Excerpts from Jaffrey Center, New Hampshire Portrait of a Village
(A book written by Coburn Kidd and published by the Jaffrey Center Village Improvement Society, 1975)
A few settlers came to the Monadnock region in the early 1740's, but withdrew into Massachusetts during the Indian Wars (1744-49). In the decade or so after peace came, land speculation was brisker than the actual clearing and settling. It was not until the late '60's and early '70's that settlement spread through the "Middle" or "Monadnock No. 2" area, "Jaffrey" as it was soon to be named. In 1773, when some forty families lived in the township, a petition for a charter was submitted to John Wentworth, "Captain General, Governor and Commander-in-Chief, in and over His Majesty's Province of New Hampshire, and Vice Admiral of the Same in Council." The charter was duly granted under date of August 17, 1773.
Despite revolutionary excitement and depreciated currency, the village experienced a healthy growth. Nothing very dramatic happened, much less melodramatic, but to the Ulstermen who made up most of the community the country seemed as good as what they had come from. The land was good enough to clear for pasture, or to be bought and sold for a quick profit. There were streams for a saw mill, a grist mill, or a tannery, and convenient taverns on the road between Boston and Keene.
The community prospered in the period from 1800 to the 1850's. There were occasional set-backs: the village did not approve of "Mr. Madison's war" in 1812; there were hard times in 1837, but no catastrophe until the depression of 1857. A fine tower was added to the Meeting House in 1822. The Reverend Laban Ainsworth attended to the spiritual needs, not excluding material needs, of most of the parishioners from 1782 until 1858. In the course of time a dozen or more one-room schools were built. The mills prospered. The Federal Census of 1850 reported 1,497 inhabitants.
The Civil War period was a turning point. The Town History lists the names of 162 men from Jaffrey who served in the Federal forces. In the years after the war farming declined, families moved west, business ebbed from what is now the Center to what was then East Jaffrey. The railway came to East Jaffrey. The vital part of the community shifted a century ago to the main center of the town on the river.
Around the turn of the century the old Center presented a spectacle of straggling fences, houses needing paint, a decrepit blacksmith shop, and oats knee-high around the watering trough. Cutter's Hotel was a well-known establishment occupying the site where the flag-pole now stands. It burned to the ground on November 14, 1901, and oldtimers recall seeing the debris of burnt stumps, charred beams, and twisted bed-steads scattered from the Common to the watering trough at the bottom of the slope.
Not long thereafter a group of public-spirited citizens formed the Village Improvement Society, which set about tidying up. The V.I.S. worked wonders, especially under the guiding hand of Mrs. Benjamin L. Robinson, who was president of the Society from 1908 to 1928. Mrs. Robinson enjoyed the staunch support of Mrs. Lawrence Wetherell, who in 1928 succeeded her as president and served in that capacity until 1948. Thereupon the Society elected Mrs. Wetherell Honorary President for life.
Over half a lifetime, until her death on January 1, 1974, no benefactor did more for Jaffrey Center than Josephine Wetherell. With much taste and sensitivity to the natural beauty of the place and the charm of the old buildings, Mrs. Wetherell assisted both in guidance and in material aid. Lawrence Wetherell with unmatched generosity shared his wife's interest in Jaffrey. The village is largely indebted to them for the restoration of its historic public buildings.
Josephine Wetherell helped in so many ways to make the village what it is today that this book of photographs, dedicated to her in affectionate memory, represents more or less what she would have seen on a drive in her day. She was already a legend in her lifetime—larger than life in flowery, summery garments, generally glimpsed in a flashing view of a great hat and a waving gloved hand from a big car. To neighbors and children she was a beloved, if autocratic, goddess of plenty, come to rest in Jaffrey Center with a cornucopia of largess for which the village will long be grateful.
The Village Improvement Society, Inc.
July 27, 1975
By village tradition the walls of the Meeting House were raised on the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill, June 17, 1775. Captain Samuel Adams had the contract. He was assisted by his wife's brother, Jeremiah Spofford. The building received its first coat of paint in 1798-1801. In 1822 the "Christopher Wren" bell tower was added, built by Joel Oakes Patrick.
The building was first used for Town Meetings and services of the Congregational Church. In due course use was shared with other denominations. In 1831 the present brick church was built, and the Congregationalists moved out. The other denominations also acquired buildings of their own. Except for Town Meetings the old Meeting House was not again put to regular use until after the Civil War. In 1870 the interior was remodelled to provide a town office above and school rooms below. The school rooms were not long needed, and in 1914 the Town Office and place for Town Meetings were transferred to East Jaffrey.
The old building received a basic renovation in 1922 and has since been used for entertainment, lectures, an occasional reception or other purposes. It is the finest as well as the oldest landmark of Jaffrey.
2. THE LITTLE RED SCHOOL HOUSE
By 1845 Jaffrey acquired a total of thirteen school districts. Many had one or two-rooms, much like the one on the Common. On a site about where the present Red School House stands, Jaffrey Center originally had School District No. 7, built in 1795. A new school was built in 1816-17 near the present Wild residence. Old building No. 7 was repaired and moved in 1856 to John Poole's lot (next to the present Oribe Shop). Abandoned in 1864, it was used as a blacksmith shop, then eventually sold to the V.l.S. and demolished.
School District No. 11 was separated from No. 7 for the convenience of families living near the mountain, and a school house was built in 1796-98 on a road leading to the present residence of Mrs. Karl Compton. A new building was erected in 1822 on the Dublin Road. Attending school one year there were ten Cutter children from one family. The building was sold to Joel H. Poole in 1886 as a memorial to old times.
In 1960, by public subscription and through the efforts of the Jaffrey Historical Society, No. 11 was moved to the present site on the Common. An account of the rescue effort is given in vol. III, ch. xxix, of the Town History. It was Project No. 1 of the Historical Society, recently organized by Homer Belletete, Ralph Boynton, and Jason Sawyer, Oren Belletete, Charles E. Chamberlain, Clyde Felch, and Fred H. Smith served on the moving committee, under Professor Robert H. George as chairman. The cost of building the school in 1822 was $200; the cost of repairing and moving it over the years 1957-67 was $2,691.35.
3. THE HORSE SHEDS
In 1808 the Selectmen were authorized to lay out a strip of ground for the erection of horse stables where the Horse Sheds now are. Two years later they reported that certain responsible citizens had built the said stables and in return had received concessions "only for the space of 999 years" on condition that they keep the stables in decent repair.
The responsible citizens were Josiah Mower No. 1 (his stall was since removed to make another gateway to the Burying Ground); James Stevens No. 2; Samuel Peirce No. 3; Parker Maynard No. 4; Roger Brigham; No. 5; Jereme Underwood No. 6; Eleazer Spofford No. 7; David Gillmore Jr. No. 8; David Gillmore No. 9; Edward Spaulding No. 10; Moses Worster No. 11; and Abner Spofford No. 12.
By 1949 the Horse Sheds had fallen into disrepair. A committee of interested citizens, appointed at the Town Meeting that year, undertook to have the sheds repaired at no cost to the town. By the summer of 1954 the work was done. The V.I.S. was made successor to the committee of citizens, and for a nominal sum received the leases from the descendants of the original tenants or their representatives.
4. THE OLD BURYING GROUND
Before 1774 a headstone in a field was apt to mark a grave on the farms around Jaffrey. In that year the Town appointed a committee to lay out a burying ground, of about an acre and a half, a short distance north of the plot on the Common selected for the Meeting House.
Here lie the remains of most of the early families, except some of the Cutters, who had their own burying ground, and the farmers off Fitzwilliam Road, who used the Phillips cemetery near Gap Mountain. Among the old graves are those of Moses Stickney, the first child in Jaffrey, and Joseph Thorndike, after whom the road and the lake are named. Here laid to rest are the Reverend Laban Ainsworth, 1757-1858, his granddaughter Mary Minot, who married Rear Admiral Theodore Phinney Greene, and their descendants. In modern times the graves of Howard Sweetser Bliss, President of the Syrian Protestant College, now the American University, of Beirut, 1902-1920, and of Willa Cather, next to her friend and secretary. The monument of the sculptor, Viggo Brandt-Eriksen, to his wife, Dorothy Caldwell, is in the northwest corner.
Of all the gravestones, none is visited by the public more respectfully than those of Amos Fortune and his wife, Violet. Born a slave in 1710, he was granted his freedom in 1769, prospered as a tanner, and upon his death bequeathed a "handsome present" to the church, with which a communion service was purchased, and a sum of money to the Town for the furtherance of education. The headstones read:
to the memory of Amos
Fortune, who was born
Africa, a slave in America, he
lived reputably, and
Nov. 17, 1801,
to the memory of
by sale the slave of Amos
Fortune, by marriage his wife,
by her fidelity his friend and
solace, she died his widow
Sept. 13, 1802
6. THORNDIKE COTTAGE
The Cunninghams' cottage across from the Common near the flag pole is named after Joseph Thorndike, an eminent figure in early days. He was selectman, moderator, representative to the General Court, tax collector, highway surveyor, school agent, and justice of the peace. Later the building was known as the Phelps cottage, and in recent times as the Farnham or Hekking place.
The site was originally owned by Capt. Samuel Adams, who built the Meeting House, then owned (1785) by his father Isaac, who did a business in buying and selling lots and holding mortgages on land around the Common. Thorndike bought the property from Isaac Adams in 1792, as a general store for his sons Andrew and Henry. The building may have been begun earlier, as there are date-marks of 1790 on it.
Until the middle of the last century the building generally housed a store. Early storekeepers included: Daniel Emory, 1806; Jonathan Wheelock, 1810-1812; Henry Payson, 1815- 1824; Capt. John Wright, 1824-1827. The Town History comments on Capt. John and his brother: "It is presumed that confirmed habits of intoxication barred them from the responsibilities of married life." William Lacy ran the store and post office from 1842 to 1846.
Dr. Gurley Phelps, who purchased the cottage from banker Jonas Melville in 1858, had come to Jaffrey in 1849 and married a daughter of Benjamin Cutter. Phelps converted the building to a dwelling house, although he continued to use it as a post office. He was postmaster 1861-88, as well as physician and surgeon, deacon, clerk of the First Church, and a prudent investor in real estate. His son, Charles S. Phelps inherited the cottage in 1902 and occupied it 1910-45. Thereafter it was the property of Mrs. George (Vivian) Farnham 1947-61, Mrs. William (Vivian) Hekking 1965-69. Since 1969 it has been the residence of Professor and Mrs. Richard Cunningham.
9. MAREAN HOUSE
The red Marean house is one of the oldest buildings in the Center. It was built in 1784 or '85 by Benjamin Cutter as a tavern. He did such a good business "At the Sign of the Fox" that he later sought, and received, permission from the Selectmen to move the Meeting House as interfering with access. Fortunately nothing happened. In 1798 or '99 Benjamin moved elsewhere and was succeeded by his brother Joseph, who, after providing farms off Dublin Road for each of five sons, retired to the tavern in 1802 and lived there many years ("forcible in expression," but "of few words").
The dwelling house and stables were later owned by William Carter, a stage-driver between Jaffrey and Keene, who died in 1821.
In the latter part of the century the property was owned by Elbridge Baldwin. Robert R. Marean acquired the "Baldwin place" in 1889, and owned it until 1914. From 1915 through 1926 it belonged to George H. or Clara Lawrence. From 1927 to 1964 Mrs. Endicott (Anna) Marean, who was a Lawrence, owned the place. It is now the property of the Marean daughters: Mrs. Charles (Joan) Comstock, of Bedford, Massachusetts, and Mrs. David (Marguerite) Thorndike, of Manchester, Massachusetts.
11. THE FLAG POLE
The land at the top of the hill where the flag pole stands was one of the lots purchased in 1785 by Isaac Adams from his son, Capt. Samuel Adams. It was sold to Capt. Jacob Danforth who came to town in 1792. Danforth built an inn which offered every convenience: bed and board, a tavern with dance hall, stables, and a blacksmith shop. Asa Brigham purchased the property in 1812, and had the misfortune of seeing the inn burn in 1816. Rebuilt the same year, it was sold in 1821 to Ethan Cutter. Three generations of Cutters thereafter owned and operated it. Ethan was succeeded by his son Jonas, who added buildings in 1870. Jonas retired in 1899, succeeded by his son Mortimer. Cutter's Hotel was known to all the travellers on the Turnpike. It burned to the ground on November 14, 1901.
In 1909 the V.I.S. purchased the triangular plot of vacant land from Mortimer Cutter, adding it to a piece obtained from Miss Dora Tenney in front of her house (now the Woods') near the watering trough. Mortimer C. in 1910 built a new hotel, "Cutter House," diagonally across from the old place. In 1922 this building too was destroyed by fire.
18. THE OLD POST OFFICE
Both the old building and the muves of the post office have had a history. Through most of the last century the building was known as the "Fox store," after Isaac and John Fox, who were in partnership as storekeepers for a few years before 1832.
The building originally stood on a 30'x30' lot across the street. The History says this building was erected by Samuel Adams Jr. in 1808 as a combination house and shoe store. It had the gable facing toward the street, as it still does. Title soon passed to Salmon Wilder, the first printer in the town, and Samuel Litch, schoolmaster. In 1815 Wilder quitclaimed to Litch "all my right title and interest claim and demand in and unto a certain tract of land in Jaffrey, on the north side of the turnpike road between Mr. Moody Lawrences dwelling house and the dwelling house of Mr. Robert Gilmore." The building was "later moved across the street and faced about to its present position where it serves as the store and post office at Jaffrey Center" (Hist., I, p. 741).
In 18 54 Joseph Bigelow opened a store in the old "Fox store," by then on the south side of the street. In 1862 Bigelow built a new place across the street and moved his business to it. From the early '80's to 1890 the Fox store was owned by Mrs. Marion A. Clark, the widowed daughter of Asa Nutting who lived in the present Bernbaum house. The building was purchased in 1891 by Benjamin F. Lawrence for an annex to his inn. It is described as a "tenement" in 1892-96; thereafter, until 1911, as Sarah E. Lawrence's "summer residence."
21. THE OLD FIRE STATION
The first fire engine company was incorporated in Jaffrey Center in 1829. The old building, still standing in 1858, was located on the south side of Main Street, about opposite the stone watering trough. In 1857 a new building was erected in the present location on the north side of the street. It was replaced by the existing building a few years before WW I.
43. CUTTER CEMETERY
This peaceful ground was laid out in 1836 in accordance with the wishes of John Cutter, who had donated the land. He had a large family to provide for: 12 children and 50 grandchildren.
Throughout most of the 19th century the Cutters in several branches were the most prominent family of substance in the community: John and Benjamin, Joseph and Abel, Nehemiah, Jonas and Mortimer, not forgetting Abigail, Rachel, Sally, Phebe, Betsy and Mary, and many others. Though a number of Cutters are buried in this cemetery, it is not limited to members of that family.
81. MELVILLE ACADEMY
In 1832 a charter was obtained by Jonas Melville, Daniel Cutter, Luke Howe, and John Fox for a school—as a subsequent prospectus read, "in a quiet village at the base of Monadnock, happily removed from those excitements which are so apt to divert the minds and corrupt the morals of young students." In 1833 the building was erected on land from adjoining lots of Luke Howe, Abel Parker, and Col. Isaac Fox. The school was named after banker Melville in recognition of his generosity.
The Academy flourished for a while, but after the depression of 1857 it expired for lack of support. In 1863 the Town took possession and transferred old School District No. 7 to it. The Town obtained a lease from the Trustees for the use of the building until 1890. Thereafter the School Board continued to use it without a lease, until the consolidation of schools about the time of WW I.
When the V.I.S. sought permission to use the building in 1919-20 it was a nice question who ex¬actly owned it. The matter was not decided in a practical way until 1960 when, in the absence of evidence that the School Board possessed any title, the Town gave a quitclaim deed to the V.I.S. The building was at that time repaired and renovated through the generosity of Mrs. Lawrence Wetherell, and the grounds have been kept up by means of a generous gift from Mr. Lawrence Wetherell. The building is now used for the annual meeting of the V.I.S., with Open House on several Saturdays in the summer.
120. FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH
From the earliest days the parson's ministration was a central feature of life in the Center. A permanent parson, however, was first engaged in 1782. Until 1831 services were held in the Meeting House. About that time (1830-31) the brick church was built, to which the Congregationalists removed. The site where the new brick church was built had been earlier occupied by a store (David Page's 1805, Luke Wheelock's 1806-07, Goodale & Hosmer's 1807-09). The store burned to the ground in 1809. The brick church was remodelled, repaired, and rededicated in 1896. The pastors have been:
Rev. Laban Ainsworth, 1782-1858
Rev. Ebenezer Everett, co-pastor, 1827-29
Rev. Giles Lyman, co-pastor, 1831-37
Rev. J. D. Crosby, co-pastor, 1837-45
Rev. Leonard Tenney, co-pastor, 1845-57
Rev. John S. Batchelder, 1858-65
Rev. Rufus Case, 1868-75
Rev. Wm. W. Livingston, 1878-1910
Rev. Ralph E. Danforth, 1911-19
Rev. David Torrey, 1920-32
Rev. Lathrop C. Grant, 1934-44
Rev. Anders G. Lund, 1945-52
Rev. Frederic A. Pease Jr., 1953-57
Rev. Walter J. Leibrecht, 1957-58
Rev. Merton E. Sherman, 1858-60
Rev. Arthur H. Bradford, interim, 1960-62
Rev. John H. Leamon, 1962-73
Rev. Alden Mosshammer, 1973-75
123. THE MANSE
The residence for the first settled pastor, the Reverend Laban Ainsworth, was built in 1787, but was destroyed by fire the following year. A child's life was lost in this tragic accident, and the parson's wife was badly crippled. The house was promptly rebuilt and was occupied by Parson Ainsworth until his death in 1858.
Father Ainsworth, as he was called in his latter days, filled his pastorate for over 76 years, and died at the age of 101. He cleared land, farmed, hunted and fished, lent money on mortgages, belonged to the Masonic Society, was superintend¬ent of schools, visited the sick, catechized the children, and preached on Sundays. He liked apples and rum, and is said to have held that what was wanted in the pulpit was "plain, sound doctrine, even if men scorn it."
The Manse is owned to the present day by Ainsworth de-scendants, the Greenes, the most eminent of the old families of the Center.
161. PHILLIPS CEMETERY
An original homestead of Capt. Henry Coffeen near Gap Mountain was sold in 1776 to the Hon. Samuel Phillips, of Andover. Phillips conveyed the property to Capt. John Tilton in 1801, subject to a reservation of three-fourths of an acre for a cemetery, which Phillips had previously presented to the town of Jaffrey. The mortgage on the cemetery was for several years part of the endowment of Phillips Andover Academy.
In the Phillips cemetery (also formerly called the West Burying Yard) are the graves of Spauldings, Ross's, Comstocks, Perkins, and Adams' who lived along Fitzwilliam Road in the old days.