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Kimball Webster and His Family

Kimball Webster 1853

Hudson’s elementary students and those  familiar with Hudson History are aware of the significant work Kimball Webster achieved when he researched and documented his History of Hudson.  Published in 1913 his book is considered THE reference for the history of our town from 1673, when we were a part of Dunstable, MA until 1913.  This week we look at the life of Kimball Webster and his family.
Kimball was a 7th generation descendants from the immigrant John Webster.  John came from Ipswich, Suffolk County, England to Ipswich, MA  where he was made a freeman in 1635.  Before settling in the Pelham/Hudson area in the mid-1700’s  the Webster family moved from Ipswich to Newbury and then to Haverhill.  Kimball’s dad, John, was born 1791 in Pelham; his mom, Hannah Cummings, was native to Nottingham West and born here 1794.  They were married in August 1815.  John sold his Pelham farm in 1841 and moved to Amherst, returning  to the area soon thereafter.  He purchased a farm on Wason Road in Hudson; where he remained for 20 years.  By Kimball’s own records he had 12 siblings.  Kimball was the 7th child and the 3rd son of this large family.  John Webster was known for his honesty, great energy, and industry which enabled him to care for his large family and himself and Hannah in their later years.    ;
Kimball was born November 1828 in Pelham and educated in the schools of Pelham and Hudson.  Having grown up as a farm boy he was used to hard work.
In 1849 at the age of 20 1/2 he left home and became one of the California Pioneers.   Having heard of the great gold discovery in California, he traveled to Independence, MOi where he joined a company of 28 men, outfitted with pack mules and horses, to travel to CA.  The trip across the continent took 6 months with many hardships along the way. During his travels he kept a journal which he published  in book form as “Gold Seekers of ’49”.   He did work in mining for a short while, then  in 1851 went to the Territory of Oregon where he worked at and became a deputy surveyor.   In  1854 he returned to New Hampshire via the Isthmus of Panama.  In the next few years he was employed as a surveyor and worked for the Bodwell Granite Co. in Vinal Haven, Maine.  By 1857 he returned to Hudson, married Abiah Cutter of Pelham  and they settled on a portion of his great-grandfather Cumming’s farm.
Professionally Kimball was a surveyor and an engineer with 50 years experience tracing old lines and boundaries and finding lost landmarks.  In this he was considered an expert.  Politically he was a Democrat; serving  the town as selectman and as a member of the school board.  On two occasions he served on a committee to re-appraise property in town.  In 1881 he chaired the committee responsible for building the new iron bridge across the Merrimack to Nashua; and a member of the committee in 1909 when it became necessary to replace that bridge with the concrete bridge.  He served in the state legislature and he was a Justice of the Peace for about 50 years.  Fraternally he was the first Master of Hudson Grange and  served the grange at the county and state levels.
Kimball Webster was the right person (he had a knowledge of engineering and a kean interest in history), at the right place (living on  one of the earliest settlements in town that of his Cummings line) and at the right time (many of the early pioneers were available for him to learn from).  At first he had no thought of writing a comprehensive history of his town; rather he set himself out to collect materials, to copy significant portions  of the ancient records, document recollections of early settlers, and record records of cemeteries, with the idea that someone, sometime could and would such a history.
In 1884, D.H. Hurd was canvasing the county for material to be compiled and published for the History of Hillsborough County.  Mr Hurd suggested that Kimball prepare a 20 page history of Hudson.  This he did (actually expanded to 25 pages).  Perhaps this activity acted as a stimulus for him to attempt the more ambitious work of the History of Hudson 1673 to 1913.

Kimball Webster 1912

From the Historical Society collection we share two photos of Kimball Webster.  The first a painting copied from a daguerreotype  taken about 1853.  The second, and perhaps the image we more closely associate with Webster was taken later in his life and appears in the front matter of his History of Hudson.
Kimball and Abiah had 10 children; 3 boys and 7 girls.  Of these  only 5 girls survived into adulthood.    They had 2 sets of twins who died young and one daughter Latina Ray who passed at the age of 22.  Each of the surviving 5 daughters married into families which are known to us today.
Their oldest, Lizzie Jane (b:1858) married Horace Martin.  Their family of one son (Kimball Webster) and one daughter (Ina)  lived in Hudson.
Next was Ella Francis (b:1859) who married Frank Walsh, they moved to Nashua.
Then came Eliza Ball (b: 1862) who married Charles Leslie of Hudson.  They had one son, Eugene.  As an adult Eugene occupied the house of his grandfather, Kimball, on Webster Street.  Eugene served on the Board of Directors for the newly organized Historical Society in the 1960’s.
Julia Anne (b:1867) married John Abner Robinson and they lived in the Robinson Homestead on Robinson Road (now Old Robinson)Hudson on Robinson Road.  Julia shared her father’s interest in history and assisted him with the editing and marketing of the history.
Mary Newton (B:1869) married George H. Abbott,  Their family consisted of three sons (Clayton, Kenneth, and Roland) and one daughter, Marjorie.  Members of this family and their descendants reside in Hudson to this day.  Many of our readers remember Abbott’s Dairy on Derry Road.
The Abbott Family has placed a number of Kimball’s works at the Historical Society.  Among them are his 1849 journal while traveling to California, notes on some Hudson houses built in the 1800’s, vital records which he copied from the ancient town records, and details of various estates that he settled.  From the Martin and Leslie families are some of his household items, some native relics found along the Merrimack, and the painting of made from an 1853 Daguerreotype while  he was in Oregon.

Five Daughters of Kimball and Abiah Webster

Our third photo shows the 5 daughters of Kimball and Abiah (Cutter) Webster taken C1920 on the front porch of the Robinson Homestead on Old Robinson Road.  In the front row from the left are Julia Anne, Mary Newton, and Eliza Ball.  In the second are Lizzie Jane and Ella Francis (order not certain).  If any of our readers can assist with this identification please contact the society  at 880-2020 or HudsonHistorical@live.com and ask for Ruth.
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Pizza Hut and Derry Road Car Wash

Pizza Hut and Derry Road Car Wash

For the past few years we have seen changes take place from 62 -68 Derry Road.  First with the conversion of the long time idle property of the former Hogan’s Garden Center into the Dollar Tree and O’Reilly Auto Part stores;  now with the Pizza Hut property, 62 Derry Road,  on the market more changes are in the works.
60 years ago, in 1961, this section of Derry Rad consisted of the home of Roy and Flora  L. Griffin at 62 Derry plus undeveloped land at 64 – 68.  The Griffins operated Banner Photo of Nashua.  Roy passed about 1966 and Flora continued  as President and Treasurer of Banner Photo and retained  her residence in Hudson.
The first change toward development came about 1959 with the opening of Hogan’s Garden Center and Flower Shoppe at 68 Derry Road.  Hogan’s was a popular place for trees, shrubs, garden supplied, and flowers.  They remained in business until the early 1980’s.  From that time until a few years ago the land and buildings remained idle; including the large green house used by both the garden center and flower shoppe.
In 1978 the site of the Griffin home was purchased by Pizza Hut of America and by 1981 the Pizza Hut Restaurant in Hudson was in operation.  Although changes did occur in the corporate ownership and structure of Pizza Hut this restaurant remained in business some 35 years; closing for business within the last year.  The property is for sale, so ‘stay tuned’ for further change.
About the same time, 1981, and adjacent to Pizza Hut  the Derry Road Car Wash opened for business.  Although operating under different names a car wash remains at this location to the present day,
More recently, in 2014, the site of Hogan’s was sold for new development.  The first to emerge was the new, stand alone, Dollar Tree in 2015.  That was followed soon thereafter by O’Reiley Auto Body in 2016.
As we pull back the layers of time we see the time line of development.  Our photo for this week is an aerial of 62 and 64 Derry Road  soon after 1981.  We see Pizza Hut and Derry Road Car Wash.  To the right, and off the photo, was Hogan’s Garden Center and Flower Shoppe.  Upon the sale and re-use of the pizza Hut facility we will have the opportunity to watch further changes.

Disasters known as “Freshets” and Fires

This week a brief look at the floods of 1896 and 1936 as well as the Crown Hill Fire in 1930 and how Hudson residents became spectators to these events.

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Flood Watching on Iron Bridge 1896

 

Floods, or ‘freshets’ as referred to by Kimball Webster in his History of Hudson, were common events along the Merrimack River and were recorded in his history of our town. This is particularly true in the bridge area with the mouth of the Nashua River just a few rods to the north. Coupling this with the spring rain fall along with snow and ice melting from the north and west contributes to flooding and the potential for the destruction of property. In the 1800’s notable freshets were recorded in 1818, 1824, 1839, 1841, 1843, 1852, and 1862. In April 1895 a freshet occurred which raised the river to a higher point than any for many years. The east bank of the Merrimack opposite the Nashua River overflowed and covered land along Webster Street.

Our first photograph shows residents of Hudson watching the flood water of the river from the recently constructed iron bridge during the freshet of March 1896. Just before midnight on March 2 the river gained its highest point and began, slowly at first, to recede. The weather turned colder the next day allowing the water to fall very rapidly. At the highest point the water covered all of Webster Street directly west of Kimball Webster’s house. The flood water rose to within six feet, six and one half inches from the underpinning of his house near the front door. Near the iron bridge the surface of the flood was between three and four feet below the floor of the bridge.

On Sunday May 4, 1930, in the early years of the depression, many Nashua residents were suddenly made homeless by a huge fire which destroyed the Crown Hill residential area. This area was East Hollis and Allds Streets eastward to the bank of the Merrimack River, just a short distance south of the Taylor Falls bridge in the area of the railroad bridge.

The blaze began in a trestle of the B & M Railroad where it spanned the Nashua River off Temple Street. High winds escalated the blaze and carried the fire across Temple, down Spruce, and across East Hollis Streets to the Crown Hill area. Fire equipment from surrounding towns in both New Hampshire and Mass. came to assist. Individual residents pitched in with bucket brigades, shovels of dirt, and even blankets. In the end some 400 homes were destroyed and that section of Nashua reduced to wasteland. Most of the property owners had little or no insurance. One year after this disaster more than 400 homes were rebuilt and the area was making a comeback with new zoning and wider streets.

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Hudson Residents Viewing Crown Hill Fire 1930

Homes and property in Hudson were protected from the spreading blaze by the Merrimack River; although there were some instances where sparks jumped the river, due to the severe winds, and had to be extinguished. As shown in our second photo, some Hudson residents set up their chairs along the Hudson side of the river and became spectators to the fire.

In March 1936 the most severe flood for this area occurred. By Thursday morning, March 19, the Taylor Falls Bridge was closed to traffic as the banks of the Merrimack were overflowing with tons of water on both sides of the river. At 7:00 A.M. the river was rising at the rate four feet per hour. Residents living near the bridge were forced to evacuate. Officers were stationed at both ends of the bridge to stop traffic.

Families along Webster Street and Litchfield Road were evacuated. The Paradise section near the river (Kenyon, Merrimack and Federal Streets) was completely flooded and the fire department evacuated residents by boats. In the areas mentioned, water rose to the first floor windows.Extensive flooding occurred at all homes along the Webster Street and Litchfield Road.

During the height of the flooding, a log coming down the river did so with such force that it banged head long into the railing of the cement Taylor Falls Bridge. This left a permanent hole in the railing, removing the concrete, and showing only the underlying mesh. From that day until the removal of the bridge, the damage was never repaired. It remained as a reminder of the of the potential force of the river current.

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Flood Waters 1936

Again, our fellow residents of town chose to walk on the bridge and observe the flood water barreling into the bridge on it;s north side. Needless to say, this occurred either before or after the height of the flood. Water was ether receding or still trying to reach it’s maximum height. Our third photo shows Hudson residents leaning over the north side of the bridge as the flood water approached the bridge.

B+M Railroad Bridge blasted by Army manuevers – Dec 1942

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B+M Railroad Bridge Crossing Into Hudson – 1938

 

The Worcester, Nashua, and Portland line of the Boston and Maine Railroad began operation through Hudson in 1874 and continued until abandoned in the early 1940’s. The railroad line entered Hudson by crossing the Merrimack River just south of the present Taylor Falls bridge between Nashua and Hudson. The line then took a gradual north and easterly path to Hudson Center and then on to West Windham.

The original wooden railroad bridge was completely destroyed by fire in June 1909 when sparks from an east bound freight train ignited one of the timbers. The resulting blaze was so spectacular that an estimated 1,000 folks in the area watch the blaze against the midnight sky. The destruction of this bridge seriously interfered with the traffic between Worcester and Portland; some 32 trains per day used this bridge daily along the single track line to West Windham and Portland. A temporary bridge was put in place within a week and a replacement steel bridge was completed in record time.

By December of 1942 the days of this line had ended. It was decided to use this steel railroad bridge for army maneuvers. On Saturday December 26, 1942 two preliminary blasts of dynamite were set off near the Nashua side of the bridge. These were staged to acquaint the military unit with the explosives. A detail from Maryland was delegated for this task. According to the Nashua Telegraph the Army Engineers planned at some later time to conduct extensive maneuvers ending with the blowing up of the bridge. According to officials of the railroad, the railroad bridge had been turned over to the U.S. Army about one month earlier.

These explosions occurred without warning to or previous planning with local officials. The first blast consisted of 50 pounds and a second of 150 pounds. Residents of the Crown Hill section of Nashua as well as of the Hudson Bridge area were frightened and hundreds of phone calls were made to police and fire headquarters as well as to the local paper. The resulting explosions rocked houses and blew out hundreds of panes of glass. Many residents were in a near panic and several women were hysterical.

Complaints and protests occurred on both sides of the river. Scores of residents from Crown Hill district reported window broken and other damage. On the Hudson side many windows were blown in and plaster was shaken down in many of the homes. Significant damage was reported to the windows and frames of the Hudson Community Church. The effects of the blasts were felt as far away and Benson’s Animal Farm in Hudson Center.

Needless to say both Nashua and Hudson officials registered their protests through Senators Bridges and Tobey. The senators conducted an investigation into the blasts. Army personnel from Fort Belvoir, MD as well as First Corps Area were called back for the session. First Army Corps of Boston claimed they had no prior knowledge of the maneuvers. No advance warning of the blasts had been given. Much, of the damage and emotions could have been controlled with advance knowledge of the blasts and simply opening the windows just prior to the last. Army officials met with Hudson Selectmen and property owners in order to access the damage. Shortly thereafter forms were provided to the property owners for reimbursement of damages. Reimbursement for at least part of the damages by the U.S. government did occur up to 1 year later.

Once the Senators and officials from Nashua and Hudson learned that these blasts were preliminary to blowing up the bridge with a 500 pound charge at some future time an official protest to further blasting was registered. It was pointed out that it made more sense to salvage the bridge for scrap material for the war effort than to blast it and sink it into the river.

 

In October 1943 salvaging of the bridge began when Governor of New Hampshire, Robert C. Blood, applied the torch to the first steel girder of the old railroad bridge. In the end, 500 tons of steel were scrapped and turned over to the State Salvage Commission to be used in the making of war materials. By January 1944 the old railroad bridge was gone. All that remains of this bridge today are the old abutments in the river, visible just south of the Taylor Falls Bridge.

This photo is from the Historical Society collection. It shows the railroad bridge during the hurricane of 1938; just a few years before the army maneuvers to blast the bridge. In this photo a train was stationed on the bridge during the hurricane to stabilize the bridge. Details of the blasts, resulting damage, and the probes were reported in the Nashua Telegraph for Monday December 28, 1942.