Thursday, May 28, 2015

White Mountain Virtual Reality

One of the biggest hits with elementary school kids at the recent history fair in Conway was the Henney History Room’s stereo viewer which creates a 19th century version of 3-dimensional virtual reality. Marketed for its educational value and purchased primarily for its entertainment value, the stereoview was like television and the world book encyclopedia put together, bringing the world and current events into Victorian parlors even in the most rural of areas.

Printed on specially curved cardboard, a pair of photographs were set apart just wide enough to give the illusion of depth and allow a remarkable immersion into the scene. Subjects ranged far and wide, from common to exotic, and covered subjects like the San Francisco earthquake, St. Louis World’s Fair, castles in Ireland and ancient buildings in Italy.

Views of White Mountain tourist attractions were sold as popular souvenirs. One of the world’s largest producers of stereoviews were the Kliburn Brothers of Littleton, NH. From from 1867 to 1909, they manufactured over 600,000 cards. Their views became the most widely distributed in the United States.

The view pictured here was number 25 of N.W. Pease’s series of American Scenery. Pease ran his studio and gift shop out of the building that is now Zeb’s Country Store in North Conway.

Titled “View on Road from Artists’ Falls, North Conway, N.H.” it depicts a shady dirt road crossing a bridge leading the viewer through the woods to an open field. While on the surface the scene appears generic without any clear distinctive landmarks, mountains or buildings one must consider the historical context. In fact, the artist brook area of North Conway was once a famous and popular key destination and promoted in a large number of paintings, prints, and guidebooks.

Why would this be such a popular spot? Again consider the historical context. If you look at numerous other photos, paintings, prints, you can easily get the sense that most of the New England landscape was cleared for farming during the time these views were being published.

Historians estimate that 80% of New England was cleared for farming then, leaving only 20% forested and much of that used for logging and firewood. Today that ratio is almost reversed. Forested areas are much more common to us now. Also remember that the city folks who rode the trains to Conway had no air conditioning and streets often filled with horse manure, then you can begin to see how the cool shady spot depicted in the stereoview along with the fresh mountain air, smaller population, and clean water from our mineral springs could be so appealing. In fact, it still is today.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Remembering Memorial Day

The Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library has a number of resources for those interested in honoring veterans. We have a collection of books and archives that cover all eras for American military service. Especially interesting for locals is the record book for the Custer post number 47 of the GAR listing the names of 71 members along with information of their age, birthplace, occupation, service records, nature of wounds received and so on. The library also has the original silk flag from the Custer post and memorabilia and stories of cannonballs and parrot shells.

Of a more dramatic nature is this book, Sparks for the Camp Fire. Lusciously illustrated, the subtitle lists its contents as "Heroic deeds, brave encounters, desperate battles, bold achievements, reckless daring, lofty patriotism, terrible suffering and wondrous fortitude..." 

Enjoy your holiday and thank a veteran for their service. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Spring green and the march of the strawberries

First published in 1876, the Dewey decimal system is like a trail guide leading one to a world of wonder and adventure. The call number 917.42 is like a clue that a history detective can follow to discover hidden treasures. In this case, it’s also like the call of the wild and a perfect seasonal companion to the recent welcoming weather.

917.42 is the Dewey Decimal classification for geography and travel in New Hampshire and if you follow it in the Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library you will find a fascinating collection of historic guide books.

If one studies the overall collection, you can see that writing and publication styles change over time. Take Eliphalet and Phinehas Merrill’s 1817 Gazetteer of New Hampshire. Bound in a plain brown wrapper of a cover, it has but two paragraphs on Conway noting in simple, practical and direct prose that the town contains 4 corn-mills, 5 saw-mills, 1 mill for dressing cloth, 2 carding-machines, 3 distilleries and 3 retail stores. The emphasis seems to be on guiding settlers and investors towards potential economic development.  

Forty-five years later art and poetry has flavored our trail mix. Thomas Starr King’s, The White Hills; Their Legends, Landscape and Poetry (1862 edition) is profusely illustrated, gold edged and clothed in an embossed burgandy red cover. There are now 36 pages on Conway as part of a 106 page chapter with an emphasis on the beauties of the Saco Valley.

Practical information has been relegated to endnote sections and the focus there is on the comfort and convenience of tourists such as schedules and stops for stage coaches and trains and the costs of lodging with various rating systems for their dining tables. Advertisements present additional information in their own distinctive graphic styles.  

While many of these books are now available online in a format that is easy to search, enlarge, share and print, nothing can replace experiencing the actual artifact itself. For me old books are a palpable, heart pumping, connection to the past.

You can spread them out of the table in front of you in a rainbow of teal blue, hunter’s green, mustard yellow, and strawberry red and revel in their bounty.

Speaking of strawberries, Starr King starts his chapter on the Saco Valley with a story.
“We once heard of a traveller who went down to New Orleans, every spring and came North just fast enough to keep pace with the strawberries. He managed to rise on the degrees of latitude at even speed with the bounteous vines and ascending village by village and city after city plucked and ate and thus extended the spring time for his palate all the way from the Gulf of Mexico to Montreal.” That's a trip I would like to try myself!

Happy hunting and happy trails to you

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

1860 map

One of the most frequently used items in the Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library is an 1860 map of Carroll County, New Hampshire. The map is most commonly used for family history research as it lists the names and locations of families in 1860 (as well as schools, mills, shops, etc.). Taken together with the census of the same year, as well as comparisons with earlier and later maps, especially the 1892 atlas and the 1896 bird’s eye views of Conway, this map can yield a treasure trove of historical information on regional family history.

The map is also one of the largest and most visually impressive items in the collection at fifty-five inches square (not counting the wooden top molding and bottom rod). It is beautifully rendered, hand colored, and includes a number of illustrated cartouches, insets and ancillary maps of villages showing great detail.

These map details can be found on the Henney History Room section of the Conway Public Library website. You can use keywords such as “covered bridge” or “conway school” to bring up photos of buildings and structures shown on the map.

Recently the 1860 map has played a key role in several elementary school outreach programs and will be featured at the 250th Celebration Education Fair at the Pine Tree School on May 16th. One class is using the information on the map as the basis for a walking tour of Conway Village and to build a scale model of the historic buildings in town. Another class is creating a sustainability map on the internet showing the location of key resources, energy sources, uses of water power, etc. A third group is using it to explore the history of logging and wood products in town.

For more information contact the Henney History Room of the Conway Public Library at 603-447-5552 or visit our website at