"Historic Highlights for Gilford Steamer’s 16 Sept. 2004

Making a Difference

An "OPEN" flag is displayed at the hallway entrance of Thompson-Ames Historical Society’s Grange Museum Building whenever someone is in the building. The flag signifies not only that we are open but also that visitors are welcome to come in.

The flag was given to Thompson-Ames Historical Society in 1998. It was a gift from John A. Howard, who at that time resided at the on Bacon Drive in Gilford Village.

Earlier this month we were saddened to learn that John had died on Saturday morning, September 4th at the Overlook Masonic Health Care Center in Charlton, Massachusettjs, where he had gone to live when he left Gil-ford. John had turned 94 years of age this past March.

I don’t remember when I first met John. Probably it was at one of the monthly meetings or programs of Thompson-Ames Historical Society, most likely in the early 1990s. He had an unassuming manner, was soft spoken -- a courtly gentleman. He was easy to engage in conversation, obviously had a broad background of education and experiences to draw upon, and was interested in many things, including the goings-on of Gilford’s historical society.

My first clear memory of John goes back to a Thompson-Ames Historical Society annual meeting, the first Monday eveniny in December of 1995. The meeting took place in the Laura Weeks Parish Hall and Ray Wixson presided as T-AHS president.

At one point in the meeting John raised his hand, was called on, and stood to speak. He spoke slowly and distinctly saying, "Ray, as you know, I would like to give to Thompson-Ames Historical Society a one-hundred year old, working, Clamshell Printing Press, and I know that it could not go into the Meetinghouse."

(As a background note, Gilfords historical society had been given the Meetinghouse in 1943 and used it as its only "museum" building as well as the site for monthly meetings and programs during the warm months of the year, that is June through August or September. Furthermore, when Gilford’s Grange had disbanded in 1990, the Grange Building/John J. Mornil Store of 1857, had been given to Thompson-Ames Historical Society but the historical society had not as yet used the vintage building.)

Ray responded that the historical society appreciated John’s generous offer and that during the winter of 1995-1996 a committee would be formed to investigate how to best use the two vintage buildings that the society owned.

And, true to his word, Ray formed a Buildings and Grounds committee which met during the winter months. By May the committee had a proposal ready and presented it to the T-AHS Board of Directors. The proposal was accepted. The proposal, which envisioned the use of both the Meetinghouse and the Grange buildings as museum sites for 1~ dozen theme areas in which T-AHS’s extensive collection of artifacts and archival items could be displayed, became a reality in 1997-1998.

In July of 1998, the scene was set for John Howard’s gift of the one-hundred year old Clamshell printing press to finally become a reality.

Jim Colby orchestrated the event. Carl Gardner used his trailer to bring the press to what was becoming the 1857-1907 Historic Store in the Grange building. Sheets of masonite were spread to protect the hardwood floor. Don Frost, Lloyd Ekholm and Stan Piper joined in to help push and tug until the 900-pound press finally was positioned to where it still stands.

John Howard stood nearby during the entire press-moving venture. His eyes twinkled with approval and encouragement as he watched the progress.

When the press finally rested in what was considered the optiiiium location in the area chosen to be the print shop, the six men formed a semicircle around the press and posed for a picture.

That photograph captured the moment that John had long anticipated. Outstanding in the picture is a smiling John Howard, wearing a red-plaid shirt and a cheery.~ red cardigan, exemplifying what was a red-letter day in everyone’s way of thinking.

In the weeks that followed, John designated other items that he wished to have moved from his home and into the Grange. Among these were trays of letters and numbers for the printing press, a type chase, samples of printing that John had done, a poster featuring a similar printing press, and, as a final touch, a press-printed sign "Pauper John’s Press" that gives a name to the area.

Without a doubt, John Howard’s foresight and quiet persistence helped contribute to what Gilford’s historical society has become —- a reservoir that gives a glimpse of the past lest we forget from whence we have come.

John was a master printer but he was also an educator and a civic—minded citizen. Thanks to John, Thompson-Ames Historical Society had a Buildings and Grounds plan ready when it was needed (when the Meetinghouse had to be emptied so that Henry Page and crew could address the failing roof rafters in 1997). Thanks to John, the printing skills of pre-computer days can be preserved, and -- when the press is restored to operating capacity -- there will be an opportunity for youngsters to learn how to operate a one-hundred year old Clamshell printing press through an internship program fostered by Stan Piper and other press men.

Without reservation it can be said that John Howard’s interest and involvement in the Thompson-Ames Historical Society have helped preserve Gilford’s cultural heritage.