Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Saskatoon Spring: Flowers for Fish and Funerals …

… and pies, basket frames, rope, and tea, as well as many other things.  

It is one of the earliest trees to flower around the Conway Public Library. It graces the entrance to the library park and has a very interesting history. 

One of its many nicknames is Shadbush. 

The "Shad" reference is from the historical era when immense schools of migratory shad fish returned in April to New England rivers, just as the "Shadbush" bloomed.

Other nicknames include serviceberry, sarvis, juneberry, saskatoon, wild-plum and chuckley pear.    

One naturalist suggests this native tree has so many different names because people in New England appreciate the beauty of the earliest flowers so much more at winter's end!
But equally beautiful are the stories and folktales that have been associated with this tree for hundreds of years.

One story is that the first settlers in the New England area often planned funeral services at the same time that the tree bloomed. Its blooming was a sign that the ground had thawed sufficiently to be able to dig graves. So the tree became known as the ‘serviceberry tree.

Traditionally the berries which fruit in June they are often used to make pemmican, a dried mash of lean meat, berries, and animal fat that was historically a common staple food among native peoples. The meat would be whatever’s on hand—bison, elk, deer—and the berries would be whatever’s in season—serviceberries, blueberries, cranberries. When properly prepared, pemmican can keep in storage for up to 10 years!

Shad fry Pembrooke, MA

Shad planking has become a political event in parts of New England. 

There is even a shad museum in Haddam CN follow the link here

Earlier today we explored the shadbush tree with second graders at the Northeast Woodlands Charter School in Conway. If you would like to learn more about New England's "working woods" contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Show me your papers

So many more things to discover! The Bemis collection continues to yield up its mysteries. 

I recently came across this red Moroccan leather tri-fold wallet with a metal clasp lock that belonged to Bemis.

Under the top flap is a sleeve pocket for pen or pencil. 

Under the bottom flap he wrote "Saml Bemis Boston"

Inside the pocket was a lock of his hair labelled "my own 1818."

Note how a scrap piece of paper was folded to create a small envelope

There was also one labelled "Hairs of the immortal Washington Presented by his amiable Widow..."

There is more to the inscription but it is too hard for me to read.

For more period writing info see my previous blogs 

sand caster here

watermarks on paper here

sealing wax here

bound paper here

pigeonholes here

pin money, secret drawers here

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Seasonally spooky stories of the White Mountains

At first glance you would have a hard time finding something scary about this scene. 
However, if you look closely at the jumbled pile of rocks at the bottom of the cliff and place them within their historical context as an early local tourist attraction, you will have discovered the Devil's Den. 

We recently did a story time for local TV. To watch the show follow this link here

Here is another picturesque scene with a spooky story attached to it. 

According to legend, this was the site where Nancy Barton met her end and was found frozen to death after making her way through a blizzard. 

For more on her story watch the story here.

For more on the legend watch the story here

For more on the Frankenstein trestle watch the story here. 

For more on the alien story watch our program here

Our final two pictures have been tied to the tragic story of the Willey slide. 

Some have argued that this scene has an ominous look to it with the stormy weather and the dead trees in the foreground. It has been described as a "Landscape of Terror."

However, the irony is that this bright and sunny painting below is actually the site of the deadly Willey slide. 

It is only when you look closely at the details below that you can see the mud and boulders that created havoc. For more on the Willey Slide watch the story here and see our previous blog here

Friday, September 29, 2023

Tool or weapon? Fruit or vegetable?

What is this scary looking thing? 
Or this one below? 

Are they instruments of medieval torture? Are they props for playing the popular Warhammer game? 

These were the questions we started with at a recent outreach program we did at the Conway Adult Day Center. Through a series of interactive questions and up close inspection that audience was able to figure out their purpose. 

Actually, they are harvesting tools. 

And what is their connection to autumn decorations? 

Let's start with the corn. Dried cornstalks and colorful ears of corn are a staple of fall displays. 

For us today, they are only a vestige of what was once a critical part of a family's survival. 

Is corn a fruit, vegetable, grain or all three? See this link here to follow different opinions. 

For our local historical perspective, it depends on the variety of corn. In general, there are two main types of corn, sweet corn which we eat as corn on the cob, etc. That harvest time has just recently past. 

For more on the history of local sweet corn see our previous blog here

If you drive out on East Conway Road, you will still see corn growing in the fields. This is field corn and it will be processed for mostly animal feed. This kind of corn is processed like a grain. For more on feed corn see our previous blog here

The items seen above are for processing hay. The top item is a hay knife and the second one is a hay fork (are you getting hungry?). To learn more about the difference between harvesting hay and grains see our previous blog here

If you would like to learn more, the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room offers a number of free hands-on programs to local schools and community groups on historic farming and social life. 

Contact us for details!

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Sweet Summertime... with Autumn Closing in

Did you know that this plant can serve as a calendar, oompass and clock?  
It is telling us that we are nearing the end of summer with autumn closing in. 

Astronomical autumn will begin one month from today on September 23. However, there is growing cultural and commercial evidence to start celebrating autumn earlier than the official celestial date. Dunkin Donuts already has pumpkin spice drinks for sale. Many folks start their season with Labor Day. 

Summer vacations are wrapping up, apples and walnuts are greening, their are pumpkins, ghosts, witches and bales of straw on display in grocery stores and hardware stores. Their are tinges of fall colors around the edges of wetlands, and the mornings are cool and crisp.

The Conway Public Library's Henney History Room provides a number of free seasonally appropriate hands-on outreach programs for local schools and community groups such as how early Conway settlers used corn, grains, preserved the harvest, as well as Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas programs. 

Many of my friends are rushing to preserving summer in a jar. See our previous blog here

Like the mullein plant seen above with its tall spike of yellow flowers even nature is making a last ditch effort to flower and create seeds for future generations. 

The Mountain Garden Club maintains several wonderful beds of cultivated flowers in the road north of the library. 

Just a short way up Washington Street they maintain the flowers for the Conway Village Park. 

The Conway Public Library's Henney History Room has some of the original documents tracing the history of this park. The area was once the center of commercial activity with a chair factory, blacksmith shop and a store. 

1860 map (click on images to enlarge or download them). 

According to Janet Hounsell's book on Conway, eleven far-sighted citizens formed an association and bought the land here for $300 with the idea of creating a park. 

1892 map 

... and a print from 1896 showing how that area looked before the park. 

Below is a 1923 map 
In 1925 the park was presented to the Town of Conway. 

In 1929 a dramatic performance was held to raise money to improve the park. 

For more information on parks in the Conway area contact us at the library.

Monday, July 31, 2023

A Wet Summer

It is official! July 2023 was the wettest July on record in New Hampshire. For details see the links here

In addition, the National Weather Service issued 38 flash flood warnings for New Hampshire in the whole month of July. No previous full year has seen more than 36 flash flood warnings. The previous record for flash flood warnings issued in a month was 17 in October 1996. For details see the link here.

What have we learned from this almost constant deluge? What can we learn from the past? 

Floods are nothing new in New Hampshire. 

The booklet about the 1936 flood, seen above, can be found in the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room here

The governor of the time proclaimed that it was the "Greatest Disaster to Befall State."
The booklet includes 110 devastating photographs documenting 52 cities and towns in the flood area. 

Records of floods in Conway go back at least to 1770. 
In his 1792 History of New Hampshire, Jeremy Belknap reports on the floods of 1775 in which  "Stacks of hay were carried off, cattle were drowned or otherwise killed, and the Indian corn, then ripe for harvest, was destroyed." 

You can read about it in our original copy of the book here or online here.
The oldest remaining house in town, now the 1785 Country Inn, was originally built in 1766 - 1767 on the intervale or valley near the Saco River. However, after a flood in 1785 it was moved higher above the flood plain where it stands now. You can read about see that on their website here

Janet Hounsell, notes that this building also served as the first library in Conway. 

In 1869 a flood swept away the covered bridges on both the Swift and Saco River.

For more information on floods and freshets contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Happy Helen Keller Day!

Helen Keller Day is a commemorative holiday to celebrate the birth of the famous Helen Keller. However, most people probably don't know her connection to the Mount Washington Valley and the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. 

The Henney History Room is named in memory of Nella Braddy Henney who was a great friend of Helen Keller. 
While we already had number of resources on Helen Keller including a bio of Keller by Nella (see link here). a recent donation from Peter and Joyce Blue has exponentially expanded our opportunity for additional insights.

Included in the donation are a number of photo albums that explore many aspects of the Henney and Keller relationship such as their shared love of dogs. nature and poetry. 

The photo above was taken October 6, 1946. Note that Nella is using hand signals to communicate with Helen.

The caption below the photo reads "NBH (Nella Braddy Henney), Helen Keller, and Polly Thompson in the back dooryard after breakfast shortly before their trip to Europe to study the needs of the post-war blind." For more on this trip see this link here
The caption goes on to read "In November, while they were in Greece their house in Westport Conn Burned."