WALKING IN GILFORD’S PAST
It is my good fortune to be employed in the cataloging and management of the collections of artifacts and archival materials of the Thompson-Ames Historical Society. The artifacts show us at a glance the tools and household items used by those who lived and worked in Gilford from the early 1800s to the mid 1900s - allowing a visual walk through history with the farmers, coopers, housewives, shoemakers, storekeepers, even a manufacturer of skis. But it is the archival records, not often seen by the casual visitor to the museum buildings, that I find most intriguing.
It is the letters which speak of the distress caused by the passing of a young wife and mother, the correspondence between lawyer James Bell and his client relative to the water level at the Lakeport dam, the deeds that show the constant exchange of property among a relatively few, the tax book of Ebenezer Smith which tells us who was living in the Upper Parish in 1801 and the 1863 records of school district # 10 which reveal that a total of $95.75 was raised to support the school - 83 cents for chalk and $2 for a record book - it is the perusal of these records that I find truly fascinating.
At first, I felt a twinge of guilt at the time it took me to catalog even one item. I told myself that it was necessary to know the content of documents in order to make the right decisions about classification, description and cataloging , but still the little twinge persisted. It was only after talking with professional archivists that I discovered that the arguments I used to justify my "need" to read "everything" really was justified. When a professional told me that it often took her a day or even more to catalog one item, I began to relax, and now when I find myself absorbed in the details of letters, log books, family history and photographs, I just enjoy and think how fortunate I am that it really is a necessary luxury that goes with the job.
It gives me distinct pleasure to view the large map of Lake "Winnipesaukee" and its surrounding towns and mountains which bangs on the wall at the Historic Society’s Grange building. This unique map was meticulously hand drawn, colored and decorated with detailed information and sketches of local fauna on a scale of 3 3/4t~ to 1 mile by Alton Smith — a man who must have loved and often reflected upon the significance of the Lake on which be lived. That later someone had the foresight to give it into the keeping of the Historical Society makes me grateful for both those who create and those who preserve.
I like to look at our many photographs and think about the Gilford men who played in the Blaisdell Band organized in 1896 or the Gilford musicians who played in Rublee’s Band at Weirs Beach — not too different from those who make music today at the village bandstand. I wonder what the men and women lounging on the porch and steps of the Diamond Island Hotel would think about the difference a mere one hundred years has made in the way we approach vacations. Men are wearing hats and ties and women, clothing which covers every inch of them except for their face and hands and I wonder, did they dress so even when bowling at the hotel’s bowling alley? Might they not
It may seem strange to some that one would become excited over such unimportant, long ago happenings, but there is a feeling of connectedness, admiration and sometimes awe inspired by lives lived in times so different by people not so different from ourselves. Each week I find something to wonder about, be amused, intrigued or challenged by. We receive calls, letters and sometimes visitors from out of town or out of state wanting information, often about missing ancestors — but not always. One such call came from Oregon. The caller is writing a novel in which her heroine, an aspiring actress, performs in summer theatre at the Lakes Region Playhouse in Gilford and could we tell her what plays were staged in 1969 and 1970? We could!
My favorite, however, is the correspondence with researcher Ansley Wegner, archivist and researcher at the North Carolina Office of Archives and History in Raleigh, who bad in her possession an artificial leg made for a North Carolina veteran of the Civil War. The government of NC had voted to provide each returning NC veteran who had undergone an amputation during the war with a replacement limb. Although there was no identification on the leg, Ms. Wegner’s research led her to believe that the inventor of the flexible, mechanical leg was Benjamin W. Jewett of Gilford, NH. She was looking for information which might give her additional information about Jewett. I remembered that T-AHS has in its collection an unmarked, mechanical artificial leg about which we knew nothing. Pictures were exchanged and the similarities are striking. Ms. Wegner then provided us with the patent number of Benjamin W. Jewett’s Artificial Leg, patented Aug. 7, 1860 and we applied for and received a copy from the U.S. Patent office in Washington, DC. Her research had revealed that NC had hired a cabinetmaker who bad worked for Benjamin Jewett in Washington making limbs for amputees. With Benjamin’s permission, limbs were made to the Jewett patent specifications for the NC veterans. It seems likely that our leg was also made from this patent design. The Jewett family states that Samuel Jewett also was an inventor and manufacturer of artificial legs. Both men appear to have spent some time working in Washington and Warren Huse of the Laconia Historical Society, says that one of the Jewetts ran a Prosthesis Co. on Union Ave. in Lakeport. An article written by Ms. Wegner which appeared in NC was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in papers as far away as Calif., thus giving Benjamin Jewett and his wonderful invention a moment of recognition nearly 150 year later. Phantom Pain, a forthcoming book about the artificial limb program for NC Civil War veterans written by Ms. Wegner will have information about the Benjamin Jewett leg. If anyone has any information about the Jewetts and their artificial legs, I would be most grateful to team of information which might help to confine identification of our leg as one made by either Benjamin or Samuel Jewett.
A friend said to me a while ago... "so there really are some interesting jobs out there after retirement." I can testify to that. I have one of them. Not only does it give me the privilege and the pleasure of walking through Gilford's past, but it assures that others will as well. How fortunate we are that the Town of Gilford values its history enough to lend support to T-AHS’s efforts to keep it alive and available. Our collections are being placed in a database that we hope will one day be available to the public via the Internet. Meanwhile, anyone interested in researching these records may call T-AHS at 527-9009 for information.
marvel at our casual indifference to appearance even as we marvel at their formality and fortitude. It is intriguing to think about this same hotel in the 1870s being drawn by oxen in mid-winter across the ice to take up new residency as an attachment to the famous Wiers Hotel — surely an "event" of its day.
But photographs raise questions also. Who is the elegant little woman in the Kimball Castle folder? Mrs. Benjamin Kimball or Charlotte Kimball perhaps? I speculate about this and in my mind have decided that she is the delicate wife of Benjamin. I would like to know. Benjamin appeared in his photograph as the very distinguished, self-assured man of business that he was. It is easy to imagine him overseeing the building of his "castle" and difficult to visualize him relaxing and enjoying it. The woman in the picture would be overshadowed by his larger than life presence, but if it is Mrs. Benjamin Kimball, we read that "in matters outside his business ventures, he relied heavily on her judgment."
Daybooks are an interesting commentary on life of the I 800s — daybooks of store keepers, blacksmiths, even farmers. The daybook (1813 to 1848) of Ebenezer S. Hunt reveals that in addition to operating a business, he served as the town clerk. He tells us that he received 96 cents for recording marriages, but $1.00 for notifying the selectmen of an upcoming meeting. In contrast, for the use of his horse and sled, he received 34 cents, while for the hire of "self’ he received 50 cents. To pasture a cow for one month, Jonathan Leavitt, Jr. paid him 80 cents. According to one entry he kept a horse one "knight" for Mrs. Coble. He seems to have turned his hand to anything that came his way, from selling beans and wheat, making kid shoes, and repairing a wagon bolt to making rum barrels. The significance of the latter is easily understood when you look at the day books of the store keepers of the 1 800s which show that rum was the number one best seller, outnumbering other items by two to one. One daybook on a single page had 31 entries —21 for rum. Children used their father’s daybooks to practice their penmanship or otherwise to scribble in, and leaves were pressed between the pages. Pinned on a page in one daybook is a notice that certifies "to whom it may concern that there is a marriage intended by Mr. Mark Chase of New Hampton and Miss Polly Danforth". Mr. Hunt’s name comes up in other documents as well, so that when we read of his death from injuries sustained when his wagon overturned, it is like parting with a friend.
Much like today, the citizens of (2rilford found it necessary to have a fund drive to raise money to achieve certain goals. In 1868, 101 persons, including five women, subscribed to pledge money for the purpose of "obtaining a hearse for .... conveying our bodies and our friends to their last resting place.... and for the creation of a building for the protection of the same." This seems to have been a private endeavor as neither church nor town government is mentioned. The contributions came in - primarily in the amounts of $1, $2 and $3. However, John P. Smith made the very generous donation of $20 followed by J. P. Morriil’s handsome gift of $10. This little piece of information whets my appetite to know more. Was the fund drive successful? Where was the hearse housed? How long was it in use? Does anyone have a picture of it?