Friday, January 12, 2018

More "dirt" on the library

No, this is not a journalistic expose on library scandals. Rather, it is literally an opportunity to "get the scoop" on the history of the library's dirt and its relationship to building the library. Probably most people do not think much about dirt that is no longer there, but I do...and if you keep reading, you may find it as interesting as me.

Originally the library entrance was on the north side of the building (more on that later). At some point the entrance was moved to the south side as seen in the picture above. You had to actually enter down into the cellar and here the mysteries begin (see picture below).

It was through this door that I once went to ask David Emerson about the location of the Washington Boulder. For details on that story, see this link. When the addition was put on the east side, some of the original foundation stones were exposed showing the rough cut granite foundation and the more finely shaped water table above.

All building construction starts with dirt and rocks. To get an idea of how the cellar hole for the library was probably dug, we can look at a series of prints from around 1811 illustrating the "cutting down" of Beacon Hill in Boston (click on the images to enlarge them).

In addition to the simple tools used of pick, shovel and horse cart, you can also see the typical New England soil know as "glacial till" consisting of mostly sandy soil and rocks that can range from baseball to basketball size to the size of a house. The main "tool" was a large number of workers. For more info on these and related excavation images see this link at the Boston Public Library (special thanks to the curators and archivists there for this information). Coincidentally there is a fascinating exhibit at the Boston Public Library's Norman B. Leventhal Map Center on display through February 25, 2018 entitled "Beneath Our Feet: Mapping the World Below" that yields more insights into the subject of dirt.

Of course, there was also the option of a steam shovel. The steam shovel was invented by William Otis who received a patent for his design in 1839. However, the time honored pick and shovel technique lasted for many more years, especially in rural areas like Conway.

I am more familiar with the "Mary Anne" style steam shovel seen in the great book, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, first published in 1939.

... which can also be seen in toys, T-shirts ...

... lunch boxes ...

... and board games. 

Even more modern excavators can be seen in video games.

I prefer the hands-on toys of various sizes that help teach kids the principles of simple machines involved in excavators and back hoes.

... and museum exhibits where you can learn the physics of pulleys, gears and gizmos.

While we may not know exactly how the dirt was dug out to create the library's cellar, we do know a little about who was responsible for the excavation (however once again mysteries abound). Many of the people involved in building the library in 1900 are celebrated in two framed photo assemblies in the founder's "red" room as well as in the archives of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Credit for the excavation is given to William E. Davidson of Center Conway (also spelled Centre Conway). 

The caption reads "William E. Davidson, Centre Conway, Contractor for excavations and stone work of basement,..." A contract was made with him on March 21, 1900.

He is also given credit for "... one-half of the sidewalk edge-stones and gutter paving-blocks." 

Why one-half of this part of the project? Who did the other half?

We could not find him on either the 1860 or 1892 maps, but we did find some information on the Conway Public Library's subscription to Ancestry about a William E. Davidson in Conway, but there are more questions than answers. In 1890 he is listed as a farm laborer, then in 1900 as a stone mason, then in 1910 as a dairy farmer.

If you are curious we invite you to visit the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room where you can check out archives from the time period including the Reporter newspaper and Town register for more on him. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The whirligig of time

Happy New Year!

We start our story today with a whirligig of baby new year 2018 kicking old man 2017 off the plank and into the void of time. Another way of looking at this time of the year is to use the symbol for which this new month is named, the ancient symbol of Janus.

In both cases, there is a circle, or a cycle of old and new coming together. A similar symbol was used when Thomas Silloway, the architect of the Conway Public Library reflected on the somewhat ironic serendipity that occurred with the choice of the site for building the Conway Public Library. In his "Memorial of Thomas Jenks" he wrote:

Silloway borrowed the phrase from William Shakespeare who used it in "Twelfth Night."


 Unlike Shakespeare's threatening use of the phrase, Alfred Lord Tennyson later used it in a much more positive light.

 The term whirligig also refers to a popular old fashioned toy. 

 It is also used in the title of a large number of books and musical recordings. Give it a google. 

 There were a couple large whirligigs in front of Heritage New Hampshire. 

In all, the whirligig of time is an interesting and useful concept, especially at this time of the year. According to Silloway's timeline in the "Memorial" book, he visited Conway on Feb 26 to view the lots under consideration and two days later chose the site we now inhabit. He explained the choice in part: "A remarkably desirable site has been selected, and fortunately near the spot where Dr. Jenks first saw the light of day. (was born) Had the birthplace itself been even reasonably eligible, we are sure he would have had the building erected there."

For more "dirt" on the Conway Public Library follow this blog for our next post.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

From the Ground Up

At 3:30 pm on April 26, 1900 George E. Tufts, the son of the Conway library’s general contractor, removed the first shovelful of earth “at a point near the centre of the front wall of the building (site)...” officially starting the physical construction of the library.

Ironically a good place to start to learn about the history of the groundwork for the construction of the Conway Public is not outside, where it is currently pretty snowy, but rather in the library’s red reading room or “founder’s room.”

On the left, you can find a framed list of the original donors of the library site and park land. Here is a more detailed photo. Click on the image to enlarge it.

On the north wall are two framed photographic ensembles with captions explaining the key role people played in the original building of the library.

In the nearby periodical room can be found a bronze plaque explaining that the library was built as a memorial to Thomas Jenks (more on this later).

To learn more about the site of the library and it's original landscaping visit the Henney History Room in the library's lower level where you can find a blueprint detailing the landscape plans.

On April 11, 2003 there was another "groundbreaking celebration" for a library expansion.
Part of this project involved a "tree moving" machine that wrapped itself around a tree, dug down, scooped it up and drove it away.

Watch this space to learn more about building our library.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Cellar to Shingles

Celebrating the Conway Public Library's National Register Listing

 To help celebrate the recent listing of the Conway Public Library building on the National Register of Historic Places we recently installed a small exhibit near the circulation desk.

The display includes a small example of the extensive materials we have on the history of the library building. In the future, we will do a series of blogs that look in more detail on some aspects of building the library.  

As seen in this copy of a post card, the roof originally included a balustrade around the edge. The slate and copper roof was recently restored.

 Before most printing went digital, a copper printing plate had to be engraved and inked before an image of the library could be printed. These plates were preserved so they could be reused. See if you can find an example in the display or archives of a printed copy of this image. Note the engraving is backwords on the printing plate.

Can you see the war memorial In this postcard? For more info on the memorial see this previous blog.

We have a file on the artist who made the original wooden sign for the library. Come in for a visit and see it for yourself.

 Here is an early photo showing the intricately carved woodwork and some of the library’s art collection on display. For more about the photos over the fireplace mantle see this previous blog.

The library also had a Cabinet of Curiosity that included oriental dolls, Phoenician coins, Canonballs,ostrich eggs, Native American baskets, and a Welsh candlestands which served as the library’s mascot and was the central feature of a musical concert.

 As an important public building there was much pomp and circumstance for each stage of building the library including laying of the cornerstone to the final dedication of the building. 

So come into the library soon to see the display and check out more about the building’s history in the Henney History Room. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Little Ann in Chocorua

While the snow has come and mostly gone for now, we know it will be back. 

Many of the ski resorts opened recently and the forecast is good for this weekend after Thanksgiving. One "resort" that will not open is Page Hill in Chocorua, however its history has been captured and is now available at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.
Just in time for the season we received a donation by the author Ann Albrecht of the first and hopefully, first of many, “Little Ann in Chocorua books” to come.  She even inscribed it to the library with her thanks for "being here" while she attended Kennett High School.

As seen in the table of contents, there are three sections to the book. After the heart-warming dedications to family and friends, Ann explains the story behind the story - how and why the book came to be. She also explains the context for combining a section on fiction with a section on history and most importantly how to pronounce "Chocorua."

The children's story section is illustrated with charming artwork by 16 year old Madie Peters and covers bears sliding down the hill, chipmunk adventures, skiing with a tow rope, a giant snow ball (see the cover above) and dancing snow girls.

The history section covers the "lost" ski resort on Page Hill and includes many period photos including the one below with a view of Chocorua from Page Hill. In it you can see the recently burned barn at what is now The Preserve in Chocorua.

The same view was captured by Thomas Cole in 1828 from Page Hill. You can read more about that sketch at this link. You can click on the images to enlarge them and see the buildings in that same clearing so many years ago

Another family photo shows her father, Don Macy with his "Air Force dog" at work on the summit of Mount Washington.

Hopefully, Ann will cover more of the dog story in her next book.