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Holiday Decorations and Library Park

Toy Soldiers 2018 S

Standing Guard at Library Park 2018

 

Last week as I drove south on Derry Road and passed Library Park I noticed crew from our Highway Department placing the toy soldiers on the north corner of the park. As I continued on my way to my appointment in Nashua I recalled some of the history behind these and other decorations on the park. Perhaps it is no surprise how much these decorations are intermixed with Arthur Provencher and his vision to develop Benson’s Animal Park into a theme park,

Each of these painted wooden soldiers stand 12 feet tall and they delight the holiday spirit in each of us with their red and blue uniforms with yellow diamond-shaped buttons. With their white belts they stand at parade rest with their bayonet-tipped rifles at their side. Each has the same plumed hat and facial expression. They can stand in any order but the soldier holding the flag should be in the center.
So you ask: What does all this have to do with Bensons Park? During the Christmas seasons of 1980 and 1981 Arthur Provencher, then owner of Benson’s Animal Park, decorated his park with hundreds of thousands of lights and decorations for the holiday season. These wooden toy soldiers were a part of that display. Even though some 35,000 came to enjoy these sights and activities, that elusive break even point could not be reached. His “Christmas in New England” lasted for only a few years. The tradition of holiday decorations at Library Park was started by Mr. Provencher as a way of advertising the holiday events at Benson’s Animal Park. Over time this tradition was continued by the town. The five toy soldiers were purchased by the Chamber of Commerce and donated to Hudson with a plaque “Dedicated to people of Hudson by the Hudson Chamber of Commerce December 1995. Our first photo shows a brochure, complete with a coupon of 50 cents, used by Mr. Provencher to advertise his ‘Christmas in New England” tradition during the 1891 season.

New England Christmas S

Christmas in New England 1981

As time progressed the soldiers were in need of repairs and paint. In February 2004 the soldiers were delivered to the wood shop at Alvirne High School where, under the direction of John Conrad, the Building Trades class repaired and painted the soldiers. When completed they were stored by the Highway Department for use in many seasons to come. Our second photo shows the five toy soldiers standing guard over the 2018 holiday season at the north end of Library Park.

Another remnant of Benson’s is the traditional nativity scene tucked away behind Plexiglas in the old town trolley stop. This stop once provided a waiting place for travelers using the electric railroad from Nashua, through Hudson, to Hudson Center and on to Pelham. During the holiday season the stop is used to house the creche from Benson’s. The Christmas in New England brochure is a part of the Benson’s documentation at the Historical Society. The 2018 photo was taken by the author.

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Haselton Farm on Bush Hill Road C 1920

Haselton Farm on Bush Hill Road C 1920

Haselton Farm on Bush Hill Road C 1920

Including the present family, the Haselton Farm on Bush Hill Road has been home to 6 generations of Haselton’s.  The first  generation was Nathaniel; born 1762 in Nottingham West (now Hudson).  By 1795 Nathaniel had purchased the farm and buildings from Abraham Page, Jr.  Mr Page had no known  children of his own; but history tells us that he helped raise Nathaniel Haseltine.   As part of the sale agreement Mr. Page and his wife secured a life lease on the property; thus assuring themselves of a dwelling place for the duration of their lives.  Mr. Page was a farmer and a builder; a trade he learned from his father.  A number of 1700 vintage homes in Hudson have been traced back to these builders. Nathaniel married  Rachel Smith in 1795 and soon thereafter changed their name to Haselton.
This week’s photo was taken C 1920  from a hillside above and slightly south of the home of Arthur Haselton built about 1895; now the home of Don and Beverly (Gates) Jackson at 25 Bush Hill Road.  Their home is on the right side of the photo and faces Bush Hill Road.  Opposite this is the Haselton Barn and an older Haselton family home to the right of the barn.  In the background is a view of the hillside with Benson’s Animal Farm to the right.
Throughout history the Haselton Farm is known to have 3 different houses; often two at any one time.  The first home was located on the same side of Bush Hill Road and slightly south of the present Jackson home.  This home was built by and lived in by Abraham Page,Jr.  The second home is the house adjacent to the barn.  Exact date for the construction of this house is unclear but could be as early as 1793.We do know that by 1826 the first house was moved from it’s Bush Hill location to Hamblett Avenue facing the Hudson Center Common and was the home of Rev. Benjamin Dean, then pastor of the Baptist Church.  This house ultimately became the home of Richard and Claudia Boucher and their family; and when Route 111 was built through the Town Common, the house was again moved from Hamblett Avenue to it current location on Windham Road.
This second house became the family  home to 4 generations of Haseltons:  Nathaniel, Luther, George, and Arthur.  The home on the opposite side of the road was likely built by or for Arthur Haselton C 1895.  This barn and the adjacent house remained in the Haselton Family until  1943 at which time it was sold to Ben Brintnal.  By 1944 the barn and property on that side of Bush Hill Road was sold to The Laphan Group, the second owners of Benson’s Animal Farm.   It was about this time frame that the house was dismantled and the materials used to construct a smaller house on Ferry Street.
Of all the buildings which were part of the Haselton farm, the most noteworthy is the 3 story barn with cupola.  Perhaps initial construction as early as 1761, this barn was used in each of three centuries.  Changes and additions have been made over this period of time, evolving the architecture and construction to match the changing use to which the building was put.  Additions made to the barn between 1889 and 1910 included the addition of the cupola; now removed from the barn and in storage for future restoration.  Analysis of the barn structure shows a 3 story barn, set into a bank (hillside) so there are entrances to each story at grade level.  Today this barn on one of the historic buildings in  Benson Park.
The family of Arthur Haselton included his wife Mary McCoy, 2 sons (Merton and Page) and a daughter, Lillian.  Lillian married Joseph Gates and their family included Joseph, Jr, Beverly, and George. Some of us have personal memories of Joe and Lillian.  Joe Gates had a natural ear for music and served as the church organist at the Baptist Church.  During his organ postlude at the conclusion of a service I have known him to break into a rendition of Happy Birthday in honor of his wife, Lillian, or other family member.  The present occupants are  Don Jackson and his wife, Beverly Jackson; Beverly being the 6th generation in the Haselton line.

 

Friends and Neighbors

Benson_and_Smiths

John T. Benson(L), founder of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm, and Dr. Henry O. Smith(R), beloved medical doctor, were friends and neighbors as both lived in Hudson Center.  John T. came to Hudson in 1922 when he purchased property as a representative of the Hagenbeck Company of Germany.  He was known world-wide as an animal trainer and trader.  After accompanying President Theodore Roosevelt on a trip to South Dakota, Roosevelt presented him with 2 Great Dane pups which John T. raised and enjoyed for many years. John T. passed away in 1943.  Henry O. Smith was born 1864 in Hudson, studied medicine and returned to his home town.  A dedicated country doctor, he was fondly called Dr. H O or Dr. Harry.  He served the town not only as a doctor but also as historian and member of the School Board. Dr. Smith passed in 1945. Mr. Benson and Dr. Smith are shown here with one of the Great Danes, Freda. Photo from Society collection and courtesy of Len Lathrop. (Published in HLN October 17, 2014.)