Saturday, December 29, 2018

Here's to New Year

I present to you a New Year's post card from the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. While the library has a plethora of books on the history and traditions of New Year celebrations, the history room has very little in the way of photographs or archives that document the way that our community honors the transition from one year to the next. We would love to borrow and scan any photos you may have of how your family have celebrated the holidays.

The way our holiday traditions have changed over time can be seen in an illuminated Gothic manuscript made between 1412 and 1416. It is a book of hours, or a collection of prayers, to be said at specific hours (click on images to enlarge them).

 The page for December shows a wild boar hunt in the Forest of Vincennes.

The page for January shows the feast of New Year's and the exchanging of New Year gifts.

Working at a library, I love the fact that books were once considered the most appropriate gift for New Year's Day, especially for children. There was in fact a series of books published during the nineteenth century literally called a "token." We have one in the history room (see this link).

Making "resolutions" is a time honored tradition for New Year's. We can help you if you make a resolution to write your own book and want to present it as a gift. We can help you write your family history. We can help you scrapbook either digitally, or with archival materials, or both.

For a number of years this is how we have spent some of our holiday time working on preserving, researching and sharing our family history. ... and for good luck we would have a heaping plate of hoppin' john and collards on New Year's Day. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A Monumental Winter's Tale

Not far from the Conway Public Library there is a remarkable, surprising and enigmatic granite column on top of a small hill called Jockey Cap in the town of Fryeburg, Maine.

This monument and others like it connects the Mount Washington Valley to two places on earth where it's like winter all year round. It also connects two heroic men and two dogs to the north and south pole.

To help unravel the story, let's look a post card version of the scene.

The caption explains that this is a monument to Robert E. Peary. On top of the monument is a bronze plaque (click on image to enlarge it).

It reads "From the original profile survey made by Robert Edwin Peary, discoverer of the north pole, made during his residence in Fryeburg 1878 - 1879, erected to his memory by the Peary family in 1938 at the suggestion of his boyhood friend Alfred E. Burton"

This monument is decorative and symbolic. It is also functional. Around the ring is a series of mountain profiles that line up with the actual mountains allowing the viewer to identify local landscape features.

Not far from Jockey Cap on Fryeburg's Main Street is Robert E. Peary Park.

A small quartz boulder points to another set of stones that again are both symbolic and functional.

The bronze plaque reads "Fifty and four hundred feet north lie stones erected in 1883 by Admiral Robert E. Peary discoverer of the north pole, a former Fryeburg resident. These two meridian stones indicate the true north and thus enable surveyors to obtain the magnetic variation"

Now what about the two dogs I mentioned? Well they are connected to the Chinook Trail that leads from Tamworth Village to the village of Wonalancet.

The Chinook is New Hampshire's state dog breed. The original great Chinook was a lead dog during Admiral Byrd's expeditions to the south pole. His mother, Ningo was descended from Admiral Peary's lead dog on his expeditions to the north pole, so together their tale (or tail) encompasses the entire earth.

There are a number of monuments at the Chinook Kennels in Tamworth.

Here they are from left to right,

The first reads "Admiral Byrd Memorial to all noble dogs whose lives were given on dog treks during the two expeditions to Little America, Antarctica to further science and discover 1928 - 1930 (and) 1933 - 1935, dedicated October 8, 1938"

Other monuments honor Dick Moulton, Milton and Eva Seeley and Arthur Walden among others with ties to the Mount Washington Valley who were involved in polar exploration.

These monuments can help us trace the Mount Washington Valley's contributions to polar exploration. They are also featured in a new outreach program that is offered to local schools and community groups for free. For more information on these or other local history sites, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Conway Our Hometown - Come and Tell Your Stories

We are starting work this week on a new project that is planned to result in a thirty minute NH PBS television program. It feature Conway and will be part of the new "Our Hometown" series. To learn more and to see programs already done for other towns see this link. They have done six towns so far out of 221 towns and 13 cities. 

There is information and a sign up sheet at the reference desk at the Conway Public Library. Here is some info from their website.

No one knows your hometown like you.

The premise of NH PBS's award-winning Our Hometown series is that each New Hampshire town and city has a unique story to tell, and the people who live there are ideal storytellers for their hometowns.

Each episode in this series will explore the culture, commerce, history and people of one of New Hampshire's 221 towns and 13 cities. New Hampshire author and storyteller Rebecca Rule hosts each 30-minute episode. Your town could be next!.

Want to recommend your town for an upcoming episode? 
Contact our producers at or call (603) 868-4372.

Our old friend Rebecca Rule is the host. If you want to see her in action you can check out the Henney History Room DVD "Full of Moxie" with her and the late David Emerson.

The current plan is for them to come and film in the Spring of 2019. Hope you will be a part of this interesting and important project.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Babe Was Here

It is often surprising to folks when they realize the wealth of biographical resources we have in the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. Sometimes it takes a great newspaper article like that published last week by Tom Eastman in the Conway Daily Sun about Babe Ruth receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Tom does a great job outlining some of the many ties Ruth had to this community. If you would like to learn more about Babe Ruth, you might check out "The Babe and I" written by his wife in 1959.

We also have a couple books written by Babe Ruth's daughter about the famous baseball player.



Both of these books are full of family photos showing the Babe in settings other than the ball park. Thanks largely to invitations by Harvey Dow Gibson, Ruth was also a feature in Conway's hot spots.

The local Reporter newspaper from August 10, 1939 helps explain the setting (click on image to enlarge it).

On a more personal note, here are some items from the handwritten autobiography of this blogger's father (born 1920).

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Can anyone say "batter up?"

Thursday, November 22, 2018


When the Conway Public Library reopens after the Thanksgiving holiday, you will be able to see a newly installed artwork that was painted, donated and installed by the artist Ernest O. Brown of Conway, New Hampshire.

Shown here with the artist on the left and Library Director David Smolen on the right, the painting entitled "Postern Gate No. 4" is acrylic on canvas and 48 x 48 inches square. The location on the stairway allows a great opportunity to view the painting from afar to appreciate the fine atmospheric and linear perspective and up close where you can examine the incredibly detailed brushwork. Mr. Brown has provided a label to help explain the painting (click on the image to enlarge it). 

Mr. Brown points out that the subject of the painting is on the West Side Road in front of the Hale House (looking east). While he acknowledges that the landscape in the painting is "artistic license" the layout and details of the posts as seen in the photo below are quite accurate.

Mr. Brown presents each of his granite posts as a unique palimpsest with a layered history. He demonstrates a miraculous ability to capture shadows, light, reflections of and on the granite posts as well as the lichen, rust and water stains, and subtle variations of color in the granite itself due to the surface color and the way the light hits the coarse grain texture of the granite's component parts - quartz, feldspar and mica.

Here is a view of the granite posts from the street looking towards the west with the historic Hale Farm House beyond. 

Here is a view of the five posts from above showing how they are arranged.  

It is quite probable that posts were originally used as a "squeeze stile" type livestock gate that allowed people to pass freely but which livestock avoided pasing through. Here you can see holes for fencing and a metal ring attached to one of the posts.

According to his label for the painting, stone posts are a common subject for Mr. Brown. They are everywhere in our landscape. They reflect a Yankee resourcefulness of "making something out of nothin." He explains that "The farmer/landowner usually was the "quarryman." The evidence for how these posts were made can be seen in the painting.

The five short horizontal lines seen in the post on the left are tool marks left by the drilling and splitting of the stone.

A hammer and star tipped bit was used to drill a series of holes about three inches deep along the line you wanted to split the stone.

Then a pair of "feathers" was inserted into the drill holes and a wedge or plug was hammered between the feathers. The pictures below illustrate the process.


If all works out well the stone splits along a relatively straight line. The stones were fashioned into foundation blocks for cellar holes, cemetery fence walls, door stoops, hearth stones, and so on.

A few more stories about local quarry work can be found at these links here and here.

As Mr. Brown points out the "trimmings" were used as posts.

However, things did not always work out for the quarryman. Throughout the woods, you can find examples where they started to quarry a boulder...

 ... and for some reason, they abandoned their work...

 ...and left the drilled holes filled with the feathers and wedges that rusted in place over time.


Mr. Brown explains the title of the painting "Postern Gate..." comes from an architectural term for a small gate, "usually one person wide, set in a castle wall to allow leaving or entering a castle, not thru the main entrance." 

In this case the postern gate is opposite the main entrance as identified by the drawbridge and portcullis.

The idea of a postern gate goes way back in military fortifications. One of my favorite examples is the postern gate at the ancient Hittite city of Hattusa in what is now Turkey (the city also has the remains of one of the earliest known buildings built specifically as a library - so that makes me fond of the site as well).  

It is a small unassuming gate that can be accessed through a long tunnel or sally port.

Speaking of military history, Mr. Brown says the figure in the painting is "a self portrait of the artist..."

On the day he came to install the painting, he was wearing the hat that can be seen in the painting with the insignia (crossed sabers) of the 9th Calvary in which he served. 

As they say in the 9th Calvary "We Can, We Will" and in this case Mr. Brown did!