Monadnock Ledger-Transcript – A highway often passed through Francestown

In New Hampshire, as in other parts of New England, early roads were winding, narrow bridleways that were often slow, according to Bill McAuley, a curator at Francestown’s Heritage Museum and author of a book that documents the Second New Hampshire Turnpike. , which he presented to the Select Board in February 2020.

In his research for the toll highway book, which still exists today, albeit with asphalt and no tolls, McAuley says he was amazed at the hard work of those involved in its construction. .

“It only took them two years to hack this thing,” he says. “You look at the widening of (route) 93 and it went on for years. That’s what intrigued me the most. »

Today, there are 3.9 million miles of roads across the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Most people probably take the construction of these roads for granted. After all, the roads people take to get from Concord to Portsmouth or Manchester to Boston – or almost anywhere today – are generally smooth and seemingly timeless. And yet, at one time, there was nothing but the desert.

McAuley’s book, “A Journey Along the Second New Hampshire Turnpike,” asks readers to imagine they are on a stagecoach leaving Boston and heading for Montreal in the early 19th century. The ticket costs $10 and soon after departure the rain begins, forcing passengers to close the leather shutters on their windows and hope for the best.

The following focuses on a short stretch of New Hampshire’s second turnpike that facilitated goods, products, livestock and some of the people who traveled through Francestown and helped shape the cultural and historical heritage of the city.

Historical context

McAuley presents a timeline of the toll highway system, beginning with the end of the Revolutionary War, when “self-sufficient city economies began to fall victim to specialization and division of labor.” This, he says, led to the beginning of a network of primary and secondary highways that could carry goods between towns and villages.

In 1791 mail routes were established in New Hampshire, and in 1796 the first Turnpike, connecting Concord and Portsmouth, was chartered. In 1799, the second New Hampshire Turnpike charter was granted, connecting Amherst to Claremont and pointing north. The road was completed in 1801 at a cost of approximately $80,000.

“This road was completed in 1801; with shovels and axes they built a 50-mile road through the desert in a year,” McAuley wrote in his book.

Arrival in Francestown

Francestown was incorporated in 1772 and is named after the wife of colonial governor John Wentworth, Frances.

Arriving in Francestown 12 hours after leaving Boston, the passengers, McAuley imagines, are seeking rest.

“But don’t get too comfortable,” he wrote in his book. “The stage starts again at 4 o’clock in the morning”, direction Vermont.

Unlike other towns where the tollway had little impact, the section of tollway that ran through Francestown had a significant impact on the town, McAuley says, because it allowed products like than soapstone and many others to the markets along the route and to the towns. in Massachusetts.

Soapstone in Francestown

Soapstone, also known as “ashlar” because it can be carved freely with ordinary tools, was a boon to Francestown in the 19th century. The Francestown soapstone deposit was considered the best in the world as it lacked flaws, hard spots and rust marks and was valued for its ease of cutting and shaping as well as its heat retention according to the bulletin information from the Francestown Heritage Museum.

Soapstone was mined in Francestown and soapstone products were also made there.

In the early 1800s in Boston, soapstone sold for $36 per ton, while the best available soapstone sold for only $20 per ton. The quarry, which extracted more than 4,000 tons of stone a year at its peak, was near Bible Hill Road.

In 1811 the stone was sold in Boston to a store on Milk Street, transported from the quarry to Boston by team of oxen. The trip to Boston and back took six days and there were constantly crews on the way.

Wagons loaded with soapstone traveled south and east to a mill at Nashua via New Boston, of which Francestown was a part before its charter, and before the railroads to Greenfield were established.

In 1865 the Francestown Soapstone Company was formed and took over the quarry. Production was greatly increased with the introduction of a 12 horsepower steam engine derrick to lift stone from the quarry and load it. In 1869, the quarry was 80 feet deep and 30 workers were employed there.

Annual production was about 4,000 tons per year. They started increasing the size of the product and started supplying stone for a newly invented bakery oven that was nine feet in diameter. There was a factory in Nashua for making soapstone products, and the quarried stone was transported by six-team horse-drawn wagons to Greenfield Station for rail transport to Nashua.

By 1890 Francestown Soapstone and Union Soapstone remained the only viable operations and each employed about 50 workers. The quarries were now about 134 feet deep and this was becoming problematic as this was well below the water table and there was a constant struggle to remove water from the quarries. Also at this time, the demand for soapstone products was decreasing and the price paid for the stone was also decreasing.

In 1891, soapstone mining at Francestown ended. However, there was plenty of already cut soapstone available, and the mill at Mill Village continued to operate.

In 1905, as demand continued to decline, the Francestown Soapstone Company declared bankruptcy. This forced the closure of the Mill Village mill. This happened so quickly that a slab of stone was left on the saw table cut halfway through and the completed stoves were left in the factory awaiting dispatch.

Notable people

In the 1830s, when Francestown’s population peaked at around 1,500, Concord-made Abbot Downing coaches (like the one found in the Francestown Museum) are said to have ferried notable figures to and from places like Francestown Academy. The academy was attended by such figures as Franklin Pierce, who later became President of the United States; and Levi Woodbury who would become a Supreme Court justice, United States senator, New Hampshire’s ninth governor and cabinet minister in the Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren administrations.

Cars would also have made stops for those traveling north and south at the many taverns and banks that emerged in Francestown in the 19th century.

Tolls and scales

Francestown was the only town along the turnpike with two tolls, McAuley said. One existed in the village and another at the north end of town near Gibson’s Tavern, where people would have left town and headed to Deering. A toll was for the head of cattle, driven by horses and oxen, which were the main draft animals.

McAuley remembers an amusing story he heard about Gibson’s Tavern, now the Toll Booth Tavern at Crotched Mountain Golf Club, which depicts how intertwined the road through Francestown was with daily life.

“A guy called us when they were rebuilding Gibson’s Tavern, and told us he was part of the team,” McAuley says, adding that most taverns also had hotels attached to them and that during the project renovation, the front door was removed and the man had saved the strap hinges, which were extraordinarily large. “I asked how big the door was and he explained that back then the doors were big enough to fit a coffin through.”

Products that passed through Francestown would have included the “necessities of life,” McAuley says. “Everything people needed to live, including grain and wood.”

These are just some of the products and people who traveled along New Hampshire’s second tollway through Francestown. For those interested in learning more about the city and its history, McAuley recommends a stop at the Heritage Museum. The museum houses an antique fire truck, hearse, stage cars, and a wide variety of farm implements in the basement.

McAuley says he enjoys learning about Francestown’s history, but becoming the museum’s curator was “pure happenstance” related to Allan Thulander, a state official from Francestown whose family, McAualey adds, did a lot for the town. Thulander had attempted to establish a transport museum in the town and at the time McAuley, an engineer by trade, said the town had many vehicles, stages, wagons and hearses that were in people’s barns.

“Allan was going to create a transportation museum,” McAuley said, adding that before that happened, Thulander died and the building sat vacant for over a year. “I live next door and went to the Select Board to ask if I could open it and they agreed.”

The City of Francestown owns the Heritage Museum. The other museum, which is next door and is known as “Beehive”, is a non-profit organization run by the Francestown Historical Society.

People can meet McAuley at the museum on Fridays from 3-5 p.m.

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