more than a woodland path, into a scenic trail for hiking. Another road, Garrison Lane, was partially discontinued in 1999. Both of these roadways were abandoned when other more efficient roads were laid out and this was the fate of the ancient road system rediscovered in 2015.

There was at one time a garrison house at the elbow of the old Garrison Lane. According to Elizabeth Knowles Folsom, who wrote about it in The Colonial Garrisons of New Hampshire, in a 1937 publication by the New Hampshire Society of the Colonial Dames of America, it was built by Daniel Young in the early 1700s. It appears as the home of Peter Cushing on the 1802 map of Exeter. Garrison houses were sturdy buildings designed to withstand attack and designated as a local stronghold should the need arise. They were sprinkled around towns in New England to protect the citizens. Mrs. Folsom listed three such buildings in Exeter – the Gilman Garrison, still standing on Water Street and currently owned and maintained by Historic New England; the Sewall Garrison on Epping Road just opposite the Park Street Common; and the Daniel Young Garrison, which she said was “taken down many years ago.” There were three ways to approach the Daniel Young Garrison – Garrison Lane, the two branches of which met at the house, and another unnamed road system that further branched out to Brentwood Road and an area known as ‘Great Meadow.’ The Great Meadow portion was abandoned before 1802, when Phineas Merrill laid out the first reliable map of Exeter. When it was discovered recently the surveyors unofficially named it “Three Rod Road” because of its width. The other branch, for which there is more documentation, was designated “Garrison Road” for its proximity to the site of the old garrison and the now discontinued elbow of Garrison Lane. The only physical evidence for either of these roads were crumbling rock walls in the woods.

So, were these roads or just farmer’s paths? Determining the history of ancient and abandoned roads can be tricky. Garrison Road clearly appears on the 1802 map, but it took some digging to find out if it was actually a town road. Indeed, in the town records there are entries for both the Garrison Road and Three Rod Road as early as 1699. Garrison Road, although nameless, is mentioned again with a more specific layout in 1746, although the language can be hard to cut through. “A highway should be laid out for the use of the town from the highway that leads by Daniel Youngs dwelling house to the great meadows through the lands of the persons here after mentioned in this return & it being of particular service to them having by an instrument under their heads bearing date with this return quited there right to all the lands as mentioned in the bounds of the said way.”

Luckily, there have, over the years, been other attempts to find old roads. In New Hampshire we are lucky enough to have the Oscar Jewell Collection of Road Layout Returns at the State Archives. State Archivist Brian Burford explained the collection in a 2014 article in the NHLSA Newsletter, “It has been my understanding that Oscar Jewell was hired in the 1930s by the State Highway department to research the legal rights to roads, as the state highway system became more and more extensive. State roads were generally local roads that the state assumed the responsibility for maintaining. The state wanted to know what legal rights the towns had to the roads they were taking over.” There in the Oscar Jewell collection at the NH State Archives was the page with our Garrison and Three Rod Roads – still on the books in 1930s as actual roads. Although the roads disappear from our town maps by 1845, and were thoroughly abandoned to traffic by that time, no formal discontinuance had been approved by the townsfolk.

There are other maps that can be used for locating roads. I was enchanted with a series of maps made in the 1950s called the “White Pine Blister Rust” maps. These were created to track the progress of a fungal disease then spreading through the forests of North America. The maps provide fairly detailed descriptions of the woody areas of the state. Although our Garrison Road area isn’t covered in this series of maps, they are a good resource.

Are there other ghost roads in the woods of Exeter? It’s possible. A comparison of our maps has only indicated that Jolly Rand and Garrison Road were dropped by 1845, but there could be a few that weren’t placed on the earlier 1802 map due to disuse. Each time one is discovered it provides us with a little mystery into our earliest history.

Image: The 1802 Map of Exeter by Phineas Merrill, showing Garrison Road (highlighted in red to the right). The one below it and to the left is Jolly Rand Road.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Farmer Krajewski and the Presidential Election of 1952

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, January 15, 2016.

Exeter, like a lot of New Hampshire towns, certainly gets a great deal of campaign traffic during presidential primary years. Among our photo stacks of politicians is one of “Farmer Krajewski” taken in the 1950s. In terms of documentation, you can’t ask for a better photo. It’s usually a struggle to determine when, where and why a picture was taken, but this guy (and the photographer – A. Belcher) managed to nail down all the basics in one inspired shot. The candidate stands next to his car, which is festooned with “Farmer Krajewski for 1952 President of the United States” and “Square Deal Program – Poor Man’s Party – Independent Candidate – New Jersey,” posed in a no parking zone directly in front of the Exeter Inn on Front Street. Our copy even has the date – May 14, 1951 – scribbled on the back. For an archivist, it doesn’t get any better than that. Except, of course, that no one’s ever heard of the guy. What in heaven’s name was going on in with the 1952 election?

When we look back on that election, it seems like a slam dunk. It was the election of Dwight D. Eisenhower – “I Like Ike” a near landslide for the Republicans in November. But that outcome was in no way foreseeable in the early days of the campaign. The incumbent, Democrat Harry Truman, although eligible thanks to the 22nd amendment, had flushed his re-election chances the previous year when he fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination. MacArthur, still a hero to most Americans for his World War II victories, had encouraged an escalation in the on-going Korean War. Truman’s popularity ratings sank to all-time lows. He tried to recruit someone to run, hoping perhaps Eisenhower – who had not declared his party affiliation – would run as a democrat. Eisenhower surprised everyone by declaring himself a Republican. Adlai Stevenson, Truman’s second choice, showed no interest in running for president because he was happy serving as governor of Illinois and wanted to run for a second term. That left the Democrats with Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, who soundly won the New Hampshire Democratic primary even though Truman was still listed on the ballot.

Dwight Eisenhower won the primary for the Republican Party and in June of 1952 resigned his commission in the army and began his presidential campaign. Think about that for a moment – he BEGAN his campaign in June of the election year. Presidential elections were shorter back then. Last October, with 13 months before the general election, Joe Biden’s chances at a presidential run were considered hopeless due to a late start. Eisenhower pulled it off in 5 ½ months. The Republican Party convention, held in July, gave the nomination to Eisenhower on the first ballot.

The Democrats were faced with a larger problem. Estes Kefauver won 12 of the 15 state primaries, but the party hierarchy disliked him intensely. He’d been part of a congressional watchdog group that had investigated corruption in the party and, considering these were the days of Joseph McCarthy’s ‘Red Scare’ with all of its witch-hunting and blacklisting, such behavior was viewed as intolerable to party bosses. Not to mention he campaigned wearing a coon-skin cap on a dogsled, which was just too silly to be taken seriously. Kefauver had to go down at the Democratic Convention, and go down he did. The party was also hobbled by civil rights issues – the Southern delegates threatening to walk if desegregation came up. In the end, the reluctant Adlai Stevenson was drafted as the nominee choosing John Sparkman of Alabama as his ‘balance-the-ticket’ running mate.

And then, of course, there was New Jersey pig farmer Henry Krajewski. Could there have been an unlikelier candidate? With his foreign sounding name (pronounce it, “kra-YEV-skee”) and crazy political platform – he endorsed a one-year tax moratorium for most taxpayers, a free pint of milk each day for every school child, more beer parties for the poor man – he was the diversion many people were looking for. He hailed from Secaucus, New Jersey where he ran a 4,000 pig farm. Often campaigning with a pig tucked under his arm he decried “piggy deals” in Washington. A supporter of Joseph McCarthy, and “America First” he was hardly the people’s choice. His campaign was aided by the creation of his very own music, the “Hey! Krajewski! Hey! Polka,” that you can still find on YouTube performed by Philadelphia’s Polish String Band (look it up, it’s worth it). In spite of all this fun, and his status as the earliest candidate to campaign in Exeter for the 1952 election if our dated photo is to be believed, Krajewski, like nearly all stunt candidates didn’t draw enough support for even one electoral vote, failing even in his home state of New Jersey. His photo, however, serves as a foreshadowing of the crazy, nutty circus that politics – particularly primary politics – in New Hampshire would evolve into as our ‘first-in-the-nation’ status dug into the national scene. Next time you get caught in a robo-poll on the phone, tell them you’re voting for Farmer Krajewski.

Photo: Candidate Henry "Farmer" Krajewski made a campaign visit to Exeter in May of 1951. In spite of his colorful campaign platform, he ultimately lost the election to Dwight D. Eisenhower.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Looking Back on 1915

by Barbara Rimkunas

This "Historically Speaking" column was published by the Exeter News-Letter on Friday, January 1, 2016.

At the close of 1915, Exeter’s residents were mystified about the curious fickleness of winter weather. Christmas was unusually warm and the following day the temperature climbed into the 50s. There had been enough snow cover to promise a suitably white Christmas, but it all melted away before the big day. Then, within two days the mild temperatures gave way to pounding rain, sleet and finally blizzard-like conditions. Exeter News-Letter editor John Templeton summed it up with his headline: “Extraordinary Christmastide Weather” – a summation we could easily reuse 100 years later.

Our concerns about terrorism were similarly mirrored in 1915. Although the United States had not entered World War I yet (and wouldn’t until 1917), accounts of the new style of warfare were frightening. Elizabeth Gardner Bouguereau, an Exeter native who was living as an artist in Paris, kept the town up to date on war news with her letters. In 1915, she and her fellow Parisians were terror-stricken by the threat of air raids. “You have read in the papers the episode of the attempted raids of Zeppelins on Paris,” she wrote, “when it was rumored that they were to come by night to throw incendiary bombs over the city, the military authorities put us all on drill to suppress all light which could guide them if they should come.” Numerous times in April, Bouguereau was awakened at night by sirens and rushed to the basement with her maid and cook. French artillery and biplanes chased the enemy away, she noted, “the Zepplins fled, doing some harm in the suburbs but none in the city.” 

When school opened on September 13 (not in late August as it does now), parents were reminded that all children attending public school were required to be vaccinated against smallpox – the only type of vaccination available at the time. “The law will be enforced,” the News-Letter firmly reminded everyone. This was still the Progressive Era and public health was one of the major social reforms. Two Exeter doctors took to the editorials to remind the public of the dangers of poor health. Dentist Dr. Gerrish reminded the forgetful that if you clean your teeth regularly you won’t need as much dental work. “Cleaning the teeth may be the most important and expert thing you can do,” he wrote adding, “Thus cometh the golden days of ‘prevention.’”

Dr. Otis had become one of the foremost experts in the fight against tuberculosis, which in 1915 was one of the common killers. It was, by this time, known to be caused by bacterium, Otis reminded people that TB was more common in people who did not maintain optimal health to begin with. His prescription for a healthy lifestyle: Clean air – get outside as much as often; Nourishing food – a mixed diet of meats, fats, starches; Rest – seven to nine hours a day; and Exercise – sports, walking, gymnastics preferably in the open air. It doesn’t sound much different from what we hear today, although modern doctors would add WASH YOUR HANDS.

Voters in 1915 – and these would all be men, remember – were looking forward to the first Presidential primary ever held. The radical idea of allowing voters to choose the candidates for election was another idea of the Progressive Era. Before this time, candidates were picked at the party conventions. However, the build up to the primary was nothing like it is today. The late months of 1915 had none of the horserace-like quality that we encounter now. It’s hard to spot any political news in November or December of 1915. If there’s any at all it mostly circles around the question of women’s suffrage. The ladies were tiring of not being part of the political process. Suffrage and the question of temperance were the most frequently discussed issues of the year. Drunkenness, even in a dry town like Exeter, was a problem out of control, just as today we’re facing a new round of heroin abuse. Their solution was to ban alcohol completely – a solution that would later prove unenforceable. Ours is to step up treatment for addiction. Only time will tell if this pulls us out of the quicksand.

There was much on the horizon of 1916 that was unknowable to Exeter’s people. There was no way of knowing how close the war was coming. Excitement about the upcoming Olympics due to take place in Berlin was dashed when the event was cancelled due to the war. The bright new Ioka Theater would be bankrupt by March, its owner Edward Mayer fleeing town to avoid his creditors. Still, 1916 began on a happy note with a special town meeting called for January 8th to accept a gift of a proposed town bandstand from Ambrose Swasey. Even while attending the meeting, they couldn’t forsee how beautiful that bandstand would be. Dedicated in August, it would still be beautiful 100 years later.

Photo: An early photo of the IOKA Theater, which opened November 1, 1915.