Sunday, January 17, 2021

Erratic Wondering and His Mephitic Majesty

It started, as it so often does, with a map.... 

... and ends with a skunk. 

Recently I passed the new book display at the Conway Public Library and my attention was drawn to the cover of this book Erratic Wandering by Jan and Christy Butler. As many of you know, or will soon find out, I am a guy who walks around with rocks in my head. I immediately checked it out. The book covers 123 sites with 67 in New Hampshire (click on images to enlarge them).  

Here is an example of the format showing two nearby boulders. 

I had a vague notion I had seen a boulder they did not list in their book on an old map. So I searched around and found it.

Clark's Boulder was mapped out not far from the train tracks near Pine Hill and Devil's Pond. 

Another part of this map shows an unnamed boulder near a second Pine Hill to the north on the road to the mineral spring which we know to be the Washington Boulder (see previous blog here).

Below you can see the relation of those two "Pine Hill" areas to each other and to Conway Village.

Here is a copy of the whole map. 

The map indicates it was "Drawn by S. A. Evans." It was "tipped in" the front of a book written by that same S. A. Evans in 1889 titled in the typical period run-on fashion Conway, New Hampshire, Its Attractions for the Tourist and its Facilities for Business.

This promotional booklet features twenty-one entries in ten pages of text followed by five pages of business advertisements.

Here is what the book has to say about the Washington Boulder and Clark's Boulder on pp. 5-6 (click on images to enlarge them).

After studying the dimensions and shapes Evans describes in the book and comparing the line up of ponds (Knowles Pond now Iona Lake, Whitten Pond, Pea Porridge Ponds, Dolloff Pond) on his map with other maps, I am convinced that Clark's Boulder is now known as Madison Boulder (so the Butler's actually did include it in their book, just not with it's earlier name).

Here is a 1930 USGS map with the newer names of ponds and rocks (click on image to enlarge it).

According to the NH State Park website the Madison Boulder is "the largest known glacial erratic in North America, and among the largest in the world. Madison Boulder is a huge granite rock measuring 83 feet in length, 23 feet in height above the ground, 37 feet in width, and weighs upwards of 5,000 tons!" 

But who was this S. A. Evans that the map had led me to?

He advertised as a physician and surgeon in his book Conway Attractions on p. 11. 

After some searching, long detours and dead ends, I concluded that S.A. Evans was Simeon Adams Evans. I followed that lead and found another book in our collection he wrote. It is a genealogy book on his family with the title Descendants of David Evans.

Both the Conway Public Library and the Conway Historical Society have copies of the book. You can also read the book online at this link

Let's look at these two copies of the book as artifacts.

The copy at the Conway Historical Society is inscribed "S.A. Evans His Book." This is a traditional way to claim ownership of one's book. See our previous blog on the use of this phrase in a Samuel Bemis note book here

This copy has extensive handwritten notes and was updated after the author's death as a newspaper clipping on his death was pasted in the book.

Note the use of a red adhesive seal to bookmark his entry in the family line.

The copy we have at the Henney History Room was a gift from the author to his son George Hill Evans.  


This copy has also been extensively notated and updated. For example, his son poignantly added that Simeon was "George's Father," and listed his father's death on p. 55 and his own 1904 marriage on p. 56.  

Today of course, this kind of work is done in programs such as Ancestry. 


And now a word from our sponsor

The Conway Public Library's Henney History Room provides assistance to those who want to research and document their own family history. We have access to extensive data bases and can help you set up both physical and digital versions of your family records.

Now back to our regular program...

Other than an early lot map of Fryeburg, Maine tipped in at the front of the book, there are no illustrations in the book.

However, we have an original handwritten manuscript version of the book that is profusely illustrated and includes photographs, original correspondence, newspaper clippings and so on. It is a remarkable document revealing the process of compiling such a family history. 

Here are some examples from it's pages. 

I discovered that this genealogy book is not a boring collection of who begat whom, instead it reads more like a novel than a court document (although it includes plenty of documents). It weaves a dramatic story that covers a wide variety of themes such as fortunes won and lost, racial and cultural violence, kidnappings, slavery, silkworms, murder, mills and manufacturing, politics, rebellion, betrayal and of course death by ice skating. 

It is the tale of the building of our nation told through one family and reminds me of the narrative technique used in the 1962 film How the West Was Won.  

For example, Evans writes tenderly of a family slave Limbo who was cared for in his later years by a relative. 


You can still visit his grave in Fryeburg today.

Simeon Adams Evans was born in Fryeburg and later attended Bowdoin College. Here is a photo of him from that period with his birth and death dates.

We can add Evans to the list of arctic (or near arctic) explorers with ties to the Mount Washington Valley. In previous blogs here and here and here we have explored the area as a center and staging ground for polar explorers. In 1860 Evans embarked on an expedition with Professor Paul Chadbourne to Greenland and Labrador (more on this in a future blog).

During the Civil War he served as an assistant surgeon. 


Our copy of the 1892 New Hampshire Atlas mapped out his home not far from where the Conway Public Library was to be built in 1900, five years after he died.

Here is a detail of that map. Dr. S. A. Evans is the fifth building on the southeast side of the road from the 4 corners intersection.

Remember his son George? He became a librarian and wrote his own book Pigwacket about the history of the area. We introduced his book in a previous blog here

Now what was that about a skunk? 

Well, writing in The Bee Keepers Exchange, January 1800, pp. 3-4 (see link here) Simeon Evans quotes Thomas Gray when remarking on bees and the business end of a polecat. Reminds me of The Cheese and the Worms.

If you have any comments or questions on the history of the area contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.