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.