Woodstock, New Hampshire

A Brief History of Woodstock, NH

When the royal governor, Benning Wentworth, established the town, by a Royal Grant, in 1763, it was originally called Fairfield. The original grantees, or Proprietors, as they were called, led by Eli Demerrit sent a committee of 5 to their new town to inspect and survey it. As far as is known, this was their only visit for the next 25 years and little was done. None came to live in their new town.

In the early 1790s, a group from Southern New Hampshire bought most of the rights of the original grantees, and divided the land into 231 hundred acre lots. These lots were distributed amongst the group and actual settlement began. In 1799, the New Hampshire legislature, granted the town a charter under the name of Peeling. By 1800, the population of Peeling was only 83.

Farming supported the early settlers, but with little excess production to be sold as "cash crops". What "logging" was done was essentially for building homes and heating them. As time went on, logging would become a major source of income for town residents, and various woods products enterprises were attempted; some were more successful than other. The numerous Hemlock trees in the area spurred the building of tanneries (Hemlock bark was one of the necessary ingredients for tanning leather.) Maple syrup was produced, on a small scale, and sold. A starch mill was built, but the other significant source of income came to be the increasing number of summer visitors and tourists, drawn by the natural attractions of the region. The name of the town was changed to Woodstock in 1840.

The early tanneries and mills were built on Hubbard Pond, which came to be known as Tannery Pond on early maps. The first tannery, owned by Isaac Woodman, was built early in the 19th century. The first sawmill was that of John McLellan, also on Hobart's Pond, and it was built somewhere around 1806-1816. The 1840 census indicated that there were 4 sawmills operating. These were small water powered, up and down mills, that operated only a few months of the year-when there was enough waterpower to operate the mill. At this point in time, small-scale agriculture supported most residents.

As the 19th century progressed, this would change, as larger industries came to the valley and employed numerous local residents. Logging in the area, on a large scale, began about 1840, when an experienced lumberman from Maine, Nicholas Norcross, began cutting operations on about 100,000 acres he had purchased in the Lincoln/Woodstock area. Logs cut each winter, by a crew of 150-200 men, were floated down the Pemigewasset River, into the Merrimack, and eventually to sawmills owned by Norcross and his partners, in Lowell, Mass. (The river drives were a particularly colorful chapter in the history of logging in this area, and much has been written. "Tall Trees, Tough Men" by Robert Pike, is an entertaining and informative book on the subject.) Norcross and his partners eventually formed a company called The Merrimack River Lumber Co. The river drives continued for about 40 years, until about 1882 (when the railroad came up the valley) and the Norcross heirs sold off all their land (about 250,000 acres). These woodlands would continue to be heavily logged, some by local mills and some by larger corporations.

Image: Fox's Mill (later known as Basien's Mill)

The woodlands would become the property of The Publishers Paper Company, a major factor in the growth of large scale lumbering in the area, although they, themselves, never cut a tree. They contracted out the actual cutting to men like George Johnson, who logged heavily in the Lost River valley and Gordon Pond area. He developed a reputation as one of the worst of the "wood butchers". His logging railroad, theGordon Pond Railroad, hauled logs to the mill and town he built and had named for himself, Johnson, NH. Johnson was said to have had as many as 600-700 men cutting trees during winters. The other major sawmill and logging operation, on lands owned by the Publisher Paper Co., was the Woodstock Lumber Co. Their logging railroad was known as "The Woodstock and Thornton Gore Railroad". (A link to an album of photographs is at the bottom of this page.) Another major contractor was William Veazey. He built a large steam powered sawmill, store, stables, and a boarding house, near Mirror Lake and the Boston and Maine Railroad built a spur to the mill. The enterprise flourished in the early years of the 20th century. Eventually he had four logging camps in the woods, supported and connected by 12 miles of roads. Much of the timber cut was pulp wood used for making paper. Hardwoods, such as birch and maple, in smaller quantities were used by several bobbin mills in the area. (Bobbins were a major product of the mills and were needed in vast quantities by the textile mills further down the Merrimack in Manchester, Nashua and Lowell.)

Large scale logging continued in the Woodstock area until the White Mountain National Forest began purchasing large tracts of land, as had been authorized by the Weeks Act, of 1911. Fire destroyed the Mill and surrounded buildings of the Woodstock Lumber Co. in 1913 and the company was defunct by 1915.

Image: The Woodstock Lumber Company, showing the log ponds, the mills, piles of finished lumber, and numerous buildings that were part of the complex. Several foundations still remain.

Image: The Deer Park Hotel, North Woodstock, NH

Throughout the entire period, Woodstock's other major industry, tourism, also flourished. In the 1870s stage coaches from the end of the railroad in Plymouth brought visitors to the 8 or 10 boarding houses. When the railroad was extended to Woodstock in 1883, boarding houses were replaced by large resort hotels. By 1905, more than 2,500 tourists arrived each by rail each summer. The largest in the area was the Profile House in Franconia Notch. Guests traveled by stage coach from the train station in N. Woodstock to the Profile House. The largest hotel in Woodstock was the Deer Park Hotel, and others were the Mountain View House (which was one of the first), The Russell House, The Alpine, Cascade House, Fairview House, and several others.

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